TOP PRICES AT BONHAMS FOR RIFLES WHICH CLAIMED THE TUSKS OF THOUSANDS OF AFRICAN BULL ELEPHANTS

A rifle once owned by James Sutherland, a legend among African professional hunters, estimated to make £12,000 to £16,000, sold for £66,000 at Bonhams sale of on August 1st of Modern Sporting Guns, Rifles and Vintage Firearms.

A massively powerful weapon, the .577 double-barrelled detachable lock ejector rifle made by Westley Richards was used by Sutherland to shoot more than 1,200 bull elephants on his African hunting safaris. The rifle, lot 279, was the highest price achieved at this Bonhams sale.

Sutherland is thought by many to be one of the most famous elephant hunters of his time, and his book, The Adventures of an Elephant Hunter, published in 1912 by Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, has come to be regarded as one of the best elephant hunting titles ever, which reads today as an almost impossibly glamorous tale of adventure.

Patrick Hawes, Bonhams Sporting Gun Specialist says: “This gun was owned by an African legend. Its stopping power is immense, designed to stop the largest and most dangerous of all game, delivering a staggering 7000 foot-pounds of energy, powerful enough to drop a charging elephant in its tracks. It is today a part of a hunting history that has happily now ended, with elephant populations on the rise in many places.”

Sutherland makes numerous references in his book to his ‘heavy .577’. He writes; “After experimenting with and using all kinds of rifles, I find the most effective to be the double .577 with a 750 grains bullet and a charge in Axite powder equivalent to a hundred grains of cordite. The heavier double-barrelled .600 bore rifle, with a bullet weighing 900 grains, lacks the penetration of the .577, while its weight (16 lbs. against 13 lbs. of the latter) renders it a much more awkward weapon to handle. I think the superiority of the .577 over the .450 and .500 rifles, will be evident when I state that I have lost elephants with these last two rifles, while I have bagged others with identically the same shots from a .577.”

Born in Scotland in 1872, Sutherland’s old hunting grounds were the territories of south-east Africa, stretching between Mozambique and southern Sudan. James H. ‘Jim’ Sutherland (1872-1932) served as a British Intelligence officer in the First World War, returning to hunting after the Armistice. He hunted extensively in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, the Belgian Congo and Malawi, and it is estimated that he shot a total of 1,200 bull elephants alone in his career.

He hunted to the end, death coming to him at the Yubo Sleeping Sickness Camp in the heart of the southern Sudan on June26, 1932, in his 60th year. His remains were interred in the land of elephants he so loved. Friends later erected a bronze tablet on the spot, engraved with two elephants standing beneath a palm tree. It reads, in part, ” To the Memory of that great elephant Hunter – JIM SUTHERLAND.”

Another interesting item in this sale, Lot 277, a pair of rifles that belonged to another hunting legend, Philip Percival (1860-1966), sold for £14,400. The pair of .450 (31⁄2in. No. 2 Nitro Express) boxlock ejector rifles by J. Lang is estimated to sell for £12,000 – 16,000. They are being sold by the late owner’s family.

The makers have confirmed that the rifles were completed in 1927, as a pair, and that they were bought by Percival on 9th December 1927.

After a lifetime hunting Percival had lost none of his fearlessness or accuracy. A few days after his 76th birthday he killed two stock-killing lions with a “right and left” using one of the rifles offered in this lot.

Philip Percival, one of the greatest professional hunters of all time, was the founding president of the ‘East African Professional Hunters’ Association’, serving for sixteen years. Arriving in British East Africa in 1906, he was lured into hunting by the Hill brothers, the three men becoming involved in running the transport for Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Safari of 1909-10, and served in the First World War, attaining the rank of Captain.

Percival went on to become one of the highest paid professional hunters of his day, with clients such as George Eastman and Baron Rothschild, as well as acting as a guide to Ernest Hemmingway. The latter was inspired to write Green Hills of Africa (1935), using Percival as the inspiration for the character ‘Pop’.

Twenty years later Hemingway returned to Africa and hunted again with Percival. A record of that encounter can be found in Hemingway’s posthumously published book, True at First Light. In later years he mentored hunters of the calibre of Sid Downey and Harry Selby, becoming acknowledged by his peers as ‘the dean of the white hunters.’

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