Building a collection (by yourself)

24 Jul

I’ve found some good stories from the diary readings over the last week. One represents a big success for Maurice, enabling him to travel a step further in building an impressive collection. The second shows a setback and a circumstance when Maurice refused to add an item to his collection. Here they are…

The story of Maurice’s Lions.

If you looked up object Numbers 81 and 82 in Maurice’s big game book you would see that they are a lion cub and lioness. Here is Maurice’s account of killing his first lions, a great prize for a white hunter:

January 5th, 1924: “after much kelele (noise), a 9 month old cub broke near us, and I shot him with a shot through both shoulders and as he lay finished him off at about 100 yards with a shot through the back. Then after much beating a fine lioness broke out opposite to us about 40 yards off. She started to come for us but immediately changed her mind and galloped off left handed. I missed her clean when near, but got her through the shoulders at about 150 yards. She got into a thorn patch 500 yards away, so we followed in the car, and eventually were able to see her lying down about 10 yards inside the thorn patch. So I sat up on the top of the car and plugged her with the .410, killing her apparently, but gave her another to make sure. Then left her and went back to the original thorn patch to find the male lion. Couldn’t drive him out- if he ever was in there, but eventually drove out more cubs and Sid Monk and Pat Connor eventually each got one of them. Then back to the lioness, which the boys pulled out of the thorns and got our photos taken with her and the 3 cubs. Then skinned them all, put the skins in the car, after taking out the floating bones”.

It’s a pretty graphic account, and a bit shocking to read today, as are many of his entries about animal kills. Like the leopards he killed in 1921, he waits patiently as the whole family emerge one by one out into the open. These lions are a significant addition to his collection, and go a long way in building his identity as a masterful collector. After killing the leopards, he learned that he should have taken the floating bones, or collar bones, as these are great prizes for hunters. Big cat collar bones are unusually tiny, allowing them to make big sweeping strides, and they are retained by hunters as superstitious talismans or made into jewellery. We have a selection of these at Tatton in the collection, and I’ve often marvelled at them. I need to find out what happened to the lions as we don’t have the heads at Tatton with the other trophies. It’s fairly likely that we have the skins in storage. I can’t imagine that he want these great prizes to go to a museum.

On to the second story: The tale of Mabbrukki’s Rhino.

This story is perhaps more tragic! One entry you won’t see in the big game book is a rhino killed on November 22nd 1923. On that day, Maurice has just killed a Buffalo and he leaves his gun-bearer boy Mabbrukki behind to begin skinning it.

He says: “left Mabbrukki starting to skin him and went off with Bankes and porters to look for camping spot. Couldn’t find it, so started back to Mabbrukki when we had heard fire 6 shots. As we got close to the Buffalo we heard 3 more shots. All this was Mabbrukki shooting a big rhino that apparently came within 50 yards of him. I abused Mabbrukki soundly for shooting; and he said he shot for it for me, and it was all the same if I or he shot it. An awful pity. It wasn’t quite dead when I got up, so I finished it off with a shot under the jaw”.

This made me laugh at first, imaging Mabbrukki so excited that he had seen and killed a rhino (another BIG prize to a hunter) for his master. It reminded me of the story in Roald Dahl’s autobiography ‘Going Solo’ when war is declared with Germany. Dahl’s boy rushes off and kills some neighbouring Germans and comes back to Dahl to tell him with pride that he has killed the enemy. Dahl is dismayed that his boy didn’t understand that he had done wrong, as his boy beamed with pride that he had committed this act for his friend.

Mabbrukki believed that he and Maurice were a team, and it didn’t matter which of them shot the animal as they were working together to hunt the animals. Big mistake for Mabbrukki! Maurice was collecting according to a strict code of conduct forged by his breeding, traditions and backgrounds. The ONLY kill that counted was his own, he simply could not admit another’s trophy into his collection. The whole implication of the trophy is that it represents one man’s story of an encounter with an animal, and subsequent domination. According to Susan Pearce, trophies can be seen as souvenirs, and no-one is interested in collecting someone else’s souvenir second hand.

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding for Mabbrukki was his assumption that Maurice was his team-mate, when in actual fact he was very much a servant and Maurice never saw him as an equal. Although Maurice needed Mabbrukki and admired his skill, it was completely wrong for Mabbrukki to assume so much as to fire the gun of a white man.

I thought this story showed Maurice’s absolute honesty and compliance with the code of conduct for gentleman-hunters. He hadn’t yet acquired a rhino, and was desperate to get one. He could have lied and taken this one as his own. He didn’t. His moral integrity dictated that he MUST kill and acquire his own. His collection was carefully and purposefully assembled through his work and no others.

It would take years for him to have his own chance at a rhino.

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