“Help! Help! There’s a panther in monsieur’s bedroom!”

The shouts and cries, accompanied by the frenzied barking of dogs, carried across the gardens of Maqbara e Humayun (Humayun’s Mausoleum) where two European gentlemen were staying. The frenzy interrupted the evening reverie of both gentlemen, who had just settled into the peaceful enjoyment of drinks and cigars. The gentlemen were Louis Rousselet (1845-1929) of France and Jules Henri Jean Schaumberg (1839-1886) of Belgium.

Louis_Rousselet
Louis Rousselet (right) with Jules Henri Jean Schaumburg (in Indian attire), 1867. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Rousselet was renowned for his travels to India from 1864 to 1868. An anthorpologist and archaeologist, Rousselet was an early pioneer of darkroom photography, and his ability to document his extensive travels in central India made him an ideal candidate to project an exotic romance on a country that had come under British dominion in 1858. Writing extensively of his travels and adventures, Rousselet’s 600 photographs of the journey were transferred into engravings to illustrate his accounts for the French travel magazine, Le Tour du Monde. Rousselet’s notes, drawings, and photographs were compiled into a massive, luxurious tome entitled L’Inde des Rajas (1875) which would enjoy wide success and translation into English under the title India and Its Native Princes.

start-of-the-hunt-govindgarii
“The Start of the Hunt, Govindgarii.” Rousselet recounts a tiger hunt from elephant back during his travels. From India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

Rousselet met Schaumberg, and artist, in Bombay in 1865 and the two would become fast friends and travelling companions for the next three years. Together, the gentlemen traveled across India and experienced the finest art, culture, and architecture available. They hunted tigers from the backs of elephants, visited historical sites, and learned the history and customs that would all end as fodder for Rousselet’s book.

mausoleum
“Humayun’s Mausoleum,” from from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

At Humayun’s Masoleum in the plain of Delhi, the travelers were afforded lodging in the form of a makeshift bungalow in one of the garden kiosks. They toured the magnificent structure, commissioned for the Emperor Humayun (1508–1556) by his widow, Empress Bega Begum (1511-1582). Humayun died from a fall in his library, loaded down with books, attempting to kneel in reverence to the Muslim call to prayer. Bega Begum spent years constructing the most impressive mausoleum in the Mughal Empire.

As the European travelers were relaxing following a dinner served by their servants, the crying of distress about a panther in the bungalow roused them, and they rushed to see what the trouble was. The dogs barked madly at the entrance to Rousselet’s bedroom, and the servants held their distance, afraid of the “panther.” Rousselet took cloths dipped in oil on a stick to create a makeshift torch, and threw them into the bedroom, revealing a creature crouching “almost under the bed.”

tiger-hunt-rewah
“A Tiger Hunt, Rewah”, from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

It turned out to be a hyena. A pistol was retrieved from a nearby table, and was shot by Rousselet before being dispatched by servants bearing spears and clubs. Amused by the juxtaposition of the panther and a timid hyena, the Europeans laughed off the episode as a ludicrous “hunt in the bedroom.” It would prove to be one of many adventures on the trip,  including the “torture” of traveling in the “mail cart,” a horse-drawn chariot that drove a break-neck speeds along roads in the mountainous Indian countryside.

mail-cart
“The Mail Cart,” from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith. The European visitors were deeply uncomfortable to hitch a ride on the mail chariot.

In the end, Rousselet and Schaumberg parted in September 1868, when Rousselet returned to France. What had been intended as a six month journey had extended more than four years, and Schaumberg, who would go on to be appointed artist to The Geological Survey of India in Calcutta, stayed behind to attend to his business.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Advertisements

This week I’d like to highlight a section of the Library collection that really surprised me.  Recently, I’ve been working with the big game hunting books.  I’m not a hunter and I don’t come from a hunting family.  While I have no problem with the sport in general, the idea of trophy hunting is disagreeable to me.  As such I began work on the big game books with trepidation.  I expected to encounter long lists of trophies taken or photos of white men posing with their foot on the corpse of a lion or elephant.  While there is a fair bit of this sort of thing, there is also a great deal more to be discovered if one takes the time to read more closely.

DSCF4469
The Dark Continent. Edouard Foa, After Big Game in Central Africa (1899).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

The books that caught my attention were originally published between 1850 and 1950 and are accounts of expeditions, not simply butcher’s bills of the local fauna.  First things first, these books can in no way be considered politically correct.  In addition to the sometimes graphic descriptions of hunting scenes, there are also some comments and attitudes about anyone non-white or non-Christian that many modern day readers would find objectionable.  However, if you try to view the writing through the lens of what was considered acceptable behavior in the late 19th or early 20th century, an extremely interesting account of travel and exploration emerges.

DSCF4474
Dwarfed by the environment.  Edouard Foa, After Big Game in Central Africa (1899).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

In addition to being skilled hunters, these men, and sometimes women, were also geographers, naturalists, anthropologists, and writers.  They journeyed throughout Africa, India, Asia, and North America in a time when travel was still a challenge in and of itself.  And as they trekked, they analyzed and described the behavior of the local animals, sometimes collecting specimens for museums.  They recorded the topography of their routes, and they interacted with the indigenous populations.

DSCF4464
Local shopping. P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (1902).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

Returning home, they published their experiences, recounting not only the hunting, but also the traveling, and their impressions of the lands and people that they encountered.  These accounts allowed the armchair adventurer of the time to experience exotic locales without risking the dangers of injury or disease, and they allow modern day readers to experience a world that in a very real sense no longer exists.

In Two Dianas in Alaska (1909), Agnes Herbert recounts her shooting trip to Alaska with her cousin Cecily.  The account begins with a description of their trip from New York City to Butte City, Montana.

DSCF4461
Agnes Herbert in native parka.  Agnes Herbert, Two Dianas in Alaska (1909).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

While it is interesting to read about the traveling conditions in the United States at that time, what is even more entertaining is her charming and engaging tone.  It reads like a letter from a good friend, with comical remarks, and candid comments.

DSCF4468
Edouard Foa. Edouard Foa, After Big Game in Central Africa (1899).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

 

Edouard Foa’s book, After Big Game in Central Africa (1899), describes his experiences during a three year expedition in Africa from 1894 to 1897.  In it he carefully describes the behavior of many African game animals and includes frank advice for operating in that environment.  For example, when encountering rainy conditions while hunting or marching in the bush, he removes his clothing, places it in a waterproof bag, and walks about in a loincloth, shoes, and hat.  “Not that I can say I have a very elegant appearance in this dress, but I have found it is the most practicable during the rainy season.  Immediately the rain stops the skin dries, and you have not the inconvenience of keeping on your wet clothes, which brings on fever and rheumatism” (p. 51).

DSCF4465
P. H. G. Powell-Cotton.  P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (1902).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (1902), by P. H. G. Powell-Cotton includes a wonderful appendix that meticulously lists the food, equipment, armaments and munitions, and personnel required for a successful journey.

DSCF4477
Don’t forget the egg cup and dessert spoons!  P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (1902).  The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

Although a prolific hunter, he also furnishes a great deal of information on the local culture, politics, and sites of interest.  The subtitle of his books says it all, “A Narrative of a Nine Months’ Journey from the Plains of the Hawash to the Snows of Simien, with a Description of the Game, from Elephant to Ibex, and Notes on the Manners and Customs of the Natives.”  Here he gives us a photo of the resting place of the true Arc of the Covenant.

DSCF4466
P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (1902). The gift of John and Martha Daniels.

Many of the library’s big game volumes are reprints of much earlier works and include forewords that provide a useful historical and biographical context for the book.  By being mindful of this context, modern readers can still enjoy these intriguing books despite the fact that they have not aged particularly well.


SONY DSC

Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail