Saturday, April 3, 2010

Writing at City Walk


Writing at City Walk, originally uploaded by juliejordanscott.
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Samuel White Baker (1821-1893) was one of the greatest hunters of the Victorian era. He traveled widely in search of sport and adventure, writing best-selling books on his exploits in Asia, Africa, and Europe. He also garnered fame as an African explorer, imperial administrator, friend of the Prince of Wales, and a bon vivant who circulated in the highest echelons of British society. Throughout his life, he remained an avid sportsman, and it is in this context he is best remembered.

By the age of eighteen he had designed a massive rifle capable of firing conical lead balls weighing three ounces that were propelled by 16 drams of powder, a gun so powerful it was considered "preposterous in the professional opinions of the trade." In truth, as Baker would later reflect, "this weapon ... foreshadowed the modern Express ... [as] a sporting rifle effective at a long range." Similarly innovative thinking as it applied to hunting would characterize his entire career.

His big-game experiences began with extensive hunting in Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka). He wrote two books on his experiences there, The Rifle and the Hound in Ceylon and Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon.

After the tragic death of his first wife and the loss of three children, he turned to Africa for sport, exploration, and quite possibly, escape from grief. His experiences there resulted in three more books, The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia, The Albert Nyanza (two volumes), and Ismailia (two volumes). He hunted in central Europe with India's "Dark Prince,' the Maharajah Duleep Singh; joined daredevil Arabs in Africa who hunted elephants on horseback with the idea being to hamstring them with a sword; killed a stag in Scodand with his knife after dogs had brought it to bay; and married a second time after scandalizing society by traveling in Africa with the woman, Florence von Sass, for many months before they were wed. He was so powerful a man that in his sixties he shamed a circus strongman by having his own biceps bound with chains and then breaking them by flexing his muscles. Baker even spanked a future king of England (George V) when he broke limbs on a prized fruit tree at Baker's English country home.

Baker eased into later life--after concluding the African portion of his career by spending five years attempting to pacify the Sudan--by writing and living the comfortable life of an affluent country squire. During this period he wrote books such as Wild Beasts and Their Ways and True Tales for My Grandsons. On the day he died, Baker, ever a man of action, was busy planning a lion hunt in Somaliland. He went out in style: Following the massive heart attack that killed him, his wife, as per his instructions, ordered a 50-gallon cask of fine claret opened and ordered the butler to put it to good use in entertaining friends and the estate's staff. As one obituary notice suggested, he was a Renaissance man of action: "When he was not hunting he was exploring or fighting (he did much to end slavery in the Sudan) or writing."

Source Citation
Casada, Jim. "Great hunters in history: Sir Samuel White Baker (1821-1893)." Sports Afield Jan. 2005: 42. InfoTrac Small Business eCollection. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.
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