The days of intrepid (often female) Victorian travellers are long past, as are the sights they once saw. Amelia B Edwards and her female companion named to us only as ‘L’ scorned the ‘Cook tourists’ and hired a boat and crew to take them 1,000 miles up the Nile (it’s actually 964½ miles, she informs us), a journey wonderfully recorded in her 1877 best-selling book.
Here’s one sight you will never see:
“I shall not soon forget an Abyssinian caravan that we met one day just coming out from Mahatta. It consisted of seventy camels laden with elephant tusks. The tusks, which were about fourteen feet in length, were packed in half-dozens and sewn up in buffalo hides. Each camel was slung with two loads, one at either side of the hump. There must have been about 840 tusks in all. Beside each shambling beast strode a bare-footed Nubian. Following these, on the back of a gigantic camel, came a hunting leopard in a cage, and a wild cat in a basket. Last of all marched a coal-black Abyssinian nearly seven feet in height, magnificently shawled and turbaned, with a huge scimitar dangling by his side, and in his belt a pair of enormous inlaid seventeenth-century pistols, such as would have become the holsters of Prince Rupert. This elaborate warrior represented the guard of the caravan. The hunting leopard and the wild cat were for Prince Hassan, the third son of the Viceroy. The ivory was for exportation. Anything more picturesque than this procession, with the dust driving before it in clouds, and the children following it out of the village, it would be difficult to conceive. One longed for Gerôme to paint it on the spot.”
This one consignment, then, marked the death of 420 elephants. How picturesque.