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Baboons

( Originally Published 1851 )



Lieutenant John Shipp, in the account of his amusing military adventures, describes several rencounters he had with baboons near the Cape of Good Hope. On these hills (says he,) whole regiments of baboons assemble, for which this station is particularly famous. They stand six feet high, and in features and manners approach nearer to the human species than any other quadruped I have ever seen. These rascals, who are most abominable thieves, used to annoy us exceedingly. Our barracks were under the hills, and when we went to parade, we were invariably obliged to leave armed men for the protection of our property; and, even in spite of this, they have frequently stolen our blankets and greatcoats, or any thing else they could lay their claws on. A poor woman, a soldier's wife, had washed her blanket, and hung it out to dry, when some of these miscreants, who were ever on the watch, stole it, and ran off with it into the hills, which are high and woody. This drew upon them the indignation of the regiment, and we formed a strong party, armed with sticks and stones, to attack them, with the view of recovering the property, and inflicting such chastisement as might be a warning to them for the future. I was on the advance, with about twenty men, and I made a detour to cut them off from caverns, to which they always flew for shelter. They observed my movement, and immediately detached about fifty to guard the entrance, while the others kept their post; and we could distinctly see them collecting large stones, and other missiles. One old grey-headed one, in particular, who often paid us a visit at the barracks, and was known by the name of Father Murphy, was seen distributing his orders, and planning the attack, with the judgment of one of our best generals. Finding that my design was defeated, I joined the corps de main, and rushed on to the attack, when a scream from Father Murphy was a signal for a general encounter, and the host of baboons under his command rolled down enormous stones upon us, so that we were obliged to give up the contest, or some of us must inevitably have been killed. They actually followed us to our very doors, shouting, in indication of victory ; and, during the whole night, we heard dreadful yells and screaming; so much so, that we expected a night attack. In the morning, however, we found that all this rioting had been created by disputes about the division of the blanket; for we saw eight or ten of them with pieces of it on their backs, as old women wear their cloaks. Amongst the number strutted Father Murphy. These rascals annoyed us day and night, and we dared not venture out, unless a party of five or six went together.

One morning, Father Murphy had the consummate impudence to walk straight into the grenadier barracks; and he was in the very act of purloining a serjeant's regimental coat, when a corporal's guard (which had just been relieved) took the liberty of stopping the gentleman at the door, and secured him. He was a most powerful brute, and, I am persuaded, too much for any single man. Notwithstanding his frequent misdemeanors, we did not like to kill the poor creature; so, having first taken the precaution of muzzling him, we determined on shaving his head and face, and then turning him loose. To this ceremony, strange to say, he submitted very quietly ; and, when shaved, he was really an exceedingly good-looking fellow, and I have seen many a " blood" in Bond street not half so prepossessing in his appearance. We then started him up the hill, though he seemed rather reluctant to leave us. Some of his companions carne down to meet him; but, from the alteration which shaving his head and face had made on him, they did not know him again, and, accordingly, pelted him with stones, and beat him with sticks, in so unmerciful a manner, that poor Father Murphy actually sought protection from his enemies, and he in time became quite domesticated and tame. There are many now alive, in his Majesty's 22d regiment, who can vouch for the truth of this anecdote "

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