Issue 28 October 2021

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Jim Corbett's Lost Letters Part 2

A 1926 Letter From Ibbotson regarding the Rudraprayag Leopard

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People|May 2021

This letter was written by Corbett's great friend, and sometime hunting compainion, Sir William Ibbotson, Deputy Commissioner for Garhwal and Kumaon. It is addressed to Mr. Stiffe, Deputy Commissioner of Almora, recommending Corbett be awarded the honour Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIM) for shooting the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag. The letter is one of four discovered in a provincial auction, along with several related photographs, in April 2021. The lot sold for £1,700. We publish the full transcript below for the first time:

Camp Via Pauri Garhwal May 8th 1926.

My Dear Stiffe,

Very many thanks for your congratulations to Corbett and myself, I of course passed them on. Corbett left for Naini Tal yesterday and, if you want to see him, it would be well to do so soon as he is leaving shortly for East Africa.

What do you think about the recognition by government of Corbett’s magnificent effort?

There are man-eaters and man-eaters, a man may go out and get a man-eater in he course of a week’s shikar with a good deal of enjoyment and not an enormous amount at any rate of consciously felt difficulty, discomfort and danger.

This case is very widely different from that.; Corbett spent a month at Rudraprayag last autumn, all alone with the exception of he few days I was there, and then over six weeks now in March, April and May.

I have already given some description of a part of the previous effort; it would take too long to give a similar description of the last six weeks at present.

But the following is an extract from my diary giving a bare list of operations;

March 15th. Corbett arrived at Kotdwara, motored to Dgadda and then did two more marches to Kalet.

16th. Corbett, two marches to Pauri.

Corbett was just raising rifle to shoot when a woman with a light opened house door nearby and leopard disappeared like a shadow.

17th. Corbett and I two marches from Puri to Chantikhal. Heard at Chantikhal that the leopard had killed a boy of 14 at Bhonka early morning 16th, carried body 25 chains , had a feed and put the remains under a rock. Bridges immediately closed by Kanungo as this was the side of the river we wanted him.

18th. Marched very early to Rudraprayag and heard that leopard had returned night of 16-17 and eaten up practically the whole corpse leaving the feet and head on top of a rock where he had fed. Later heard leopard did not return night of 17-18.

19th No news: made grass screens for machans, and sent for all padhans to announce instructions and rewards fro reporting.

20th. No news: instructed a lot of padhans 2 shillings for first report of dog or goat killed, 5 shillings for cow and 20 shillings human. Made false haystacks both to go in tree and on tripod as ‘hides’.

21st. No news, made more haystacks and sat up all night 21-22 on bridge.

22nd News 7a.m. of cow killed at GERWA between Punar and Gulab Rai, 22nd. Door of cow house had been forced open and one of four cows killed inside. Carcase had wedged in doorway and leopard had had a feed off it there.

Night 22-3 Corbett and I sat up in tripopd haystack over a cow. Leopard came around 8p.m. and found us. Corbett heard him and decided at midnight that he would not come to the kill until we left. We left and afterwards leopard came and had a small and very hurried feed.

23rd. Corbett and I made a hole in the wall of the house verandah and sat there whole night 23-4. Leopard came about 4 a.m. after moon had set. Corbett was just raising rifle to shoot when a woman with a light opened house door nearby and leopard disappeared like a shadow.

24th. Corbett sat alone whole night 24th-25th in same verandah at Gerwa. Nothing came.

25th . nil.

Corbett's hayrick machan.

26th. News received two goats killed near Agastmuni. Not man-eater.

27th. News received 7.am. woman wounded during early night 26-27 at LOLI above Gulab Rai. Leopard opened the house door and got her by the arm and breast together with baby that se was nursing. Door jammed preventing his getting her out and he was driven off. Gave the husband iodine. (note; she eventually recovered).

28th News of cow killed night of 27-8 at Pani in jungle, not man-eater. News received of cow killed inside cow house at BARSU above Punar, dragged to the door which jammed with the carcass as before. The door had been forced partly open for leopard to get in..
Corbett and I went and arranged a hole in wall of adjoining cow house. Corbett sat all night 28-29th in adjoining cow house, I in verandah of village. Nothing came.

29th. News of dog mauledclose by teh head of teh Rudraprayag-Punar bridge. News also of cow killed at Thebanw opposite Chatwapipal, (not man-eater).

30th. Nil. Corbett and I sat o bridge til midnight.

31st. News of dog killed at Gadmill patti Nagpur. (not man-eater). News of goat killed at Panai near Chatwapipal, killed midnight carried a mile and practically eaten by morning.

the goat ran away when we untied it and was found two days later killed

APRIL
1st Panther heard calling during night 31-1 by Kanungo and others about a half mile up the hill above PUNAR bazar. Panther seen just after dawn by villagers, crossing the same hill. Corbtt and I went up and watched for some time and in the evening at in among the rocks over a live goat. Goat would not call so Corbett did so instead and the leopard probably came very near as the goat ran away when we untied it and was found two days later killed evidently the same evening and within thirty yards of the place.

2nd. News received about 7a.m. that a man named Gauriya was killed about 8.0m on the next hillside to that mentioned above at a hamlet SIRWANI BHUNGA of PUNAR, killed just outsidetehdoor where he had gone to make water. No blood for 100 yards from house, apparently dragged away by throat and than killed. Body taken about 400 yards, throat, lower jaw, buttocks and on thigh eaten and remains left in asmall depression on a convx hill-side among scrub jungle.

No possible place to sit so kill poisoned with potassium cyanide and we sat on hillside til dark in case he came in light across face of hill where see previous morning.

3rd. Leopard came during night 2-3 dragged away corpse and ate shoulder, carefully avoiding poison. We put two more doses of poison in, leaving hardly any meat eatable and un-poisoned.

Hills around Rudraprayag.


Corbett sat up all night 3 -4 in tree about 100 yards from corpse in the ravine on the leopard’s path to and from the kill. I slept in mango tree down hill by village to be available if required.

Corbett heard an animal, possibly leopard, pass some distance from his tree towards kill about 7.30 p.m. and at 2 a.m. heard the leopard coming down hill towards his tree. It came to within a yard of the place where he could have shot it and then unaccountable turned down into the bushes past the foot of the tree where it was invisible to him., had a drink in the ravine and went on.

4th. Leopard seems to have the whole of a thigh into which we had put a full dose of potassium cyanide. Collected 200 men and while Corbett sat in the outlet and watched, I beat the whole hillside jungle into which the leopard had apparently gone . Found his dropping containing human toes near the entrance to one of three likely caves all of which we walled up. Found also body of goat lost evening of 2nd, clearly killed by leopard that evening but not touched for food,.

As beat was ending news was shouted up from Punar that a man had been killed during the previous night at KUNDU above Agastmuni, on the far side of the river and ten miles away. Name of man Galtu. It seemed impossible that this panther could have crossed the river (bridge was securely closed) and done ten miles and killed again between 2.a.m and dawn and that apparently with a dose of cyanide inside him.If this was areal kill, there must be two man-eaters.

Sent Konkin to search for corpse and get further news.

5th. News from Kundu that corpse could not be found but there were the blanket half way out of the door and heel marks of drag for some distance, 200 men searching for corpse. Sent Kanungo to see if all was straightforward.

6th Corbett searched ravine above Punar in case poisoned leopard had died there.

7th Leopard said to have visited quarters of bridge chokidar. Kanungo reported all bona fide at KUNDU and that leopard had visited the same cow house in which Galtu had been killed night 6-7, while Galtu’s nephew was inside, sen trace of pug-mark found in field below (trace had six toes).

Corpse not found, 600 men searching. Various rumours of leopard knocking at doors of villagers above Punar. Monkeys outside bungalow called at leopard but we could not find him.

 Jim Corbett shot the Leopard of Rudraprayag with his .275 Rigby Mauser.

 8th. 600 men serching for Galtu’s corpse.

9th. Galtu found in a village about 3 miles away alive and well. He had apparently been angry with his nephew and gone off.

10th. Galtu brought in for inspection. 7.a.m. news of woman killed about 5 a.m. two miles away at TILNI.Village was stirring at the time and she went out for morning reasons and was taken as she returned to teh house. Carried 500 yards without blood across a ravine and into scrub jungle, where a leg had been eaten before the people got there and found corpse. We got there by 8.30 and hunted the surrounding ravines to no purpose.

There was again nowhere to sit and we tied two rifles to a strong bush with a line to th kill, arranged strong thorn bushes fixed in ground to make him drag kill so as to shoot himself, set trap also on line of retreat.

We sat in mango tree the other side of ravine. at 8.30 p.m. there was a roar showing leopard in trap. It was a ong roar but only one. We got down and after lighting lamp and getting two men to carry it, went down to trap , in which we found only a lock of his hair caught.

11th. After spending rest of night in mango tree, cut down the guns and returned to Punar. The leopard had been before us on the same road and had scratched 14 times between Tilni and Gulab Rai.

Bhutian at Gulub Rai reported that he had attacked their camp there at 2 a.m. and killed a goat but they had recovered the carcass. I departed to Pauri leaving Corbett alone at Rudraprayag.

Two goats killed at Gulab Rai, Corbett sat til ten p.m. but nothing came.

14th. Kanungo reported that leopard opened his door during night. News received of cow killed near Shivaandi . Corbett went there and sat on ground til 9.p.m. leopard did not return.

Corbett then returned and spent remainder of night on the bridge as the bungalow was occupied.

15th. News that boy had been killed this previous evening at BHAINSWARA a village out of the leopard’s beat hitherto and eighteen miles away and 6000 feet up the hill. Killed 8p.m. boy aged 14 following his moher , brother and sister up steps to house.

News reached Corbett about 11.a.m. and he got to Bhainswara about 6.30 p.m. and found body of boy in courtyard, four men living in next house had seen leopard carry it off and had gone out and driven leopard off with gun fire. and recovered body. Corbett sat all night over body but nothing came.
16th. News received 10.a.m. that two leopards had been seen early in the morning on the hillside above Punar going in the direction of caves which we closed on 3rd. Corbett sat in a pine tree on top of the hill throughout the night. He heard leopards fighting near the caves, called and they came up within thirty yards of his tree but then for no reason passed on up the hill.

17th. Corbett again sat all night in the same pine tree over a dog. Very heavy storm nearly all night threatening to blow tree down. Dog, which had been tied by Konkin, went home.

18th -19th Heavy rain throughout both days.

Rudraprayag in more modern times.

20th. Kanungo reported two leopards had killed three goats just outside Gulab Rai. Two carcasses recovered, third completely eaten down by the river.

Corbett sat over road between Punar and Gulab Rai. Wet night.

21st. News of goat killed at MOUA (not man-eater).

Corbett visited Gulab Rai and found tracks of big leopard all round chatti. Returning was told by a ‘Gaddi’with flock camped by road that a leopard had attacked his camp previous night and had been driven off by his dogs. Corbett sat over goat tied a little apart from Gaddi’s camp ti 10.pm. Nothing came.

Two men who passed at 7.45 before dark reported to Kanungo they had seen a leopard cross the road in front of them about 100 yards from his trees. Leopard probably followed them to bazar as there were numerous scratches on the road.

23rd. News of goad killed at Pawari (not man-eater). I returned from Puri.

Corbett decided that as the man-eater had passed three times under a tree about 40 yards east of the Gulab Rai Chatti during the last ten days he would sit in that tree for ten nights in the hope of a shot. He sat there over a live goat whole night 22-23.

Corbett sat whole night 23-24 in same tree.

24th. As 23rd Corbett sat whole night 24-25 in same tree.

25th. News of sheep taken out of a house in LOLI, above Gula Rai. We hunted all day for the remains but could not find them. Leopard was almost certainly man-eater, had opened a fastened door in village to get sheep and carried it a mile before eating any, into thick jungle. Corbett did not sit up as obviously the leopard would spend the night finishing up the hidden sheep.

26th. No news Corbett sat up all night in same tree.

27th. News of dog killed in Talla Nagpur (not man-eater). Corbett sat up all night in same tree.
News of goat taken out of house in Dungri about three miles from Punar, carried to jungle and completely eaten up (probably man-eater).

28th. No news. Corbett sat up all night in same tree.

The leopard made no noise at the shot. Shortly afterwards, Corbett heard a gurgle.

29th No news. Corbett sat up all night as before, dogs and Bhotias in camp near seemed to be driving off leopard around midnight.

30th No news. Corbett sat as usual. Large number of pilgrims sleeping at chatti. about 9 p.m. Bhotia dogs barked. At 10 p.m. there was a rush down the road, the goat made no sound but bell on its neck rang.

Corbett shot the leopard which was in the act of springing away instantly as he switched on his light. The leopard made no noise at the shot. Shortly afterwards, Corbett heard a gurgle. At dawn Corbett found blood on the edge of the road and soon found the carcass of the leopard about 50 yards down the hill, in the jungle.

Sir William Ibbotson with the man-eater.

You my take it that every one of the 15 or 16 nights that Corbett sat up alone in trees, he did so with the feeling which no-one in that vicinity for long can escape, that he was liable to attack at any moment by this devil incarnate..

He and I compared notes of our feelings after last November’s experiences when we met again this spring and both admitted that for two or three months afterwards neither of us could go out of a lighted room into a dark passage even in the house without thinking ‘man-eater’. An unpleasant condition of the nerves, and Corbett’s nerves are not of the anaemic order.

So it was no small thing for Corbett to putt off his projected busines trip to East Africa which would have afforded an ample xcuse (and teh abandonment of it may mean some monetary loss) and come to do another six weeks at Rudraprayag, when there was no obligation whatever upon him to do so.

Also, the eventual success of his work was no more luck than were Napoleon’s victories. It was the result of a well conceived plan of campaign carried out with unlimited energy, persistence and courage; and this in the face of a series of failures that almost seemed to justify the popular idea, so freely and cheeringly expressed to him on all sides that the brute was not to be disposed of by human effort.

This is not the first man-eater that Corbett has shot, there are also:

in 1907 The Champawat Tigress (victims 200 Nepalese, 192 Kumaunie)

about 1910 The Panar Leopard (victims 400)

in 1912 The Mukhtesar Tigress (victims 15 approximately)

and now in 1926, the Rudraprayag Leopard (victims 125)

Regarding the Panar Leopard, I gather there was one kill reported after Corbett killed the leopard but it was the bridegroom in a marriage party! I don’t think there any doubt that Corbett killed this animal but, in spite of the exhortations of Sir John Campbell, he never made any claim about it.

In the present case he refused to take the money reward but wished it to be distributed among the servants, his and mine that had borne the heat of the day and slept in suffocating closed rooms at Rudraprayag. This was unnecessary as I told him , for I should have rewarded them in any case from the fund but it was clear throughout that he came and did the job out of pure public spirit and without any thought of reward or recognition whatever.

Everyone agreed that there had been no better deserved C.I.E recently than Freddy Young’s and I think this is a parallel case.

Do you think it would be possible to get a C.I.E for Corbett.

Yours sincerely.

W. Ibbotson. The goat that tempted teh Rudraprayag leopard, and the family who owned it.

NOTE: Jim Corbett was awarded the CIM in King George VI's birthday honours in 1946. He was one of the last to receive it, India gaining Independence two years later.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

People|May 2021

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