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A VERY CLOSE CALL for MAJOR POWELL-COTTON

Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton (1866 – 1940) was the archetypal British gentleman hunter and explorer, who created a unique private museum of big game taxidermy in the grounds of his home, Quex Park at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England.

In one of the displays is the lion — it is shown attacking a buffalo — which savaged Major Percy, almost fatally, whilst on his honeymoon safari in Africa in 1906. Apparently, a native described to Powell-Cotton how he had seen this identical lion attack and pull down a full-grown buffalo, and this striking group, set up by Rowland Ward, is a remarkable examples of the taxidermist's skill to capture the drama of hunting. Ward himself believed that it was one of his finest achievements.

The brute is mounted locked in a deadly battle with a Semliki red buffalo (Bos caffer cottoni), which is a subspecies named after the collector. The lion digs his claws into the buffalo’s muzzle as he attempts to pull the animal downwards to deliver a killer bite. The bull is struggling to shake off its aggressor, goring the lion’s flesh with its horn. Forever frozen in dramatic life or death battle, the group exerts a strange fascination.
Lion and Semliki Buffalo, Shot by Major P.H.G. Powell Cotton, Edward Nyanza.
Sketch Rowland Ward, A Naturalist's Life Study, 1913.
On Friday, 12th October 1906, Powell-Cotton left us a vivid account of the incident in his journal and a number of other objects connected with it can be seen at the Powell-Cotton Museum, such as the claw-shredded Burberry jacket and a copy of Punch are on display with a label explaining that it ‘prevented the lion’s claws from penetrating the Major’s abdomen’.

The lion incident was well publicised after
the Major got back to England.


An absorbing account of Powell-Cotton's sport and adventure in Central Africa appeared in the pages of "true-life" adventure and news magazines, such as The Wide World, Journal des Voyages, The Graphic and The Illustrated London News. The following is a news report based on articles that appeared in various newspapers.

Two Years In Savage Africa
MAJOR POWELL-COTTON'S ADVENTURES

Major Powell-Cotton, who has spent his honeymoon among the pygmies of the Ituri Forest and has been exploring in Africa for twenty-seven months, is now on his way home. He has given a vivid account of his adventures.
Owing to the friendly attitude of the Belgian Government and Egyptian and Sudan authorities, he was permitted to travel with his own armed colored escort. During the entire journey, Major Powell-Cotton was the only white man of the party.
He had intended to return home on the conclusion of his expedition to be married, but finally decided not to interrupt his journey, and accordingly arranged for his fiancee to go out to Africa. The marriage took place on her arrival in East-Africa in 1905, after which Mrs. Powell-Cotton shared her husband's hardships-and dangers.

NEW ANIMALS DISCOVERED

Species of forest animals hitherto unknown to science were shot. These include the dusky African tiger cat, about the size of leopard, the honey badger, or black Ituri ratel, the elephant shrew, 'an antelope attired with tusks’, which dives under water, a new black and white monkey and an immense red buffalo. Five of these animals have been named after the explorer by the British Museum authorities.
Dealing with some of the incidents of his travels, Major Powell-Cotton said: "One of the officials at Wadelai told me a curious story of how the natives in the vicinity dispose of the old folk when they become a burden. As soon as the infirmities of age manifest themselves the old people are given a soothing draught and wrapped in a fresh antelope skin. Thus attired they are carried by members of their family to a spot some distance from the village, and are abandoned in the grass close to a native track.
“The first native coming by sees what he thinks is an antelope and spears it, whereupon the victim's family emerge from their hiding-places and express horror and surprise at the unfortunate incident.”
Speaking of his experience with the pygmies, Major Powell-Cotton said: "The excitement of these 'little people' when they first saw my wife was extraordinary, for they had, of course, never previously beheld a white woman. Perhaps the chief source of wonder was her long hair which, for the special benefit of the dwarfs, she would let down, while they crowded round our tent in speechless wonder.”
Entertaining the Pygmies: Mrs. Powell-Cotton Exhibiting her Wealth of Hair to an Admiring Crowd, illustration by F. De Haenen, The Graphic, An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, 1907.

SAVED BY «PUNCH»

Le Treizième Lion, illustration FD, Journal Des Voyages, 1907.
In October, while on the bank of the Sassa River, near Lake Albert Edward, Major Powell-Cotton had the narrowest possible escape from death. The expedition was in a country infested by lions, who played round the camp every night, but always disappeared before daybreak.
One morning, however, the explorer saw a very large solitary male making his way back to the jungle on the river bank, and, cutting him off, fired, wounding the beast badly. Meantime the animal got into the brushwood, where it was almost hidden, and an hour and a half later Major Powell-Cotton, thinking the lion too badly wounded to move, approached, accompanied by some of his men, who threw mud at the beast. The latter, however, did not budge, but on a sandal and a stick being hurled at him he rose, emitting a loud roar, and charged, open-mouthed, at Major Powell-Cotton, who was only a few yards distant.
The latter instantly fired both barrels, but this failed to stop the lion, and the explorer, on turning to his bearer for another gun, found that he had bolted. There being no time to reload, Major Powell-Cotton hurled the gun into the lion's face and turned to run. As he did so the wounded animal sprang, and, digging his claws in Major Powell-Cotton's back and legs, bore him to the ground. The infuriated lion, which it was subsequently found had had its jaw smashed by one of the bullets, tore its victim's coat to shreds and vainly endeavored to raise his head and get at the eyes. It then attempted to tear open the abdomen, but owing to a folded copy of 'Punch' which Major Powell-Cotton had in his pocket the brute's claws were unable to penetrate the flesh. While the Major, lay almost crushed under the animal one of the porters rushed at the lion and hit him on the head with a stick.
At the same time the Waganda headman, with great pluck, ran up and slashed the animal across the eyes with a kiboko (hippo-hide whip). This diverted the beast's attention, and at that moment an Askari shot him dead. It was then found that Major Powell-Cotton had received seventeen wounds. He, however, rode to the nearest Belgian camp, where he was nursed back to health by Commandant Bastien. This incident happened on a Friday, and it was the explorer's thirteenth lion.
The three men who saved the Major's life when he was attacked by the lion in the foreground.
Photograph Powell-Cotton, The Wide World Magazine, 1907.

PUNCH MAGAZINE
most intrigued by the story, published the following verses.


Aes Triplex means literally ‘Triple Bronze’ and figuratively, courage, from a line in Horace's Odes that reads: “Oak and triple bronze encompassed the breast of him who first entrusted his frail bark to the fierce sea”. One needs courage to do this, the same courage shown by the first sailor who set out to sea.
    References
  • Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington, Kent.
  • Rowland Ward, A Naturalist's Life Study in the Art of Taxidermy, London: Rowland Ward, 1913.
  • Major Powell-Cotton, Sport and Adventure in Central Africa, The Wide World Magazine, v.20-22 (1907).
  • Major Powell-Cotton, Notes on a Journey through East Africa and Northern Uganda, Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 3, No. 12 (Jul. 1904).
  • Anonymous, Honeymoon in the Land of Pygmies, The Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 30 March, 1907.
  • Anonymous, Le Treizième Lion, Jounrnal Des Voyages, (1907).
  • Punch or the London Charivari, Volumes 132-133, 1907.

Bengal Tiger Attack

AT CLOSE QUARTERS 1889 — ©AnnickAldo
This spectacular group, showing the moment when a ferocious tiger was in the very act of trying to enter the howdah, was mounted by Rowland Ward and intended as a reconstruction of an incident dating back to March 26, 1888.
That day, during a hunting trip in India, Prince Philippe, Duc d’Orléans was attacked by a wounded tigress, that very nearly ended his life.
It commemorates his defeat of the animal and inaugurates a huge collection of trophies and specimens collected during his multiple expeditions worldwide. It is one of the Duke's most valued trophies and was the starting point for his relationship with Rowland Ward. The elephant is a magnificent animal that he shot in Ceylon; but the tiger was first shown at the Paris Exhibition in 1889.

Prince Philippe, Duc d'Orleans

The eldest son of the Comte de Paris, Philippe d’Orléans, exiled in 1886, by the same law, which banished his father, was excluded from a military career in France, and consequently resolved to enter the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After a year, he left for India attached for duty with the 4th Battalion of King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Shortly after his arrival at Bombay, on February 13, 1888, he had gone to Calcutta, where, as guests of the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, he was invited to take part in a great tiger hunt.
Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, at 19, in field uniform Lieutenant 'King‘s Royal Rifle Corps'.

A Hunting Trip in Nepal

The hunting party's first tiger. (left-to-right)
Duc d’Orléans, Dr. Forsyth, Marquise de Morès, M. de Boissy, M. Gwatkin Williams,
Colonel de Parseval , Prince Henri d'Orléans, Jaak Shikarri, hindou.
The tiger-hunt took about six weeks before he journeyed to join the Rifles at Chakrata. This was indeed great luck having time off to do a bit of shooting. Especially since Philippe had been fueled by that ‘natural desire’ to live the thrills and perils of such a magnificent hunt. A great deal of preparation has to precede a tiger hunt and Philippe was eager to get started. Upon the arrival of his cousin, Henri d’Orléans, the pair devote all their time to shopping. Despite the heat, which had become unbearable, they ran from one store to another to purchases of guns, ammunition, out-fits, and other useful gear.
Finally, on the 29th of February, their little expeditionary force, made up of the Marquess and Marchioness de Mores, and other such nobles left Calcutta, and got underway.
The party hunted the lowland region of Teraï in southern Nepal, from Purnea, which was their base of operations and supplies, up to the foot hills, for about a distance of 170 miles along the banks of the Koshi river. It was a kind of military expedition, their outfit carried, besides the necessary gear for an expedition, sixty-one rifles of different calibers, fourteen revolvers (generally six shots), and thirty-seven thousand cartridges; brought 10 large tents and sixty elephants, 30 of them lent by the Nepalese Government.
As this was Philippe’s first experience with big game, he was keenly observant and took notes. The account of his hunt and number of kills have been written down in his book, “Une Expédition de Chasse au Népaul”. He shot ‘eight’ tigers and for the rest shot everything else to add a few trophies to his collection at Sheen house, his home in England.
Philippe, Duc D’Orléans in the howdah, his first tiger and elephants crossing the river.

Tiger-Hunting

At Close Quaters, Rowland Ward, 1889 — ©AnnickAldo"
Tiger-hunting was one of the most prestigious sports. In his 1924 article ‘Tiger-Hunting in India’, William Mitchell noted that a hunter who bagged a tiger is looked upon as a public benefactor, for the number of people killed each year by wild animals.
The destruction of such a monster raises his conqueror from the rank of sportsman into a hero. “It was reported that when the Duc d’Orléans succeeded in bagging a tiger he caused a French horn to be sounded so that information of the event may be quickly communicated to the surrounding villages.”
An Anglo-Indian reporter said with regard to the shooting party that the distinguished visitors blew their own trumpets with considerable effect as to the number and size of the tigers they were slaughtering. It was stated that one tiger was ‘perfectly riddled with bullets' before he succumbed, and that another ‘jumped from the jungle right into the howdah occupied by the Duc d’Orléans.’ This must have been an awkward situation for the Duc, and somewhat embarrassing for the tiger too, but the former, with that politeness which is inherent in all Frenchmen vacated his seat in favor of the latter, and according to the report “managed to get clear by sliding down behind the elephant’s tail.”
The reporter adds that “this is an adventure which the Duc will be able to speak of with pride when he returns to Europe.” And Philippe did...

AT CLOSE QUARTERS

'An Incident of the Duc d’Orléans' Recent Hunting Tour In India'


Philippe's account appeared in The Graphic under the title of “At Close Quarters", from which the following :
Did you find this tiger-hunting exciting ?
"Yes," said the Prince, "exciting enough sometimes when you hunt the tiger, as an Indian Nawab said, and always when the tiger hunts you."
Did this latter often happen ?
"Once a tigress jumped on my howdah. She smashed the front of it in completely, and with one paw she struck my gun out from between my hands, and broke it in two like a pipe-stem. That was rather a near thing."
“ Two cubs of a tigress had been shot, and the mother hemmed in by a line of elephants. There was an idea that she was crouching in a small patch of jungle behind a tree on the bank of a small stream, but none of our elephants could go anywhere near it. After some time my elephant, being pluckier than the others, was induced to move forward and push the tree down. While thus engaged, the tigress sprang out from beside it with a roar and a tremendous leap right on the top of my howdah, smashing in the front of it, breaking my gun with one blow of her paw and exploding the right barrel before I had time to fire. The gun is still in my possession — a double-barrelled rifle broken in two pieces just below the barrels, the trigger-guard and metal plates wrenched off and twisted by the force of the blow, and with one barrel discharged, the other still at half cock. Fortunately for me she then stumbled backwards, possibly startled by the explosion, and made off for the jungle. My elephant, mad with fright, bolted in the opposite direction, and for a considerable distance nothing would stop her. When at length we got back to the others, we found the whole line of elephants so demoralised that we had to give up sport for the day, and return to camp. Next morning we cornered our game in nearly the same spot, and I had the good luck to bring her down just as she was crossing the river. The mahout managed to slip round in some extraordinary way under the elephant's ears, and was unhurt, but lost his head-dress.”
The Graphic, An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, vol. 39 (1889)

Henri d'Orléans' Mémoires

Henri d'Orléans hunting tigers in India, 1888.
Henri d'Orléans (1867-1901), victim alike by law of exile, and thus banned from enrollment, this brave and adventurous spirit was sent on an around-the-world trip sponsored by his father, and accompanied Philippe in Nepal to bag some tigers too.
Henri tells the story of their narrow escape in his mémoirs,
“Six mois aux Indes, chasses aux tigres” : “Soon, a tiger is cornered”...
"La muraille d'éléphants tient ferme. La bête alors se jette de côté ! Elle se retourne et voit l'éléphant du Duc d'Orléans qui marche vers son gîte : on ne se contente pas de l'assiéger, on veut la forcer ! Au moins ne sera-ce pas impunément ; si elle doit mourir, elle vendra chèrement sa vie. Elle s'élance sur l'éléphant de Philippe, saisit la paroi de l'howdah et s'y accroche avec ses griffes... mais tout conspire à la trahir : le côté de l'howdah cède et elle retombe. L'éléphant s'affole et, la trompe tendue en avant, part au galop. Le Duc d'Orléans a son fusil brisé en deux contre une branche. Heureusement, l'éléphant s'arrête en rejoignant les autres et mon cousin glisse à terre. Quant à la tigresse, elle a disparu. Mais le lendemain, elle se laisse abattre à la même place sans opposer la moindre résistance."
“After futile attempts to pass the line of elephants, the tigress galloped round and before Prince Philippe was able to discharge his gun, the tigress alighted on the howdah with a roar and a bound, dashing the firearm out of his hand while he was in the act of taking aim. The howdah collapsed under the tigress' weight. The elephant panicked, trunk outstretched, and galloped forward. The Duke's rifle was completely severed by the tremendous force of the blow. Fortunately, the elephant halted and rejoined the group, while the Duke dropped to the ground and escaped. As for the tigress, it had vanished. The next day, it was hunted down and killed.”

Rowland Ward

Study group by Rowland Ward for the Duc d'Orléans, A Naturalist's Life Study, 1913.
The young Duc d'Orléans prepared the skin, sent it back to London and entrusted the noted taxidermist, Rowland Ward to immortalize the scene of the attack.
Philippe’s mother, the Comtesse de Paris, who was herself an excellent shot, personally supervise the ‘setting up’ of nine tigers sent home by her son; and Rowland Ward mounted, under her directions, the tigress in the act of springing on the duke's howdah, the side of which it completely crushed in before the youthful sportsman killed his ferocious assailant at close quarters.
These trophies adorned for many years Sheen House, the Twickenham, Philippe's parental home. The Duc’s collection was later moved to a purpose-built ‘private’ museum at Wood Norton, Worcestershire in 1907.
Collections du Duc d'Orléans au Musée de Wood Norton (Angleterre) - C. Vandyck © MNHN
The specimen can be seen at the Museum for Natural History, Paris: Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle - Grande Galerie de l'Evolution.