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The Literary Legacy of Frederick Courteney Selous

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2014


In the works of many generations of white writers on Africa, the “Great White Hunter” has remained one of the most powerful and enduring images. A model of Caucasian masculinity, he quickly masters a hostile and wild environment in ways which amaze the aboriginal population, who are usually portrayed as savage and incompetent. Perhaps the best known real-life example of this classic image was Frederick Courteney Selous, a product of the English public school system, who hunted elephants in southern and central Africa during the 1870s and 1880s. Never having made much money from the ivory trade because of the dwindling number of elephants, Selous became an employee of Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSAC) in the 1890s and worked towards the colonization of Southern Rhodesia. After fighting against the Ndebele in 1893 and 1896, Selous eventually based himself in England and became a recognized environmental expert, safari guide, and collector/seller of zoological specimens.

Through writing six books and numerous articles from 1881 to the 1910s, Selous successfully created and popularized an image of himself as a skilled, yet sporting, hunter, a painfully honest gentleman of the bush, and a friend, as well as leader, of Africans. He was an adventurer with a dramatic habit of narrowly escaping danger and these episodes were often illustrated through drawings in his books. Discussing one such incident, a writer of hunting stories once remarked that “throughout Lobengula's country the story went that Selous was the man even the elephants could not kill. It helped to build the ‘Selous Legend’ among the Rhodesian tribes.”

Research Article
Copyright © African Studies Association 1998

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