The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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Field Sports in India 1800-1947
by Major General J.G Elliott
Chapter 5. The Tent Clubs
Besides the hog hunter, there were three other parties to the sport of pig sticking: the boar, the horse and the beater.
‘Pig’, as he is called by those who hunt him, can grow to a very large size, one is recorded in 1855 as measuring 44 inches at the shoulder and weighing over 400 lb, 25 stone of fighting fury. But most pig hunted measured between 28—34 inches, weighing between 120—260 lb. Pig under that limit were not hunted and anyone rash enough to spear one was fined a golden mohur for the benefit of tent club funds. The boar is a combination of speed, cunning and ferocity who fights to the end with the utmost courage. He has a short back tapering to lower hind legs, a solid mass of hard muscle, attacking with bristles erect and grunting savagely, and it takes a bold man and horse to face him when his blood is up. At his business end he keeps a pair of sharp curved tushes up to nine inches long, which can rip up man and horse. Even the tiger avoids him and may pay the penalty if he takes him on. For his tough make and shape he is surprisingly fast and can outpace a thoroughbred at full gallop over half a mile, and he is so handy that at full stretch he can turn through a right angle to jink and throw off his hunter.
After that he soon tires and then relies on his cunning and ferocity. If lucky, a single spear thrust may kill him, but more often he makes off and, though tired, charges the horseman again and again until killed by a final spear through the heart: fighting to the end, a very brave opponent.
The horse had to be able to remain upright when galloping full tilt through thick grass six to nine feet high, over ground as hard as rock, seamed with large and small nullahs and the occasional sunken buffalo wallow. It was amazing how a good horse managed to keep a spare leg in reserve when his leading foot touched nothing, ‘nothing’ being the bottom of a wallow as much as three feet deep. One well known horse with only one eye, would turn at full gallop into high grass on his blind side, drop into a wallow and remain upright, possibly by second sight or sense of touch of his hoof. Falls were fairly frequent over such country but seldom serious as at the speed at which the horse was galloping he and his rider would fall end over end without too much damage: a slow fall was much more dangerous.
Old, disused wells, completely overgrown by long grass, were a constant hazard in the Meerut and Muttra countries, and in 1890 a Colonel Napier fell into one and broke his neck. The only other fatal accident fall on record was in 1934 when Lieut. Ferguson-Davie was killed instantaneously. He was a confident and experienced horseman and a very fine spear and was hunting a pig ahead of his heat on a young horse which fell and rolled over him.
A skilled rider, holding off the charging pig with his spear, relied on the impetus of his horse to carry him clear before his adversary could charge home. If he did not manage to do so a horse might be cut from heel to knee.
Granite: Winner of the 1934 Kadir Cup
The horses used by the early hunters about 1800 were country bred, but about 1830 Arabs were being imported. They were bold, fast and handy. A colour print, published by Fores in 1836, shows the riders wearing top hats and white kid gloves, with luxuriant side whiskers, mounted on high class Arabs. Fourteen hands and under, they seem small by modern standards and as some of the pig they met measured up to 40 inches at the shoulder, the tushes must have reached nearly to the rider’s knees: a nasty thought.
Later ‘Walers’, horses bred in New South Wales, were imported but a writer in The Oriental Sporting Magazine in 1856 expressed the view that Walers would never hold their own with Arabs against pig. With improved breeding, the country bred often with considerable Arab strain, again came into their own.
The Kadir Cup
The Kadir Cup was to pig sticking what the Grand National is to racing: a name familiar to sportsmen all over the world. ‘Carclew’, a country bred, won the cup three times in 1924-25-27 and ‘Manifest’, also a country bred, won three times. ‘Carclew’ had an unequalled record, competing in the semi-final or final in seven successive years from 1923 - 30. His owner, Captain Scott-Cockburn, then took him hack to England where he died in 1932 at the great age of 32 years. His owner’s description of him describes the ideal horse after pig. ‘Carclew really loved a hunt. At the cry “woh jata” (there he goes) I could feel his heart thumping between my legs; once a boar had been singled out he would follow him as a greyhound will a hare. In the open he would place me right to spear within a minute. In thick tamarisk or grass it was no more necessary for me to steer him than in the open. Whenever we lost a pig it was either in impenetrable thorn, or when the cover was over my head. I think he must have accounted for a good third of the 500 odd boar on which I got “first spear”. In ten years’ hunting he was never cut by a pig nor missed his turn.’
The rank and file of the beaters came from the villages adjoining the stretch of land hunted over. In the Meerut, Delhi and Muttra Tent Club country the best of them were Aherias or Kanjars, men of gypsy tribes, untouchable members of the lowest level of Hindu society. They were a cheerful race whose ostensible occupation was weaving grass into brushes or roofs for huts and bullock carts, but they were adept thieves, not very popular with their neighbours and in constant trouble with the police. Barefoot, clad only in a loincloth and pagri, and carrying a stout pole, a hundred of them in line would beat through the high grass until a rideable boar emerged with a savage ‘woof-woof’ from a thicket. And all for a few annas a day. There was, however, another attraction. Fox hunting has been described as the ‘unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable’, but pig sticking has the edge on it as pork was considered a great delicacy by the beaters, who could rarely if ever afford to eat meat. In charge of them was the head shikari. Some of these men had remarkable records, ome Chamru served the Muttra Club from before the Boer War until hunting ended in 1947. An article in the Hog hunters Annual describes the bond that existed between these men and the tent clubs they served. ‘When one considers that some Hon. Secs. have been young subalterns with but a brief experience of India, it speaks well of both parties that the loyalty and devotion which they receive from these shikaris has never been shaken. Something of this may be ascribed to the fact that among Hon Sees, no less than among shikaris, a great tradition has been handed down.’ The writer goes on to speak of General Wardrop, the best known of modern pig stickers. ‘No words of mine can better epitomize the ascendancy he had over these men than an expression one of them used to me: “To us”, he said simply, “he is like God.” In the same number of the Annual there is a short biographical sketch of Dhanni,.Saugor Tent Club shikari from 1882—1927. ‘To match his wits against those of the pig is the height of Dhanni’s ambition. Money is a secondary consideration; it is sport that appeals to him. Two words, familiar to most of us, find no place in his vocabulary; the one is Fear, the other is Fatigue. He knows neither. Very familiar is the scene when a wily old boar has come off the end of a hill, lain up in a bush and been marked down. The line will be stopped and silenced as if by magic. Dhanni will advance, supported by a dozen or so of his trusted stalwarts and breathing foul oaths against the tribe of pig in general, and this boar in particular. How many of us, bare legged and armed only with a lathi, would care to advance on a bush known to contain a large and angry boar? How many of us again could conduct a line from 7.30 a.m. till 5 p.m. in the hot weather over rocky hills amid scrub jungle at the age of nearly eighty, with only a sip of water as refreshment? Yet Dhanni will not only do this, but after it all will start off, to all appearance as fresh as paint, to tramp the ten odd miles to his home!’
At Kadir by Baden-Powell
The success of pig sticking depends very much on good organisation, and from 1840, as British control over India extended, a number of tent clubs were founded for this purpose. Very early ones were at Delhi, Cawnpore and Meerut and the countryside, through which the rivers Jumna, Ganges and Gogra flowed and changed their course over the years, was thick with cover which held hundreds of pig. The places at which tent clubs are known to have been founded are shown on the map on pages 32 and 33. To those who hunted pig it was a way of life: interludes of work necessary to earn their pay, with the weekend hunting to look forward to. Hunt club members would ride out in company to camp in mango groves and hunt on alternate weekends. About 1870, a benevolent commander-in- chief decreed that except for essential work Thursday would be observed as a holiday. Saturday amid Sunday did not count as working days, and it was pointless to return to barracks for a single day’s work on Friday, so a pig sticking weekend lasted from Wednesday till Sunday evening. Everyone was presumed to work extra hard from Monday to the Wednesday of the following week.
The dedicated pig sticker saved to buy another or a better horse, to be trained to docility and obedience in the evenings: a pig-shy horse who refused to face a charging boar was a disaster to be passed on at the first opportunity. Much of the evening conversation was of meets and pig; incredibly boring to those who did not share his sport.
The success or failure of a tent club depended on the honorary secretary responsible for all the work of organisation, and in the field, as complete a dictator as a master of foxhounds. The real business of the weekend began after dinner on the first evening when the honorary secretary arranged the heats, two or three spears hunting together; by lots if all were more or less experienced or, if there were unskilled riders out, arranging the heats so that there was at least one good spear in each. Breakfast was at dawn or soon after and the spears rode out to where the beaters were extended waiting for them, with the head shikari on a pony or a camel, two or three yards between each man, and a large red flag on either flank. The heats take station at equal distances along and behind the beaters and the line starts, in comparative silence lest they disturb a distant pig. Through the long grass go the beaters, tapping each thicket with their poles, for pig sit tight, and when disturbed come out like a rocket. When a pig is flushed the head shikari or the nearest flag bearer yells Wok jata’, and sets off in pursuit, waving his flag to show the nearest heat that a pig is away. The heat gallops up and taking up the line starts the hunt.
On-On-On by Snaffles
The first thing they have to settle is whether the pig is ‘rideable’, sows and boars under 120 lbs being strictly preserved. After the first 100 yards the nearest spear will decide. If he is not rideable he signals to the others by holding his spear horizontally at arm’s length. If all is well he gallops on, shouting ‘on-on-on’, and the hunt is up. The leading rider gallops on the line of the pig, as close to him as he can get, with the other two spears fanned out on either side, so that if the pig jinks one of the others can take up the running. If the grass is sparse the pig’s back will show above it but more usually it may be up to six feet high and his passage can be seen only by the waving of tops as he gallops through it. The boar will almost certainly be making for some safe haven, a thick impenetrable patch of tamarisk or thorn jungle. He will pick the roughest ground, cut by nullahs, which his instinct tells him is good for him and bad for his pursuers. For the first half mile spears will not be able to come up with him owing to his great speed over this distance, but he then begins to tire and the leading spear comes up on his tail. He then begins to jink, the spear on the line loses sight of him and the one on the flank takes up the hunt, echoing the cry, ‘on-on-on’, the pleasantest sound in the world to the pig sticker’s ear. As well as jinking he may suddenly squat motionless on the ground to throw off his pursuers.
When he realizes that he will not make his haven his next object is to attack the hunter. As the leading spear gallops up alongside, the pig cocks his ears and with a vicious ‘woof-woof’ turns at full speed with the object of cutting his enemy with his tushes. As he comes in the rider lowers his spear and at the last moment drives it home, aiming at the heart. If he is successful the pig dies at once, if not, the rider must hold him off for a split second as he swings his horse clear and disengages the spear. Even though wounded the pig may still be full of running and able to escape by jinking, but at last he sinks on his hind quarters and receives the coup de grace through the heart.
Ground, cover and the skill of the hunters vary considerably but even h the odds so loaded against him roughly two out of three pig that are hunted make good their escape. The hunt is over and the rider who was the first to spear the pig can claim his tushes in the evening. By some miracle one of the flag men appears and ties a piece of rag to the nearest bush to mark the spot. In due course four men arrive, tie the dead boar to a stake and carry him back to camp to be measured, recorded in the log then handed over to provide a feast of pork for the beaters. The heat make their way back, change horses, sharpen their spears, take a drink of cold tea from the char-wallah (tea boy) and resume their stations behind the line.
In a temperature that may be well over 100F in the shade, it is no sport for the unfit, the indifferent rider or the half-hearted. By midday everyone will have had enough; they return to camp and after a quick lunch with plenty of cold beer the spears retire to their tents to sleep away the afternoon, in the evening they visit the horse lines to see that all is well, then gather in the mess tent to discuss the day’s sport while the honorary secretary writes up the log.
A typical entry in the Delhi Tent Club log reads: 28th May 1926 Kasna (2nd Day) Right heat Centre heat Left heat Cursetjee (I.M.S.) Templer R.A. (Hon Sec) West R.H. Ruttledge (Poona Horse) Chapman R.A. Phipps R.H.A. “Beat Kasna jhow (tamarisk) and bend of river, small pig lost by centre in jhow. Crossed river (Jumna) and beat thick grass. Right hunted a good boar till the doctor (Cursetjee), took a heavy toss, laid out for 10 minutes, lost two teeth. Many pig in Chaurpore Kadir. Left heat, after a fast hunt killed a small one. Centre picked up a scarred old warrior who fought well. Left hunted one a long way through nullahs, and eventually lost it in jhow. Later right hunted and killed a good boar, which broke back. Nice days hunting, very hot. 213th boar Phipps ‘Cis’ 27 inches 120 lbs 214th boar Templer ‘Aaron’ 31 inches 180 lbs 215th boar Ruttledge ‘Chinatown’ 20 inches 152 lbs The second boar had fine tushes measuring 9 inches, a local record. Now reached the best bag since the war.”
Another and very exciting way of hunting pig was by ‘gooming’. Spears ride out a couple of hours before dawn to the edge of thick cover. Pig usually feed at night on the grass of the river bed and return to cover at dawn. As the light grows, the old pig followed by his wife and children are seen in the distance, and spears gallop towards him to come up with him before he can escape into the thick unrideable tamarisk on the river bank. The boar will try to escape by clever jinking, and he very often succeeds in doing so. Away from the beds of the big rivers in north India, the pig live on the low thorn-covered hills. The beaters work through the cover; the spears are stationed round the edge and try to cut the boar off as he makes for the next hill.
There were also plenty of pig to be found outside the territory of the organised tent clubs, and a couple of sportsmen on ten days leave at Christmas and hoping for a mixed bag would take their horses and their spears as well as rifle and shot gun. As with most sports, pig sticking had its competitive side, the Kadir Cup (held by the Meerut Tent Club since 1871) being the best known event. This was a competition for first spear. Every rider could enter two horses and there would often be over fifty entries. Heats of three were drawn and when a pig got up, the umpire who accompanied it gave the order ‘ride’. They galloped off each trying to spear the pig and draw first blood. The first to do so showed his spear to the umpire and went into the next round while the rest of the heat continued the hunt until the pig escaped or was killed. Experience and a very fast horse were necessary.
The illustration on page seventy-two shows an incident in the competition for 1925. It carries the legend ‘Marsh missing his pig and letting in Captain Scott-Cockburn', the eventual winner. If it was the dream of most pig stickers to win the Kadir Cup, it would also be their ambition to be a member of the winning team in the Muttra Cup, open to teams of three from any tent club or regiment. Each team rode six or eight heats and the prize went to the one that killed the most pig. It was a truly sporting event with no striving for first spear. The names of some of the winners of both competitions are shown on page 75.
The Kadir Cup was an annual award. The winner received the entry fees at Rs. 15 a horse and with the money bought a replica of the cup. The trophy won in 1890 by Captain J. Hanwell R.A. stands proudly among the regimental silver in the Royal Artillery Mess at Woolwich. It would be a fitting home for the Muttra Cup also; there, or in the Cavalry Club, but fate has ruled otherwise. The silver boars have been removed from the plinth and the cup is awarded annually for the Light Weight Race of the Army Point to Point Association. Many will think it has been misappropriated.
There was one other small award, within the reach of many who perhaps never aspired to win the Kadir, the tent club button. As the tailpiece to this chapter is a facsimile of the button which was granted to members of the Meerut Tent Club who got ten first spears. And proud they were to wear it.
The first Bengal planter, turning his attention from bear to boar, can never have imagined that the sport of hog hunting which he started would last for 150 years, and that in a single season over four hundred spears in more than thirty tent clubs would hunt the pig in places as far apart as the jungles round Calcutta and the deserts of Hyderabad in Sind. It attracted men from every branch of the services, civil and military, and civilians from all walks of life. One and all, they thought it the finest sport in the world; and the qualities it demanded and developed stood them in good stead in the professions they followed.
Philip Woodruff writes of it in The Men Who Ruled India: ‘The game of games, easily the first in the estimation of all who practiced it, was pig sticking. To be good after pig a man must be a horseman, a great asset to a district officer. And he must also have the same qualities—the power of quick but cool judgment, a stout heart, a controlled but fiery ardour and a determination not to be beaten—that are needed in the crisis of a riot, or for that matter for a battle. ‘The kind of man who has those qualities needs to exercise them, the danger and the excitement, the ferocity thus harmlessly given an output, sweetened men who might otherwise have been soured by files and hot weather and disappointment, as lime sweetens grass soured by poultry. Pig sticking and shooting did take a man among the villagers and in fact good pig stickers were usually very good officers.’
Definitely click on the picture to see it better!
Albert A Rasch
Member: Bagram Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...
Hog Sticking Raj Style! Pt I
Hog Sticking Raj Style! Pt II
Hogs and Dogs!