A Colonial Elephant Hunt in Central Africa – Sir Samuel Baker

[First posted August.. 2009,  Revised 08 November 2011]

In 1862 Sir Samuel Baker and his Hungarian wife Lady Florence, set off to discover the source of the Nile. Theirs is one of the more


The Bakers in Sudan. Wikipedia

bazaar and fascinating pages of colonial history. Lady Florence had been a white slave who was rescued by Baker from a slave auction in Vidin, Bulgaria – then part of the Ottoman Empire. She was 15 or 16 at the time and he about 40. It was, if the records accurate, love at first sight. He had already spent a number of years in Ceylon with his first wife, who had died.

He then turned to Africa with LadyFlorence to seek the source of the Nile, joining the great gallop of mid-19th Century explorers who set out for similar adventures. She was the first European woman to accompany an expedition into Africa and, because she apparently knew Arabic from her time spent in a harem in the Ottoman Empire, was able to converse with Turkish and Arab merchants during their travels in Egypt and Sudan.

Samuel & Florence Baker in central Africa, ca. 1862.  Source: Wikipedia

Samuel & Florence Baker in central Africa, ca. 1862. Source: Wikipedia

As part of exploring and thinking about the multiple impacts of colonialism over the course of the last century and one-half, I will be putting up several entries from various documents that I’ve read and thought about. Some of the adventures – such as this one – are really ‘high-colonial’ in expressing the clear joi de vivre of the adventure. In fact, many of the colonial explorers seem to have been compulsive thrill-seekers, clearly gaining emotional highs from their experiences – as in the elephant hunt described here. But the darker sides of colonial exploration in Africa are really very grim and in later posts I will cover some of those.

At the time the following takes place, Baker and his ‘wife’ (they were not married until their departure from Africa several years later) had already been on safari for about two years, in their quest for the source of the Nile. They are, in this episode, in the lands of the Latooka tribes, located in southern Sudan and Northern Uganda.

Latookas  (1) hunting (2) in their village, with grain and chicken houses.  Source: RGS

Latookas (1) hunting (2) in their village, with grain and chicken houses. Source: RGS

On the 17th of April (1863) I started at 5 A.M. with my three horses and two camels, the latter carrying water and food. After a march of two or three hours through the beautiful hunting-grounds formed by the valley of Latooka, with its alternate prairies and jungles, I came upon the tracks of rhinoceros, giraffes, and elephants, and shortly moved a rhinoceros, but could get no shot, owing to the thick bush in which he started and disappeared quicker than I could dismount…

I saw the men on the camels beckoning to me in great excitement. Cantering towards them, they explained that a herd of bull elephants had just crossed an open space, and had passed into the jungle beyond. There was evidently abundance of game; and calling my men together, I told them to keep close to me with the spare horses and rifles, while I sent the Latookas ahead to look out for the elephants: we followed at a short distance.

I immediately mounted my old Abyssinian hunter, “Tetel,” and followed the tracks of the elephants at full speed, accompanied by two of the Latookas, who ran like hounds. Galloping through the green but thornless bush, I soon came in sight of a grand bull elephant, steaming along like a locomotive engine straight before me.

…Presently one of my men, Yaseen, came up upon “Filfil.” Taking a spare gun from him, I rode rapidly past the elephant, and suddenly reining up, I made a good shot exactly behind the bladebone. With a shrill scream, the elephant charged down upon me like a steam-engine. In went the spurs. “Tetel” knew his work, and away he went over the ruts and gullies, the high dry grass whistling in my ears as we shot along at full speed, closely followed by the enraged bull for about two hundred yards.

The elephant then halted; and turning the horse’s head, I again faced him and reloaded. I thought he was dying, as he stood with trunk drooping, and ears closely pressed back upon his neck. Just at this moment I heard the rush of elephants advancing through the green bush upon the rising ground above the hollow formed by the open space of high withered grass in which we were standing facing each other. My man Yaseen had bolted with his fleet horse at the first charge, and was not to be seen. Presently, the rushing sound increased, and the heads of a closely packed herd of about eighteen elephants showed above the low bushes, and they broke cover, bearing down directly upon me, both I and my horse being unobserved in the high grass. I never saw a more lovely sight; they were all bulls with immense tusks. Waiting until they were within twenty yards of me, I galloped straight at them, giving a yell that turned them. Away they rushed up the hill, but at so great a pace, that upon the rutty and broken ground I could not overtake them, and they completely distanced me.

Tetel, although a wonderfully steady hunter, was an uncommonly slow horse, but upon this day he appeared to be slower than usual, and I was not at the time aware that he was seriously ill. By following three elephants separated from the herd I came up to them by a short cut, and singling out a fellow with enormous tusks, I rode straight at him. Finding himself overhauled, he charged me with such quickness and followed me up so far, that it was with the greatest difficulty that I cleared him. When he turned, I at once returned to the attack; but he entered a thick thorny jungle through which no horse could follow, and I failed to obtain a shot.

In about a quarter of an hour we came up with the elephant; he was standing in bush, facing us at about fifty yards’ distance, and immediately perceiving us, he gave a saucy jerk with his head, and charged most determinedly. It was exceedingly difficult to escape, owing to the bushes which impeded the horse, while the elephant crushed them like cobwebs: however, by turning my horse sharp round a tree, I managed to evade him after a chase of about a hundred and fifty yards. Disappearing in the jungle after his charge, I immediately followed him.

The ground was hard, and so trodden by elephants that it was difficult to single out the track. There was no blood upon the ground, but only on the trees every now and then, where he had rubbed past them in his retreat. After nearly two hours passed in slowly following upon his path, we suddenly broke cover and saw him travelling very quietly through an extensive plain of high grass. … My two mounted gun-bearers had now joined me, and far from enjoying the sport, they were almost green with fright, when I ordered them to keep close to me and to advance.

I wanted them to attract the elephant’s attention, so as to enable me to obtain a good shoulder shot. Riding along the open plain, I at length arrived within about fifty yards of the bull, when he slowly turned. Reining “Tetel” up, I immediately fired a steady shot at the shoulder with the Reilly No. 10:–for a moment he fell upon his knees, but, recovering with wonderful quickness, he was in full charge upon me. Fortunately I had inspected my ground previous to the attack, and away I went up the inclination to my right, the spurs hard at work, and the elephant screaming with rage, GAINING on me.

My horse felt as though made of wood, and clumsily rolled along in a sort of cow-gallop;–in vain I dug the spurs into his flanks, and urged him by rein and voice; not an extra stride could I get out of him, and he reeled along as though thoroughly exhausted, plunging in and out of the buffalo holes instead of jumping them.

…we had been running for nearly half a mile, and the brute was overhauling me so fast that he was within ten or twelve yards of the horse’s tail, with his trunk stretched out to catch him. Screaming like the whistle of an engine, he fortunately so frightened the horse that he went his best, although badly, and I turned him suddenly down the hill and doubled back like a hare. The elephant turned up the hill, and entering the jungle he relinquished the chase, when another hundred yards’ run would have bagged me.

Being chased by an enraged elephant.  Source:  Wikipedia

Baker on 'Tetel', being chased by the wounded and enraged elephant. Source: Wikipedia

In a life’s experience in elephant-hunting, I never was hunted for such a distance. Great as were Tetel’s good qualities for pluck and steadiness, he had exhibited such distress and want of speed, that I was sure he failed through some sudden malady. I immediately dismounted, and the horse laid down, as I thought, to die.

We were at least ten miles from camp; I therefore fired a shot to collect my scattered men, and in about half an hour we all joined together, except the camels and their drivers, that we had left miles behind.

No one had tasted food since the previous day, nor had I drunk water, although the sun had been burning hot; I now obtained some muddy rain water from a puddle, and we went towards home, where we arrived at half-past eight, every one tired with the day’s work. The camels came into camp about an hour later.

My men were all now wonderfully brave; each had some story of a narrow escape, and several declared that the elephants had run over them, but fortunately without putting their feet upon them.

Coloseup of the Latooka village, showing the manner of resting by men.  Source:  University of Texas

Coloseup of the Latooka village, showing the manner of resting by men. Source: University of Texas

The news spread through the town that the elephant was killed; and, long before daybreak on the following morning, masses of natives had started for the jungles, where they found him lying dead. Accordingly, they stole his magnificent tusks, which they carried to the town of Wakkala, and confessed to taking all the flesh, but laid the blame of the ivory theft upon the Wakkala tribe.

Source: The Albert N’Yanza, Great Basin of the Nile And Explorations of the Nile Sources.
by Sir Samuel W. Baker, M.A., F.R.G.S.  Gold Medallist of the Royal Geographical Society.

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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2 Responses to A Colonial Elephant Hunt in Central Africa – Sir Samuel Baker

  1. Pingback: A Colonial Description of Making Green Plantain Cider « Dianabuja's Blog

  2. Pingback: Cuisines and Crops of Africa – The Lotus Eaters of Central Africa « Dianabuja's Blog

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