The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Édoaurd Foà

I just finished reading Édouard Foà's AFTER BIG GAME IN CENTRAL AFRICA, which in the unabridged form typical of late XIX and early XX centuries also says: "Records of a sportsman from August 1894 to November 1897, when crossing the Dark Continent from the mouth of the Zambesi to the French Congo."

I bought this book at Powell's Books during a very pleasant trip to Portland, OR, during May 2014, but just recently had the time to work on it. Of Monsieur Foà five books, this is the only one translated into English. But before making comments and considerations on this excellent read, I would like to introduce Monsieur Foà to those that have not met him before!

Édouard Foà was born in Marseille in 1862 and lost his parents as a teenager when he had to leave his studies at the Collège de Bône in Tunis and found a job as interpreter at the local English Consulate while working at the same time at the post office administration. At 18 he volunteered for the French Army, resigning as a Non-Commissioned Officer  at 23 while serving at Dahomey, current day Benin. From 1886 he was engaged in expeditions to explore the west coast of Africa.

In 1891 he was put in charge by the Muséum National d'Historie Naturelle of a mission to explore southern Africa, and during the two year journey he was able to combine the scientific work with his passion of hunting. 

In 1894 he returned to Africa where during the next three years he would cross the continent from the Zambezi to the Congo, a trip that among other works would result (posthumously) in After Big Game In Central Africa.

Now I would like to report on the firearms that Monsieur Foà selected for this journey into the unknown:

  • 1 Double-barrelled 8-bore rifle
  • 2 Express 577-bore rifles
  • 1 Express 303-bore rifle (Metford)
  • 1 smooth 12-bore Winchester six-shot repeater (I believe it to be a Model 1893)
  • 1 smooth 32-bore double barrel fowling-piece (for collection of small birds)
All four rifles were side-plate exposed hammer actions, as at the time Monsieur Foà did not believe that the new hammerless actions (either side-lock or box-lock) were robust or reliable enough to endure such a journey, away from any competent gunsmith. By the photographies in the book, all the rifles appear to be of the robust and proven Jones underlever design.

Being so conservative in his choice of rifles (it is understandable that he did not have a Level 8mm as French law regarded and regards military cartridges as War Material), I was impressed to see his selection for a repeating shotgun, which he always kept handy for self-protection against four or two-legged predators!

As for the ammunition, the details are the following:

  • 8-bore: 100 "small" cartridges with round 2 1/2 ounce bullets and 5 drachms of powder, for buffaloes and to dispatch large pachydermata; and 100 "large" cartridges with conical 4 ounce 1 drachm bullets and 8 drachms of powder, for elephants and rhinoceroses;
  • Express 577: 1,600 express bullet cartridges (6 drachms of powder), with copper tube, weighing 1 ounce 2 drachms; and 800 cartridges with solid bullets ordinary lead, of 1 ounce 5 drachms;
  • Express 303 (Metford): 500 cartridges, with solid bullets of great penetration for defense or shots at head (hippopotami, elephants, rhinoceroses), weighting 7 drachms; and an additional 2,400 cartridges with Jeffery bullets (8 drachms), hollow bullet (7 drachms), soft-nosed solid bullets (7 drachms), and soft-nosed express bullets (7 drachms).
All ammunition was supplied by Eley and Kynoch and packed in soldered zinc boxes, ten cartridges in a box.

Monsieur Foà last expedition took place in a time of great transition in the firearms world, black powder to smokeless (chemical) powders, large bore to small bore, lead bullets to engineered jacket bullets, but at early dawn of the repeating bolt-action rifle. By the end of the book it becomes apparent that the 8-bore became more of a nuisance than necessity, and that when other rifles were not at hand, the little 303 Express killed every animal that it shot at when the bullet was well placed, from lion to rhinoceros to elephant.

Let's remember that Alexander Lake in his book Killers in Africa tells us that he used almost exclusively a 303 Lee-Enfield for his hunting, and that he considered that the 270 Winchester with a 150 grain bullet would be a proper replacement for it. Mr. Lake also had a very low opinion of the heavy express rifles as the brutal recoil disrupted proper bullet placement.

Similarly, in Green Hills of Africa Ernest Hemingway uses almost exclusively a 30-06 Springfield by Griffin & Howe during both his 1933 and 1953/54 safaris, shooting 220 grain solids for buffalo and lion.

Another point that I would like to cover is on Monsieur Foà discussions on the Eatable Quality of Animals and the Hunter's Bill of Fare. After long reflection and a rather long time in the bush, he proposes the following menu for when having distinguished guests at camp:


Consommé of buffalo tail. Eland Soup.

White ants, grasshoppers on the point of laying.

Jugged wild cat, elephant's foot à la poulette, giraffe's tongue with caper sauce.

Mushrooms, Bonongwe with eland's marrow, Runi, Mtanga with ground nuts.

Elephant's heat larded with warthog fat, rolled rhinoceros fillet, monkey en papillote, agouti stuffed with tortoise.

Matako ia tsano.

Fulas, matondos mtduzi, tchendje, and various others.

Moa or pombe and fresh Chiromo nchena.

Shortly after presenting this sumptuous (but for us rather impractical and probably unachievable) menu, he comments that: "For my part, I can only repeat what I have already said elsewhere: if we made a list of everything used for food in various parts of the world, vegetables apart, we should come to the conclusion that everything living which nature has placed in the earth is eatable, and that people fond of it may be found.Was it not with this object that animals were created, like an interminable bill of fare, from which man is free to choose what pleases him?"

By the end of what would become his last expedition, Monsieur Foà's bag was the following:
  • Large animals            488
  • Small game                520
  • Various                       220
  • Grand Total            1,228
Édouard Foà passed away on 29 June 1901 at Villers-sur-mer (Calvados) due tropical diseases contract during his previous journeys into Africa, or maybe due to a hunter's broken heart, for no longer being able to enjoy the bill of fare from Africa's hinterlands.

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