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The Great Hunters

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William Charles Baldwin | Big Game Hunter

William Baldwin had, by his own confession, an innate love of sports, dogs and horses. Born in Leyland, Lancashire, on the 3rd March 1826 or 1827 (the confusion is due to conflicting testimony of his tombstone and his brothers biography), he was pony riding two days a week from the age of six. He continued to ride until old age, taking part in a steeple chase at seventy.

After reluctant years at school, he was sent at sixteen by his father to be a clerk in a shipping office. Although he did his best, boats, bull terriers and beagling continually got in the way. At last he decided that quill driving was not my particular vocation, nor a three legged stool the exact amount of range to which I was willing to restrict myself. He tried his hand at farming, first in Forfarshire where he had differences with the master, then in the West Highlands where he at last found a measure of happiness.

But prospects of farm or stock ownership for him were poor. He thought to try his luck either in Canada or on the Western Prairies of America. Just when he was on the point of deciding, he was advised by friends to travel Natal. The timely appearance of Cummings reminiscences and his own love of the hunt clinched the matter. He packed his guns, rifles and saddles, purchased seven expensive deerhounds, and embarked upon the 92 days sea journey to Durban where he landed in December 1851.

Three hunting trips into Zululand followed (1852 1856). In 1857 he traveled north west to the present day Transvaal. He visited Lake Ngami in 1858 and two years later claimed to be the second white man to set eye on the Victoria Falls. David Livingstone, whom he met on this expedition, had first sighted the Falls on 16th November 1855. These adventures are recorded in Baldwins African Hunting and Adventure from Natal to Zambesi from which these extracts are taken.

The book was made up from his journals which were kept during the discomforts of pioneering travels. They were written sometimes in ink, but often in pencil, gunpowder, tea, etc. in Kafir kraals or wagon bottoms. His prose is straight- forward, moving forward with a pace which sometimes gives scant attention to detail. With all the sang froid of men of action, he is inclined to underplay an episode which would have given most people a conversation piece for the rest of their lives. He is courageous, resourceful; at times even devil may care.

Baldwins greatest respect is reserved for fellow hunters. He records his acquaintance with Elephant White at that time known for his shooting exploits throughout Natal and, on his last journey to the Zambesi, his meeting with the far famed Afrikaners, John Viljoen and Piet Jacobs. They had had a glorious hunt (and) had killed ninety three elephants. Occasional references show that he is mindful of the achievements of his predecessor in the wilderness, Gorden Cumming. Perhaps Baldwin even pitted himself against the Scot.

If the dedication is to be taken into account, it is the Rev. T. Rigbye Baldwin to whom the reader is indebted for the record of these hunting experiences. William notes that his brothers great interest in my wandering was the sole inducement that led me to take notes. He returned to England in 1861, and did not visit South Africa again. He died in Taporley, Cheshire, on the 17th November 1903.