Percy Horace Gordon Powell- Cotton.

A sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien online

. (page 2 of 34)
Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 2 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

first I feared there would necessarily be more ex-
ploration than sport, owing to the transport difficulties
involved in this tour, but being reassured on this point,
I decided to join the expedition.

We intended to strike inland from Berbera and
thence by way of Ginea, where Dr. Donaldson Smith,
the American explorer, had been turned back by the
Abyssinians on his first attempt to reach Lake Rudolf
But owing to the activity of the Mullah Abdullahi —
generally known as the Mad Mullah — in the Haud,
Colonel Sadler, the Consul-General for the Somali coast,
did not think it safe for us to venture by that route,
and finally decided that we must go via Zeila and Harrar,
or not at all.

Our partly finally consisted of Messrs. J. J. Harrison,
W. Whitehouse, A. E. Butter, and myself We had also
with us D. Clarke (chartographer), Perks (taxidermist),
and Daniel (Butter's servant). As I was the only
member of the party who had had any experience of
Somaliland shooting, the preparation of the first rough
lists of all requirements for the trip fell to me ; this meant
a good deal of work, as it involved looking up old lists


and bills, working out quantities, loads, etc. As the
question of tinned supplies and of tents is of the greatest
importance, I may state, for the benefit of future travellers,
that the former came from the Army and Navy Stores,
and the tents from Edgington. We each got our rifles
and ammunition from our own particular gunmaker. INIy
battery consisted of —

1. .256 Mannlicher with telescopic sight.

2. .400 cordite D.B. ejector.

3. 8-bore D.B. hammer, taking 10 drams

(these three by Jeffery).

4. 1 2-bore Parado.x (by Holland).

After the usual rush to collect things forgotten or
not delivered, at the last moment, a small group of our
respective relations and friends saw Harrison, White-
house, and myself, accompanied by Clarke, oft' from
Charing Cross on the morning of Wednesday, 25th
October. Butter, his servant, and Perks, had already
gone on by sea. We had with us a collection of small
parcels, including several instruments lent by the
Royal Geographical Society. At Boulogne, although
we showed our tickets to Aden by the P. & O. sailing
next day, the Customs officials made a great fuss over
our impedimenta, but finally let us off, after weighing
and charging for a fishing net and some cotton soles.
We continued our journey by ordinary train, having
decided that the P. & O. so-called "train de luxe"
was a fraud. When we arrived at Marseilles, none of
our registered baggage was to be found, and after
hunting everywhere for it, and interviewing ever)-
possible and impossible official, the only information


forthcoming was, that it had probably missed the con-
nection in Paris and would arrive by the next train,
due half an hour after our steamer, the ]'ictoria, was
timed to sail. Having driven to the docks with our
hand-baggage, Harrison interviewed the captain, and
showed such a good case, that the latter agreed to await
the arrival of the train. We arranged for a special 'bus
to meet it and to drive to the ship as quickly as possible.
Luckily the baggage did arrive in time, and as the port-
manteau.x were bundled on board, the hawsers were cast
off and the usual shipboard life began. Except for an
annoying wait of a day at Port Said for the Brindisi
mails, the voyage to Aden had nothing to distinguish
it from my eleven previous trips through the Red Sea.
We landed at Steamer Point at ii p.m. on Sunday,
5th November, and heard that the Zeila mail steamer
was due to sail early next morning. As we did not want
to wait a week for the next boat, we arranged (by paying
the rather high sum of Rs. 300, in addition to passages
and freight) for the vessel to wait for us until the
evening. The following day some of us collected such
personal stores as rice, flour, onions, potatoes, etc.,
bought cotton-cloth, and such like, for purposes of barter,
and counted out bags of Maria Theresa dollars ; whilst
the rest called on the Resident and received his per-
mission to buy Snider rifles and ammunition from the
Arsenal. We then interviewed headmen, cooks, boys,
shikaris, and syces, taking the most likely with us to Zeila
for final selection. This necessitated much discussion and
arrangement, besides long journeys from Steamer Point
to the Residencv, and from there to the Arsenal and the


Treasury and back again, so that when \vc (jmharkcd at
8.45 p.'^r. we were all very tired. Just before putting off,
Clarke had to take two or three astronomical observa-
tions, which seemed to puzzle the Somali boatmen and
coolies considerably. After a calm night we ran into a
rainstorm, when I, the worst sailor of the party, suffered
severely, and landed in a very limp condition, after a
sail of two miles in an open boat. A crowd of ex-
pectant retainers met us at Zeila, and by degrees all
our endless packages were carried up to the old
Residency, where in 1895 I was one of a hungry band
who descended on Lieutenant Harrington from the
I. M.S. Mayo and devoured everything he had in the
larder for our tifhn. We were lucky in securing this
house, instead of being obliged to live under canvas,
as the building is a relic of the Egyptian occupation,
and has some fine large rooms. Captain Harrington,
H.B.M.'s agent at Menelik's capital, had reached
Zeila a few days previously with Mr. Baird, the newly
appointed secretary and assistant to the British Agency
at Adis Ababa, and both were busy getting their caravan
together to start. In the evening, Harrison and I went
over to the new Residency, a two-storied stone house,
which forms part of a little cluster of buildings to the
east of the town, and on its wide verandah endeavoured
to catch what sea-breeze there was. Zeila, I may
mention, is not one of those places where one would
live for pleasure. Here we made the acquaintance of
Lieutenant Harold, the \'ice-Consul, and talked over
our proposed journey with Captain Harrington, w'ho
eave us some valuable hints, ami informed us that


Menelik had sent his permission for us to travel to
Adis Ababa by Gildessa and the Hawash Valley.

Most of the next day was taken up in discharging use-
less men who had been engaged for us, and in taking on
more suitable candidates, in inquiring into characters,
setding duties, rations, etc. I was kept pretty busy,
being the only member of the party who spoke a little
Hindustani, which most Somalis understand better than
English. When it came to discussing the question of
wages, the trouble began, since all the men combined in
demanding half as much again as we were prepared to
give. The four " boys " marched off in a body, but, when
they found I was making active inquiries for others,
came back and accepted our terms. On the 9th,
Harrison and myself went to Warabileh, a two hours'
ride, to inspect the sixty camels which had been bought
for us at Berbera. We found some rather young and a
few with rubbed backs, but on the whole they were a
very useful lot, far better than the animals I got together
at Berbera in 1S95. The rest of the day I spent in
seeing that the numbers of camel-mats, ropes, etc.,
agreed with the quantities paid for, and that all were
serviceable. Meanwhile the others were unpacking
tents, rifles, cooking-pots, and the hundred and one
items of camp-kit which would be in daily use. We had
also to catalogue and pack the parcels of beads of all
shapes, sizes, and colours, bars of iron, brass rods,
copper and brass wire, little bells, and various odds and
ends which were to delight the hearts of the natives
round Lake Rudolf and towards Fashoda, and to be
bartered for food.


The nexl morning we marched the men to the
Yice-Consul's office to register their names and tribes.
These particulars, together with the date of engagement,
etc., were duly duplicated, one copy being kept in Lieu-
tenant Harold's office and the other handed to us. This
saves endless misunderstanding and worry, and prevents
the desertion of one's men. In the evening we went
round the bazaar, but e.xcept for a few Esa spears and
shields, the rather curious round work-bo.xes of the
women, made of plaited grass and ornamented with
shells and beads, and amulets sewn in leather-work and
worn round the neck, arm, or chest of every Somali
man, there was little interesting to buy.

On the evening of the nth Captain Harrington and
Mr. Baird started for the capital with their immediate
followers. The horses and dogs sent by Queen Victoria
to the Emperor were under the charge of an English
groom named Bradley. Sections of this caravan had
been going forward all day. Among them were the
escort of Indian Sowars, Soudanese police in charge of
the treasure, carpenters to build the Residency, cooks,
tailors, and washermen. These, with their loads of
every kind — from a steel safe in sections to a phonograph,
from a 4-bore rifle to a case of Mauser pistols, from
window-glass to a grindstone — made an imposing array.
The diversity of articles necessary may be easily under-
stood, since it was necessary to take up everything
required to build and furnish a house in which to
live and entertain all and sundry, from the Emperor
to the sporting globe-trotter. It was a wonderful sight,
and to appreciate the forethought and organisaticju


necessary for the work, one must oneself have had the
fitting out and collection of such a caravan.

While strolling through the native town, we visited
the " cloak-room," where every native, as he enters the
town, has to leave his weapons, receiving a numbered
ticket in return, to be exchanged for them when he
departs. Some of the spears and large Esa knives we
saw were handsomely bound and ornamented with brass
wire. We tried to buy some, but, as the owners were
absent, could not do so. In this store-room we saw
a few rifles and revolvers, which had been purchased
at the French port of Jibuti, where, in defiance of
the Brussels Convention, any and every native who has
the wherewithal can procure both arms and ammunition.
We next went to the camping-ground, where caravans
halt on arrival, dispose of the hides, butter, gum, ostrich
feathers, etc., from the interior, and collect the return
loads of rice, dates, iron, cloth, salt, and beads. On
reaching the coast, the caravan camels are usually sent
to a distance to graze, but there are always a number
of these animals wandering about the camping-ground.
While waiting here, the caravan people generally build
themselves temporary huts of bent-Avood, which they
roof in with the mats used to make the camel pack-
saddles. These mats when placed in position on the
animal in layers three and four thick are roped so as
not to shift or rub.

All Somalis dislike being photographed, and although
men accustomed to take service under Europeans un-
willingly submit to the ordeal, the free man does his
best to keep clear of the camera. We found the easiest


method was for one of us to pretend to take a photo,
while another snapped the group watching the process.
We actually paid one woman to allow us to photograph
her small daughter, but the youngster cried so piteously,
in spite of Daniel's efforts to console her, that it was
hardly a success. As we passed the mosque, we found
a great crowd gathered round one side of the building,
watching a group of elders discussing a tribal dispute. At
the moment things were going badly, for the rival parties
were sitting in solemn silence, with their faces almost
covered with their tobes. The only people who seemed
an.xious to sell us anything were some Jew ostrich-feather
dealers, with shaven heads and greasy ringlets, who, with
the usual volubility of their race, kept pressing their goods
on us. .\s we returned to camp, the open-air restaurants
were doing a thriving business, their clients squatting
on benches or low string-seated stools, eating messes
of rice, ghee, and hot condiments, washed down with
copious draughts of coffee or tea.


Start for the interior — Too much kit — First head of game — Headman
sent back for more camels — A night alarm — Native wells — Early
marching — We are weighed — Higher ground and a pretty camp
— A trying march kills camels — Camel-post station — Lesser Kudu
ground — Beira antelope — A run of bad luck — Travellers from Jibuti.

On Sunday morning, 12th November, all our people
were drawn up before Lieutenant Harold. After the roll
had been called and the covenanted pay, together with
all the advances, officially confirmed, the Vice-Consul
lectured the caravan men on their duty to us, and
warned them of the probable result of not serving us
faithfully. First and foremost came Mahomed, the
headman, to whom the success of Captain Wellby's
journey from Adis Ababa round Lake Rudolf to Fashoda
was greatly due. Then followed in quick succession
Jama, the second headman, four personal servants
called "boys," two cooks, four first shikaris, four
second shikaris, four syces, four skinners, three
donkey-boys, and forty-five camel-men, making a total
of seventy-two men. When this parade was over, all
were set to work to get the loads tied up, while we com-
pleted our personal packing and finished our letters home.


After tiffin with Lieutenant Harold — our last taste
of civilisation — we were assailed with questions as to
how and where a large amount of our baggage was to
go. Already fifty-nine of our camels, together with
sixteen hired animals, had been loaded, but there were
still a lot of things lying about unpacked. After piling
up all we could, there were still three full loads which
had to be forwarded later.

Unfortunately only thrt!e ponies, instead of the seven
we wanted, had been collected, so that we had to
lake it in turns to ride. As we passed through the
native quarters on our departure, the inhabitants made
pointed remarks about Englishmen who could not afford
to ride, and chaffed our men about their sahibs. It
was a distinct novelty for a white man to start for the
interior on foot.

The first beast killed was a jackal, which H. and I
spotted, and he bagged — not an imposing start.'

On our first night out we experienced the usual
discomfort of not being able to lay our hands on any-
thing we wanted, but somehow we got a meal of sorts
and turned in. Early next morning W. and I started out
towards the plain of Manda through Heron-thorn scrub
into Kulun bush, amongst which there was a good deal
of grass. On the way we saw an aul (Gazella scem-
incrriiigi\ which \\'. tried for without success, while I,
after an unsuccessful long shot at a gazelle, returned
to camp to overhaul my battery, and, finding that

' Kor the s,ike of hrcvity I li.ivc in this ami the following ch.iptcrs indicilcil Ihe
various members of the p.-iny by tlieir initials only, viz., H. for Harrison, W. for
Whitehouse, and H. for liuttcr.


the clips would not fit the .256, had to file them
down. When I had finished, the others came back,
having shot an aul and a lowland gazelle {G. peheini).
After breakfast, we decided to send back eleven loads
of rice packed on eight camels, and instructed Mahomed
to buy fifteen more camels to bring on these and the other
three loads left behind. In the afternoon we marched,
and I managed to knock over a pair of aul out of a herd
of fourteen or fifteen. The moon was shining brightly
when we reached camp, at Ashado with the skins and
meat. In the small hours the camp was aroused by
a blood-curdling yell ; the sentries sprang towards the
tent from which the sound proceeded, the camels broke
their knee-ropes and started to stampede, and affrighted
natives seized their rifles. Being a light sleeper, I was
the first to turn out, only to find that the commotion
was caused by B., who had given a view holloa while
dreaming of galloping lions to a standstill.

After marching to Arrhi Halleis we employed part of
the next afternoon in cutting each other's hair, and a
poor job we made of it. In the evening H. got a wart-
hog {Phacochcvr-us cethiopiciis), which we all lent a hand
in skinning, as the second shikaris, although Mingans,
refused, declaring that, if they handled the hog, the other
Somalis would not associate or eat with them. Next
morning, H. decided to make a longer march, and, as the
last day's journey had been too hot and trying for the
camels, a much earlier start ; so, just as a cool breeze
was following a stifling night, we turned out at 2 A.^r.,
had a cup of cocoa, and, after much bustle of men and
beasts, started at 3.15, marching till 8.40, when we


haltc^d by some trees at Duddarp. I had a long mid-
day tramj) following a gazelle which, after wounding
with a longish shot, I eventually reached. F'ortunately
the day was cloudy, and nothing like as trying as the
previous one.

Next morning, a still earlier start, and a seven

and a half hours' journey through grass and thorn
bush, brought us to llensa. I saw a few dik-dik
(^JMadoqua saltiana) and bagged one on the wa\-. In
the wide, sandy river-bed here there were some circular
funnel-shaped water-pits. The native method of raising
water from these is for one man to stand at the bottom


and scoop the liquid up in a han (a grass-woven, ghee-
plastered vessel), and throw the vessel up to a man
standing above him, who catches it and passes it on
to the next, who finally empties it into a skin trough
supported on a few sticks. Sometimes, if the well be
deep, this living ladder would be composed of three or
four men, besides the " scooper " and "emptier," and, as
may be imagined, a good deal of water is spilt on the
way. As a rule the Somali is most particular not to
be seen naked, but at the wells it is customary to work
without any clothing. It is a curious sight to see the
flocks of sheep and goats and herds of catde and
camels, all drawn up in regular order waiting for water,
herded up and kept separate by small boys armed with
long sticks. Each well is the property of a family, and
throughout the day their flocks and herds file past the
skin troughs until all have had their fill. Cattle and
horses must be watered every day, sheep and goats
will go two or three days without hurt, while camels
do all right with a weekly or fortnightly drink, accord-
ing to the state of the grass. In a waterless country
it is therefore possible to roughly estimate the distance
of the wells, by noticing the kind of beasts being grazed.
At mid-day we were all weighed ; our heaviest white
man was W., who turned the scale at 172 lbs., our
lightest H., at 140 lbs. My skinning-man, at 131 lbs.,
was the heaviest black weight, and Ali Burali, my first
shikari, at 114 lbs., the lightest. In the afternoon we
tried walking up dik-dik and hare, but bagged none of
the former and only five of the latter. At this point it
was decided that Daniel should return to the coast, as


he did not seem to be getting on well. The following
night was the first cool one we had so far experienced,
and instead of lying sweltering under a mosquito net, I
was able to sleep with a thin rug over me.

Next day, the 1 7th, a trying march of six and a quarter
hours over a rough uphill road brought us to Lasman,
a bare and stony camping-ground, with a few wells, at an
altitude of 1850 feet. During this march one of the
camels had to be abandoned on the road and another
destroyed. At Lasman we saw, for the first time, some
gerenuk [Lithocraums ivalleri) and also a number of dik-
dik, of which we bagged five. The next march to Somadu
(2800 feet) was a delightful change, for after a little while
we dropped into the Daga Hardina Nulla at a place called
Elan, where there is a water-hole, surrounded by fine
trees of considerable size and dense underwood. Both
dik-dik and gerenuk were numerous. I was unsuccess-
ful with my gun, but the others got an aul, a wart-hog,
and some dik-dik. Somadu is one of the stations of
the camel - post Captain Harrington has established
between Zeila and Harrar, which does the 180 miles
in 3 days and 7 hours.

The next march to Arroweina promised sport on the
way; so, after starting the caravan at 4.10, we went off
with the shikaris, calling a halt at intervals, and at dawn
spread out on either side of the valley. I drew an
outside station and saw nothing but tlik-dik, till we
approached the camping -place, when a female lesser
kudu [S/rcpsiccros i»iberbis) appeared, followed by her
calf We did some careful stalking in the hope of seeing
a bull, but were unsuccessful. When I reached camp,


I heard that W. had wounded a good lesser kudu bull,
which, after being hit, had run towards H., who then
fired and hit ; W. again cut in, and this time dropped
his quarry. H. at first thought there were two beasts,
but eventually it was proved that there was only one,
and as W. had hit first, it was of course his head.

Later in the morning a man herding the camels came
and reported that he had seen a kudu close by. With-
out delay I started in pursuit, and followed the tracks of
a bull and two cows, but no sooner caught a glimpse
of them than they dashed off I followed, the shikari
tracking just in front of me with the rifle over his
shoulder, but towards me. Presently I saw the bull
broadside on at 60 yards, and stretched out my hand
to seize the rifle, but, as I did so, Ali turned to see
what I wanted, and, jerking the rifle away, lost me the
shot. Shortly after I came on gerenuk, and dropped
a male standing behind a bush at 150 yards, and
wounded a female at 250 yards, which after a short
chase we recovered.

We had decided to remain a couple of days at
Arroweina, as the camels were much exhausted and
needed a rest ; so next morning we all struck oft in
different directions to look for game. I climbed the
clift' 1500 feet high, just opposite camp, by the dry bed of
a torrent, where the natives said greater kudu were to
be found, and, after a time, we struck some old tracks.
These were succeeded by fresh ones, but unfortunately
they were only those of cows and calves. Near the
summit I spotted, through the glasses, a couple of beasts
which I could not identify. Ali said they were beira.


but I thought this too \:,ool\ to be true, as 1 had not
heard of their being found in this region. The ground
beino- very open, we made a detour, just below the
crest of the ridge, so as to try and get near the animals ;
but they saw us first and bolted, we after them. I got
a shot, but missed, whereupon I ran forward and saw
them grouped together a little way down the hill.

Taking aim, I dropped the first through the shoulder,
hit another rather far back, and with a long shot bagged
a third. They proved to be beira, Ijut two of them
were females. The horns are thin and scarcely
noticeable at a little distance, even when the animal
is standing still, much less when on the move. After
photographing, measuring, and weighing them all, I sal
down and watched the men skinning. Presently, with the
glasses, I saw B. top the ridge opposite to me, and.


after a look round, lie down under a tree and send two
of his men along to search for game. Though they
passed just opposite to us, these men never discovered
my party. A little later, one of my men reported a couple
of beira close by ; after a short stalk I found the male
lying down, and dropped him as he stood up to look at
us. His horns measured 4^ inches, being better than in

Side-view of Male Beira Skull.

the one I had previously bagged. As we started towarcis
camp, we saw at a distance three greater kudu, but on
getting closer they all proved to be cows, so we con-
tinued our way down over very rough ground.

At the foot of the hill I came upon a herd of gazelle,
and shot what AH pointed out as the buck, but which
proved to be a long-horned doe. On reaching camp
I found that H. had a 42-inch greater kudu, W. a fine
lesser kudu and a gerenuk, and B. a beira and a
gerenuk, so that we all had a good day, though H.
was rather put out at not getting any beira.


On the 2 I St, I startud out early and soon came on
fresh tracks of lesser kudu, but it turned out to be a

Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 2 of 34)