F.C. Selous remains one of the most important figures in the hunting and trekking annals of Colonial Africa. Selous was born in 1851 on 31 December and first went to Africa in 1871. His adventures from that time on are nothing short of incredible. He landed at Algoa Bay, now Port Elizabeth, in South Africa on 4 September with his savings of 400, which was at that time quite a considerable amount of money. His first attempt to make his fortunes on the Kimberly diamond mines was a failure and so he turned to the idea of trading into the Interior, an idea which could lead to both lucrative dealings and the opportunity for considerable hunting. His first trek took him to the regions of the Orange river and in 1872 Selous started out for the Interior once again. He took with him two 'smooth-bore duck guns of the very commonest descriptions, taking a round bullet of four ounces, the guns themselves weighing only 12lb.' In his words:
'They were made by Isaac Hollis of Birmingham... With these two guns, and another similar but weighing 2 lb heavier, which I bought the following year from a Dutch hunter for 7.10s., and using nothing but the common trade powder that is sold to the kafirs in 5 lb bags, I killed in three seasons seventy-eight elephants, all but one of which I shot on foot. Since them I have shot with very expensive large-bore breechloaders and Curtis and Harvey's best power, but I have not used or seen a rifle which drove better than these common-made old muzzle-loaders. However, they were so light that, when loaded as they were by the hand from a leather bag of powder slung at my side (I find that an ordinary handful of powder is over twenty drachms), they kicked most frightfully, and in my case the punishment I received from these guns has affected my nerves, to such an extent as to have materially influenced my shooting ever since, and I am heartily sorry that I ever had anything to do with them.'
Subsequently, Selous became separated from his hunting companions whilst pursuing giraffe and he spent four days lost in the bush without water and, having used his remaining cartridge in a vain attempt to light a fire, without food either. He barely survived the experience, but his constitution was such that he finally reached salvation in the form of some Bushmen who sold him some milk and water. Further adventures took him to the Matabele where Lobengula, their king, gave him permission to hunt elephant on his lands, saying 'Oh! you may go wherever you like; you are only a boy.' It was hard, dangerous life where death could come quickly in any one of a number of forms: dangerous animals, killer diseases such as malaria, and man-eating natives. On a number of occasions Selous received savage injuries from the game he was pursuing and as most of the time he was on foot (the preference at the time was to hunt on horseback, tsetse flies permitting), it is even more remarkable that he went on to survive illness and native attacks.
Having successfully increased his funds to 2,000 from the original 400 through the sale of ivory shot on his hunting expeditions, Selous returned to England but he was back in Africa in 1876. Astoundingly, and with echoes of the situation in many parts of Africa today, certain types of game were falling in number and Selous found elephant hunting particularly difficult on this his second visit. He became ill and while there were sometimes improvements occasioned by the finding of large herds of elephants, he was to go on to lose close friends to illness and accident. His experiences, however, were to have far-reaching effects on the later years of his life. His expeditions eventually won him the recognition of the Royal Geographic Society and in 1889-1890 he became closely involved with Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company in their attempts to occupy the territories which were to become known as Rhodesia. Selous also became a friend and adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt's 1909 safari with his son Kermit. He was to go on to make further hunting expeditions and his thirst for Africa and adventure led to his enlisting for army service on the outbreak of the First World War. Tragically, he was killed in action in German East Africa on 4 January 1914.
The year in which this fine sable trophy was acquired - 1878 - was the first year in which he was given permission to hunt in Mashonaland by the great Lobengula, chief of the Matabele tribe or 'People of the Long Shields'. This area was, at that time, the last area in which elephant were to be found in any numbers and as Mashonaland was, in general, rarely hunted, it was still possible to hunt from horseback. On this trip, near the Umfule river, Selous had 'one of the narrowest escapes of his whole adventurous life' when he was charged by a cow elephant which ran over him and trapped him under its chest. He was lucky to escape with his life.