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The Great Hunters

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Roualeyn George Gordon Cumming | The Lion Hunter

Once after wearying his horse in pursuit of an oryx, Cumming confessed: I inwardly wished that, instead of my being a man of fourteen stone weight, nature had formed me of the most Lilliputian dimensions. But his great size, strength and magnificent appearance were an inevitable part of the man who came to be called The Lion Hunter. After his collection of African trophies weighing more than 27,21 metric tons were shown at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, he attained great popularity in the U.K. as a lecturer on wild life and the chase.

Born on the 15th March 1820, Roualeyn was the second son of a Scottish baronet, Sir William Gordon-Cumming of Altyre and Gordonstoun. He was educated at Eton. He had his first taste of sport in Africa in 1838 when he passed through the Cape on his way to India to become a Cornet in the Madras Cavalry. The climate of the Far East did not agree with him. He resigned his commission two years later and returned to Scotland to take up deer stalking. But even the wildest moorside that Scotland could offer proved too tame. He found the life of the wild hunter so far preferable to that of the mere sportsman that he became an Ensign in the Royal Veteran Newfoundland Companies and traveled to North America in season of the bison, the wapiti and the elk. Soon he had transferred to the Cape Mounted Rifles and was back in Africa.

In his subsequent expeditions as a free-lance adventurer (1843 1848) Cumming found the true outlet of his vigorous, independent nature. His Five Years of a Hunters Life in the Far Interior of South Africa (1850) is a boldly descriptive record of courage and perseverance. One critic comments: his volume, written in the romantic British style, is one that will always remain a classic in the world of sporting literature.

According to his own account, Cumming would tackle any animal, using his bare hands if necessary. He once plunged into a pool containing a wounded hippopotamus, cut notches into its flank with his knife and passed leather thongs through

Cornwallis Harris hunting Giraffe from his own illustration in The Wild Sports of Southern Africa, 1852

Cummings Tussle with a Python from Five Years of a Hunters Life in the Far Interior of South Africa, 1850

the loops thus formed. With the aid of his men he was able to drag it to the land. Even an enormous 4,27 metre python which he discovered retreating into a mass of rocks could not (allegedly) escape the hunter: seizing him by the tail I tried to get him out of his place of refuge. Trophies of his kills were carefully preserved with alum and arsenical soap, a process often carried out under the most trying climatic conditions.

Cumming returned to Great Britain in 1848 and did not visit South Africa again. In 1858 he settled at Fort Augustus, Inverness, where he established a private museum popular with tourists. A premonition of his end and the ordering of a coffin just before his death on 24th March 1866 were characteristic of this colourful impetuous adventurer.