"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

30 Nov 2013

A Philosophy of Tramping—Trader Horn, Part 1

The notes of this post provided the background material for Chapter 4 of
Published by Feral House February 2020


Trader Horn, alias Zambezi Jack, and several other monickers, was born Alfred Aloysius (Wish) Smith in Preston, Lancashire, England on 21st June (Saint Aloysius day in the calendar of Catholic saints) 1861. It was his editor and literary collaborator who chose the pen name Horn, allegedly to protect the reputation of his family. In the same way, Horn disguised the names of many of the 'characters' in his books, often with the same character being given several different names; although perhaps this was as much from Horn's own confusion than any deliberate attempt to confuse his readers.

Horn does not quite fit the mould of the other tramp writers who make up this philosophy, even though they, like him, were very much individuals. True, he did have a spell riding the rails around America and, had he not been 'discovered' in his sixties by the novelist Ethelreda Lewis, would likely have starved to death in a Johannesburg dosshouse. For most of his life Horn seems to have chosen employment as his primary existence over vagabondage, even if such employment included piracy, hostage taking and highway robbery—as well as a spell as a police officer! Horn was an adventurer rather than a tramp, but it was his inveterate wanderlust and contradictory view of the world that makes his inclusion in this philosophy indispensable.

Most of the content of this post is drawn from Horn's three published works:

Trader Horn: A Young Man's Outstanding Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1927)
Harold the Webbed or The Young Vykings (1928)
Trader Horn in Madagascar: The Waters of Africa (1929)

However, in order to try and establish a more complete chronicle of Horn's life and adventures, I am indebted to Tim Couzens for his exceptional and comprehensive piece of detective work, Tramp Royal: The True Story of Trader Horn. Couzens retraced many of Horn's steps in search of his remarkable story, speaking to descendants of Horn as well as getting access to many original letters and documents that reveal information not deducible from the enigma that is Horn's published works. And so because it is not within the scope of this blog to repeat the detailed account of Horn's life, already superbly documented by Couzens, I suggest my reader obtains a copy of that work if they wish to more fully acquaint themselves with the life and times of this extraordinary character.

Trader Horn would yet have been just another unknown tramp and adventurer had he not, in the spring of 1925 at the age of 64 (although looking and claiming to be considerably older), arrived at number 26 Loch Avenue in the Johannesburg suburb of Parktown, peddling handmade kitchen implements. At first, the novelist Ethelreda Lewis was not sure what to make of her uninvited visitor, but a natural curiosity combined with a shared interest in Viking history, soon turned into a remarkable literary partnership that within only two years would make Trader Horn an international celebrity. As with fellow tramp writer, W.H. Davies, who received for his first book the patronage and a preface from George Bernard Shaw, Horn's success was partly attributable to the attention and a foreword for his first book from the (later Nobel Prize winning) novelist John Galsworthy:

'This is a gorgeous book, more full of sheer stingo than any you are likely to come across ... These untutored memories of youth adventuring long ago in a wild place, recorded with an untutored pen in a Johannesburg dos-house, are like gold ore of the "so-called golden City," as Alfred Aloysius Horn would call it, except indeed that the proportion of gold in them is so very much greater.'

At first Lewis was perplexed by Horn's repetitious and digressive ramblings, primarily of his adventures in what is now Gabon in former French Equatorial Africa. Horn was only seventeen years old when he signed up as a rubber and ivory trader with the company Hatton & Cookson, yet by the time he left Gabon only four years later he was, in addition to being a formidable trader, also an accomplished sailor, navigator, diplomat and military strategist. The disjointed accounts of these early adventures, as told to Lewis in their first few meetings, are centred around the Ogowe (Ogooué) river and include repeated references to friendships with cannibals and a white goddess, not to mention encounters with gorillas, elephants and French colonialists, the latter of whom Horn clearly despised. A full description of these early adventures makes up the latter part of this post. But firstly I will deal with Horn's literary style and later 'fictional' writings.

Horn's Writing Process

'A biography is something one invents afterwards, after the facts. Therefore, in order to be recorded in history, one must either lie or die.'

'While pretending to be telling a story of his life, or the life story of some imaginary being, the surfictionist can at the same time tell the story of the story he is in the process of inventing.'
Raymond Federman

It took many repeated weekly visits for Lewis to start making sense of the old man's rambling anecdotes and nearly two years to collect from Horn all of the material necessary for the three volumes published, plus other unpublished material (all of which were acquired from Horn before the first book was published in 1927). But it is the manner in which Lewis collected Horn's stories, and the form they appear in print, that make this literary partnership remarkable and unique. Lewis quickly realised that the most productive way of unlocking Horn's memory and collecting his stories, was to let him write down his own stories on paper (which he delighted in doing in his lodgings) and then spend his weekly visits to her home discussing his week's work, at the same time engaging him in lengthy conversations. These 'conversations' (presented in the trilogy as a monologue with Lewis' voice excluded) were collected by Lewis in notebooks while her husband Joseph, a doctor of science and civil servant, typed up Horn's hand written tales, faithfully including his idiosyncratic spelling, punctuation, grammar and misapplied capital letters.

The laboriously recorded 'conversations' are printed in the published editions of Horn's books following each chapter of the primary text. The conversations reveal Horn's reflections on the writing process itself, interspersed with digressive and repeated ramblings concerning his adventures and contemplations on life. Many will find this the most fascinating element of Horn's writings. In someways, it seems, Lewis encouraged Horn's aspirations as a writer of fiction the better to extract from him as much of his personal thoughts as she was able in the time available.

'The life of Aloysius Horn was taken down by me, not primarily for the adventure it contained, but for an old man's rich and sane philosophy of life ... his grand feeling for Nature and his love of the African native.' 

Lewis well understood that Horn's writing was not only the product his imagination, it also activated his imagination. In the second two volumes of the Trader Horn trilogy, the conversations often exceed the prose written in Horn's own hand which Lewis herself dismisses as, 'those banal, anxious, old man's attempts in the Victorian style'. Remarkably—given Lewis' literary ambitions on Horn's behalf, not to mention the obsession publishers have for amelioration—both Lewis and the publishers left all of Horn's considerable spelling and grammatical mistakes unedited, adding to the charm and authenticity of the work. As for the conversations, Horn expressed surprise and admiration when encountering these passages following publication of the books. Caught up in his fantastic imagination, at times Horn seems blissfully unaware that his own life story is more remarkable than that of his 'fictions'; while at others he needs little encouragement to boast about his personal achievements.

And so Horn's books openly display the tracks of both his and his editors labour. It is precisely because Lewis chose to include those aspects of the writing process, something rarely included in published works, that make the Trader Horn books so worthy of attention. As the novelist William McFee wrote in his Foreword to Harold the Webbed, 'it is the author's complete obliviousness of all modern literary technique which evokes in us an almost breathless fascination.' Horn's was a literary style often described (and dismissed) today as autobiographical fiction. Because of languid readers and those guardians of literature who demand biography as statements of 'truth', the Trader Horn books were targets of some criticism in spite of high sales, and are still sadly overlooked today. Horn and Lewis were even accused of being charlatans and faking the whole project. That Horn's work was not taken more seriously by the literary establishment was not helped by the melodramatic Hollywood movie made of his first book, ensuring his place as a curiosity rather than a serious writer. But Horn had his admirers as well as his critics, and the following passage from McFee's Foreword, both validates Horn's writing style and impugns those who cried hoax:

'When reading, our pleasure is derived in the first place from seeing the story-telling faculty, reduced to its simplest components, operating in full view of the reader. We are taken, as never before, into a sort of air-tight, sound proof cubicle, where no hint of the real world of today can reach us, and where we can look through a small window at an elderly Victorian busily cutting out little figures of men and women and wild animals, painting them in the bright colours of his fancy and pulling strings which cause them to perform all the conventional movements of the old out-of-date romances. ... It is a strange thing to me that men, clever men who essay to judge books, should be so unfamiliar with the lives of the really poor as not to recognize the formidable quality of Aloysius Horn's position. Neither Dickens nor Dostoevsky ever cut so cleanly or so deep to the very quick of the poverty problem as does Mr. Horn ... we who write have to admit that Mr. Horn has the knack of stating our problems with the horrifying clarity of a precocious child.'  

McFee's last observation corresponds with Nietzsche's maxim that there is something the child sees and hears that others do not, and that something is the most important thing of all. As Horn tells Lewis in the 'conversations' from Harold the Webbed, 'If I am childish it's surely pleasurable to be a child in my own portion of earth, where you could walk blindfold'.There is also something Nietzschean about McFee's further observation that:

'In spite of Mr. Horn's constant allusions to Homo stultus [human stupidity] he has a deep perception of the authentic agonies of the common folk who struggle to preserve in their poverty their self-respect'. 

And so perhaps it is high time that Horn's contribution to literature was reassessed. Not that we should concern ourself on Horn's behalf—the prosperity he achieved in old age as a result of his celebrity status probably gave him far more pleasure than acceptance in literary circles would have done. Horn continues an honourable tradition of storytelling from the Vikings on down (and of whom he claimed to be a direct descendent), a tradition that has no truck with facts, and, as in Horn's case, weaves myth and legend into the story of one's own life. He deliberately obscures the names of people and places, and as for dates he has nothing but contempt as the following two passages testify:

'Iv'e never burdened me memory with dates. A brains given you for thoughts, not dates.'

'Dates? ... Excuse me sounding impatient, but I'd say my books are built on facts, not dates. ... When you're here there and everywhere for seventy years you can't be as neat as a lawyer's ledger. A man's got to choose between being a bit o' nature and being chained to the office calendar.'

Unlike Horn's first book, Trader Horn, which was autobiography embellished with fiction, and his last book, The Waters of Africa, which was fiction embellished with fact, Harold the Webbed was Horn's attempt at writing a purely fictional adventure story. Even so, some of the most implausible of Horn's tales are rooted in fact and some of his most innocent assertions are fiction—such is the joy and roguishness of this entire literary project. As Horn says in his third volume: 'Beauty of fiction is you can suppress anything that's not convenient.' This includes even fictionalising biographical information that readers normally take for granted: published in 1928, the subtitle of Harold the Webbed reads: "... written by ALFRED ALOYSIUS HORN at the age of seventy-three, and the life with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by ETHELREDA LEWIS." Horn was in fact aged 67, not 73, when the book was published!

Trader Horn, Fictioneer (Harold the Webbed and Waters of Africa)

Harold the Webbed is a fantasy adventure of a 16 year old Viking lad born with webbed hands and feet, a feature considered to bring good luck. Son of a Viking chief from the Faroe Islands, the story opens with Harold participating in games and sports, including water sports—in which he naturally excels—all washed down with copious amounts of beer served up in horns. When his father, with a fleet of Viking ships, sets out to challenge Julius Caesar who has just landed on the southern shores of Britain, Harold and a group of his friends give their mothers the slip and set off in their own ship with Harold in command. Interestingly Horn would have been a similar age to Harold when he first embarked on his own adventures. After a series of escapades, and much drinking and pillaging, the youthful sailors meet up with Caesar, who they impress with their skills at archery and set of homewards laden with treasures acquired on the way. In this fictional boy's adventure tale, Horn mixes history and legend from different historical periods. Of particular interest in Harold is Horn's demonstration of his own knowledge of seamanship and navigation, which conversely he also displayed in his first volume with his use of Viking battle tactics in his nautical encounters with cannibals on the Ogowe River.

Couzens recounts a conversation between Lewis and the novelist and Oxford historian Winifred Holtby, in which the latter expressed some amazement at reading Lewis' notes of Horn's Viking stories, passed down to him orally through generations and not known to her from any books written of the period:

"You may be the very first person to set down in writing some of these queer bits about Vikings. That bit about the Viking wife having always to sleep with the bowstring round her waist next to her naked skin so that it would be supple from the natural oils of the skin and ready for use at any moment. This may be recorded somewhere but I have never seen it." 

Lewis reports Holtby's further reactions to the coincidence of her (Lewis) meeting with Horn in her Introduction to Harold when Holtby remarked, 'There's something supernatural in an old man with a viking complex coming to your doorstep. Why should he come and babble of vikings to you of all people?'

As has already been noted, while volume one revolves around a large degree of fact, and volume two (conversations excluded) is a piece of pure fiction, Horn described his third volume, Trader Horn in Madagascar: The Waters of Africa, as 'fiction buttressed with truth' and that the story was, 'Founded on as much truth as fiction would allow.'

The drama of The Waters of Africa takes place variously between the port town of Majunga (Mahajanga) in Madagascar', the Chesterfield Islands in the Mozambique Channel (although Couzens' research shows that Horn probably used this description to disguise the location of the real island behind his tale), the island of Zanzibar off the Tanzanian Coast, and Cape Guardafui on the tip of the Horn of Africa in Somalia. Given the location, and that here again we have another seafaring story (in which this time Horn himself appears as a Captain Smith), it is little wonder that once more piracy dominates his writings. Predictably, given the manner in which Horn seamlessly wove fact and fiction into his first volume, in Waters of Africa we are introduced to a mish-mash of real life acquaintances presented as fictional characters, including another Nina T— like figure (the white goddess in Trader Horn's first book, who will be described below) in the person of whip-cracking croupier Belle Seymore, a half-breed Cherokee Indian maiden who had become the slave of his pirate villain Parker Pasha. Belle was also cousin to Buck Johnson, another leading character in the book, whose father was Ben Johnson, sheriff of Pawnee, Oklahoma. Couzens has painstakingly researched all of these American connections from Waters of Africa, cross referencing them with real events and real characters, including Horn's accurate description of the fate of the notorious outlaw Cherokee Bill in 1896. Couzens also speculates as to whether Horn may have even witnessed an actual raid by Cherokee Bill in 1894. Horn would also have been aware of the woman outlaw Belle Starr, associated with the Oklahoma Indian territory in which Horn lived and worked. Belle Seymore's description in Horn's third novel as a crack-shot, bronco riding, lariat wielding heroine (also referred to as Cherokee Belle) does point to Starr, or a potpourri of Starr and others, as a possible model for Seymore in Horn's book. In any event, the fiction, described by Couzens as an Eastern Western—set both in Oklahoma and Madagascar, ends with Parker Pasha's demise from a bullet fired by Belle Seymour during a dramatic sea battle, following which Belle and Captain Smith marry and live happily ever after!

Although, like Lewis, I found both of Horn's later attempts at the novel tedious and 'banal' in a way that the fictionalised autobiography of his first volume was not, there were some compelling passages. One is Horn's description of the deliberate wrecking of ships for the purposes of salvaging their cargo, an occupation Horn refers to often in his writing. This episode comes from where Horn (alias Captain Smith) is employed by the British Navy for his skills as a diver and navigator, to locate a sunken ship loaded with treasure off the East African coast, but also to lure the pirates themselves to the spot, where the British navy would be waiting out off sight to capture them.

'When Baba told me he could show me by going on shore the exact spot at which the decoy ship was set up, I decided to go. We took our rifles after safely searching the coast with our glasses for any moving objects but we found nothing. We landed and Carrol took us directly to the spot. There was no mistake, he had told us the truth. There driven in the sand were three stout stakes, the dummy ships masts had been rigged too, and one of these had the bolts still in them.'

We can speculate as to whether Horn himself was ever a wrecker: ' 'twas in the way of wisdom to be friendly with those wreckers. When you're in the salvage profession round about those parts it doesn't do to have them for enemies.' Horn certainly had experience of the salvage business and seemingly also as a diver, if only for sponges off the semi-fictional Chesterfields. He was also certainly in charge of a cargo such as that described below; although on that occasion he must have resisted the temptation to make off with the untold riches in his charge. In the fictional version, Horn sets out to locate the Empress of India (not to be confused with the 1891-1913 battleship of that name) sunk of the African coast with a cargo of gold on board and a fortune in jewels carried by the ship's passengers. In the following passage we have an example of Horn's fanciful and macabre imagination as he describes to Lewis ideas for his next chapter (all the ellipsis in the following piece are from the original text representing Horn's staccato discourse):

     'Well, I'm getting along to the sensational later. That'll provide me contrast to the quietude of the Chesterfields. What do you say to finding Eastern ladies of high rank, looking their best, and fully be-jewelled, afloat in the cabins of the ill-fated Empress of India?
     Aye, they'd be fully caparisoned in their beautiful clothes, nearing Zanzibar as they were ... Golden slippers and silken trousers ... Emerald rings weighting down the floating hands of the dead ...
     Naturally they were pressed up against the cabin roof by the floating furniture ...
     All those fabulous scents, attar of rose etcetera, and so forth drowned in the smell o' death that can't get free to the cleansing of the sea ...
     Sharks're very quick to notice tainted water. They must have been sailing their fins about the Empress of India for many a day, hoping for the best ...
     High class Mohamedan ladies, meant for the Sultan's harem ...'

And from the fiction itself:

'We examined the sack I removed [containing] the tiara of diamonds with a large pigeon blood ruby and an emerald on each side, it was a beauty, there were also four string of black and white pearls, nicely graded and the gold work slippers.'

And then again in conversation with Lewis following Horn writing the chapter:

'Well, just see how you like it, Ma'am. I'm sorry I wasn't able to elaborate the story of the princess of the harem cuddling the ceiling of that cabin. 'Twould a' led to too much reality and other unpleasantness. No way to treat a poor dead woman to expose her bones to the  public gaze.'

If it were not for Horn's internal censor and editor giving the reading public what he felt they wanted, his attempts at writing novels may well have been more celebrated today. Horn's 'conversations' reveal just what a fantastic imagination he had, and it is a sadness that he felt he had to temper his work for public sensibilities when his own life and imagination was so rich. So in order to get a full appreciation of Horn's fictions, the reader should read his tales alongside the conversations as though both were notes of a work in progress, and use their own imagination to conjure up just what the author might have written had he not observed a formula intended to appeal to sensation seeking and dull readers. But all is not lost if one is able to combine fiction, fact and philosophy into an integrated work of literature. As Sterne writes in Tristram Shandy, 'You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only of my life, but my opinions also.' Trader Horn's writing is not for impatient readers, and as for Horn's own story, it needs no embellishments, being even more enthralling than his fictions. Lewis describes Horn's writing as follows:

'Mr. Horn has an enviable gift of speaking as if his characters really existed. The line between truth and fiction is but a shadow line with him. He casts the net of fiction over truth and of truth over fiction, enmeshing the listener by the same dexterous throw.' 

If Horn has the gift of speaking as though his characters existed, it is because many of them did exist. 'I can't be second rate in literature, Ma'am,' he tells Lewis, I must give facts and novelties too. Properly woven they are the basis of solid interest.' Often modest in his autobiographical ramblings, there is, paradoxically, more truth in much of what he relates than he has been given credit for, or gives himself credit for; including facts that were only verified long after his works were published. It remains then for the reader to blend together elements from both Horn's fictions and autobiography—the two are in any case often inseparable. But if only a fraction of Horn's stories are factual, he has still accomplished far more than most of us can claim to have achieved in our lifetimes. So for those not obsessed with factual truths, Horn's work will be appreciated for what is: remarkable discourse from a master storyteller and innate philosopher.

The rest of this post will attempt to outline Horn's own story, starting with his adventures in the Congo basin as described in his first book. Trader Horn Part 2 will attempt a chronological summary of the rest of Horn's life from the point he left Gabon and returns to England for the first time, and then conclude by drawing together some observations about Horn's philosophy on the natural and the unnatural world.


Trader Horn's School Days

Horn was enrolled at St. Edwards College, Liverpool, at the age of eleven, which according to Couzens, 'had buccaneering origins of which Aloysius could only have approved.' Horn described sailing as being in his veins—although again we have to suspend disbelief as his Grandfather's surname was Smith not Horn:

'My great-uncle Bill, him that had landed in Jamaica and was the last of the privateers, and my grandfather John Horn, started the firm Hamlin, Horn and Hamlin. Know it? Aye, the world knows it. All, me uncles and cousins I've ever had are in it, same as they were in the Alabama syndicate. My uncle Richard was killed in the fight off Galveston.'

There are other references to pirate relatives throughout Horn's conversations with Lewis, but as they match up at best very loosely, we must question Horn's veracity or memory of his actual ancestry, or embrace them as fantasy:

'There was me greatuncle Dick that was the last of the buccaneers and had a house in M Road, Hyde Park. Property in Savannah [Georgia, USA]. ... And there was me greatuncle Horn. Stone blind. Always siting in a little chair by the fire.'

And then again later:

'An old-style viking, me greatuncle Ralph. He asked his father for two ships to go privateering, but his father said no, one'd be enough if properly rigged for warfare.'

A more significant influence on Horn was the school's cosmopolitan milieu: 'I believe the old idea of mixing the British youngster with his brothers of every clime was to make him cosmopolitan, and naturally we learned each others' language.' St. Edwards took in the sons of fee-paying politicians, businessmen and royalty from around the globe, including a figure that was to become a long term friend of Horn's and semi-fictional character in his writing, "Little Peru, son of the Peruvian President". That Horn also describes Peru's father as: 'the son of an Englishman who had wandered to Peru and married an Inca chief's daughter and become the owner of a famous silver mine', seems to confirm that at least part of Little Peru's heritage must be fictitious, if not the entire character. At any rate, Horn claims to have received regular correspondence and gifts from Little Peru throughout his time in Equatorial West Africa, and Peru dramatically appears in the final scenes of Horn's first volume. Following publication of his writing, one of Horn's fellow pupils from St. Edward's recollected that:

"His friends will recognise much in his books of adventures that reminds them of the enthralling stories he told as they sat around him on the hard benches of the playroom. He is happy, shall we say, to have realised the dreams of his youth ... and one may not doubt his realistic narratives, for he was quite capable of all, even the wildest he has seen and lived. ... This promising combination of Cecil Rhodes and Rider Haggard was somewhat a favourite with the Monsignor, though an enigma that puzzled him sorely

Couzens writes that Horn was expelled from St. Edward's College in 1878 at the age of 16, for being an untamed and troublesome boy 'always on the roof', and that the principal, Dr. John Fisher, remarked that, "I'm sorry for the Smiths, that lad's so wild". But Couzens also acknowledges that Horn's behaviour was the result of a certain malady (one common to all the tramps in this philosophy) when he quotes from Harold the Webbed, that like Harold, Horn was 'sick at heart and longed to see the world.' Couzens further observes that, unlike Horn's two brothers who were trained for the priesthood, Horn took after his father and grandfather in his wildness, responding to his father when Smith senior expressed a wish to see the boy settled down: 'Settled down? ... You've bred me and you've bred me wild. Now you talk of settling down. 'Tis yourself opened the cage before I was born, and you'll not keep me in it now.'

Just turned seventeen, and with the consent of his parents, Horn signed an apprenticeship with the Liverpool firm Hatton and Cookson to work for that company in equatorial West Africa's ivory and rubber trade at an annual starting salary of forty pounds plus free board and passage on the SS Angola.

Trader Horn in Africa

Before commencing Horn's first African adventure, it would be useful to provide a potted history of the Congo basin, not least because of the minute part that Horn was to play in it. This included Pierre de Brazza sharing information with Horn that he denied Henry Morton Stanley as part of his bid to colonise the area north of the Congo River for the French.

Horn's arrival in Africa at the end of 1878 coincided with the start of an international scramble for influence and power in one of the last unmapped regions of the world, one that promised considerable economic benefits from huge reserves of unexploited resources. The principal protagonists were the Portuguese, Belgians, French, Dutch, Germans and British. Stanley's second Congo expedition started the same year as Horn's arrival, this time as envoy of King Léopold II of Belgium. Léopold had set up the Brussels Conference in 1876 to enlist European cooperation in opening up the Congo Basin for trade and 'civilising' it's population. But Léopold's plans were a cover for his personal ambitions for power in the region, which once exposed, initiated a frenetic land grab between the interested parties. The French dispatched the explorer Pierre de Brazza and in 1881 claimed what is now the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and the Central African Republic; at the same time challenging the Spanish over the borders of Equatorial Guinea. In 1884 the Belgians claimed the Congo Free State (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), and the Germans took over the Cameroons. The Portuguese had, of course, already been firmly established in Angola for two hundred years. Symbolically, Brazzaville was established (initially as a garrison) on the opposite bank of the Congo River from Léopoldville (founded as a trading post by Stanley in 1881—present day Kinshasa) to prevent any further incursions from the Belgians. The two cities on opposite banks of the Congo River continue as the capitals of the two independent Congo states today, making the initial meeting between their respective founders, Stanley and de Brazza, much more significant than the legendary meeting between Stanley and Livingstone. Stanley was fooled by de Brazza in the same way that he had already been fooled by Léopold. To set the scene for Horn's own adventures, in spite of the territorial claims by the French and Belgians, throughout this whole period, British, German and Portuguese traders continued their profitable enterprises both along the coast and up Gabon's 700 mile Ogowe River (first explored by de Brazza between 1874 and 1878).

The story of Horn and de Brazza comes later, for now we must return to Horn the new recruit of Hatton and Cookson. Having completed the first year of his apprenticeship at the end of 1879, it was into the Ogowe River that Horn sailed on the heavily armed old paddle steamer the Pioneer (previously owned by Livingstone) and the adventures that would be the subject of his first book began. At the time of Horn's introduction to the Ogowe, Portuguese and native slave traders (some of the latter also involved in piracy) were still very active in the region (slavery in Brazil did not end until 1888, and in the Congo Basin until after the Brussels Conference Act of 1890). It was into this hostile environment that Horn would carve out his new career as a trader, supported and encouraged by his mentor, the company's agent, a Mr Carlisle, based further north on the Cameroon coast. Carlisle had told Horn that he was the youngest trader on the coast, that his chances of success in life were far beyond what Horn could imagined, and, that he would personally make sure Horn had 'every opportunity for forging ahead.'

The secret of Horn's success was a combination of his skills as a sailor and navigator, his courage in the face of adversity, and, most importantly, the sophistication of a natural diplomat based on an understanding and respect for the local inhabitants:

'Always had that modus operandi about me that I could follow the edicts of my surroundings. Is man the only animal that can do without the protective colouring offered by a sensible Nature?'

This ability to absorb alien cultures and embrace their way of living, marked Horn out from most of the other colonialists he came into contact with. Although retaining some romantic notions about the country of his birth, Horn shared the general attributes of the true tramp and cosmopolite: those who carry their home with them, comfortably adapt to whatever natural environment they find themselves in, but most importantly, are able to adopt the customs of any culture that suits their purpose. In Horn's case, this included several occasions where he availed himself of the services of witch-doctors (including for gunshot and spear wounds) rather than Western medicine; a fact that also probably explains how Horn survived the often perilous environment of equatorial West Africa (The White Man's Grave) when so many of his contemporaries did not.

As I became aware from my own modest two year spree in Africa at the age of nineteen, it was a strange feature of many Europeans (lower middle-class and working class nobodys at home) that, when transposed to that continent, they quickly adopted all the trappings of their colonial forbears, dressing and behaving in a way that marked them out as even more alien than their whiteness in any case made them: khaki bush jackets and shorts, employing servants, belonging to expatriate clubs. They showed concern at best, and hostile contempt at worse, for any of their own tribe who abandoned its conventions to embrace the indigenous culture. Of course, Northern Zambia in the 1960s was a very different place to Gabon eighty years earlier (not least the still flourishing slave trade), but having been accused of 'going native' or 'going bush' myself, I did not expect to learn from reading Horn that 'going native' was probably less shocking for Victorian adventurers than it was for whites in post colonial Zambia in the 1960s. In any case, it seems that flaunting the convention of fellow colonialists is what brought Horn success and helped him survive—end of autobiographical digression.

The Ogowe River

I will now provide a summary of the terrain Horn had now entered in his own words from Chapter 1 of his first book:

'The Ogowe River empties into the Atlantic Ocean one day's sail south of the equator, and from this river came the most valuable cargoes of ivory, as much as 50,000 pounds weight being shipped in one season. The elephants are mostly hunted by the M'pangwes, Fans, and Ashiwa who speak the same language. These tribes inhabit the North bank of the Ogowe river nearly to its source and are all cannibals. I lived among them for many years, but for safety sandbanks and islands were the only safe camping grounds. Boys were supplied by the firm I represented ... and we were all well supplied with rifles ... Always kept handy in case of surprise attack, and we were frequently called on to defend ourselves in this uncivilised country. These cannibals are by far the finest type of all Negroes I ever met, are good hunters, fine workers, and have no slaves. They are also very moral and I never knew a cannibal woman who was not more than faithful to her husband and children."  

Horn does not say whether the men were also faithful to their wives, but he does describe many friendships he had with these people, on occasions to whom he also owed his life. But, as we shall see, Horn also took lives. Life was certainly cheaper on the Ogowe river and it's tributaries than his Catholic upbringing in Lancashire had prepared him for. He describes, for instance, his shock at witnessing for the first time the practice of throwing an old woman, who had outlived her usefulness, into the rapids to be drowned or eaten by crocodiles:

'... it takes a pretty strong prayer to shut out matricide. Not but what they'd have to get permission from the priests at the Josh [Joss] House to do way with 'em. Then they'd gather a few friends together and chuck somebody's old mother or granny into the river, at an age when in Lancashire she'd be just right for a shawl and a good cup o' tea.'

But Horn soon became used to the ways of the people with whom he now lived and was completely captivated with the exoticism of the natural environment around him. Below is part of a description of Horn's first visit to Lake Azingo on one of the Ogowe's many tributaries; a lake Horn was to describe as the most beautiful of all the lakes he had seen in the world:

'The creek leading to the lake is arched over by vines, from which hang all kinds of vegetation which was simply crowded with flowers of all kinds of shape and hue. As the trees on both banks were high, there was lots of space between this natural archway and the water and terra firma, which was one mat of varied coloured vegetation. Birds of all descriptions flitted to and fro. Now the beautiful crested crane would rise and fly away and kingfishers of all kinds disturbed would follow them. The most beautiful bird in the world, the pippin, which is one mass of green and gold, finds a home here. ... As we neared the mouth of this enchanted waterway ... I saw three gorillas, one big fellow and two smaller ones.

But Horn's first trip up the Ogowe in the Pioneer did not immediately reveal the regions natural beauty. The first habitable spot with any land protruding above the mangrove swamps was thirty miles up river. The village of Angala marked the beginning of the territory of the Nkomi people, and a further twenty five miles up river was the town of Chief Njagu. Fifteen miles further on again was the town of Ngombe, where Njagu's brother Isagi was chief. This same Chief Isagi plays a significant part in Horn's later adventures. Further on again Horn describes a fork in the river, the northern route going to Lake Azingo, described above, which joins the main southern fork again near the present day city of Lambaréné. At the time Horn arrived, this confluence of the rivers some 130 miles from the sea, included Lambaréné Island, a German trading company run by a Herr Schiff, the Kangwe Mission built and run by the Protestant missionary Robert Hamill Nassau, and Hatton and Cookson's own factory run by their agent, a dour Scot named Thomas Sinclair.

All of these characters are important to Horn's first volume, but Robert Nassau's contribution was his diary in an obscure book named My Ogowe, that Couzens would eventually track down. The missionary's testimony provided valuable verification of much of Horn's story, something that Lewis herself had never succeeded in doing. This new evidence even included a description of the trading post that Horn had tried to establish further up river on the island he called Isange: 'Three miles beyond Njoli was Assange Island, where a white man, Smith, had attempted to locate; but the lower tribes compelled him to leave.'

Trader Horn and the White Goddess

The first task Horn was given in his new job, was to survey the Ogowe for one hundred miles further up river, but not until he had taken soundings near the river's mouth to establish the safest channels for vessels to navigate. It was while engaged with this work that the most fanciful part of Horn's tale emerged; that part of Horn's early adventures central to the later Hollywood movie of the book, and which below I have abbreviated as much as I could without compromising Horn's literary embroidery. Horn was invited by Chief Isagi to visit his temple and be initiated into a ceremony Horn calls the Egbo:

'On entering the temple, which had an ornamentation of human skulls ... I was confronted by a row of masked objects hideous to behold. I was then seated bareheaded on a small seat composed of leopard skins. There were two objects the chief called my attention to, one was a square piece of crystal, the other was peg-top shaped and pointed at one end. He told me to place my hand on these objects, and that one represented fire (the red one) and the other water. ... I came to the conclusion it was a ruby of great value. After this there was a great vociferation from the building, supposed to come from the spirits behind. ... Now everything in the temple began to sparkle and placing his hand on my head, which I bowed low, he announced in a loud voice the entrance of Izaga. ... The chief then ordered me to stand up and approach the centre mask. ... There stood the God that Never Dies, the most beautiful white woman I had ever seen. Her eyes were wide and had a kind of affectionate look. Although I thought there was pity in them they had a magnetic effect on me. ... Her head was auburn and was plaited in circles and pressed onto her temples. Two ringlets ornamented with gold and green tassels fell down on each side of her shoulders, whilst high up on her forehead the hair formed a diamond-shaped coronet. A short leopard-skin kilt ornamented with snakeskin and dainty fur sandals with black straps formed the rest of the dress of this Izaga.'

Extravagant as this tale at first appears, it is grounded in a surprising degree of fact. Both the skull-house and the religious rites of Egbo are described independently by Robert Nassau; and a raid on the same temple led by Nassau's stand-in, an ex-soldier named Dr. Bacheler, to rescue a convert to the mission chained to a post in the village (for revealing the secrets of their society to the missionary), adds further credence to Horn's stories. The raid and subsequent freeing of the Christian convert can be dated exactly to 26th November 1879, and the chain that came with the victim was subsequently displayed in the Mission's museum at 156 Fifth Avenue, New York. Lewis was entirely convinced that Horn had been initiated into the Egbo and Horn himself, who made repeated visits to the Joss House, gives credit to his initiation into that society for saving his life on several occasions. Horn had first become aware of the skull-house after witnessing a canoe taking a young woman to her execution there after being accused of bewitching Chief Isagi.

Though the description of a white goddess is almost certainly a fictional creation to tease and entice his future readers, even this character may be based on someone known to Horn. As is the multi-layered approach to his writing, the goddess (fictional or factual) is given several aliases to obscure her identity. Horn uses a host of different names for the goddess of the Joss House, such as Lola D—, but she is most frequently referred to as Nina T—. Horn's explanation to Lewis about Nina T— in conversations they had following his narratives about Nina reveal his modus operandi:

'... if I have to gather together all that I know of Nina T and her father into a ponderous mass all in one chapter ... it would sure be an indigestible result. Chase the threads and then weave them into pleasing results in what proves best in the ultimate.

And later Horn tells Lewis:

'Tis a good time to push a book like mine foreword. There's been nothing novel lately since Rider Haggard. One of the biggest mythologizers in the world, that feller. But mine'll be facts. You can weave a lot out of that.'

The reference to Rider Haggard is telling. Haggard's story She, which parallels Horn's tale of a white goddess in the African jungle, was published some ten years after Horn's alleged adventure with Nina T— and so could easily have coloured Horn's artistry, even his recollections of actual events. Horn was also very aware of the Franco-American explorer Paul du Chaillu's research, both on the Congo Basin and Horn's other obsession, Vikings. Du Chaillu provides his own description of female goddesses in the region. Who knows that Horn did not believe his own fantasies so long after the event? This makes Horn's assertion that his own story is based, in part at least, on fact, all the more intriguing. Fact or fiction, one has to admire the way Horn throws in credible clues to tease his reader.

We are told that Nina T—'s father had a plantation on the coast near the mouth of the Ogowe. On his death he freed all his slaves who married each other and became what Horn describes as 'a peaceful colony of natives'. Horn claims that the chief of this colony showed him a mother of pearl inlaid casket which Horn later acquired from the chief for four bottles of rum. It contained two faded photographs: one being T— himself, 'and the other was a lady that might be his mother.' The box also contained a letter from T—'s mother begging him to come home but Horn adds, 'the content of this letter I shall never divulge for conscience sake.' Although Horn does reveal that T—'s family 'held a prominent place amongst the British aristocracy.' Mischievously adding several pages later, that 'there'll be great curiosity amongst the English aristocracy to know who George T was.' T—'s marriage certificate identified that he married his wife (described by Horn as an octoroon) in Prince's Island (presumably the one in the Gulf of Guinea, not the one off the coast of Istanbul), noting that Nina was T—'s only heir, her brother having been killed with a party of nomads by a British patrol on the Lake Chad Road in Northern Nigeria (a fact Horn claims to have later verified). Horn further claims that after T—'s death his widow married a local witch-doctor, a connection that fits neatly into the narrative of the young Nina ending up (goddess or servant) working in the skull-house The casket also contained a copybook indicating that T— had taught his daughter to write.

'This I found later was correct, as far as reading went, so that I could always smuggle in a short note to the goddess when I used to visit the temple to make a wish.'

The chief and former slave also pointed out George T—'s burial place on a small island off the coast, but on visiting the site, Horn claims that the headstone was broken and the grave opened. Horn then says he moved T—'s remains, minus his missing skull, to the centre of the island so as not to be washed into the sea. One legacy of this tale within a tale to taunt his reader, is that others, including Couzens, have continued searching for clues that might lead to the identity of, if not the goddess herself, the woman who inspired her, and the identity also of Little Peru (Horn was at school with two brothers, William and David Lewis from Callão, Peru) who at the end of Horn's first book is married to Nina by Captain King of the Ruby Queen. The existence of the both Captain King and the Ruby Queen has been verified as fact. And just to confuse things further, Horn claims that the captain of the Angola, a Charlie Thompson from Birkenhead, was able to later verify what happened to Peru and his wife as they made regular trips to Liverpool. Couzens tells us that Horn eventually confided to Lewis that Nina's real name was Nina Travers, and Couzens did unearth from Nassau's diary that a trader called Travis had arrived on the Ogowe as an assistant of Sinclair around April 1875, some three years before Horn himself arrived. Further indications are that Travis was moved once more to Hatton and Cookson's factory at Fernan Vaz on the coastal delta, something that could also explain Horn's invention of T—'s island grave. The trail goes dead in Nassau's diary but is picked up again in the diary of a Reverend William Walker. Walker discusses, as Horn does also, the habit some expatriates had of taking native wives, and Couzens closes the speculation about the identity of Nina T— with a diary entry from Walker dated 26th may 1882:

'Mr Travis from Fernan Vaz going home on 'Angola'. Mr T. Father of Mary yi Ngwange. But he has made no communication with the Mission. Some of these foreigners are oblivious of their connection with the natives.'

Perhaps the abandoned Mary explains the identity of Nina, but here let's simply also abandon further speculation and leave the final word to Couzens when he says, 'the jury must hand down a verdict either way as Not Proven. We must suspend judgement and leave a little mystery surrounding Trader Horn.' And so now let us continue with the rest of Horn's adventures—real or imagined.

Battles with River Pirates

Horn's personal friendship with Isagi and Nina was not to protect the company's cargoes from attacks of piracy from this same tribe. On his way back up river, Horn was able to impress the ships new captain with his skills both as a pilot and military leader when the Pioneer came under attack from 20 of Isagi's war canoes. The Pioneer's crew were able to drive Isagi's warriors off and escape upstream. The second part of Horn's mission was to explore the Ogowe's large tributary, the Ngouniė, upstream from the Company's factory to the Samba Falls and beyond. The principal trade of the Akele tribe of the region, named by Horn the 'Okellys', was rubber, although they continued to capture and trade in slaves also. Later Horn would be involved in a battle between the 'Okellys' (their chief Iwolo had also been befriended by Horn) and another tribe he calls the 'Oshebas'. Horn describes how they were guarding the carcasses and ivory of a rogue elephant tracked and killed by the Okellys, when they found themselves under attack from the Oshebas in full war paint and 'armed with rifles, crossbows and spears.' With the help of Horn and his own fighters, the attack was repelled and the meat and tusks brought safely to the Okellys' town. But, as I will relate later, Horn was to nearly lose his life in another battle with the Oshebas. Beyond the falls was the territory of the Ivilli people to whose king it was customary to pay a toll of one-sixth the value of goods being taken from the region—although Horn also won favours with the old man by supplying him with whiskey. It was also at the Samba Falls that Horn witnessed the drowning of the old woman.

Horn also makes much mention of the fact that on two of his trips up the Ngouniė he had as his passenger a young Presbyterian woman missionary with whom he provided, as was his style, the alias Miss Hasken. Miss Hasken caused a great deal of interest for, as Horn admits, 'They'd never seen a white woman. And what a sweet face that soul had!' On his second trip up river with Miss Hasken, Horn acknowledges that he was permanently on his guard to protect his guest; his anxiety he admits being due to the fact that, 'There was nothing so suitable for voodoo as a white woman's body.' With the help of Nassua's journals, Couzens later identified the mystery woman as a Susan Dewsnap who died of a tropical fever at the age of 41 in Gabon. Horn was one of only two whites at her funeral in Baraka in central Gabon on 22nd August 1881, and, Couzens informs us, her headstone can still be seen in the cemetery there today.

Horn was by now a seasoned trader, diplomat and river pilot. He had surveyed further up river than any previous trader, and also identified the key to controlling the waterways into the interior and dominating the ivory trade. His strategy was to build a new factory on the island of 'Isange' (Asange) but he had underestimated his old foes, the Oshebas, who launched an attack on Horn's expedition. While paddling his canoe inshore to enjoy some breakfast, Horn says, 'I was hit on the wrist from a spear thrown from ambush.'

'We were completely taken by surprise and several of my boys, rifle in hand, reached the bank and commenced firing. I followed suit but was pounced on by two Oshebas. The first one I got with a revolver shot whilst the other one thrust his gun forward, which I grabbed as it went off but I had thrust it aside. I then jumped back and fired again but my trigger refused to move, being caught by a few grains of course sand I had picked up getting ashore with my unwounded hand holding my shooter. He was a tall, quick, lithe fellow and throwing my gun at him and hitting him squarely in the nose, which I badly split, he fell, but was up in an instant and made to draw his dagger which was barbed near the handle, and this I saw was caught by a small thong. I was now between him and the river and with one tremendous leap he jumped into the water. I dived after him with my drawn hunting knife and as the hole we were in was deep, I dived under him. While he was battling on top I got right under him and stabbed him repeatedly with my hunting knife until he settled. I then pulled him out on the sandbank but he was all in. I was weak as I had two bad wounds. The last one had gone through my left hand and was a bad shot wound and had nearly torn my thumb off.' 

This incident would cement Horn's friendship with the 'Okelly' chief Iwolo, grateful for again helping him defeat his enemies. Horn's hands were saved by Iwolo's medicine, for after putting nine stitches in the spear wound, Iwolo packed Horn's torn thumb several times daily with a white substance squeezed from the bodies of black crickets and wrapped in a cotton from the under bark of a tree. The wound closed up and healed over time but Horn would always have one thumb shorter than the other which he would display as a trophy of this escapade.

Some time after this incident, Horn claims he hatched a plan with Peru to manufacture a fake ruby which Horn would exchange for the real one in the Joss House. The whole thing was meticulously planned and Horn met Nina and the witch-doctors and, 'made myself as congenial as I could.' After many pleasantries Horn said that he wanted to make a wish at the Joss House and 'was ready to pay any favours I received from their ceremony.' In the middle of the same ceremony as described earlier, Horn carefully switched the fake ruby for the real one and following the ceremony they all retired to enjoy each other's company once more. Presents were exchanged, including dresses and shoes for Nina that had been sent by Peru:

'they all agreed I was the best church member they had and they would do all they could to ward off many evil spirits which may try and harm me. ... I do not think they ever noticed the change I had made in the rubies. If they did they never showed it at any time and were always glad to see me when I called.'

The ruby, Horn says, was sent to Peru who had it valued at Tiffanies in New York and Hatton Garden in London. He does not say what price it sold for. Later Horn would hatch an even more daring plan, together with Peru, to rescue Nina from her bondage as a goddess, thereby ending his friendship with Chief Isagi for good. However, following this adventure Horn navigated the Pioneer all the way to Samba Falls with a full and valuable cargo. The vessel's new skipper was at first unhappy to give Horn control of the ship as he looked too young for such a hazardous task: 'I told him I was in charge, being the company's pilot, and if he insisted being bull-headed I would put him in his cabin and take all responsibilities on myself for my actions.' The skipper conceded and on witnessing Horn's skills as a pilot and authority with the crew, they later become firm friends:

'Like all Liverpoolers he became very communicative ... especially on going ashore at various landings. I made it a strict practice of showing a military front, which he soon found was quite necessary in a land of piracy, slavery and murder. As the old salt talked at me with my bandaged hand and many of my boys still patched, he began to think that this was surely a land where for a lad romance runs amuck.'

They stopped off again at Chief Isogu's town but as the river level was falling fast, Horn had to explain the dangers to the old sea captain:

'We were in a land of chance, Chief Isogu on one side and Rengogu on the other, both notorious river pirates ... a place we could not afford to stick for long with a valuable cargo. If they saw us well-stuck they would attack us in a minute.'

A little further upstream they did get stuck on a sand bank and started to prepare and arm themselves for the inevitable attack. But a canoe came alongside with Nina, the headman, and a couple of witch-doctors:

'Nina spoke to me first. She was nattily dressed in the European togs I had given her and spoke in a firm voice which I understood. Come and see us at once and you will receive protection. If not, you will be attacked and surely die.'

But Horn chose his responsibilities to his employer over his personal safety and stayed to defend the ship. With his heavily armed crew and personal war general Iwolo, Horn first sees off Isogu's war canoes and shortly afterwards twenty of Rengogu's canoes from the opposite bank. Having been victorious in battle and with the river rising once more, Horn weighed anchor in Isogu's town to press home his authority. Not by mentioning his victory in battle by thanking the old chief for the power of his ceremonies that had granted Horn his wishes. Isogu confided that he had not agreed with the plan to attack the Pioneer, and their friendship was renewed (with the help of several cases of gin) even though Isogu's son had been killed in the attack. 

Trader Horn's Meeting with Pierre de Brazza

Horn describes how Hatton and Cookson had instructed their traders on the Ogowe to prepare for a visit from de Brazza and do all in their power to help him:

'He [de Brazza] eventually landed with his quartermaster and several French soldiers, both black and white. His native soldiers were all from Senegal and were fine fell fellows. In fact, we all got along splendidly. Count de Brazza was a tall gentleman of what seemed middle age, although not thirty, and was a pensive man who never joked or smiled. His men were armed with the Fusi Gras, which I found was a splendid rifle and a French machine gun completed his armory. He brought along a number of beautiful looking donkeys who surprised the natives, whenever turned loose, with their loud braying and kicking antics ... De Brazza had to stay with us till his large canoes came from Okanda away up the Ogowe River. I had many a long chat with him and as he spoke both French and English I soon formed a great friendship with him and he promised I should have his assistance if I followed him up to establish trading posts. He also told me he intended to put up the French Flag at Stanley Pool, and there he made his town which is Brazzaville today.'

And so Horn became party to information which de Brazza had kept from Stanley. He watch de Brazza's fleet of canoes, donkeys on board, sail away on their mission to take the north bank of the Congo for the French, 'which we all new was made to cut off any chances of Leopold's annexing both sides of the Congo'; all the while lamenting the fact that the British had shown so little interest in the region: 'Both the French and the Belgians are such poor colonizers as will be seen by a visit to any of their colonies.'

It is interesting that, in spite of his expressed patriotism for his native country and his intense dislike of French colonialists, it was with de Brazza, not Stanley, that Trader Horn would form a close friendship:

'Never cared for Stanley, us traders. 'Twas no love of humanity made him go after Livingstone. 'Twas nothing but newspaper ambition. Always wanted the spotlight turned on him. There was that poor feller Pocock was with him. Got carried over the Samba Falls in a boat. Very likely. But 'twas an open suspicion among the traders that the boat was cut from its moorings.'

Horn's Venture as an Independent Trader and Final River Battle

It was around this time also that Horn's relationship with his boss Sinclair started to show signs of tension. Horn had no respect for Sinclair whom he described as cowardly, always putting his personal safety first and driven by a distrust of those around him. Sinclair was a fanatically religious man whose main concern was to return safely to his wife in Scotland, and, as Horn describes with some sarcasm, he spent a good deal of his time staring at her photograph. Horn clearly felt that without Sinclair he could have succeeded far better in his ambitions both as a trader and at having personal influence in the region. Horn was yet to develop the instincts of the hobo, but here we have Horn the frustrated colonial chieftain:

'Aye, when I saw de Brazza's canoes disappearing to make new country for the French ... I could 'a' done it all for England a dozen times and over. ... If I'd been Sinclair I would have owned the country. In Britain's name of course. ... I thought myself as big as de Brazza. I was better armed and had the instinct for top-dog lacking in one of his make-up. A proper nobleman, though. Full of high thought and proud reserve with all his bravery. ... If I'd sent home for proper backing I'd have got clear of Sinclair's timidity and photo worship. Rhodes knew the power of home backing.'

And Horn could yet have played a major role in developing the region, he had his admirers and backers, including Hatton and Cookson's chief agent Carlisle, the German agent Herr Schiff, many of the local chiefs, and not least, de Brazza himself.  But let us remind ourselves, that at this point of an already eventful career, Horn can have been little over 20 years of age! Who knows what he might have achieved had circumstances been different. As Couzens comments: 'It was Sinclair who pulled him back from his great adventure, from his flirtation with creative freedom, from his place in history.'

Yes, it was the wretched Sinclair who ended Horn's ambitions in Gabon. Horn had already become very close friends with Chief Apekwe of the Bakele people up the Angani tributary, and had purchased 'Isangi' (Asange) Island from the chief for a bottle of rum. Here Horn planned to establish his own trading business but at the time was still under contract to his employers. With support and encouragement from others, Horn built his stockade at the east end of Asange Island and, not allowing any weapons to be brought inside, for a while Horn's trading post became a safe free trade zone for the otherwise warring tribes—the M'pangwes and 'Oshebas' from the north shore, and their enemies the 'Okellys' (Bakele) and 'Oketas' (Bakota) on the south. For a while trade in rubber and ivory was bustling. Horn's own traders made successful forays up-country, while Horn made several uninterrupted trips with full cargoes down river to Lambaréné.

However, several months into this enterprise, a valuable shipment coming upstream from Lambaréné to Horn's camp was captured by an M'pangwe tribe now hostile to Horn's enterprise. The chief of this tribe, Ngogudema, made a deal with Sinclair that he would return all of the captured consignment and prisoners, and furthermore cease any further hostilities against traders, if Sinclair promised to recall Horn from Asange Island. Horn was furious at what he regarded Sinclair's cowardice and betrayal. Without further supplies his venture was doomed. Horn chose not to abandon his camp, instead calling in his debts and seeking help from his friend and ally, Chief Apekwe, in preparing for the inevitable attack from the M'pangwe. A fleet of war canoes was sent up river to attack Horn, and also a large regiment of warriors by land. But Horn was well prepared for the attack and describes in detail the strategy and 'naval' tactics employed in defeating Ngogudema and regaining control of the river.

Details of the battle and the events that preceded it were later confirmed, according to Couzens, in a written account by a French traveller, Leon Guiral, on his way downriver in 1881 following a visit to de Brazza and shortly after the events just related. Guiral interviewed a local chief and also visited Horn on Asange Island. Guiral, who knew and respected Horn, offered him assistance in returning down river but Horn declined, needing to settle up his affairs and collect his debts. The victory was in any case a hollow one as in order to placate the defeated Ngogudema, the traders from Lambaréné sent an envoy to the chief confirming their intention of removing Horn from his island camp. Couzens now refers to William Walker's final diary entry regarding Horn, dated 18th January 1882:

'Mr Smith was routinely taking his boat up the Estuary to Azya on the Rembwe. His contract may have come to an end soon after his patience did with Sinclair. In any case, he had, he said, "made up my mind to take a trip home to the old country as my folks in the old home in Lancashire were continually writing for me." ... Apekwe [who Horn describes as "my bosom friend in whom I could confide and he never betrayed me"] and his followers lined the shore, crying, "Come back to us we shall always be thinking of your return." ... Aloysius and Herr Schiff also shared a 'duck and doras' ... Herr Schiff said that if Aloysius wanted to return as an independent trader he would supply him with any goods he wished ... and would back Aloysius to any amount.'

Horn could still have been no more than 21 years of age at the end of his Ogowe adventure, yet he was already a seasoned trader with a formidable reputation. His parting from Carlisle, Hatton and Cookson's chief agent on the coast, was equally magnanimous, but it seems there was no attempt to encourage Horn to continue his work in Gabon and, in any case, Carlisle himself was on the point of retiring. The drawn out climax of Horn's Ogowe fiction, if not his actual story, was, in the company of Little Peru, the dramatic rescue of Nina T— from the Joss House, ending with Peru and Horn tossing a coin to decide which one of them would take Nina for their bride. It seems that Nina would have been happy to marry either of her rescuers but it was Peru who one the toss. But I leave my reader to enjoy that narrative in Horn's own hand. It is now time to move on and narrate the further adventures of Trader Horn in other volumes and other parts of the world.


An interesting postscript to Horn's adventures on the Ogowe River, is testimony of Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer. By a strange coincidence, after completing his medical degree, Schweitzer arrived in Lambaréné in 1912 to set up a hospital near the site of Hatton and Cookson's factory on the Ogowe river. Being a German in a French colony during the First World War, Schweitzer was put under surveillance and in 1917 sent to an internment camp in France. Although freed soon after, he did not return to Lambaréné until 1925. As Couzens observes, Schweitzer became intrigued by Horn's first volume after it's publication in 1927 just as he was moving the site of his hospital to the spot formally occupied by Hatton and Cookson: 'So in those (earlier) years, Trader Horn was at home on the spot now occupied by my hospital.' Fascinated by the Trader Horn story, Schweitzer conducted his own research from interviews with those on the river who still had memories of Horn. Couzens' transcripts of Schweitzer's memoirs add to the authenticity of Horn's story and further illuminate the animosity between Horn and his boss:

'Whereas the memory of the chief, Mr Sinclair, still lives in the land, there are but few old people who can remember his subordinate of that time. What they still remember is that he was very young, that he wanted to trade according to his own ideas and on his own account and was therefore constantly at variance with Mr Sinclair ... Apart from trifling discrepancies, Trader Horn's description of the country and it's inhabitants is accurate.'  



  1. Thank you for the information. I've just started to read his 1927 book. I wondered if he was real person.

  2. Trader Horn was my cousin, 4x removed. Its fascinating discovering this amazing character in my family tree. His family were devoutly Catholic, but had more than one rogue in it.

  3. I am Robert Smith, Sheffield, England. An ostrich egg arrived at my grandads house ( George Smith)in Sheffield in the early 1915- 20 time. " It came from our relation in Africa/ Trader Horn". Ive never found the connection. We are a catholic family. Robert

    1. Thanks Robert, what was the connection you never found? And what is your relationship to Steve (above) if any, and how are you related to Trader Horn? I'd really like to speak with you so please use the contact form below if you feel like contacting me directly. Thanks, Ian

  4. Wonderful account keeping the wonder of Wish alive, Ian, thank you! I am a big fan of the old rascal, and of Tim Couzens (was truly sad when he died suddenly). I thought I had written to you years ago? Maybe not. Just in case, you don't have it (I'm sure you do: