Sunday, November 22, 2009

men with guns

My book reference tally from the National Library has now exceeded sixty, and I've only managed to sift through four.

'Tiger Shooting in India', William Rice, 1857 (with 12 chromalithographs);

'The Calcutta Port Trust: A Brief History of 50 Years Work 1870-1920' (with hand coloured map attached to back cover);

For a second time, Augustus Somerville's 'Shikar near Calcutta ...' , and

Mary Linley Taylor's 'The Tiger's Claw: The Life Story of East Asia's Mighty Hunter', 1956.

The most interesting part of this last book was the author's prologue - an anecdote about a tiger's claw she was given by her 'naval grandfather'. The rest is a collection of stories about a Russian hunter, Yura (George) Yankovksy, she met while living in Korea between 1918 and 1942. While he is an entomologist and ornithologist of some repute, for several decades he goes around Siberia, Korea and Manchuria blasting away at tigers, panthers and leopards. Here is an extract about two cubs that resonated with my father's story.

"On a future hunt, George did get two tiger cubs, for which the zoo in Seoul paid him one thousand dollars. After seeing the tigers, fully grown, in the zoo - where, I must say, they looked contented - I asked George how he had caught them. 'Not with a trap', he replied.

'Then how?' I asked.

'Well,' George said, 'first I had to kill the mother. Then I found the young tigers. I held their heads to the ground with a strong forked stick, while Kim tied their hind legs together. I put a stick behing their teeth, so that they could not close their mouths to bite, and then tied the front legs together, and put them into sacks. We carried them to camp, put them in boxes, and took them to Seoul on the train.' "

This image is drawn from a photograph in Taylor's book. I've seen a number of images of tigers that have been shot and killed, but this photograph of the hunter (a friend of George's) next to those massive bears holds an eerie and violent stillness. Something in his easy stance, his gaze straight into the camera and in complete contrast the vulnerable snouts and upturned paws of the bears.

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