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A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa
on 27 October 2011
This book is a narrative of his experiences. As a hunter he had character - everything he shot he carried back himself. In addition to being an extremely good shot, he was a keen observer. From his narratives one can only assume that Selous was a highly skilled hunter with a fine knowledge not only of guns but also animal behaviour and the environment he was working in. He was inquisitive and would engage in lengthy interviews with the locals and in such a manner expand his already extensive general knowledge. These stories are written in a relaxing style and make interesting reading, even though the reader might not necessarily be interested in hunting. For those who are familiar with the interior of South Africa , his accounts of his various journeys come alive. This book may not be your regular choice, but it is a good read nevertheless.
Frederick Courteney Selous, born in London in 1851, was probably the greatest of all the African hunters and explorers of the 19th century.
When still a child, he was greatly influenced by the renowned African hunter and writer, William Charles Baldwin, and by the missionary/explorer David Livingstone. At the age of ten he explained his sleeping on the bare floor instead of in a bed by saying he was hardening himself to become a hunter in Africa. This ambition was not to be thwarted and in September 1871 Selous landed at Port Elizabeth. In a few short years he established himself in south-eastern and central Africa as a hunter and naturalist of world renown. While the large numbers of game of game shot by him during his hunting career would now, in this age of conservation be decidedly an anachronism, the 19th century was a different place, a different time and with different attitudes.
Nevertheless, any disapproval which might be felt nowadays should be tempered by the realisation that without the accounts of old time hunters like Selous, there would be few records left of what a wildlife paradise Africa once was.
Selous was a prolific writer and the author of many books, the most renowned of which is his A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa, which Alberton publisher Galago has reproduced as a facsimile reprint of the 1881 first edition. In its pages Selous recounts many exciting and often hair-raising African hunting and exploration adventures and includes full notes and line drawings relating to the natural history and distribution of all the large Mammalia at the time.
During the Matabele Rebellion of 1896 he was appointed captain of 'H' Troop of the Bulawayo Field Force and he took part in many exciting skirmishes with the warrior Matabele.
The increased wealth and influence brought about by his writings, enabled him to hunt in many parts of the world including Asia and north America, where he became a close friend and hunting companion of US President Theodore Roosevelt.
In those jingoistic times his outspoken opposition to the Anglo Boer War gained him considerable public contempt in his native England, particularly after he publicly described the British government's policy against the Boer republics as an iniquity.
He was aged 63 when World War-I broke out and he immediately volunteered to fight. Lord Kitchener, however, personally intervened and rejected him on the grounds of his age, but Selous' steadfastly pro-Boer sympathies during the Anglo Boer War had done little to endear him to Kitchener either.
Then the war heated up and British, South African and Rhodesian forces in East African found themselves being constantly out-maneuvered and outfought at the hands of the brilliant German strategist, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck. This caused people at the War Office, less rigid in their views than Field-Marshall Lord Kitchener, to decide that a man with Selous' unmatched experience of the African bush could prove invaluable. He was promptly commissioned as a lieutenant in the 25th Royal Fusiliers and sent to East Africa.
From May 1915 to January 1917, except for a short spell in 1916 when he was repatriated to England for a surgical procedure, he fought as an active service soldier in numerous actions against the Germans, earning a DSO for bravery in the process.
Then, on the 6th January 1917 when aged 65 and by then a captain, Selous was killed in action while leading his men in an engagement against the enemy at an obscure place called Beho-Beho. They buried him beneath a tamarind tree in the soil of the Africa he had loved - a continent he had done so much to open up to civilisation. The area of Uganda in which his grave lies is now appropriately known as the Selous Game Reserve.