Sunday, June 11, 2006

Baron Osten's Account of His Escape from the Jaws of the Lion in 1827

(Transcribed from his own MS. extract from his Journal)

May 20th, 1827.—We heard again of some bullocks having been killed in the same jungle where we had killed three lions on the 14th. On the strength of this information we set out immediately, and found a whole family of lions. We killed five, but I had a very narrow escape of being killed by one of them. After having killed four, I had wounded a fifth, and Grant, with five pad-elephants, was beating towards me, when he roused the wounded lion, who immediately attacked and wounded one of the elephants.

He then came straight at me. I bent a little forwards over the howdah to take a steady aim at him, when unfortunately the forepart of the howdah gave way, and I fell, with all my guns, right on the top of the lion, who immediately seized hold of me. I broke my left arm in the fall, and got a severe blow from the lion on the head, which considerably stunned me. I felt and recollect, however, that he was tearing at my right arm, and I never can forget the horrible gnarling noise he made.

Grant's and all the other elephants turned tail and ran away, so that I was left alone helpless in the jaws of the lion. How I got out of them alive is to me a miracle, and I cannot otherwise account for it than by giving credit to my mahout's statement. He says that his elephant backed about fifty yards, but that he succeeded after some time in driving her up close to the lion, when she took hold of a young tree and bent it with great force over the lion's back, when he relinquished his prey, and was soon after killed by one of the chikarees (chasseurs on foot).

When I came to my senses, I found my left arm broken, a severe contusion on my head, and eleven wounds from. teeth and claws in my right arm.

Another similar catastrophe occurred this day. A lioness was actually tearing one of the chikarees to pieces, when a fortunate shot of Grant's killed her, and saved the poor man's life; but he was desperately wounded, his blade quite laid bare, the blood streaming from his head and face.

I underwent three times the painful operation of having my broken arm set, twice by natives in the jungle and a third time at Kurnamaal, where I was removed in the evening, and laid up for three weeks, when I was well enough to be carried to Meerut. Poor Grant accompanied me to his house at Kurnamaal; but after ten days he sallied forth again, as he said, to revenge my fate. He left me in the greatest spirits, and in better health than he had enjoyed for years.

Four days after, he was brought back a corpse, having fallen a sacrifice to cholera- morbus. A more liberal, kind-hearted man, and a better or keener sportsman, I never met with.

* 'Within the memory of many of the existing generation, one of the best known figures in St. James's Street, and an assiduous frequenter of its clubs, was the Baron Oaten, formerly of the German Legion, a gallant officer and. estimable man, hut of a somewhat lean, dry, and bilious complexion. His notability consisted in his having had a miraculous escape from the jaws of a lion, who, after mumbling him for a few minutes, let him drop. The jokers maintained that he owed his life to his bitterness, and Sydney Smith, after expatiating in his peculiar vein on the topic, was wont to make it the basis of a theory for curing cannibals of their taste for human flesh. ' Send them Rogers,' he would say; 'and if that does not spoil their relish, try them with J. W. C.; for even if they manage to get him down, he is sure to disagree with them.'—Edin. Rev. No. 244, p. 335.

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