Taxidermy Monkey Skins by Rowland Ward

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Unusual trophy skin mounted by Rowland Ward of London, comprising five side-by-side colobus monkeys. All shot by the noted Cumbrian big game hunter and explorer John R. Todd (1863-1949) on his British East African safari in 1910 with fellow adventurer Alfred A. Benitz (1859-1937). The pelts are symmetrically mounted with the largest in the centre, the fur remains clean and bright with long hair and contrasting colour. The heads are stitched flat, the tails are complete and undamaged. The skins are presented on the original maroon-coloured felt backing with a scalloped surround and additional lining across the front. A fabric trade label is stitched to the underside ‘The Jungle, Trade Mark, Rowland Ward 167 Piccadilly London’.

On 12th September 1910, John and Alfred sailed from Marseilles on the R.P.D. Adolph Woermann to Kilindini, the port of Mombasa, British East Africa (see passenger list) where they arrived after 19 days. They took a train from Mombasa to Nairobi, a five hour journey (see railway map). Their safari lasted 2 1/2 months, 6th October to 21st December (see game license granted 24th September). The trip was formed of two parts, first to the north-east of Nairobi where the colobus monkeys were bagged and the second to the west and south.

The Game Register written by Alfred Benitz notes 6 colobus monkeys were taken in the locality south of Loita Plains. The side note states: Written permission was given by Mr V. Bunbury to Todd and Benitz for the animals shot on Killa MaBogo (Dorma Sabuk). Alfred and John returned to England on 20th January 1911, having travelled from Kilindini to Marseilles on the R.P.D. Prinzregent. Alfred spent less than ten days in England, most of them at John Todd’s home at Mereside in the village of Bromfield, Cumbria where they made arrangements for the mounting of trophies (see Rowland Ward, Spicer & Gerrard price comparison) drafted on Todd’s notepad. Letters were sent between Alfred and Rowland Ward estimating the taxidermy work. Four colobus monkeys are quoted for the ‘preserving and dressing, designing, matching and mounting together as one mat’. When the shipment arrived at Rowland Wards the following letter reads ‘There are several more skins than are mentioned in our estimate, and these subject to their condition we are preserving and dressing’. It would appear of the 6 that were shot, 4 were quoted and 5 were subsequently made into the final rug.

A diary entry from Alfred concludes the first part of their safari:

“Nov. 2: Todd and I got back yesterday after 24 days hunting; we went to Vesturme’s place, about 15 leagues from here, to start. We went on eastwards for 1 1/2 days march across the Theika river and near the Itanga hills. I got a huge buffalo with my 500-bore at about 7 yards; they are very tough animals weighing about a ton – and awfully “malo” – the most dangerous animals here. There were two rhinos also killed on the place, their horns measuring 24″ and 22 1/4″; a stupid animal but quite dangerous when they get wind of you and you don’t see them until they are on top of you. Generally they whistle like a steam engine when they charge. We are going onto the southern Guaso Nyri. We have 57 men; 1 head man, 2 first gun bearers and 2 second, 2 “boys” (servants), 1 cook, 2 syces, 2 askaris (police) and 45 porters. The porters carry 60 lbs. and get 1 1/2 lbs. corn meal per day and about three-pence pay. I got about 90 heads and was lucky to get two fine male lions, our list of game being – 10 hartebeest, 3 wildebeest, 7 impala, 2 waterbuck, 1 common waterbuck, 3 buffalos, 11 warthog, 4 Grant’s gazelle, 3 rhinos, 10 tommies, 1 eland, 2 bushbuck, 3 zebras, 3 Robert’s gazelle, 7 topi, 2 dik-dik, 1 baboon, 1 lesser kudu, 2 Chandler’s reedbok, 5 Ward’s reedbok, 6 colobus monkeys, 3 lions, 1 cheetah, 1 hyena, 1 jackal. We had a very good time and were in very good health. I did a tremendous lot of walking. I had no narrow escapes; a herd of 40 buffalos charged me but I am not sure if they did it on purpose or not. I shot about 500 shots and did a lot of long distance shooting with telescopic sights and often got animals 400-500 yards away.”

Upon the trophies completion totalling £175, John’s were separated, remaining in England whilst Alfred’s were dispatched to the United States. A large number of skulls and heads shot by John were done so on behalf of Tullie House Museum in Carlisle where he later became a lecturer on his hunting exploits. After John’s death in 1949 aged 86 at Grange Bank in Wigton, the trophies were dispersed throughout family members, the monkey skin rug was given to John’s daughter Mrs Owen, wife of Col. D.I. Owen of London. A copy of John Todd’s obituary is included from The Cumberland News. The scanned provenance files remain the property of the Benitz family archives.

Log: 120                                                                                          Date: 1910                                                                                  Length 163cm Width 193cm

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