John Alexander Hunter (1887-1963)
"White Hunter" John Alexander Hunter
(1887 – 1963)
J. A. Hunter made his living as a PH for fifty years
John Alexander Hunter was born near Shearington, Dumfries-shire, Scotland, also known as J. A. Hunter was a "white hunter" in Africa from the early 1900s through the 1950s who led many notable safaris. His father had intended for him to be a farmer, but by his own account he grew up far more interested in hunting than farming. He moved permanently to British East Africa (Kenya) in 1908 with his father's old Purdey shotgun and a 7x57 Mauser, where he later led the Livermore expedition, with the aid of A.P.de K.Fourie, that opened up the Ngorongoro Crater to European hunters.
During his career J.A. hunted and guided a mixture of people, from titled Europeans, wealthy industrialists, personalities like Colonel Sandy McNab and Denys Finch-Hatton and to others who scrimped and saved to afford their one safari. Like Percival and Selby, Hunter was very good at his trade, but probably no better than dozens of others. He, however, was not made famous by one of his clients.
It happens that J.A. Hunter was as good a storyteller as he was a hunter. His timing was also perfect. Even the very best hunting book today will only be published by a specialty publisher, and its readership will be limited to the hunting community. Mainstream publisher Harper & Brothers published J.A. Hunter's second book, Hunter, in 1952. It was a Book of the Month Club selection that year, and just a few years later, it came to school libraries, given the first taste of Africa to kids.
J.A. Hunter held several world records for Big Game at various times, and lead a group that killed 1000 rhinos in a single year in Kenya, most of them in the Makueni hunting, which the Government needed to get rid of these animals in that area, in order to give these lands for re-settlement of the Wa-kamba people. He regretted the necessity, but he accomplished the mission and lived to tell of it. He is credited with more than 1,400 elephants, which puts him on a very short list of the great ivory hunters along with Jimmy Sutherland and Karamoja Bell. Throughout much of his career, Hunter was a game control officer called upon to handle some of the most difficult assignments, but he also spent twenty years taking clients on safari. He used several rifles in different calibers for his hunting, including 416 Rigby, 500 Nitro Express and 505 Gibbs.
John Alexander Hunter with a pair of fine Elephant tusks
John Alexander Hunter returns from a recent ivory hunt
In later years, he became concerned about the possible extinction of the wildlife he had so assiduously hunted, and spoke in favor of conservation. His writings were also notable for betraying his colonialist attitude, although his writings similarly betrayed a genuine respect and affection for the locals and peoples that he interacted with.
In 1918 he married Hilda Bunbury. J.A. had 6 children, Doreen, Sheila, Lesley, Gordon, Dennis and David.
Hunter, an autobiography - front cover
Hunter, an autobiography - back cover
He was also a friend and contemporary of Denys Finch-Hatton, who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie "Out of Africa". In his published writings Hunter wrote of his friend and fellow professional hunter, and the tragic circumstances of Hattons' death.
In 1958 he built the Hunters Lodge hotel in Makindu, Kenya where he died in 1963.
He wrote several books, some autobiographical, some fiction based on his life experiences:
• Hunter, an autobiography
• Hunter's Tracks, story of John Hunter's efforts to capture the shady headman of a gang of ivory poachers and smugglers
• White Hunter, specifically about his safaris before World War II
• Tales Of The African Frontier, the early days of East Africa is the subject of this John Hunter book
Based on John Hunter:
• African Hunter, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1954
• African Bush Adventures, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1952
• Killers of Kilimanjaro, made into a movie in 1959
J.A. Hunter (left) and his trackers and clients with a very fine Leopard
J.A. Hunter (right) and his client with an exceptionally fine bull Elephant