Book Review 2022: The Story Of John Henry Patterson’s Book “The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo”


The Lion’s Road

John Henry Patterson’s book “The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo” was written in 1907, before that few people know the story of two lions who managed to stop the construction of the Ugandan railway and, according to legend, ate about 150 people.

In the late 19th century, the British government decided to build a railroad in East Africa. It was assumed that it would stretch from the city of Mombasa on the coast of the Indian Ocean (the territory of modern Kenya) through Lake Victoria to Uganda; before that there was a caravan route. It was used mainly by slavers and ivory traders. Construction began in 1896, two years later the road connected Mombasa with Nairobi, and only 27 years later, the railroad reached the heart of Africa, the city of Kampala in Uganda. Most of the construction workers were Indian coolies, brought by the British in large numbers to Kenya.

The events of interest to us occurred at the initial stage of construction, 132 miles from Mombasa near the Tsavo River (now in these places are the Tsavo National Parks – East and West). The construction of the permanent bridge was entrusted to the thirty-year-old Colonel engineer John Henry Patterson. He came from India, where several civilian objects were built under his leadership.

Soon after Colonel Patterson began work in March 1898, reports began to report of a predator attack on workers. The first attempts to shoot lions were unsuccessful: workers’ camps were scattered 30 miles along the road under construction, and the lions chose their prey every time in a new place. Soon, each of the camps was surrounded by a barbed fence (boma), all night long the workers burned fires, trying to drive away the cannibals, but these measures did not give any results. The lions ignored the thorns, easily penetrated the hedge.

Lions On The Hunt

At first, when the lions were just mastering a new kind of hunting for them, people sometimes managed to escape from them. Once a man-eater attacked a Hindu merchant riding a donkey. He knocked the donkey and the rider to the ground, but accidentally caught his fangs on the rope, which bound the cans that hung on the donkey’s neck.

The lion could not immediately free itself from the rope, the canisters, rattling and clinking, fought against each other, the lion got scared and ran into the bush, dragging the whole bundle along with it. Another time, a lion climbed into a tent and, by mistake, instead of a sleeping man, dragged off the mattress on which he was lying. Realizing his mistake, the beast threw the mattress and ran away. Once a lion burst into a tent in which 14 coolies were sleeping. He grabbed a bag of rice, seriously injuring one of the people along the way. Having run away with the prey a short distance, he, in the words of John Henry Patterson, “threw the sack in disgust.” Miraculously saved the doctor’s assistant: when the cannibal burst into the hospital tent, he knocked over the laboratory cabinet with tools and medicines in horror. The raised noise frightened the beast, and he preferred to run away from sin.

Unfortunately, gradually gaining hunting experience, the lions grew bolder and, as a rule, no longer left their victims any chance: “Their methods of hunting people have improved and seemed just supernatural,” says John Henry Patterson in his book. At this point, they were already confident of success that the workers believed that these were not real animals, but the angry spirits of two deceased local leaders, who took such a form in protest against the construction of the railway. “

When the tracklayers moved on and only a few hundred workers remained in the Tsavo area to build the bridge, the cannibals focused their attacks on them!

Cannibal Trap

One day, lions visited the hospital tent and carried away one of the patients. After that, the hospital was relocated, and a van was put in its place, in which Patterson and the doctor ambushed. Several cows were tied nearby as bait. They did not have to wait long: one of the lions jumped over the fence and dragged the cow away. But this was not enough for the predator – he smelled the people in the van! When the lion attacked the wagon, the colonel fired and scared the beast away.

After this shot, the lions moved their hunt to other places for several months. At this time, according to Patterson’s project, a special trap for cannibals was built. There were two rooms in it, separated by steel rods: the trap itself with a slamming door made of rails, and the compartment where the hunter was hiding, he is also a bait. However, the lions did not appear at the trap …

There was literally not a single day without the news of the death of people coming from this or that camp by the river. The animals, completely insolent, penetrated the hedge, dragged off the next victim in front of everyone, not paying attention to the screams, stones flying at them and burning brands, and sometimes feasted at a distance of no more than thirty meters from the camp. They even ignored the shots and continued to eat.

Finally, on December 1, 1898, the workers told Patterson that they no longer wanted to be food for lions or devils, and after this ultimatum they left Tsavo. The entire construction site has stopped. Only a small handful of coolies, the bravest, remained in the camp. People settled for the night in trees, on cisterns with water, or dug their own dugouts.

One day, the cannibal finally fell into a trap! There were three armed people in it as live bait. When the trap slammed shut, the lion began to beat its paws on the bars, frightening people to death. Despite the fact that the lion was almost at arm’s length, no one hit him, but one of the bullets broke the chain on which the door was held, and the lion fled, escaping with scratches.

Successful Catch

Yet luck finally smiled at Patterson. It was so. Once he accidentally frightened off a lion, which was devouring a donkey carcass not far from the camp. It was not possible to shoot the animal, and the colonel, in order not to miss the killer, ordered the workers to surround the section of the bush where the lion had disappeared and to make a terrible noise.

Patterson himself was waiting for the lion on the other side, on the path laid by the animals. And now a man-eater appeared in front of him, a huge maneless male. Patterson raised his gun and fired, but there was a misfire. Reacting to the click of the trigger, the lion rushed to run in panic, slipping just two steps away from the shooter. The bullet fired after it did not reach its target.

Then, by order of Patterson, a small platform on pillars (mahan) was built next to the killed donkey in the hope that the lion would come to eat the barely started carcass – it was tied with wire to a tree so that the lion could not drag it away.

Patterson sat down on the platform and waited. The hungry lion did appear, but the living Patterson interested him much more than the dead donkey. Fortunately, the beast did not think to either jump onto the platform, or knock down one of the pillars and overturn it. However, the colonel endured fear, especially since at some moment he unexpectedly received a blow on the head – it turned out to be an owl, mistaking him for a branch. The lion moved incessantly, so it was difficult to aim at him, but finally Patterson fired. The lion jumped and ran into the bush, Patterson shot after him. This time he hit: one shot hit the heart, the other hit the hind leg. The first man-eater was dead, his huge body in the morning carried to the camp by eight people. The workers celebrated his death violently.

Blood Trail

For some time the second lion was inactive, but a few days later, at night, he paid a visit to the railway inspector in Tsavo. Hearing a noise outside the door, the inspector decided that it was some drunken coolie and did not open it. This saved his life, and this time the lion was content with two fat inspector’s goats. The next night, Colonel Patterson settled in a hut next to the inspector’s house and tied three goats to a heavy rail in front of the entrance. The wait was not in vain: the lion appeared shortly before sunrise.

He killed one of the goats and dragged her into the bush along with two other goats and a piece of iron weighing more than a centner! In the morning, Patterson and his men followed the trail of the lion, or rather, the track of the rail which had sunk deep into the ground. The lion was not far away and was still devouring goat meat. When he was discovered (it also turned out to be a maneless male of enormous size), he rushed to run and, slipping between Patterson and his neighbor, disappeared into the bush. Then a mahan was built for Patterson; that night, the colonel managed to wound the lion, which returned to the place of the interrupted meal.

Leaving behind a bloody trail, the beast disappeared into the thickets. For ten days it was not seen or heard, and everyone already hoped that the wound was fatal, but they did not lose their vigilance. And, as it turned out, not in vain. Ten days later, the lion tried to reach the coolie sleeping in a tree next to Patterson’s own tent. The night was very dark, as if it was impossible to aim, so they had to shoot in the air to drive away the predator.

Ambush On A Lion

The next night, Colonel Patterson and his loader set up an ambush in a tree, and the colonel was nearly bitten by a poisonous snake. When the lion was about 20 yards away, the colonel fired and hit the target, but the lion stayed on its feet. The enraged beast ran away with a loud growl. The next morning Patterson and his assistant followed the trail of the animal and found it half a mile later. The lion was hiding in the thick grass. Badly wounded, nevertheless he, growling and grinning menacingly, attacked the people. Patterson fired twice again, after the second shot, the lion fell, but was able to get up and continue the attack. Patterson reached for the second gun, but found that his squire had shamefully fled and had already climbed a tree. Patterson could only follow his example. If one of his shots had not interrupted the lion’s hind leg, he would never have succeeded. Already in the tree, the colonel took the second carbine from the loader and fired again. Only then did the lion finally fall. With too much haste, Patterson quickly went downstairs. To his amazement, the lion tried to attack him again! And only two shots – in the head and in the chest – finally stopped the beast.

Subsequently, the colonel sold the skins of the cannibals to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Stuffed lions can still be seen in one of its halls.

After the death of the second man-eater, the workers returned, and the bridge was finally completed. In January 1899, the builders presented Colonel Patterson with a silver goblet in gratitude for getting rid of the cannibals. And on the very day when the construction of the bridge was completed, a terrible downpour broke out and washed away two temporary bridges that led to the quarry. He seemed to put an end to this whole story.

Colonel John Henry Patterson left Kenya shortly thereafter to return to that country in 1906; for several years he served there as a game conservation inspector. There he wrote the book “The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo”, which immediately became extremely popular. Click To See Out Site

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