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Bonhams to Sell Rifle Owned by Hunter Who Took Teddy Roosevelt on Safari
The rifle is a rare Holland-Woodward patent .256 falling-block rifle by Holland & Holland, no. 21873, generally used for small game. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A rifle that belonged to a man who was a legend in his own lifetime, Frederick Selous, one of Africa’s greatest white hunters, will be sold at Bonhams Sporting Gun sale on December 8, in Knightsbridge. It is estimated to sell for £5,000 to £7,000.

The rifle is a rare Holland-Woodward patent .256 falling-block rifle by Holland & Holland, no. 21873, generally used for small game “but in the hands of an expert capable of dropping an elephant if shot through the ear,” according to Patrick Hawes, Bonhams Sporting Gun Specialist.

He adds: “This is an absolute must for anyone who loves that period of African history, and who reveres the memory of Selous. He lived at a time when swashbuckling white hunters were king of the African bush and took an American president, Hollywood stars and crowned princes on safari to shoot game animals which then numbered in the millions.”

As Roosevelt wrote of Selous: "Mr. Selous is the last of the big game hunters of Southern Africa; the last of the mighty hunters whose experience lay in the greatest hunting ground which this world has seen since civilised man has appeared herein."

While most famously associated with Africa, Selous hunted and collected across Europe, Asia and North America between 1870 and 1907, as well as an area of Africa that ranged from South Africa to the Sudan. The Selous Collection of the Natural History Museum in London contains 524 mammals from three continents, all shot by him, as part of a collection of over five thousand plant and animal specimens and in recognition of which a bust of Selous was placed in the main hall of the museum in 1920. There is also the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, founded in 1922 and designatd a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

The Selous name was appropriated in the 1970’s by the Selous Scouts, Rhodesia’s crack anti-insurgent troops, in tribute to the great hunter’s bushcraft and his own extensive experience as a soldier.

The Selous gun is engraved `Holland & Holland, 98 New Bond Street, London Winner Of All The "Field" Rifle Trials, London.’ The makers have confirmed that the rifle was completed in 1899 for Frederick Selous. It was originally shot and regulated 'with Austrian Mannlicher Cartridges with drilled bullets', and was resighted by them in 1907 'for own shooting'.

Frederick Courteney Selous (1851-1917), was born in London, the first son of a Chairman of the London Stock Exchange. He was educated at Rugby and on the Continent with his parents hoping he would become a doctor. However, he quickly demonstrated both an ambition to be an African hunter, inspired by the accounts of David Livingstone and William Baldwin, and the resilience to face such a life.

His life of adventure started young. At sixteen he was one of the survivors of the Regents Park tragedy, where the ice covering a lake gave way, killing forty and which Selous survived by crawling across broken ice slabs to the shore.

In 1871 aged 19 he left for Africa and landed at Delagoa Bay, Mozambique, with just £400 to his name. He made his way to Matabeleland, where he gained permission from Lobengule, King of the Matabele, to hunt game anywhere within his dominions. Over the next eighteen years he hunted and explored over a region bounded by the Congo Basin to the north and the Transvaal to the south, with much of what he collected destined for public and private collections.

In 1890 he was asked by Cecil Rhodes to join the British South Africa Company, working as a guide for a pioneer exhibition to Mashonaland, and which he successfully led to its destination before moving east to Manica and the arrangement of the extension of British control to that area. Upon his return to England in 1892, shortly before his forty-second birthday, he was awarded the Founder's Medal by the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of his explorations, summarised in an article entitled "Twenty Years in Zambesia".

He returned to Africa in 1893 to serve in the First Matabele War, and was wounded during the advance on Bulawayo. He returned to England where he married Marie Maddy, twenty-two years his junior, and settled briefly in Worplesdon, Surrey, before returning to Matabeleland in 1896.

He served again in the Second Matabele War, serving as a leader in the Bulawayo Field Force and fighting alongside Robert Baden-Powell. He accompanied President Theodore Roosevelt's African safari in 1909-10, which took in British East Africa, the Congo and Egypt. Despite his advancing years, Selous' energy was unabated, and in 1915, aged sixty-four, he served again with the British Army as Captain in the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, winning a Distinguished Service Order a year later.

He died on the banks of the Rufiji River in 1917, falling victim to a sniper whilst scouting a superior force of German Schutztruppen, four days after his sixty-sixth birthday. The German commander, General von Lettow-Vorbeck, wrote a personal condolence note for his "ungentlemanly death". He had two sons, one of whom died exactly a year after his father, flying over the Menin Road whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps.

During his hunting life he tried a variety of calibres, but eventually conceded to his biographer, J.G. Millais, that he would have been better off sticking with two calibres; one such as the .256 Mannlicher for small game, and a .450 Rigby or equivalent for heavy or dangerous game.

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