“ Who-ever may be the proud possessor of this rifle after I am finished with it please treasure it, for my sake “
Thus ends a one page letter written by Fletcher Jamieson in the Zambezi Valley on 14th July 1934 . The letter , held in a roll by a strand of elephant hair , was hidden in the balance hole beneath the butt plate of his double rifle which “ has pulled me through many an encounter with elephants , rhino and buffalo “
I was in Harare in 1994 with Brian Marsh, editor of Magnum magazine , a pioneer of safari hunting in Rhodesia , and close friend of several of the now famous professional hunters of the past. He had suggested that he should write an article for The African Sporting Gazette, of which I was the publisher, on Fletcher Jamieson who had hunted in Rhodesia in the 1930s. Jamieson was also a keen photographer and took a large camera on a tripod , carried by a trained assistant , on most of his hunting expeditions . He wore a distinctive hat and so is easily recognised in photographs, many of which were used to illustrate John “ Pondoro" Taylor's book “ African Rifles “ .
Brian had heard that one of Jamieson's rifles had been bought in an auction in Harare by Mr R__ , and asked if I would like to see it, as we could add an account of its discovery to his article . I, of course, said I would love to see it so we went to R's house to look at the rifle. It was a “ Royal “ .500/.450 non ejector in reasonable condition and had a corroded “ Silvers “ orange rubber butt pad . R had intended to send it to H&H in London to have it refurbished but had decided to remove the pad as it was in a fragile state.
On removing it he saw paper in the balancing hole and pulled it out . Removing an elephant hair that held the roll in place he found the letter written in 1934 detailing the experiences Jamieson had with the rifle. A facsimile of the letter became part of the article that was published in the 1995 edition of The African Sporting Gazette.
Of course, ever the collector, I asked if it was possible to purchase the rifle , but R was not interested in selling it . In the years that followed Brian occasionally enquired about the rifle but the answer remained the same.
Through the 1990s I was a director of Holland and Holland , in the beginning running their sporting agency and latterly with responsibility for the factory and international gun sales . I was lucky enough to have my office next to the “ Brevis Room “ in the basement of the Bruton Street shop ,and where the collection of historic rifles were displayed , including the 4 bore double made for the Nizam of Hyderabad .
I was working there one day in 2001 when one of my colleagues told me that a Mr R from New Zealnd wanted his rifle sent to one of the London auction houses . It took me a few moments to realise that this might be the same R that I had met in Harare and I asked where the rifle was . “ In the vaults “ was the answer , so I asked to see the rifle , and it proved to be the same rifle. I had been sitting within 20 yards of the rifle not knowing it was there !
The letter was not in the butt but my colleague had R's telephone number in New Zealand and so I phoned him to talk about the potential sale of the rifle and I persuaded him to let me sell it through Holland and Holland. He had the letter in New Zealand and sent it back to me so that it was reunited with the rifle. We took the rifle to the Safari Club show in Las Vegas the following year and I sold it to an American collector .
John Ormiston is a former director of Holland & Holland.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on