Dec 22, 2008

King George V's Hunting in Nepal in December 1911 Part I

About the photographs

These 50 photographs depict scenes of the shikar, or hunt, the hunted animals and the hunting camps of King George V in the Tarai in December 1911. The photographs feature the wild animals of the Tarai including tigers, bears and rhinoceroses, the use of the elephant "hunting ring" technique, the activities of the mahouts (or elephant trainers/handlers) and shikaris (or hunters) as well as the various dignitaries involved in the visit. Each individual photograph has a pencilled number, but no caption. The captions have been supplied by the ANU Library.

Hunting party on elephants fording a river. River is probably the Rapti. The hunting parties camped on the banks of this river during the hunt.

Slain tiger. There were a total of 39 tigers killed during this hunt.

Camp, with George V's bungalow

Hunting party on elephants fording a river. River is probably the Rapti. The hunting parties camped on the banks of this river during the hunt.

George V and the Maharaja consult on foot. Other members of George V's party, Nepali soldiers and shikaris are in the background.

Hunting party inspects the head of a slain rhinoceros. There were a total of 18 rhinoceroses killed during this hunt.

George V stands in his howdah.

George V's party used two camps during the trip. The first was at Sukhibar on the Rapti river where the party encamped for five days, then the party moved to a second camp at Kasra, some eight miles farther up the river for the remainder of the trip. The second camp duplicated the first. The Maharaja of Nepal was in a separate camp lower down on the Rapti river. His 14,000 followers camped hidden in the jungle behind.

George V takes note of the number killed - 3-4 tigers and a bear. There were a total of 39 tigers and four bears killed during this hunt.

The tiger is camouflaged in the grassland. There are ominous shadows in the foreground.

A tiger lies in a stream, with the ring of elephants in view in the background. The "ring" is a method of hunting peculiar to Nepal. The hunters mounted on elephants form a "ring" and move in on their quarry, which has previously been stalked and enclosed in the area surrounded by the ring. [On the first day of the hunt, 18th December] "... the first tiger [was] shot by His Majesty in mid-air as it was leaping a small stream." Historical record of the Imperial visit to India, 1911, p. 230.

The album
The album consists of 16 pages and 50 photographs. It appears incomplete with the back cover missing. The front cover bears the company name Herzog & Higgins, Mhow (Central India) and the words "Bound at the Caxton Works, Bombay" inside the front cover. The album was discovered in a rural Indian home in Madhya Pradesh by the donor, Dr U.N. Bhati, Visiting Fellow, Economics and Marketing, School of Resources, Environment and Society at The Australian National University. The album was given to Dr Bhati by a distant relative who had worked for the former Maharaja and Maharani of Ratlam (in Madhya Pradesh), Mr and Mrs Parbinder Singh - who had given him the album.

King George V
King George V's reign began on 6 May, 1910. He was determined to visit India as soon as possible afer his coronation in London (22 June, 1911), in order to be crowned King/Emperor of India in Delhi. His advisors considered that an actual coronation ceremony was inappropriate, and suggested that he be presented as the crowned King/Emperor of India and receive the homage of the Indian Princes and rulers while he was seated upon his throne. This took place at a Durbar in Delhi on 12 December, 1911.

The King was passionate about shooting. After the Coronation Durbar in Delhi, he was looking forward to spending as much time as possible big-game shooting in Nepal. During his previous visit to India as Prince of Wales in 1905-1906, his planned shooting trip at the invitation of the Maharaja of Nepal had been cancelled due to an outbreak of cholera in the region. Before his 1911 visit, Maharaja Chandra Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, Prime Minister and ruler of Nepal from 1901-1929, had again invited him for a shoot in the Tarai region. Nepal's political power was held by the Rana family, which had instituted a system of hereditary Prime Ministers in the mid-19th century. The King of Nepal, who only held an honorary position, died a few days before King George V's planned trip, but had insisted before his death that the visit should not be cancelled.

The King travelled by train to Bhikna Thori in India, a few hundred metres from the border with Nepal. He proceeded by motor car to the first day's shooting ground. After about 20 kilometres, they reached the valley of the Rui river, from where they mounted elephants and proceeded into the forest. The king shot his first tiger while it leapt a small stream. That day the party killed four tigers and three rhinoceroses. The camp for the next five days was at Sukhibar, on a bend of the Rapti river, with the forest behind. "The river flowed past the camp in a broad and placid stream, forming a splendid foreground to the open jungle on the other bank, while occasionally in the distance a view could be caught of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas." (Historical record of the Imperial visit to India, 1911, p.230)

On 23 December, the camp moved to Kasra, eight miles farther up the river Rapti. The Maharaja's entourage, who were in a separate camp further along the river, numbered 14,000 including 2000 elephant attendants. After Divine Service on Sunday 24 December 1911, the Maharaja presented the King with a collection of over seventy varieties of animals indigenous to Nepal. During the hunting that followed Divine Service on 25 December, nearly 600 elephants formed the "ring". The King shot the largest tiger of the expedition on that day. On the last day of the visit, 28 December, the King reviewed a Brigade of four Nepalese regiments on his way to the hunting ground. The total number of animals killed during the hunting trip was 39 tigers, 18 rhinoceroses, and 4 bears. (Historical record of the Imperial visit to India, 1911, p.231-233)

Background on The Terai and the Hunt
The Tarai region of Nepal is a narrow strip of flat land bordering India. Being part of the plain of the river Ganges, its southern area is very fertile agricultural land. Its northern part is marshy and abounds in wild animals. Today, part of this area forms the Royal Chitwan National Park, a Natural World Heritage Site. The Nepali Rana rulers had used this area as a royal hunting reserve from 1846 to 1951, and had maintained a good supply of game for themselves and their guests through the strict enforcement of game laws. "The forested areas of the Tarai are the home of tigers and leopards, gaurs (wild ox), occasional elephants and buffalo, and many deer … The Lesser Rapti Valley, in the Chitawan district, is one of the last homes of the great Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. Nepal).

Adrian Sever describes the King's shoot as follows: "An army of beaters was employed for weeks before the event to drive into a selected area all the big game that inhabited the warm damp jungles of the western Tarai . . . some forty points were selected within the area chosen for the shikar, and kills, usually goats, were tied up so as to establish the number and location of tigers and leopards. They were then hunted in uniquely Nepalese style. The tiger that was reported overnight from a kill was encircled by an enormous ring of elephants and held until dawn and the arrival of the guns. At times, as many as 250 elephants were employed for one circle. As the tiger approached, the ring was contracted until the great cat's escape was cut off. Upon the arrival of the visitors, ten or twelve specially trained elephants were introduced into the circle, which, in some cases was as much as 200 metres in diameter. These proceeded to form a line and march into the patch of jungle in which the tiger was hidden." Eventually, the tiger was flushed out. (Sever, pp.246-247)

Encyclopaedia Britannica. S.v. Nepal.
Fabb, John. India : the British Empire from photographs. London : Batsford, 1989.
Fulford, Roger. Hanover to Windsor. London : B.T. Bataford, 1960.
Halperin, John. Eminent Georgians : the lives of King George V, Elizabeth Bowen, St. John Philby, and Nancy Astor. New York : St. Martin's Press, 1995.
His Imperial Majesty King George V and the princes of India and the Indian Empire : historical-biographical. Compiled by K. R. Khosla; edited by R. P. Chatterjee. Lahore : The Imperial Publishing Co., 1937.
The historical record of the Imperial visit to India, 1911 : compiled from the official records under the orders of the viceroy and Governor-General of India. London : Pub. for the Govt of India by John Murray, 1914. [Hyperlink to text of pp.228-233]
Nicolson, Harold George. King George the Fifth : his life and reign. London : Constable, 1952.
Rose, Kenneth. King George V. London : Weidenfeld And Nicolson, 1983.
Sever, Adrian. Nepal under the Ranas. Sittingbourne [England] : Asia Publishing House, 1993.
Smythies, Olive. Ten thousand miles on elephants. London : Seeley Service, 1961.

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Part II
Part III
Part IV