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chapter iii
 1898: Determine to organize a transport caravan on the Uganda Railway route, to convey provisions for the coolies working on the railway—Man-eating lions at railway construction camps—Reach the borderland of the Masai and Kikuyu tribes—Desertion of my men—Return to railhead—Start out again with convoys for Uganda—Loss of my transport animals—Decide to enter the Kikuyu country
I own I was a little discouraged by this reception, but it did not alter my determination to remain—in spite of the veiled threat of the official to prevent my going up-country; so I set out to make a few inquiries for myself.
I found that there were a number of caravans going up to Uganda, the main road to which place was protected by a line of forts, placed about a hundred miles apart. North and south of this caravan road the country was practically unknown, being under no administration, and chiefly inhabited by hostile tribes.
A mutiny had recently broken out among the troops in Uganda, on account of which the whole country was in disorder, and a lot of transport
was required in the disaffected district. Here, again, I thought I saw my opportunity.
At that time everything had to be carried upon the heads of native porters, so that each load, averaging about sixty pounds in weight, was costing from sixty to one hundred rupees—very often a lot more than the value of the goods carried—before it reached its destination.
I was convinced that this state of things could be improved on; and chancing to meet a man named Gibbons—a white trader—as I left the Commissioner, I talked over the question of cheapening the cost of transport with him, and we finally decided that it could be done by using donkeys and wagons in the place of porters; so we decided to try the scheme in partnership.
Having settled the bargain, we set to work to prepare the expedition. Altogether we purchased about thirty donkeys, which cost us about a hundred rupees each, and got as many wagons as we thought sufficient. In the meantime I set to work to make the harness, as we could not get any in Mombasa, and by using rope and sacking I managed to turn out a sufficient number of very creditable sets.
We also decided to take a hundred porters with us in case of accident, as our contract provided for a heavy fine if we did not deliver the goods on time. These porters were chiefly Swahili, a name meaning “coast dwellers.” .bn 058.png
These Swahili consider themselves more civilized than the people of the interior. They practise the Mohammedan religion and copy the Arabs in their dress. Swahili porters march under a headman of their own race, who receives his orders and repeats them to his followers. If, as sometimes happens, there are porters from other native tribes in the caravan, each tribe has its representative headman. For each ten carriers there is an askari, or soldier, who is armed with a rifle, and whose duty it is to keep guard at night and protect the caravan on the road. These askaris also act as police and keep order generally, and bring in any deserters. As may be easily imagined, it would hardly do to trust merely to the askaris’ sense of duty for the prevention of desertion, but a clearly understood condition of their engagement in that capacity ensures their using their best endeavours to prevent anything of the sort. It is the recognized rule on all safaris that, if any man of the ten in an askari’s section deserts, and the askari cannot bring him back, he will himself have to carry the deserter’s load for the rest of the journey. Apart from the unpleasantness of having to carry a sixty-pound load in the ranks of the porters instead of swaggering along with no other burden than his rifle, ammunition, and blanket, the blow to his self-importance involved in the degradation from askari to porter is one
that would be severely felt by any nigger, who is probably blessed with more self-esteem than even a circus-ring master or a newly appointed Sub-Commissioner, and the fear of such degradation is a wonderful spur on the askaris’ watchfulness. A cook and a private servant completed the outfit.
On this occasion we had two hundred loads of Government goods to take up to Uganda, and one hundred loads of trade goods which we were taking up on our own account, our intention being to deliver the Government goods at their destination and then start on a private trading and hunting expedition away up north, in the direction of Lake Rudolph, where we hoped to buy more donkeys, as we had heard that they were very cheap in that district.
Having completed all our arrangements, we put the whole caravan—men, donkeys, wagons, and loads—on the train, and started for rail-head, which was then about 150 miles from Mombasa. This was in the year 1898. On arriving safely at the terminus of the line we left the train and went into camp.
We found that the district around us was infested with lions, whose ferocity had created such a state of panic among the Indian coolies working on the construction of the line that the work had practically stopped. No less than thirty of the coolies had been carried off by them,
and I found the remainder sleeping in the trees and afraid to go to work.
Many stories were told of the audacity of the lions, who prowled round the camp nightly, and rarely left without one or more victims. In one case an Irishman, named O’Hara, who had charge of the coolies engaged in the construction of the line, set himself to watch for the man-eater, in the hope of getting a shot at him, and took his post with his rifle by the door of his tent, in which his wife was sleeping. The night passed without incident, and towards morning he must have dozed off, for his wife awakened to see him being dragged off into the bush by a lion. His mutilated body was eventually found by the search party within a short distance of the camp.
On another occasion three men with whom I was personally well acquainted had a remarkable experience. They were watching for lions from a railway carriage—a construction wagon on the line—the door of which they left open. Two of them, Perenti and Hubner, made themselves as comfortable as they could on rugs laid on the floor of the carriage to rest till their turn for watching came, while the third, a man named Rial, took up a position near the door, where he evidently fell asleep. A prowling lion scented the party, and took a flying leap into the carriage. The impact of his landing made the carriage
oscillate, and swung the door to, caging the whole party and their unwelcome guest. Perenti told me that he was wakened by the curious smell of the lion, and, putting out his hand, felt the animal standing over him. Directly he was touched the beast let out a terrific roar, and, seizing Rial by the throat, sprang clean through the window with him and made off. The body, partly eaten, was found in the bush next morning.
Some of the dodges to kill the lions had distinctly humorous results, and I remember being much amused with the story of one man’s experience. I must explain that to provide the labourers with water, tanks were placed beside the line, which were refilled at intervals. One genius had the idea of lying in wait for lions in one of these tanks, in one side of which he made a hole in which to insert the barrel of his rifle—quite overlooking the fact that the lion might prefer to approach from the opposite side, which was what actually happened. The animal, scenting him, immediately knocked the lid off the tank and tried to fish him out with his paw. He was unable to get his rifle round, and could only shrink into the smallest possible space in the corner of the tank—fortunately beyond the reach of the lion—and remain quiet until the beast was driven off. He was lucky enough to escape with a torn blanket and a few deep scratches where the lion had just managed to reach him
with his claws. Of course, he had to endure a considerable amount of chaff on the result of his original attempt at lion-hunting.
I myself had a narrow escape before leaving railhead, for which the lions were indirectly responsible. I had been dining with one of the railway officials, and had stayed rather late, it being after ten o’clock when I set out to return to my own camp. Not expecting to be out so late, I had not brought my rifle, so, as it was of course pitch dark, I took a blazing brand from the camp fire, and started to walk the two miles to my own place. After going for some time I saw some fires in the distance, and, thinking they were those of my own people, I made towards them. All at once I heard a terrific din of shouting and beating of empty paraffin-cans. While wondering what on earth all the row was about I heard firing, and some shots whizzed past, unpleasantly close to my head. Dropping flat, I began shouting, and the firing presently ceased. I was then able to make my way into camp, which I found was one made for some of the Indian coolies, who had mistaken the light of my firebrand for the eye of a lion. I was persuaded to stay the remainder of the night in their boma and return to my own camp in the morning. A boma, or zareba as it is called in the Soudan, is a rough fence of thorn-bushes or brushwood built round a

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