Kalawewa, 11 January 1893

We had asked the governor by telegraph to prolong the trip by one day because I wanted to try my luck in hunting an elephant again, despite my quite shattered confidence about the successful completion of that venture.

Already at half past 4 o’clock, with the moon and the stars still up on the sky, we departed in the boat. All nature seemed asleep and not a breath of air was noticeable, until finally a beam of light in the east announced the approaching day. By and by one could listed to the voices of the adult birds. Ducks flew from here to there and everywhere one could hear the hoarse cries of the herons and cormorants. When it had become a bit more light, we started examining the shore and soon noticed that the whole elephant herd had left its usual jungle spot and had moved across part of the pond. Kinsky who had at first intended to stalk an elephant separated from the herd, joined us and we were then wading for a good hour through arms and pools of water, swamps and thickets. The activity of wading was a rather refreshing bath in the water given the increasing heat of the air.

The landscape of this part of the hunting area was a wonderful spectacle due to its rich swamp vegetation which consisted of numerous open spaces of open water covered in water lilies and huge erect trees standing in between them. On these trees sat the most beautiful great white herons and in particular, a specimen of a Lesser Adjutant (Leptopilus javanicus) I had not observed before with metallic green wings, a white breast and reddish legs. Amazed, all those birds were watching our wading caravan.

Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus, source: Photo by Greg Hume/Wikicommons)

Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus, source: Photo by Greg Hume/Wikicommons)

The elephant tracks were easy to distinguish in the wet earth. The herd must include a rather tall elephant as the guides explained because of the large number of torn twigs.

In the shadow of a huge tree we rested and developed a new campaign plan as the elephants had retreated into a relatively small jungle area after having waded across the pond. This area, bordered by the pond and the road was nearly triangular in size. As long as the elephants had not yet crossed the road, we would win the game. Quickly we advanced but noticed after a few steps in the red sand of the road that the elephants had crossed over the road from the safe jungle which made us feel sad because a pursuit now became unthinkable. Just as we were freely expressing our anger, a shikari approached with a joyful face and reported that the elephants had recrossed the road into the jungle a bit farther than our resting place. They were still there as one could clearly hear them breaking branches. Already at the beginning of today’s hunt, learning from the experience of the previous days, I had requested to keep my hunting party small. Thus, Kinsky and Pirie remained near the road crossings, while I and Mr Murray and my favorite shikari, an old man with a flowing beard and a jovial friendly face, entered into the jungle.

We advanced about five hundred paces when I heard the elephants and saw a large elephant shortly after in a small clearing. He stood calmly and browsed now and then on the bushes. A glorious view. My hunter’s heart was beating faster in view of this giant reminding me of anti-diluvian animals. I sneaked up as close as possible, aimed at the ear and pressed the trigger, and saw the elephant go down with the shot. The shot caused a lot of activity in the jungle, from all sides one could hear elephants turn and run – it was a terrible noise as, we later learned, about thirty elephants fled in all directions. I was still standing on the spot I had fired the first shot when I saw, six paces in front of me, a huge single elephant with long tusks break out of the thicket into the small clearing at full speed. My second barrel was still loaded and so I fired at the spot between eye and ear. A trumpet-like sound was the response and the apparently heavily wounded giant careened off, breaking whole trunks in two and fled in the opposite direction. The remaining animals of the herd were unaware of the shooter’s location and ran around like crazy in the dense jungle. Moment by moment, I saw either the legs or the tusk or the head of an elephant appear between the bushes. Unfortunately my companions were so excited and lost their heads so that they failed to hand me my reserve rifles. Instead they kept up a well-nourished rapid fire but without targets and goals which only made the elephants even more timid and even increased the risk of shooting each other. Standing in the midst of the hail of bullets I shouted out to the wild shooters to cease fire but without effect. In the mean time, I had reloaded my rifle and jumped into the clearing where I had heard a loud noise. In the thick undergrowth I vaguely saw many animals  flee by quickly, chose one large animal glancing through one small gap and shot it down in full flight.

A strong feeling of hunter’s satisfaction was swelling in my breast as I stood before my second elephant, a strong cow dying there. I returned to my first elephant and checked that we had killed an extraordinarily strong male that even had tusks – a great rarity among elephants on Ceylon. My old shikari was giddy with pleasure and expressed his admiration in Sinhalese and even patted me.

dead elephant (p. 74)

Dead elephant (p. 74)

Now shots rang out on the street both in the direction of Pirie as well as from that of Kinsky. Soon Pirie returned in a highly excited mood and congratulated me vividly when I shouted out at considerable distance that I had bagged two elephants and told me that he had bagged also a strong elephant and wounded a second one. I had to show him my two specimen on the spot and personally cut off the two tails that serve as trophies in the whole of India and upon the particular request of the Sinhalese to mount upon my two elephants to mark the moment of possession.

Everyone was laughing, crying and gesticulating and jumped around the elephants so that my request to go after the third strongly bleeding elephant went unheard.

Finally I returned to the road as it was hopeless trying to command the people where I found Kinsky who advanced towards me proudly because he had also bagged a fleeing elephant. The elephants, thirty in numbers, had noticed Kinsky on his hunting position and had turned but he had smartly run in advance of their path and shot down from a rock. Apparently all local elephants made timid by the previous two days of hunting had retreated to this small part of the jungle on the other side of the pond. Wurmbrand and Clam who hunted in that territory had thus only saw the fresh tracks leading into said jungle and went back as soon as they became aware that is was following the same tracks far in advance. Clam then pursued a family of monkeys of which he bagged two after much running and shooting.

Surrounded by the shikaris still shouting with joy I returned to the bungalow to fetch Hodek and returned after a quick breakfast into the jungle where Hodek and a photographer from Kandy took pictures. Hodek then cut up the elephant into pieces. With great trouble the heads, the legs as well as the large pieces of the inch-thick hide were separated. The cutting off of the legs with large axes resembled the cutting of strong trees.

Hundreds of curious Sinhalese who had assembled with their wives and kids in two from the surrounding villages observed the entertainment in a large circle.

As sufficient time remained I decided to undertake a trip on the pond to bag some water fowl. In a small boat, Pirie, I and my hunter rowed out into the northern part of the pond we had not yet entered. The sun was already close to the horizon and shone picturesquely upon the barren giant trees and their convoluted almost snakelike branches and their roots glittering in the water. Right at the moment of departure I bagged a few cormorants, as well as a black-white kingfisher, more precisely a pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis). I then did not continue to shoot at swamp fowl as I discovered up in the air a circling majestic white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaetos leucogaster). After some time of searching for it, I found its eyrie on a tall tree occupied by the female that apparently guarded the young. I sent up two shots which hit the animal but did not kill it so that he soared away only to return after a few minutes, but flying at much higher altitude. As a second shot proved unsuccessful, I decided to check again an hour later.

I then managed to discover two eyries also occupied by white-bellied sea eagles but these owners were more timid than the female eagle of the first eyrie. Even though I had sent away the boat and waited out of the water on an erect trunk, the eagles did not return but chipped without much motion far away.

Two tall monkeys that performed huge jumps from tree to tree I shot with bullets without bagging them because one was caught in the tree branches while the other sank immediately in the water.

An hour passed, I returned to the first eyrie and bagged with a wide shot the beautiful old eagle. That was not all. Saint Hubertus was very gracious on that day! We had only rowed for about a few hundred paces when we discovered a strong wild male buffalo (Bos bubalus) sunning himself at the edge of the pond. The distance was considerable, we approached it with quiet rowing strokes in a diagonal direction. When the buffalo finally took notice of us, he didn’t flee in no way but on the contrary even advanced a few steps and glanced at us challengingly, angrily. In this moment, the mighty bull presented a magnificent view: He soon raised, soon lowered his strong head with long horns. Then he dug into the morass and stomped the ground, sending water and mud through the air a meter wide. The lights were glowing, the flanks of the bull were trembling, without interruption his tail was whipping his shaggy body. Our presence seemed to infuriate the animal greatly as it thrashed the earth more and more violently bristling with his blood-shot nostrils.

Even though Pirie assured me that my small 450 rifle would have little effect I still tried a shot with a hundred groves up, trusting in the quality of my favorite rifle. The buffalo was hit and ran away. While he was fleeing, I shot a second time. After about fifty paces, he stood there quietly and glanced back angrily, a moment I used to send another bullet after it. Well hit, he disappeared back into the jungle.

We disembarked and found a few steps away the bloody tracks but we couldn’t continue the hunt because oft he approaching darkness.

When we returned to the bungalow it was already night. We were talking valiantly during the dinner we truly deserved and all participants were very merry. After the dinner we experienced the spectacle of one of the strange devil dances which the superstitious Sinhalese perform to banish evil spirits. They also perform symbolic dances which illustrate the fight with the evil spirits. Dressed in the most diverse costumes with gems made out of silver and shells, about twenty men in alteration performed various grotesque and ferocious dances that reminded me sometimes of a Csardas, sometimes they only consisted of convulsive clownesque jumps and body contortions while the dancers sang or uttered hoarse cries. Longish, barrel-like drums were beat in time by the dancers themselves or by persons close by and completed the musical arrangement of the strange ballet. The local elderly and the chiefs had attended the performance in rich dress and sat beside us. An hour later, fireworks were burned, then this interesting and wild feast was over.

At an advanced hour in the middle of the wilderness far from civilized settlement and inhabited only by Sinhalese, full of elephants, buffaloes and crocodiles I was suddenly reminded about institutions of the civilized world. Two reporters had followed me here to interview me! An interview in a bungalow late at night after many tiring days of hunting seemed a bit much to me and thus the two dedicated professional victims of journalism had to depart without completing their mission and find their own bivouac miles away.

Links

  • Location: Kalawewa, Ceylon
  • ANNO – on 11.01.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Neue Freie Presse informs that Empress Elisabeth (namesake of the SMS Elisabeth) has arrived in Malaga after a visit to Granada (where it had been falsely reported that she had been in danger of bandits). The Empress will continue to Cadiz, Lisbon and Madeira. In Paris, eight intractable amblers were arrested by the police on the Place de la Concorde as well five anarchists carrying guns and daggers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is offering Donizetti’s opera „Lucrezia Borgia“; the k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays „Dorf und Stadt“, again a replacement due to the indisposition of a Mr Sonnenthal. Is this due to Vienna’s especially ghastly winter weather of 1893 or were the actors and singers of the 19th century much more fragile creatures than today?

Ein Gedanke zu „Kalawewa, 11 January 1893

  1. Guy Barker

    From the context, this may have been the evening when hunger won over hygiene. My great grandfather, present among the party, reported that when the Archduke came in from hunting he was asked „I expect your highness will want to wash before dinner“ ; the reply delivered emphatically and in a strong accent „I don’t vant to vash; I vant to eat“!

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