The Man Who Shot Cannibals; It Was a Scene That Defied Description. There Were Bodies Everywhere, Pots of Human Stew Bubbled over. . . and on a Table Rested a Man's Head with Its Own Grim Secret
Hudson, Christopher, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: CHRISTOPHER HUDSON
THE WATONGA tribesmen chuckled in disbelief. They had gathered in a village in the northern tip of what their British overlords called Nyasaland (present-day Malawi), to hear a tall, young Englishman with yellow-green eyes offer them money to carry his bags on a journey beyond the limits of their known world.
His name was Ewart Grogan. Just turned 24, he was setting out to do something which no man in history had ever done and few believed possible: to complete a traverse of the entire continent of Africa from the Cape to the Mediterranean. What is more, he was doing it not out of scientific curiosity like Livingstone, or to write a book like Stanley, but to win the hand of the woman he loved.
All his long life - he was born in 1874 and died in 1967 -Ewart Grogan was a maverick and a rebel, which may be why he is so little known in Britain that only now is the first full biography, of this extraordinary man being published (Lost Lion Of The Empire*). Strikingly good-looking, he combined the quick-witted self-reliance of his Available Irish forebears with the lordly assurance of a prosperous English upbringing. More than that, he had the luck of the devil, beginning with the circumstances of his birth.
He had 20 brothers and sisters, but because he was the firstborn of his father's second wife, he was idolised by her to the exclusion of the others.
Clever and resourceful, Ewart was, like his almost exact contemporary Winston Churchill, far too conscious of being master of his destiny to bother with academic success.
At Winchester he read Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and befriended Vyner Brooke, son of Rajah Brooke who ruled Sarawak, and his soul thrilled to the call of imperial adventure.
While at Cambridge he took time off to climb the Matterhorn.
Back at college he relieved his boredom by playing increasingly risky practical jokes on dons and fellow students, eventually getting sent down after herding a flock of sheep into the rooms of a college tutor.
HE DRIFTED for a while, then read of an uprising by the Ndebele people in Southern Rhodesia.
Cecil Rhodes was calling for volunteers; within a week, Ewart Grogan was on a boat to Capetown. Aged 21, he had no training as a soldier, but as luck would always have it, he fell in with the right people.
A cavalry officer deputed Grogan to run a wagonload of ammunition up to Bulawayo, which was heavily fortified against rebel attack.
The mission accomplished, he met a sergeant who signed him up as a member of the Matabele Mounted Police.
With a horse and a rifle he felt he had arrived, if only, as he wrote many years later, as 'a bloody trooper who for five bob a day, a cupful of mouldy rice, and a blown tin of bully beef swore and sweated in the task of painting the map red'.
Another tribe, the Shona, now turned against Southern Rhodesia's white settlers, and Grogan was sent north with the relief force to Salisbury, past the circling vultures and the laughter of hyenas disinterring the day's dead.
He succumbed to dysentery and fever (not yet known as malaria nor attributed to mos-quitos), but his exploits around Salisbury were notable enough to get him transferred to Rhodes's personal escort.
The campaign was at a stalemate; Rhodes negotiated with the tribal chiefs, and in the evenings he would return to the campfire where Grogan would listen to him expound his dream of civilising the entire continent via a railway and telegraph running the length of Africa. For Grogan, these monologues confirmed his life's purpose.
Laid off with a campaign medal after the Ndebele agreed peace terms, Grogan contracted blackwater fever during a hunting expedition near Beira in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).
Losing consciousness, he came to in a dingy corrugated iron shack, next to the corpse of a man who had died three days before. The owner of the shack, thinking Grogan was about to die, wrapped him in a blanket and loaded him onto a truck on the Beira train.
Some 24 hours later Grogan was lying, still deeply unconscious, in a Beira railway siding. It happened to be the day on which Alfred Lawley, the man who built most of southern Africa's railways, was making a tour of the terminus.
Observing a body in the blanket, and noting that it didn't smell dead, Lawley had Grogan transferred to his house and nursed back to health. Ewart Grogan returned to Britain, and found himself nominally in charge of six siblings now that his mother too was dead (his father had died when he was 16), but he longed for more action.
In a period of good health burst liver abcesses and recurrent bouts of fever would be a lifelong legacy of Africa - he went with a Cambridge friend, Eddie Watt, to visit Watt's aunt, Caroline Eyres, in Skye where she was renting an estate with her brother, Harry Sharp.
'Aunt Carrie' took on the role of mother to the young man.
To Grogan's good looks, charm and sparkling conversation she added the attributes of a country gentleman: how to stalk deer, cast for salmon and play a decent hand of whist.
And when Watt set off to New Zealand for the wedding of his sister Helen, Aunt Carrie persuaded Grogan to go with him, knowing one of Helen's unmarried sisters was a beauty.
Her name was Gertrude Watt.
She was tall, with soft blue eyes, lustrous brown hair and an infectious laugh. She was also an heiress. Her father had been one of the richest men in New Zealand, and her stepfather James Coleman, a banker, made his own fortune.
GROGAN was smitten, and Gertrude, confronted by this swashbuckling young vagrant with his thrilling stories, was equally taken with him. They discussed marriage but Grogan, unlike Gertrude's other suitors, had no prospects.
He knew of one way to make a name for himself. Quizzed by the incredulous banker Coleman, he elaborated on his plan to undertake the first south-to-north traverse of Africa. He had already done the first leg, from Capetown to Beira.
'And after all,' he argued, 'if I fail, nothing is lost. But if I succeed - well, I shall hope to have proved worthy of your stepdaughter.' Grogan arrived back in England late in 1897.
In Africa, Alfred Lawley had driven his railway as far north as Bulawayo, and General Kitchener was driving his railway south from Egypt towards Khartoum in his campaign to retake the Sudan.
This left Grogan with the small matter of crossing central Africa. The first problem was money, but Aunt Carrie came to the rescue. She would subsidise his journey, provided her brother, Harry Sharp, could join him.
Harry was bored with the life of the idle rich and wanted something to do.
The two men sailed to Africa and set off from Beira on a hunting trip, to acclimatise.
This was frontier territory for white men, as Grogan wrote in his memoir From The Cape To Cairo - 'faces yellow with fever, faces coppered by the sun, faces roseate with drink, and faces scarred, keen, money-lustful, and stamped with every vice and some of the virtues'.
They shot lion, eland and buffalo; Grogan lost his collapsible bath to hyenas and narrowly missed stepping on the head of a 14-foot python which, once shot, took eight men to straighten out, but they collected enough trophies to help pay for the expedition.
Grogan set off upriver towards Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika.
Harry Sharp had gone ahead to hire porters. Grogan set off after him in a cockroach-infested bucket of a ship called the Good News which almost sank in Lake Tanganyika's stormy waters. Racked by enteric fever, he met up with Sharp who had suffered even worse; the doctor who had nursed him had caught the fever and died.
A kindly German administrator found them more porters, and on 12 April 1899, Grogan, Sharp, five Watonga tribesmen, ten armed Asiskas from Nyasaland and 150 porters (most of them from the Manyema tribe, noted for their stamina and ill-discipline) marched out into the unknown, carrying food, tents, beds, chairs, tables, collapsible baths, Union Jacks, quinine, permanganate of potassium, Elliman's Embrocation, books, tobacco, surveying equipment and gifts for the tribal chiefs they would meet en route.
The Asiskas downed their rifles and fled within days. By the time they had reached Bujumbura at the top of Lake Tanganyika, the northernmost outpost of civilisation, Grogan's temperature was 107.
They gambled that, if he could reach the higher ground around Lake Kivu, the only one of Africa's great lakes no Briton had yet set eyes on, he might survive.
Progress was painfully slow, along a broken, forested valley between precipitous mountains.
With Grogan stretchered in a hammock, they forded rapids and negotiated high, rocky passes.
They came out on a plateau and at last saw Lake Kivu below them, a 'mighty sheet of water, dotted with a hundred isles and hemmed in by a thousand imposing hills'.
Mapping frantically (the Royal Geographical Society had given them a crash course before departure) they descended to the shore.
Gertrude was much on Grogan's mind. He had named an apparently unknown species of antelope Cervicapra thomasinae, Thomasina being his nickname for her; the specimen is still in the Natural History Museum in London. An inlet on Lake Kivu became Gertrude Bight and in due course a Sudanese rivulet was christened the Gertrude Nile.
North of Lake Kivu were five volcanoes, rising out of the plain to
nearly 15,000 feet. Several were snow-covered in the mornings something geographers in London would find scarcely credible - and this snow, did Grogan but know it, would prove to be the furthest source of the Nile.
Grogan had to work out how to cross the mountains to Lake Edward beyond.
The caravan pitched camp on a 7,000ft-high pass, from which the trail descended into forested ravines filled with clouds of butterflies, giant moths and blazing orchids.
Here, the two men separated: Sharp to take the main party around the south of the foremost volcano, and Grogan, with a handful of porters, to explore the lava slopes on the west side, where he had heard tell of gigantic elephants.
It nearly cost all of them their lives. Having crossed the lava, full of fossilised elephant bones, they met natives fleeing Baleka cannibals from the Congo. As they advanced, the trail became lined with dead bodies, grinning skulls, skeletons and dried pools of blood.
They saw a village ahead, when suddenly there appeared 'black figures brandishing spears and howling at the expected feast'.
Grogan loaded his rifle and fired, bowling over six of the Baleka and wounding another two. The rest fled.
The sight that greeted him in the village forever haunted his dreams.
There were human entrails drying on sticks, pots of soup with bright yellow fat, gnawed thighbones and forearms, a hand toasting on a stick, and a head with a spoon left sticking in the brains. Flies swarmed and the stench defied description.
FOR THE next two days they moved at speed through corpse-strewn valleys, Grogan knowing that rapid movements alone could save them.
Eventually, they met Sharp and the main caravan progressed northwards.
There was so little to eat that Grogan and Sharp were forced to boil the trunk of a bull elephant for 12 hours, while the Manyemas, Grogan suspected, devoured two of the four Baleka cannibals he had captured to take back to London.
Reaching Lake Edward, they became the first Europeans to try to map its eastern shore. But Grogan's fever had returned; his temperature was 108, and they were relieved to make it back on to British territory, a fort on the Uganda border.
From there it was an easy 80-mile march to the district administration at Fort Portal, leaving the cloud-capped Mountains of the Moon on their left.
Most of the Manyemas now disappeared. Harry Sharp also left, called home on family business.
Ten years older than Grogan and not as athletic, he was not unhappy to leave, taking the trophies to ship home from Mombasa. Grogan, his caravan now reduced to 20 people, including the five Watongas, still had 2,000 miles to travel to Cairo.
Grogan left Fort Portal on August 28, 1899, cutting his way down towards Lake Albert and the Albert Nile. A succession of canoes took his caravan the length of Lake Albert, whence they marched for four days across dry stony country to the southernmost steamer ports on the upper Nile.
Gratefully, Grogan accepted a lift on a Belgian steamer. He was suffering such excruciating pains from a liver abcess that he could scarcely stand; getting to the Mediterranean and good medical care was now a matter of life or death.
But the Nile, after a prolonged drought, was at its lowest level for 150 years. Steamers could not get through. Grogan's only option was a 300-mile forced march north to a British station at Sobat. Travelling as light as possible, he waded up to his neck through lagoons full of hippos and crocodiles.
This was the land of the Dinka, tall, graceful men who stood like storks in the water to spear fish. At first curious of Grogan, they grew threatening, then finally attacked, leaving several of his party dead.
OUT OF the marshes, in Nuer country, Grogan struck out across the barren terrain, shooting the occasional pelican or maribou to feed his men. They were all now starving, and constantly sick from drinking dirty water.
It was still four days to Sobat; he doubted that any of them would survive. Then he noticed figures on the horizon. A Sudanese soldier walked up, shook his hand and led him to Captain Dunn, the medical officer on a British expedition to cut a navigable waterway down the Nile, who was out hunting.
'How do you do?' said Dunn politely. 'Have a drink? You must be hungry; I'll hurry on lunch.' Ewart Grogan's lucky star had led him to his destination. A gunboat collected him and, at the most southerly point of the telegraph line, he sent a cable to Gertrude.
Within a few days, trains and a steamer had taken him further up the Nile, and to a grand banquet in Omdurman, near Khartoum.
He still had many miles to travel to Cairo, but now he knew he had achieved his goal. He returned home in March 1900. He was 25 years old, and the toast of Britain.
Gertrude was waiting for him.
Soon they were engaged, and received James Coleman's blessing.
Grogan's book, From The Cape To Cairo, was given the rare honour of an introduction by Cecil Rhodes.
He became the youngest speaker to lecture the Royal Geographical Society.
In October, he and Gertrude were married; Eddie Watt led his sister up the aisle.
Nothing could ever quite follow this triumph for Ewart Grogan. He returned to Africa, becoming a leading figure in colonial Kenya.
Gertrude bore him four daughters and loved him unselfishly until her death in 1943; Ewart had two more daughters by other women.
In old age he would sit at the bar of his club reminiscing about his trek across Africa with any newcomer who would listen to his story.
nLOST Lion Of Empire: The Life Of Cape-to-Cairo Grogan, by Edward Paice (published by HarperCollins on April 2 at [pound]19.99).…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Man Who Shot Cannibals; It Was a Scene That Defied Description. There Were Bodies Everywhere, Pots of Human Stew Bubbled over. . . and on a Table Rested a Man's Head with Its Own Grim Secret. Contributors: Hudson, Christopher - Author. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: March 10, 2001. Page number: 44. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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