William Cornwallis Harris

(1807—1848) army officer and traveller

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British hunter in Africa. A captain in the British army who was the first of the Great White Hunters in Africa, Harris was born in Wittersham (Kent), England, on April 2, 1807. Stationed in Bombay, India, Harris was ordered to southern Africa to rehabilitate his health. He and his companion, William Richardson, began a five-month safari in September 1836, and within weeks they reached Matabeleland, the kingdom of Umzilikaze. After considerable gift-giving, permission was granted to hunt in the despot's domain, and it was here that Harris saw his first elephant. Harris hunted indiscriminately, but he spent part of each day skillfully drawing animals and native Africans, and he amassed an amazing art portfolio, which included a portrait of Umzilikaze. Harris, the naturalist, collected two complete skulls of every quadruped found in southern Africa. He also preserved the complete skeleton and skin of his most prized triumph, the rare sable antelope, which became known as the “Harris buck.” The antelope's remains were later displayed in the British Museum. The hunters returned by a previously unexplored route through the Vaal River valley, and arrived back at the Cape Colony in early 1837. Harris described his adventure in The Wild Sports of Southern Africa (Bombay, 1838). This highly praised volume significantly popularized big-game hunting in the region, and with the rapid influx of myriad hunters to the region, new lands were explored that had been untrod by earlier travelers. Their reports resulted in the construction of more accurate maps of the region.


From The Oxford Companion to World Exploration in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: World History.

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