Edward, Prince of Wales, born 1841, had a reputation as a playboy. One of his 55 mistresses was Alice Keppel whose great-granddaughter, Camilla Parker Bowles, became the mistress and then wife of the present Prince of Wales. Edward became King Edward VII on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901. The Prince’s other great interest in life was shooting animals.
This transcript from The Times reports a visit of the Prince of Wales to Ceylon in 1875 and relates how the highest dignitaries of the British Empire enjoyed a day out in the jungle.
I have kept to the original spellings and punctuation but added paragraphs to break up the text.
The Prince in Ceylon
From ‘The Times’London, England, Monday 13 December 1875
When I sent off the telegram last Sunday from Ruanwella, the floods were cut. The Post-master was very doubtful whether it would reach Colombo in time, and as yet I do not know if his fears were justified, but must take for granted that it was duly received. Telegrams have since conveyed heads of each day’s movements, but I shall now endeavour to recapitulate the events of the week.
All Sunday night rain gathered in the roof of our calico and bamboo dwellings. When Monday morning dawned, the landscape was shrouded in steaming vapour, but preparations for the elephant drive were actively begun. At 6 all were ready and the Prince turned out in a broad-brimmed solar topee, a dark shooting suit and knickerbockers and those necessary articles called leech-gaitars, which are required to baffle the efforts of Ceylon leeches to suck travellers dry. The jungle in which the elephants were abiding was about seven miles from Ruanwella, and horses were sent on to await the party, and take them by a bridle path to the Kraal. Lord Aylesford, Dr Fayrer, Lord G. Beresford, Mr Hall, Mr Fisher, and Mr Varian went ahead in a mail coach. The Prince with Lord Suffield and Major-General Probyn, escorted by two Lancars of the Governor’s body Guard, followed in a carriage. Mr Birch, Mr FitzGeorge, Lieutenant Thackwell, and I closed the rear.
We drove through a wooded country, sparsely peopled, in which the view was shut in by walls of dense forests. Men and children flocked to the roadside to see the cartége pass, but women were not visible once. On the main road the people were more numerous. At 8 our carriage pulled up at a small village, called, I believe, Algeda, where several hundred Cingalese were congregated. Two or three saddle-horses were standing by the roadside. “Where is the Prince?” Exclaimed Mr Birch. “He has gone,” was the reply. Mr Birch was in despair. Lieutenant Thackwell mounted and road after him. Mr Campbell and (4 unreadable words) reached the ferry at Avisawella, nearly three miles before he was overtaken and brought back to the place which had been overshot so unaccountably.
There was a chance that the delay would have proved very injurious, for the beaters had begun to drive nearly two hours before the Prince was at his post. Meanwhile Mr FitzGeorge and I resolved to walk to the rendezvous. A path deep trodden by many feet led by the side of a clear stream through the forest, but the impressions of solitude were dissipated by police sentries guarding the path. After proceeding half a mile we came to some bamboo huts and the embers of watch-fires. There we found some huts, in which bred, eggs and fruit were on sale. Besides elephants some thousand men had been engaged for more than a fortnight making the road, watching and constructing the Kraal. We then passed two barriers guarded by police, and finally arrived at a raised platform, on which we found Lord Aylesford, Dr Fayrer and others watching the arrival of the Prince.
The platform was, in fact, a grandstand, from which we looked down on a stockade. Outside running across the jungle from the valley up the hillside, was a kind of net, into which, when it was opened, the beaters could drive the elephants after they had been forced past the high rock on which the Prince was to be placed. In the jungle at the other side of the stockade, trees, creepers, and bamboo were so thick that 20 or 30 yards off the stockade could hardly be seen. Beyond was the impenetrable forest gloom.
At 9 the Prince arrived, but the yells of the beaters had been audible some time before. We proceed at once to the Prince’s stand inside the forest, and, attended y ord G Beresford, Mr. Fisher and Mr. Varian, noted the shots. Mr. Hall was placed within sight on a similar stand in a tree. No one else was allowed inside. What followed maybe told shortly, though it lasted for a long time. In the jungle were two herd, one an old tusker charged with the death, at different times of four European sportsmen and of many cattle, with three females kept apart from another herd of seven elephants.
When the beaters came up, the latter put themselves under a leader whose courage and coolness were only equalled by his sagacity and strategical skill. The animal not only refused to be driven in the direction wished for, but, charging the line of beaters at the head of his column, he broke through them again and again, driving them up trees for shelter and comparatively spoiling the sport. So hour after hour passed. “One herd,” cry out the beaters, “is coming nearer” – just as in a deer drive in the Highlands; and every eye was strained to pierce the forest depths where bamboos and young trees cracked like pistol shots beneath the tramping of hoofs. Every ear listened for the report of the Prince’s rifle, as they must be close to the Prince. The platform was deserted and every one crossed to the Kraal armed with bamboos to thrust through the interstices and drive back the elephants.
The Natives were expectant, but silent, the old chief who directed the proceedings walking to and fro in a state of great agitation. Suddenly the cries of the beaters ceased, and the cracking and snapping noise in the jungle receded. The tusker had broken through. 11, 12, 1 o’clock came and went but still no shot was fired. Thrice the Prince caught a glimpse of a ridge like the top of a loaf of brown bread moving swiftly through the jungle.
A suspicion arose that the chief was playing falsely. He was to have whatever elephants could be kraaled, and if the Prince fired there was a small chance of driving them outwards towards the enclosure; so it was supposed that he had given secret orders to dodge the Prince’s stand if possible, and he was told that if the Prince did not get a shot the kraal, would be destroyed that night. Perhaps he was wronged.
Certain is that about 2 o’clock, when the Prince had been 5 hours on the stand, a report came that the old tusker and the three ladies he was guarding so devotedly had separated from the herd of seven, and had escaped clean away through the beaters into the forest. Before the tusker got away Lord Suffield sent to the Prince for leave to go and shoot him when he was reported to be close, but the Prince thought it would be best to wait, so he got off without being shot at. Even then several of the animals were unmanageable. In vain the beaters yelled like demons; they were charged, routed and obliged to run up the hill and descend in the rear of the herd, and begin again.
At last it was resolved to apply the ordeal of fire which elephants so much dread, and dried timbers were piled up in a line to windward. Mr. Fisher and Mr. Varian marshalled the beaters, and permission was given to fire on the elephants in the rear to urge them on. Presently a couple of shots were heard, the branches shook, trees were crushed. On rushed an elephant like some great rock tearing down the hillside, to within 20 yards of the Prince, who fired and hit him in the head, but he went on and was lost.
At this moment up came Mr. Fisher and said, “Sir, if you will come with me I will get you a shot. I have wounded and elephant and think you can kill him.” Lord Suffield, hearing the Prince fire, joined him just as he set out creeping through the dense jungle, with Mr. Fisher and Mr. Varian on each side in front, and Lord G Beresford, Mr. Robertson and Mr Hall in the rear. Hats were lost and clothes torn, the heat was great, and it was impossible to see two yards ahead. Suddenly a small elephant which had been wounded was discovered. The Prince fired coolly at him, and the elephant dropped and lay as if dead. Mr. Hall stopped to take a sketch, but the elephant began to move, and then kick, and finally to get on his legs, whereupon Mr. Hall, doubting wether with a lead pencil he could challenge an encounter, sought safety in temporary flight.
The Native beaters got up the trees. Mr. Fisher and Mr. Varian became uneasy and alarmed, for elephants were heard close at hand, but they could not be seen. At any moment and elephant, driven by passion, might rush out upon the Prince where evasion and escape were hopeless, for in such a dense jungle no man could do more than creep. Lord Suffield and Mr. Roberston were astonished at the agitation evinced by the practiced hunters, but the Prince’s aim was as steady as if he were out pheasant shooting.
All at once Mr. Fisher perceived an elephant as if in the act of charging not ten yards off. The Prince fired and struck it in the side of the head, and it disappeared in the jungle. In a few minutes an elephant was seen by the side of an inlet, where the bush was not so dense. The Prince fired, and the great beast fell over on its side and lay dead in a stream, where it dammed up the waters. The Cingalese and the European dashed to the stream, and the Prince cut off the tail of the animal according to custom, and the crowd cheered again and again as the Prince was seen standing on the prostrate body.
It was getting dark and quite time to get out of the jungle. The Prince, wet, streaming with perspiration, his clothes torn, returned, amid continued cheering, to the road side, where carriages were waiting to take him to Avisawella. As soon as his back was turned the Cingalese cut off pieces of the ear of the elephant as trophies. So far the day had ended well. Seven hours of patient waiting had been rewarded, but when the Prince arrived at Hanvele, where Governor Gregory and others were waiting to retrieve him, having come down the river by boat, he dismayed them by laughingly narrating how he had been
(text missing, some unreadable words about carriages)
…Probyn, Lord G, Beresford and Mr. FitzGeorge were inside with the Prince. At the corner of a small bridge, where there was a deep ditch, the carriage went right over, flinging the occupants on each other. The vehicle was broken but no one was hurt and there was a hearty laugh at the misadventure.
On Tuesday, the Prince, Governor Gregory and suite left the old Dutch fort of Hanvela early, and drove 19 miles to Colombo, where he was received with every demonstration of joy.
All the shops were shut, but the streets were crowded.
The Agricultural Exhibition which the Prince opened in the afternoon was a small but rather interesting collection of the varied products of the island, some of which seemed to be much valued by their owners, judging by their prices.
There was also a very dull entertainment supposed to represent a wedding and some natives singing which suggested that Cingalese and Europeans have very different ideas respecting music.
Elephants are protected from shooting today but exploited in other ways. A licence is needed to own one and politicians can get a licence. Buddhist temples own them and they are used in processions and ceremonies. It is a ritual for your child to walk three times under the belly of an elephant in order to gain courage.
Elephants can be seen in the wild in game parks. Sometimes you see them being walked along the streets. The elephant orphanage is almost a compulsory visit for the tourists and it is delightful to sit and watch them cavort in the river. Every year a few people are killed by elephants, usually because men are trying to move the elephants elsewhere.