“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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