Famous Big Game Hunters – Iconic Firearms From Holt’s Auctioneers


From the mid-19th century, big game hunting took a leap in popularity. The availability of long distance travel suddenly made trips to exotic lands such as Africa and America a lot more feasible for those who could afford it. The lure of wild and dangerous animals not native to their homeland was undeniable and resulted in a new breed of both amateur and professional big game hunters. Tales of their adventures and experiences have inspired and enthralled – and has in turn and created a very special interest in the guns they used. Holt’s Auctioneers has been fortunate to have had many examples of their firearms pass through the doors; below are just nine of the most interesting lots that were once used by renowned big game hunters.

Sir St. George Gore

Purdey 10-bore double-barreled rotary-underlever hammergun

Irish nobleman Sir St. George Gore, baronet of Gore Manor in County Donegal, was a keen hunter and fisherman in the 19th century. In the 1850s, Gore decided it was time to leave the emerald isle and go west to America. His expedition lasted almost three years and took him to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. The controversial trip saw him take a large amount of animals and, while the exact amount is unknown, Gore claims to have killed 2,000 buffalo, 1,600 deer and elk and 105 bears. This particular gun was completed in 1873 as number two of a pair of 10-bore underlever guns. It has nitro reproved bold Damascus barrels and a sunken rib engraved with ‘J. Purdey 314 ½ Oxford Street, London’. It also features fine acanthus scroll engraving and some color hardening and renewed finish.

Auction date: December 2016

Estimate: £6,000-8,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £6,000

Denys Finch Hatton

Charles Lancaster .450 nitro express back-action sidelock ejector double rifle

The tale of Denys Finch Hatton is best known from the Academy award-winning film “Out of Africa.” In 1911, he bought land in British East Africa as an investment to spend time hunting. He spent every autumn and winter doing just that and, in 1925, became a professional big game hunter, taking numerous wealthy clients on safari with this very rifle over his shoulder. This Charles Lancaster rifle was completed in 1911, originally in .475 caliber. It was subsequently rebarreled by the London gunmaker to .450 caliber in 1929 for Finch Hatton. The hunter’s taste for adventure led him to learn to fly, which would unfortunately be his undoing. Finch Hatton died in a fatal plane crash in his Gypsy Moth near what is now the Tsavo National Park, Kenya. On his death, the rifle was gifted to his friend, Viscount Cole, with whom he’d been best friends at Eton. It has 25” replacement nitro chopperlump barrels with matt sight rib and a rose gold escutcheon inscribed ‘D.F.H. – November 1928’.

Auction date: March 2010

Estimate: £50,000-70,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £55,000

Henry Morton Stanley

Winchester Repeating Arms .45-75 lever-action rifle

Journalist-turned-African-explorer, Henry Morton was working for the New York Herald when he uttered the words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” on the shores of Lake Victoria in 1872. Missionary Dr. Livingstone was assumed lost in “Darkest Africa” never to be seen again and finding him was the journalistic coup of that decade. This adventure was the start of Morton’s career as an explorer, going on to begin the mapping of the River Congo, discover the settlement of the Congo basin on behalf of Leopold, King of the Belgians and the search for Emin Pasha – upon which adventures this Winchester .45-75 lever-action rifle accompanied him. This iconic rifle was part of Stanley’s personal arsenal and represents a tangible link to the exploration of Africa in the late nineteenth century.

Auction date: December 2015

Estimate: £10,000-15,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £34,000

Jose Pardal

Cogswell & Harrison .450 nitro express rotary-underlever hammer double rifle

Jose Pardal is well recognised as a gentleman hunter from the 20th century who had great respect for his chosen quarry. Pardal was one of the very last big game hunters to operate in the former Portugese East Africa, now known as Mozambique, before colonial rule was over thrown by a communist-backed military junta in 1975. Bloodletting was rife in the country following the coupe, however Pardal and his family managed to escape and returned to Portugal. This rifle features 25” nitro barrels with matt sight rib to folding leaf sights, with silver-inlaid sight lines. There is border engraving and the double rifle retains virtually full re-blacked finish.

Auction date: September 2010

Estimate: £2,500-3,500

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £4,300

Captain Conyers Lang

John Rigby & Co. .275 Rigby bolt-magazine take-down sporting rifle

Captain Conyers Lang, who served in the 1st Battalion Devon Regiment, set himself the task of driving from Cape Town to Cairo in a year in the 1930s. Despite not knowing anything about Africa or its people, Lang set sail from London to Cape Town in 1932 and purchased a Ford Model A delivery van with the grand plan of driving to Cairo. Along the way, Lang experienced many extraordinary adventures with his Rigby .275 and he would carve notches on the stock to indicate a successful trip. Unfortunately, after a nasty accident with a buffalo, Lang returned to England in April 1933 having never made it to Cairo. The unique rifle has 79 trophy notches cut out in total and the lid outer is marked “Capt. Conyers Lang.”

Auction date: September 2015

Estimate: £3,000-5,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £5,500

C. Fletcher Jamieson

W.J. Jeffery & Co. .500 “Model No. 2” single square bridge magnum bolt-magazine big game rifle

Renowned Rhodesian rancher, professional ivory hunter and pioneer photographer C. Fletcher Jamieson was once the original owner of this lot. As with many Rhodesian farmers, Jamieson was an avid hunter and would spend a lot of time in the Zambezi Valley, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Also a keen photographer, Jamieson supplied all of the photographs for the book of his close friend, John “Pondoro” Taylor. The book, African Rifles and Cartridges makes a special mention to Jamieson’s .500 Jeffrey in the chapter on large bore rifles, noting that Jamieson specified a 26” barrel over the normal 24” to aid balance given his great height. The longer length barrel was signed “specially built for C. Fletcher by W.J. Jeffrey & Co. 9 Golden Square, Regent Street, London, W.1 25554.”

Auction date: June 2009

Estimate: £20,000-25,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £30,000

Frederick Courteney Selous

George Gibbs .461 Farquharson patent falling-block sporting rifle

Frederick Courteney Selous is up there with the very best big game hunters. Born in 1851, he departed for Africa at the age of 19 with only £400 in his pocket with the dogged ambition to make it as an elephant hunter. Only six years later, Selous was one of the most successful hunters of all time, partly down to his acceptance by Lobengula, King of the Matabele as one of the few people he allowed to hunt in his dominions. This particular rifle features 28” black powder barrels signed “George Gibbs, Corn Street, Bristol” and inscribed “Metfords Patent, 1519.” It is fitted with plates that were later dubbed “Selous Plates.” The plates are a sheath of very thin metal fitted to reinforce the stock, running from the action to the pistol grip area.

Auction date: September 2010

Estimate: £20,000-£25,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £23,000

Elmer Keith

Westley Richards .470 nitro express single-trigger boxlock ejector double rifle

Idaho rancher and author Elmer Keith was a key figure in the development and introduction of the first magnum revolver cartridge; the .357 Magnum. He was also heavily influential in the .44 Magnum and the .41 Magnum. Keith was an outspoken advocate of big bore calibers and cartridges and is best known for his ballistic experiments. At the time, (mid-20th century) there was a leaning toward small-bore, high velocity magnum rifle cartridges for big game hunting, so Keith often got himself involved in lively debates. Keith was a big fan of double rifles and was thought to have owned several, including this one made by Westley Richards. The 26” nitro barrels are engraved “Westley Richards, 23 Conduit St. London.” The rifle also features bold acanthus scroll engraving and retains traces of the original color hardening. The lot came with letters from Keith to the vendor.

Auction date: March 2012

Estimate: £25,000-30,000

Sold by Holt’s Auctioneers: £28,000

Anthony ‘Tony’ Hoste Henley

Holland & Holland .375 magnum take-down bolt-magazine sporting rifle

Born in Kenya in 1928, Henley started his hunting career as an assistant to Sid Downey of Ker and Downey Safaris. He went on to work as a game warden throughout various parts of Africa including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Henley’s career was littered with illness and accidents including a near death experience when a wounded lion he had been following, charged and mauled him. This story and many others like it are documented in Henley’s book, Around the Campfire. He mentions this particular rifle in it saying, “The .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, I consider to be one of the finest and certainly most versatile rifles ever made for Africa, as one can use it on any animal from an elephant to a steinbuck with equally good results.” The 24 7/8” nitro barrel is engraved “Holland & Holland, 98 New Bond Street, London” and “Holland’s .375 Magnum.”

Auction date: September 2013

Selena Barr

Photos Courtesy Holt’s Auctioneers

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