- Historic Sites
The Great African Safari Bust
OR HOW THE BOY SCOUTS CAME TO AMERICA
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
When the W. D. Boyce’s African Balloonograph Expedition finally headed into the bush, it was the largest safari ever to have left Nairobi. It took four spans of sixteen oxen each and four hundred black bearers just to move the equipment. It might have been known as the most luxurious if it hadn’t been for a man from St. Louis, N. W. McMillan, whose path crossed theirs frequently. McMillan owned a farm near Nairobi. When he left it on safari, it took a hundred blacks just to carry the food and drink and, at five in the afternoon, to wrap the champagne in damp cloths and fan it until it was chilled to exactly the right temperature.
The nine white men in the Balloonograph Expedition had three personal servants apiece—a valet or tent boy, a gun bearer, and someone to look after the horse or mule. The tent boy had the bath ready each morning. There was a bathroom attached to each tent. Dad was amazed at how quickly he got used to having his boots put on for him and his puttees wrapped and how quickly he and the other Midwesterners adjusted to sitting down to tea promptly at four every afternoon. The white men, with the exception of Boyce, took turns shooting the game not only for their own table but for the army of blacks as well.
The main white hunter, whose name was Outram, had the final say in matters pertaining to safety and keeping the safari in the vicinity of the herds of game. Not even Boyce questioned Outram’s judgment when it came to choosing campsites. But Lawrence had some objection to every place they camped. It began to seem as if what Lawrence really wanted was for the vast army to remain always on the move. It also began to appear that they were never going to find the precisely right place to send up a balloon. First it was too hot. Then they reached the higher altitudes near Lake Victoria where the temperature was surprisingly cool, dry, and comfortable, and it was the wind that held Lawrence back. Sometimes there wasn’t enough, and the rest of the time there was too much.
Well, then, Boyce ordered, get on with the flash pictures at night.
After a night when the lions roared so close to camp that Dad got up and got his gun and took it back to bed with him, Lawrence went out to get the camera he had rigged up with bait, tripwire, and flash. He found gigantic paw prints all around and the camera chewed to bits.
Well, if it doesn’t work one way, try another. Boyce insisted that the only thing was for Lawrence to post himself close to the bait and take the pictures himself, and if the lion charged, there would be someone there with a gun to shoot the beast.
Lawrence had a better idea. He rigged the telephone equipment up so that his bearer could listen in from the tent and call him when he heard a lion at the bait. One night his bearer called him three times. From his bed Lawrence mumbled “Those aren’t lions” and went back to sleep each time. In the morning he swore that he hadn’t been called at all.
Boyce, who received anxious queries from Chicago every time a runner arrived from Nairobi, convinced himself that all the troubles lay with Lawrence’s son, who did nothing his father told him to and paid no attention to orders from Boyce, Outram, and Dad. This, Boyce reasoned, made it impossible for the senior Lawrence to give his best effort. Boyce sent young Lawrence back to Nairobi.
But still nothing happened, and time had just about run out. If things had gone according to schedule, they would have wrapped up the picture taking and story writing and would have been enjoying the greatest hunting in the world.