The British Empire Library

The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari

by Joshua Mathew

The author introduces his book:
Although the Crown Rule or British Raj was defined from the years 1858 until 1947, Britain’s association with India started centuries earlier. The British East Indies company began to trade along the coasts of India from the early 1600s, competing with the Dutch and the French to gain access to an abundance of natural resources in India. Those who landed on Indian shores were an eclectic mix of civil servants, traders, missionaries, soldiers, teachers... They were all seeking adventure, fame or fortune in one form or another.

For the new migrants, especially among the men who lived in proximity to the forests, hunting provided not just recreation, but also a rite of passage. Conservation was unheard of, and tigers, panthers, bears and other mega fauna were often considered vermin and hunters were rewarded for their destruction.

These early hunters all hunted for sport, and not until Jim Corbett ‘s book Man-eaters of Kumaon in 1944, did the colonial shikaris' tales garner mass appeal. Corbett was born in India and while a pukka sahib at heart, his love for India and the people were genuine and there was a certain Indian-ness that transpired through his writings.

Kenneth Anderson was his equivalent in South India. His ancestors arrived in India in the early 1800s from Glasgow and his father, who worked for the Army, settled down in Bangalore. Incidentally, he was sent back to Edinburgh for his stuides, but returned to India later.

Kenneth wrote 8 books in total. These were not about hunting for sport but explaining how to put an end to man-eating tigers and panthers that were a menace to society. After India's independence in 1947, Kenneth decided to stay on in India, a strange decision considering most of his peers decided to migrate, either fearing retribution or seeking greener pastures in the UK and Australia. He passed away in 1974, content to have lived in the country he was born in.

His son, Donald was born in 1934 in India and his boyhood was like any other non-Indian at that point in time in Bangalore. However he blended with the rest of the population as he grew up. He loved hunting and the forests much like his father and lived a rather colourful life, witnessing an incredible transformation in the world around him, over the 80 years he lived. He also hunted tigers and panthers, he was also a champion angler and even acted as a stunt double for Stewart Granger in a film called 'Harry Black and the Tiger'.

I looked after Donald during his declining years, and during that time, I gathered the content (and courage) to write his biography. I patiently reconstructed his poignant and ultimately wretched story. I believe this book is unique as it gives a glimpse into how a Scot from pre-independence India who lived his life till 2014. His life transcended multiple worlds most of which have sadly passed into history now.

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
This is a curious book that won't appeal to everyone. The subject, Donald Anderson, seems singularly charmless - boastful, vain and by his own account irresistible to scores of women. Yet there is an interesting story to be told here and Joshua Mathew, who met Anderson during his last years, tells it very well. It clearly took many hours of patient listening to extract facts from the old man's reminiscences and inevitably this has led to some repetition. Mathew was an admirer of the author Kenneth Stewart Anderson, who was known as the Jim Corbett of south India and who wrote not only about killing man-eating tigers but perceptively on his life in the jungle living with tribal people. In 2003 Mathew was astonished to learn that Kenneth Anderson's son, Donald, was living in Bangalore, almost a near neighbour and he sought him out and eventually persuaded him to tell his life story. It is a sorry tale of decline. The Andersons were from Scotland and several generations had worked in India. They were wealthy and bought land in and around Bangalore. Donald was born in 1934 in the splendid family home on Sydney Road called 'Prospect House'. There were plenty of servants too, including a much-loved ayah, Catherine, to whom young Donald became deeply attached. With his sister June, he attended Bishop Cotton School but he was not academic or indeed motivated towards anything other than hunting.

He was given his first gun at an early age and like his father lived an outdoor life, killing animals that threatened jungle-dwelling villagers. As the family fortunes dwindled Donald found employment as a clerk in the local 'Binny Mills'. After twenty-five years service he had risen to a managerial post (which doesn't quite accord with his devil-may-care white hunter role). His finest moment came when he was hired as Stewart Granger's double in Harry Black and the Tiger, shot in India and produced by Lord Braboume. There are nostalgic pictures of Bangalore before it morphed into cyber city. Donald's last days were miserable, lived out in a garden shack and wracked with illness. It was the kindness of friends that paid for his hospital operations. He died in 2014 and this book is an extended obituary of an odd character.

British Empire Book
Joshua Mathew
Indus source books
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2018 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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