Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ranter by Trade


As an amateur ranter against officialdom, I pride myself on ‘writing my mind’, and I do my best to get under the skin of whomever’s on the receiving end of the rant in question.

But one day last week in the Zambian National Archives, I exploded into undignified laughter as I was put soundly in my place by reading the correspondence of a world class Ranter who was in a league of his own—and this back when correspondence was carried out by type-writer and ballpoint pen instead of through the internet!

 I will admit that in researching the imperial wildlife lobby in Britain and its colonial counterparts in eastern and central Africa I’ve run across a range of, shall we call them interesting characters.  But one Mr. E. Muspratt takes the cake.

During the 1950s, Muspratt launched a series of harangues against colonial officials in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).  His pet subject, it seems, was African ownership of firearms, and he was convinced that colonial officials in the colony were laundering firearms with an aim to ensuring an African uprising.  A subsidiary complaint was that European officials were conspiring with the Africans over whom they ruled to exterminate all of the wildlife in the territory.  His typed letters were invariably accompanied by more personal letters, written in massive, scrawling script. 

One can almost imagine Muspratt grinning with glee as he wrote from London (“if anyone in Lusaka ever stops to consider such a hillbillie centre”) to Northern Rhodesian officialdom in Lusaka (“capital of the universe”), defaming their “arrogance, immorality, corruption and conceit”, and accusing them of operating according to “some Theory of Divine Right, or Tsarist or Papal infallibility”. 

The Northern Rhodesian government seemed to regard Muspratt as an amusing oddity, and on one occasion, after receiving a proper roasting from him, an official wrote in an internal memo: “I am glad to see that Mr Muspratt is back to his best form!  His recent efforts had been rather poor, but this is one of his very best”.

Members of the game department, Muspratt informed officials of all stripes, were useless, and didn’t mind the destruction of wildlife as it would “leave them more time for chasing skirts and backing horses!”  He took a particular liking to one Major Taylor, as can be seen from the below:

“Mr Vaughan-Jones [head of the game department] was once good enough to hint that I might not be a sufficiently reliable shot to qualify for a white hunter’s licence.  Yet he appoints Taylor, a man of no experience whatever, as a game warden.  Some game warden!  Perhaps Mr Vaughan-Jones will reconsider the matter of that licence if I offer to relieve him of the services of Major G Taylor?  I think he had better because I am challenging Major G Taylor to a fight with duelling pistols.  ‘Venue’ near Paris in order not to infringe British law.  Major Grimwood [the Game and Tsetse Control Department’s Senior Biologist] is quite certain to ask what my motives are?  So you may tell him that they are twofold: a) to rid the service of a thoroughly undesirable and umptious little bully; b) to test the Colonial Office ‘credo’ that muzzle loading weapons (as used by African natives) are ‘non-lethal’ (vide Mr Skeffington Hudson).  Notice that your officials cannot stop our little experiment without condemning themselves of perjury before the LegCo ... In other words, having disposed of Major Taylor, I shall not hesitate to challenge Major Grimwood”.

True to the real credo of British colonial administration (arrogant if conscientious disinterest), Muspratt received a reply from the Member for Natural Resources in the colony’s Legislative Council: “Sir, the receipt is acknowledge of your registered letter of the 4th of March on the subject of the Fauna Conservation Ordinance; the contents have been noted.  I am, Sir, your Obedient Servant”.

Funny, based on the responses I get to my own letters and e-mails, I think that California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein must employ the same secretary as the Member...

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Profile: E. Muspratt.

Occupation:  Writer of letters.

Residence: Itinerant, U.K.

Favourite Law: 1885 Berlin Treaty.

Pet Peeve: “[Northern Rhodesia’s] mutinous little administration”.

Connections: The London-based Fauna Preservation Society, to whom he wrote, “Naturally I shall not ask your Society to join me in shooting or beating Major G. Taylor.  But I suggest you let the authorities know unofficially that we will not have this little scum shielded by fatuous denials or red tape”.  What do you really think about Major Taylor, Mr Muspratt? 

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SEC 6/40.  1954 to 1958.  Game Protection and Firearms.  Muspratt Correspondence.

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