Maurice’s first safari in Kenya, 1921

13 Jul

I’ve said that Maurice never made it as far as Kenya in 1920 as his father died and he had to return home. However, it was less than 9 months later that Maurice tried again. He describes his long ship journey, and the hot temperatures as they passed the Suez Canal and sailed through the red sea. He says that one day in the galley the temperature was 140 (about 60 Celsius- can this be right?! I don’t think so, as the hottest temperature ever recorded was 56.7 celcius in Canada in 1913. Unless Maurice is the new record breaker!)  and the engine room was 128 (53 celsius). I thought it was interesting that Maurice stoked for half an hour one morning, perhaps just due to his interest in the workings of the ship, or perhaps all passengers were expected to help? That was certainly the case in sailing up the Yukon river, when all the passengers had to help heave the ship safely through dangerous waters.

On July 21st, Maurice spent his first night at the Muthaiga club in Nairobi, an exclusive club frequented by the elite British in Kenya, and it would be Maurice’s residence of choice when staying in Nairobi. In his book ‘White Mischief’, James Fox described a military-style bachelor wing, cheaper rooms favoured by men for their simplicity, and knowing Maurice’s tendencies for cost-cutting and shunning of luxury it is possible that Maurice lodged there. Maurice simply describes the Muthaiga as ‘very nice’, so it must have met his particular standards.

Before I started my research, I had a misconception that Maurice was very isolated in Kenya, and travelled and collected alone. In his later years when he built his house there he was perhaps more reserved, but certainly in the 1920s he was never alone and his diaries are full of names of people he resides or conducts business with. in 1921, he didn’t travel alone from England, and already has, or quickly makes, the acquaintance of many settler families or frequent visitors, including Karen Blixen at Karen Farm. Karen Blixen is probably most famous for writing ‘Out of Africa’, an account of her life in British East Africa, and for being part of the infamous ‘Happy Valley set’. She moved there in 1914 with her husband Baron Bror Blixen. They separated in 1921, the year Maurice visited her, and Maurice later bumps into the Baron living incognito, trying to hide from his creditors. The Nairobi suburb where she lived is now called Karen in her memory. I get quite excited when I see names like this amongst the many that are not known or remembered today.

The 1921 diary is special in many ways. He begins his special numbering technique for his collection, so I really see this year as him marking out his identity as a serious and organised collector. He numbers animals killed in sequence, 1,2,3 etc., and any other object collected between the animals will be numbered 1a, 1b, 1c etc. until he kills animal No. 2. This shows that the animals were the main focus of his collecting, and they are always marked in the diaries. The other objects are not always mentioned, but I can locate them a rough collection date and location by looking at the collection of the animal nearest them in the number sequence. Interestingly, the collected object No 1 is a Zebra, killed on July 27th. I wonder where this Zebra is now? Certainly not at Tatton. Perhaps it was given to a museum, kept in Kenya, or even not made up into a specimen, as some kills were not considered worthy of keeping, or else were spoiled in skinning or in preservation. But thanks again to his record keeping, I know I can find out by going through his game book, which lists measurements and intended location of the specimen.

In this diary, I particularly like his description of an organised safari he undertakes between August 18th- September 18th, with 8 of his friends, including one lady, who herself seems to be a crack shot. although he is disappointed not to have got a lion or an elephant, the highlight of Maurice’s safari is undoubtedly August 23rd. His gun-bearer Mabbrukki spots 3 cheetahs in a bush. Maurice is given his gun and waits. One emerges, he shoots it. He waits. The second emerges, he shoots it. He waits. Finally, the third emerges from the bush. He shoots it. The account is very factual and lacking in compassion, which makes it tough reading today. When he goes up to them, he is overjoyed to realise that they are leopards, not cheetahs. “Mabbrukki very excited and shook me warmly twice by the hand” (despite the fact that Mabbrukki spotted them and lined up his shot, Maurice gets the credit!). All three were females, one was elderly.

So why was he so happy to have a leopard and not a cheetah? European safari-goers at this time were obsessed with ‘The Big 5’. These were elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard. If all 5 were killed, the hunter’s skill in tracking and shooting was recognised and celebrated. Maurice would have been desperate to acquire all 5, and of course he eventually did, as well as many more rare and exotic creatures from around the world that marked him out as a serious and dedicated hunter, rather than a simple fashion-follower on organised tourist safaris. Maurice really evolves into a successful hunter on his trip. He is off at sunrise, often before the others have woken, and he tests different combination of clothing for practicality and durability in the bush. He tests the best soles on boots for sneaking up quietly on his prey, and he dies his Terai hat with strong hot coffee “making it a splendid hunter colour” to improve the camouflage and his image as a master-hunter.

Gradually, his friends leave the safari and returns for home, but Maurice spends a few more days alone, seemingly reluctant for it to all be over. On September 18th, a month after setting out, his friends send him 12 boys as porters to carry his camping equipment and animals back to their house. He summarises his trip: “I used 47 cartridges on 26 head = 1.8 cartridges per head bagged”. Not bad!



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