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

By Hudson, Christopher | Daily Mail (London), March 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

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. …

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