Major Sir William Cornwallis Harris (1807 - 1848) was an English military engineer, artist and hunter. He spent 13 years in India as an engineer with the East India Company, reaching the rank of major. 1n 1833, He then went to Cape Town where he met Andrew Smith, an explorer and naturalist, who inspired him to take a long hunting trip to the Western Transvaal and Magaliesberg. During this expedition, Harris hunted on a huge scale, writing of being..."taxed by the facetious with shooting madness ... a most delightful mania...", wrote about the regions and created detailed paintings of the animals he encountered. He remained at Cape Town to the end of 1837, then he returned to India to resumed his work as field engineer.
From 1841 to 1843, Harris led a British diplomatic mission from Bombay to Sahle Selassie, Negus of Shewa, at the time an autonomous district of Ethiopia, with whom they negotiated a commercial treaty and collected extensive scientific data .
Harris came across his first sable antelope in the Magaliesberg and sent a description and specimen of the animal to the Zoological Society of London. Consequently sable antelope became originally known as the Harris Buck.
"...in former years I had looked over the sketches of the late Cornwallis Harris, sketches showing the life of the South African fauna as he saw it about the year 1837, I more than once had my doubts about the correctness of his representations of it. As the result of what I myself have seen, I have quite given up such doubts.
The original sketches left to us by Cornwallis Harris (which I must say do not always rise to a high level from the artistic point of view) are coloured sketches accompanied by descriptions, and show us such multitudes of wild animals that they seem to border on the fabulous. For we see in them elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, buffaloes, zebras and antelopes, all gathered together in crowds, and thus one inclines involuntarily to the opinion that all these have been brought together in one picture merely to give illustrations of the various species. But my own observations have shown me that our artist is perfectly correct." Carl Georg Schillings 'In Wildest Africa' 1907
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The Wild Sports Of Southern Africa by William Cornwallis Harris (1839)...the narrative of an expedition from the Cape of Good Hope through the territories of the Chief Moselekatse to the Tropic of Capricorn. This was the very first book written about sport hunting in Africa, rather than hunting for meat, ivory or skins. Free eBook
Narrative Of An Expedition Into Southern Africa During The Years 1836 And 1837 by William Cornwallis Harris (1838) is the very scarce first edition, albeit with a slightly different title, of 'The Wild Sports Of Southern Africa' published in Bombay, a year earlier than the British version. As above, it describes Harris's hunting expedition and presents a detailed picture of the southern African hunting fields prior to the great changes of the mid-Victorian period. Harris saw a herd of quaggas and brindled 'gnoos' which he estimated at 15000 head. Free eBook
Portraits Of The Game And Wild Animals Of Southern Africa by William Cornwallis Harris (1840). Harris was an accomplished writer and an observant and reliable naturalist, as can be seen by the remarkable detail in the comprehensive captions to his portraits. He was the first to bring to the attention of the western naturalists the existence of the sable antelope called for sometime afterwards, Harris' buck. While some of his paintings, particularly those of the elephant and the hippopotamus, are undoubtedly not accurate depictions, it must be remembered that these were completed after his hunting trip.
Highlands Of Aethiopia by William Cornwallis Harris (1844) is the account of the journey Harris took with several other British officers and diplomats to open trade relations with the then virtually unknown Kingdom of Shoa. The journey through the hinterland of the country is described in great detail, as are the cultures of the various cities that were visited. While this is truly an epic of travel and exploration, there are two sporting incidents of note with a huge buffalo bagged near the Casam River and elephant taken in Galla country. Free eBook
Page Updated: Aug 2020