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Title: The British Big-Game Hunting Tradition, Masculinity and Fraternalism with Particular Reference to the The Shikar Club
Author: Callum McKenzie

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The Sports Historian No. 20 (1)

THE BRITISH BIG-GAME
HUNTING TRADITION,
MASCULINITY AND
FRATERNALISM WITH
PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO
THE ‘THE SHIKAR CLUB’
Callum McKenzie
University of Strathclyde
Introduction
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the
twentieth century, a number of organisations were marshalled to protect,
encourage or celebrate the killing of wildlife for sport. One such association, The Shikar Club, symbolised the virility of British imperial big-game
hunting, a recreation which was increasingly contrasted with the artificial
and emasculated sport to be had in the battue1 or fox-hunting in Britain,
sports which by this time were suffering from varying degrees of plutocratic excess, urban decadence, industrial encroachment and, for some, the
presence of women.
Although the idea of an international sporting club had been mooted
during the 1850s, to provide a forum for ‘comrades to discuss exploits in
the field,’2 the belated emergence of the Shikar Club in 1908 may have
reflected the difficulty of masculine and individualistic men conforming
to club mentality.3 The establishment in 1908 of the Shikar Club and
Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, for manly types
who pursued wildfowl on estuaries and foreshore, may also have reflected
the perceived moral and humanitarian threats to big-game hunting and
wildfowl shooting, sports which underpinned mainstream masculinity at
this time.

70

The Sports Historian, No. 20, 1 (May, 2000), pp. 70-96
PUBLISHED BY THE BRITISH SOCIETY OF SPORTS HISTORY

'The Shikar Club'
Although big-hunting has been portrayed as a solitary sport by historians,4
there were elements of fraternal association which became manifest in
men’s sporting clubs, an area of research peculiarly lacking in the social
sciences.5 This paper will examine the British big-game hunting tradition
and the development of the Shikar Club, to the 1930s, and the influence of
big-game hunting and the associated moral imperatives of masculinity on
the lives of some of its members.
The Shikar Club and the British Big-Game Hunting Tradition.
Given the continuity of masculine values from public school, university
and the military, it is unsurprising that the Shikar Club was founded by
former pupils of Eton and Rugby. Charles Edward Radclyffe and
P.B.Vanderbyl6 were both pupils at Eton during the 1870s, whilst Frederick
Courtney Selous was at Rugby during the 1860s.7 All three men attained
the rank of captain in the British army, and, in keeping with military
convention, married in later life, concentrating as young officers on
soldiering and big-game shooting.8 The Shikar Club established in 1907,
remained a focus for military men, at least until the 1930s, when even then
about half of the associations members were drawn from high-ranking
officers, typified by father and son Brigadier-General Claude De Crespigny
and Major Vivian De Crespigny of Champion Lodge, Heybridge in Essex.9
Sir Claude de Crespigny excelled in a variety of sports, and remained in
later life, ‘one of the hardest and pluckiest men in England...ready to box,
ride, walk, run, shoot (at birds for preference now), fence, sail or swim with
any one of over fifty years on equal terms.’10 He lived according to spartan
values, and enjoyed in particular shooting, riding, boxing, swimming,
ballooning, sailing, pedestrianism and ‘a cold tub before breakfast’.11
Claude Crespigny clearly approached challenging situations with the
same characteristic vigour, and was once observed by fellow club member
and imperialist, Alfred Pease, ‘assisting’ in the hanging of three criminals
as, ‘he would not care to ask a man to do what he himself was afraid of
doing himself.’12 Aristocratic sporting pleasures and military duty, according to De Crespigny, went hand in hand, arguing that every able-bodied
Briton had an obligation to defend his country and could not be considered
a ‘man’ till he had done so. ‘Feather-bed aristocrats’, particularly those
who declined duty were likened to the effeminate French aristocracy, and,
in his view, had no place in the British social hierarchy.13

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The Sports Historian No. 20 (1)
De Crespigny senior served in both the Royal Navy (1860-5) and the
Army, (1866-70) and, despite his advancing years, was anxious to play an
active part in the Boer War. His son’s military success in the war was,
according to his father, the result of the family’s predilection for field
sports and riding: ‘men who have been good sportsmen at home are the
men who will do best and show the greatest amount of resource when on
active service.’14 Unsurprisingly, therefore, as was the convention, De
Crespigny used field sports as a means of consolidating friendships with
other high-ranking military officials.15 Military life with field sports might
have provided army careers, but it provoked condemnation from Humanitarians opposed to both.16 However, Humanitarian criticism of soldier and
huntsman, in a climate of rampant imperialism,17 undermined its credibility and stigmatised the movement. Henry Salt, for example, reduced the
effectiveness of his animal welfare programme by challenging the underlying ethos of masculinity upon which field sports rested.18 Advocates of
gun and hound protested that opposition to their manly pursuits was led by
urban-based pacifists who led ‘effeminate and aesthetic lives’, and who
had acquired a ‘righteous horror’ of anything involving the death of an
animal.19 Such ‘morbid enthusiasts’ were more vociferous, such advocates
noted, during periods of national languor, an affliction which, according
to Baily’s Magazine, assisted the Humanitarians’ ultimate objectives,
namely the emasculation of British manhood and the end of war and
nationalism.20
Scottish deer hunting was held up as a example of ‘masculine virtue’ over
the ‘effeminate’ disregard for nation-hood.21 Sir Ian Colquhoun,22 a noted
authority on Scottish deer-stalking used the sport as the ultimate test of
masculine identity despite the increase in the use of stalkers and ghillies
to assist in the hunt.23 He lamented that contemporary youth had lost the
tradition of hardihood, and were ‘fundamentally soft, and not the least
ashamed of it. If they are tired, they say so with disarming frankness; if they
are wet and cold and unwilling to suffer futher discomfort, they do not
hesitate to let the stalker know.’24 Henry Seton-Karr25 argued that those
‘unpatriotically’ seeking to limit deer preservation in Scotland lacked
‘virility and robustness.’26 Seton-Karr, like many others from his class,
held that masculine identity was bound to nation-hood, and that ‘no race
of men possess this desire more strongly than the Anglo-Saxons of the
British Isles. This passion is an inherited instinct, which civilisation cannot

72

'The Shikar Club'
eradicate, of a virile and dominant race, and it forms a healthy natural
antidote to the enervating refinements of modern life.’27 Nationalistic
shibboleths emphasising personal and national regeneration through hunting underpinned the ideology of the Shikar Club. F.C. Selous, for example,
argued that the British range of discovery and exploration should not be
inhibited out of deference to the ‘delicate feelings’ of the anti-imperialists.28 Hunting, shooting, coursing, fishing were ‘natural outlets for masculine energy,’ which, of according to the Shikar Club’s first chairman,
Hugh Cecil Lowther,29 maintained Britain’s reputation as a virile and
martial nation.30
The Shikar Club embodied and institutionalised this morally exalted
position, extending it to include the concept of ‘fair-play’ as a peculiarly
British invention. During the year of the Club’s inception, for example,
Abel Chapman,31 expressed the view, held by many upper-class men, that
the ‘Boers did not understand the elementary significance of our British
term, “sport”. No sense of respect for game, no admiration of its grace and
beauty ever penetrated minds debased by decades of slaughter.’32 The Club
considered itself an arbiter of ‘fair-play,’ in field sports being committed
to maintaining ‘the standard of sportsmanship which has been handed
down from the past’, a tradition which included restraint in the killing of
game and other wildlife.(Emphasis added).33 Humanitarians, of course,
viewed the influence of ‘tradition’ in a different light; Henry Salt, for
example, noted sardonically the amount of ‘sheer, untempered barbarism’
that characterised the sporting elite, adding that the ‘trouble is not so much
that they are in reality savage, as that they suppose themselves to be
civilised.’ Lowther however, was ‘proud of tradition in all its forms’ and
felt ‘sportsmanship’ was a vital part of this hunting tradition and an
influence on character formation.35 Unsurprisingly, sports which deviated
from the sporting code, such as trap pigeon shooting, were officially
denounced by the Club.36 As we shall see, driven-game shooting was
similarly condemned.
This role as forum for ‘fair-play’ in shooting derived from the chivalric and
virtuous tradition of the elite British hunter-naturalist. That elite shots
were becoming aware of their unique identities as ‘pioneering’ men is
clear from contemporary sporting literature. In 1861, one hunter advised
adventurous and hardy sportsmen to visit ‘brother sportsmen in America,’

73

The Sports Historian No. 20 (1)
whilst others described their sporting peers in terms of a ‘ united freemasonry of true friends’.37 Public fascination with hunting and big-game
strengthened the myths associated with the virile stereotype of the frontiersman. By the 1860s, travelling shots were boasting of the authenticity
of overseas sports. By now, a mass of sporting literature appeared aimed
at inducing hunters to the Americas. Parker Gillmore’s Experiences of a
Sportsman in North America, (1869) was written to ‘encourage British
sportsmen to America, provided they were of the right stamp, and didn’t
mind roughing it in search of sport.’38 Toughening sports in the New World
fitted into prevailing notions of upper-middle class masculinity, since
shooting there was unsuitable for the ‘feather-bed sportsman, or the
shirker of hard work...provided you have the constitution, make a try, and
on your return, you will recall with pleasure the hardships and misadventures you have gone through, for without an odd contretemps, we should
become a very unimaginative, unambitious, namby-pamby lot, unfit for
wear and tear, bustle and excitement, that all must endure before their
course is run.’39 In Captain Flack’s Hunters Experiences in the Southern
States of America (1866), hunting provided both physical and mental
endurance, enabling the hunter to face bodily dangers and difficulties so
discouraging to ‘men of weaker mould.’40 New sporting opportunities in
the States provided virile sportsmen with an appropriate venue to display
their economic advantages and physical prowess. Grantley Berkeley41
travelled from Liverpool to the States in August, 1859, returning in
December in order to reveal to the ‘rich and rising, adventurous and hardy
sportsmen’ the limitless hunting opportunities available to English sportsmen in America.42 That Britain had ample sportsmen ready to take up the
challenge of sport in the States was cited as evidence of the moral and
physical superiority of the ‘established over the newer civilisations’.43
Given the emasculation of fox-hunting and the rise of driven-game
shooting in Britain at this time, the United States, Africa, India and parts
of Asia provided new and testing locations for British sportsmen after the
1850s. Some historians have noted the development of new and more
compassionate attitudes towards wildlife in Britain led by the urban
middle-class.44 Others have argued that the more savage aspects of foxhunting were ameliorated by a change in emphasis from killing the quarry
to watching the dogs perform and the chase itself.45 Arguably, such
changes in the function of fox hunting were accompanied by a gradual

74

'The Shikar Club'
dissatisfaction with sporting opportunities in England, as industrial and
urban encroachment and ‘plutocratic’ game shooting threatened to emasculate the more rigorous aspects of shooting and hunting with dogs.46
Driven-game shooting, for example had been stigmatised as ‘un-British,
humiliating, effeminate and selfish’.47 The sixty per cent increase in the
number of gamekeepers between 1860 and 1900 was evidence of the
controlled and synthetic nature of shooting as well as the influence of the
plutocrat in the countryside, a situation in which shooting was often given
priority over farming.48 Advocates of more physically testing sport noted
that shooting in England had become ‘artificial,’ and, despite testing
marksmanship, failed to provide real ‘satisfaction’ in comparison to the
hunting of ‘wild beasts and birds.’49
Alternatively, overseas hunting was labelled ‘real sport’, in which the
pursuit of wild animals on their own ‘primeval and ancestral ground, as yet
unannexed and unappropriated in any way by man,’ assumed a mythical
identity heightened by the masculine skills required to conquer it.50
Accordingly, ‘to find true wild pagan sport, such as stirs the blood and
brings to the top the hardiest and manliest instincts in human nature, one
must go to the hills of Northern India or the wildernesses of tropical
Africa.’51 In these wild places, the urban restrictions of England were
irrelevant, enabling the sportsman the space to leave ‘at least 25 miles
between himself and the next hunter’.52
The Shikar Club therefore, was a product of a hunting tradition and became
an institutional focus for socially powerful men who upheld the traditions
of ‘true’ masculine shooting in which merit was derived from effort and
respect for game and habitat. The Club rejected ‘squandered bullets and
swollen bags,’ preferring a more cerebral approach to hunting which
incorporated ‘a love of forest, mountain and desert; in acquired knowledge
of the habits of animals;in the strenuous pursuit of an active and dangerous
quarry; in the instinct for a well-devised approach to a fair shooting
distance.’53 It was this ‘clean sport’ based on ‘pluck and chivalry’ which
had built up the British Empire.54 Those aspects of field sports which did
not test physical prowess were sometimes derided by hardened shots.
Trout-fishing, for example, ‘amused the ladies’, whilst grouse shooting
was ‘a picnic on the moor.’55 Another Club member asserted that indiscriminate shooting of game without effort, softened by hot luncheons and

75

The Sports Historian No. 20 (1)
gun-loaders, was no way to acquire ‘fieldcraft’,56 a requirement for all
reputable shots.57 C.V.A. Peel58 dedicated his sporting book, Somali land,
(1900) to his father, Charles Peel, who he proudly described as ‘a crack
shot in the true sportsmanlike method of walking up birds with the aid of
dogs, a clever rifle-shot, and a superb fly-fisherman.’59
For such men, ‘real sport’, was a release for ‘blood-lust’, which contributed in some way to their innate sense of masculine identity. According to
a Club stalwart, this lust to kill was not a product of social and economic
advantage, but an instinctive phenomenon evident in ‘real’ men despite
the emasculating tendencies of ‘civilisation’.60 Other exponents of gun and
hound argued that this ‘community of blood,’ tied by ‘sporting blood-lust’,
was apparent in all classes of men.61 For Henry Seton-Karr, the desire to
obtain a ‘good head’ resulted from man’s predatory instincts in which the
pursuit and ‘slaughter’ of wild game was a ‘perfectly natural healthy and
widespread trait of humanity, even necessary in some cases, for health and
happiness and probably intended as an antidote to the purple and fine linen
and sumptuous fare of refined civilisations’.62 The graphic, rational and
unemotional written descriptions of ‘the kill’ was one way in which the
hunter could distance himself and his sport from the moral criticisms of
‘civilisation’. Maurice Egerton,63 for example, described one foray :
‘stalked an ‘old ram,’ on which one horn measured 33 inches, ‘so I decided
to have him set up whole. What a difference to pheasant shooting this 1st
of October!’64 Two days later, he killed another ram at 130 yards, ‘shot
through the spine and kidney...small head, 22 inches, still very pretty and
symmetrical.’65 In a sporting foray, Abel Chapman, extolled the virtues of
his new express rifle, in combat with a ‘much coveted big beast...with head
and neck exposed at 80 yards, his white ruff gave a splendid mark, and I
dwelt on the aim. The express bullet struck to an inch of where I intended,
the beast staggered and I saw he was mine. I spotted a second big buck-I
planted the second barrel ball in his shoulder...when next I looked he was
dead... a right and left for the first shots of my new express!! He is the most
splendid beast I ever killed.’66 By masking big-game hunting in a
pseudoscientific language, the sport was distanced from the non-experts
and others of tender sensibilities. It also distinguished elite hunting from
mere barbarism by necessitating a ‘civilised’ understanding of wildlife,
habitats and hunting environments, attributes which capable and educated
shooting men were expected to possess. The Club’s function in promoting

76

'The Shikar Club'
shooting at various international sporting exhibitions throughout Europe
was one manifestation of the powerful international status of big-game
hunting.67 More than this, linking trophies with sporting art and relics
enhanced the reputation of hunting as a refined and artistic phenomenon.
Lord Desborough, Lonsdale, the President of the Shikar Club, and T.L.
Fairholme, along with C.E. Fagan of the British Museum comprised the
British delegation, which competed against the Austrian and German
Empires in 1910.68 The plethora of sporting exhibitions at this time was one
expression of the importance of male- dominated hunting within national
and cultural ‘identities’.69 The Glasgow Exhibition of 1901, for example,
was sardonically described as a ‘testament to the skill of the Englishman
in Scotland’s sporting grounds.’70
Although some men indulged in both big-game and domestic shooting, a
subtle hierarchy emerged in which shots who took most risks in challenging more dangerous quarry species were singled out for especial praise.71
The veneration of successful big-game shots was reinforced by numerous
written accounts of big-game hunting which emphasised the contest
between strong men and wild beasts. Club member, Dennis Lyell,72 for
example, reiterated the peerless virtues of Captain Charles Hugh Stigand,
who narrowly escaped death from rhinos, lion and elephant during various
safaris, even punching a rogue lion who had him in a death grip!73 Hunting
hierarchies were implied from expertise in killing particular beasts and the
type and calibre of weapon used. Samuel Baker, for example was revered
for his criticism of ‘easy’ sport, and lamented that shooting had become a
‘safe luxury’ with the introduction of the breech-loading rifle and the
demise of the muzzle-loading gun.74 Denis Lyell and Charles Stigand only
used the .256 Mannlicher and .318 rifles for elephant hunting, thereby
fulfilling the test of the ‘true’ hunter which required fieldcraft to be
sufficiently close to the beast before killing it with an accurate shot to the
vital organs.75
The Men of the Club
Alfred Edward Pease,76 was one of a number of Shikar Club members who
rejected urban values in favour of rural life and sports despite dependency
on industrial capitalism to support his lifestyle.77 The family background
was Quaker, closely associated with iron-mining near Middlesborough.78
During his Quaker childhood, despite the prohibition on dancing, novels
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The Sports Historian No. 20 (1)
and music, field sports were not condemned, enabling Pease to fish, shoot
and hunt throughout his youth.79 Pease transferred his sporting proclivities
to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he excelled at football,
athletics, cricket and hunting.80 Fellow Club member, Robert Lyons
Scott81 also utilised industrial income to devote himself to big-game
hunting. Such was his dedication to the hunting cult, that he singlehandedly furnished Greenock’s natural history museum with trophies
between the 1890s and his death in 1939.82 Interestingly, Robert Lyons
Scott, Maurice Egerton and Abel Chapman, remained unmarried and were
heavily influenced by their respective fathers, all of whom were committed travellers in search of sport and adventure.83 Despite the restrictions of
World War One, Scott shot, fished and collected in 1914 and 1915 in every
Continent of the World.
Whilst Scott’s personal image and public integrity was enhanced by his
lust for hunting, Pease’s unconventional views on the Empire and shooting
were unpopular in some quarters. The Spectator, for example, found ‘no
fault with Mr Pease provided he keeps himself to his role of sportsman and
traveller. When he leaves this as he is fond of doing, to instruct us in the
grave matters of conduct and belief, he is less to be admired.’84 By
advocating the colonisation of Africa for outdoor pursuits well away from
the unwholesome influence of the plutocrat and asserting that the workingclasses could shoot big-game by diverting drinking expenditure towards
travel and recreation, Pease gave new and often unwelcome meaning to
notions of self-help.85 His enlightened admiration for native cultures,
futhermore, impugned an unsympathetic and prejudiced conservative
opinion preoccupied with the notion of the ‘savage’, a concept which
found ample expression through the hunting experience.86 The notion of
the safari, for example, appealed to upper-class Victorian and Edwardian
prejudices by enabling the imposition of metropolitan racial and sporting
values onto ‘lower races’.87 Abel Chapman was able to assert with
confidence that the ‘mob of savages’ required to attend a safari needed
discipline to ensure a successful hunt.88 His observation that natives were
‘unalterably ‘lazy’ similarly endorsed the notion of hunting as a feature of
European colonisation which reinforced moral and assumed physical
divisions between virile and “other” inferior cultures, which was subsequently woven into the fabric of colonial ideology and given an aura of
respectability.89 In addition, many Victorian observers attacked the utili-

78


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