Reflecting at the half way point

12 Feb

This is feeling like a crucial time in the life of my PhD, as I’m probably just over half way through my expected 3 year course. I’ve also finally finished reading my main source, Maurice’s diaries. I’m 10 days over the deadline I’d set myself to finish them, but pleased with the detail I’ve gone into in researching them. From the diaries alone I have 219 pages of notes, and 95,000 words. I’ve also got a little way into some wider research, and have around a month or two to do some more digging, so I’m feeling on track and pretty pleased at what I’ve achieved so far!

Coming to the end of the diaries became quite emotional reading as there was noticeable difference between the energetic young man of the early century, and the older, tired man he became in the 1940s/50s. I feel like I’ve made those journeys with him, and it was sad to see your hero growing old, and poignant to see him planning future trips in the 1950s that I knew he would never live to take.

So here are some final stories of Maurice’s last travels:

1.  In April 1938 Maurice travels to Cyprus to hunt Mouflon after thinking of making the trip for many years. However, when he gets there he is shocked to find that no more licenses are being given out, as there is thought to be only 10 or 15 Mouflon left alive on the island. As Maurice already had his permit arranged, the Governor could not go back on his word and prevent Maurice from shooting. However, Maurice reluctantly does the right thing and agrees not to shoot:

“I stressed the point that if in a few years time the mouflon population had increased very considerably I should expect to be given a permit, whatever laws were passed. A very disappointing business after having come all this way with Ndolo (his African gun-bearer), and having looked forward to it for several years. But there seemed nothing else to do in this matter.”

Instead, Maurice gives money to the conservation cause, realising that he must help boost numbers to get the chance to come back and kill them again!

2. In February 1949 Maurice breaks with tradition by capturing a young antelope rather than killing it, in an experiment to see if he could keep it alive. This is only the second animal I have seen him capture (after a tortoise he took to live at Ngata, which soonafter died). He writes:

“near camp we came upon a few weeks old male oryx, obviously ill, since Midgan was able to run in and catch it, so we tied it up to my tree and brought it a sufuria-ful of camels milk for it from a neighbouring camel herder for 1 rupee”

However the next day:

“our sick young oryx died during the night, in spite of- or perhaps because (!) of my giving it 1 ½ teaspoons of Epsom Salts”

3. On August 4th 1979 Maurice visits the Livingstone Memorial for his 75th birthday. I can imagine this being almost like a pilgrimage, as Livingstone’s exploration must have been been influential for Maurice. The memorial was recently damaged, as Maurice explains: 

“The native who did it was caught through carrying a hammer and chisel, and was given 6 months in jail. He was thought to be mad”

Of course the native must have been “mad” to attack the monument! Livingstone’s attendants buried his heart at this spot before carrying his body to ship to England. I have heard stories of something similar being done at Maurice’s death- of his heart being kept in Kenya and his body sent home (or the other way round?) so if this is true then it seems inspired by Livingstone. However, in his will he stated a wish for his body to be cremated and the ashes cast to the four winds, with no memorial or public service.

4. In these later years Maurice often records his weight, which he never had before. It could be because he is now flying to Africa rather than sailing, or perhaps because his body has changed with age. In August 1949 he records that he weight 126lbs, about 20lbs underweight. For a man of 5ft8 that seems to be very skinny indeed!

5. A funny incident from Oct 1949 Northern Rhodesia safari showing the dangers of camp life: 

“We had just got nicely settled into camp when the kitchen toto (young boy) let his fire get away from him, so that the grass caught alight, and set fire to the clump of dead reeds up against which we are camped. Ndolo (his gunbearer) and Co made valiant efforts to get the fire under control, but without success, so we started moving all my gear out of my tent, and then they pulled the tent down. But we unfortunately left it lying there, so that the sparks set it alight and made it useless at anyrate without extensive repairs. So tonight I slept out in the open, which I haven’t done for a long while!”

6. Maurice still walks several miles a day, but tires easily, and usually hunts first thing in the morning and rests for the rest of the day. In March 1950 Maurice travels in a Machila: 

“a conveyance that I had read a lot about but never even seen, much less ridden in. a comfortable, well-cushioned deck chair slung on two poles and another pole slung fore and aft from these poles, and connected by 3 or 4 riems. These upper pole the porters- 2 fore and 2 aft- place on their shoulders and so carry the weight of the chair. The porters go along at a tripling walk. The motion, though slightly jiggetty, is not at all bad!”

7. In December 1952 Maurice is in the Belgian Congo, and stays with the American Mission. However, when his host tries to convert him, he clearly makes his religious sentiments known!:

“He very soon asked me whether I was “with Jesus” or some such expression; and when I said “No” he tried to start to convert me, as he had lately been converted, but I soon put a stop to that! Beastly cheek!”

8. In January 1953 Maurice is overwhelmed:

“In the afternoon I collapsed outside my tent and Ogawa (his boy) dashed and picked me up. Maybe the heat, which is just 100f by my thermometer, is too much for me nowadays. Not feeling very bright and with the likelihood of having to give up my hunting and push off home. Am going to wear my helmet all the time in camp! “

9. Maurice doesn’t think much of the hygiene of the French in the Congo:

“Bought today at the shop 2 bath towels each the size of a large pocket handkerchief, but sewn together make quite a good camp towel. That shews how much bathing the French do!”

10. Finally, as it was my intention to check facts, I have found that the large meteorite we have at Tatton isn’t actually part of the Hoba meteorite. On May 14th 1935 Maurice goes to see the Hoba meteorite, but does not take a piece of it. Maurice collected his meteorite on Sept 4th, and it is a section of several that were found at Gibeon, South West Africa in 1908. Maurice hears of these meteorites, and hears that there are several at the local Public Works Department at Windhoek. He goes to see them: 

“Found that they had both already had slices cut off them as souvenirs, and that they would have been cut up still more, only that the electric power hacksaw consumed so much current in cutting them up. They offered me a slice of one of them that was laying out in the yard; and I said I’d like the whole piece!”


However, Maurice ran into trouble when trying to ship it out of the country, as it was considered to be government property. Maurice tells the government secretary that he knows about some dubious behaviour by their chief of police, and uses this blackmail to secure the meteorite!

I promised my husband (my biggest critic!) no more rambling blogs but I seem to have “gone on” a bit again! Although I’m at the end of the diaries, I still have some more research to do, so I hope you will keep reading.



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