- Historic Sites
The Great African Safari Bust
OR HOW THE BOY SCOUTS CAME TO AMERICA
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
“At Jinga we were none too fortunate,” he went on. Dad and Caywood had wanted to get pictures of the falls, but the place to photograph them from was closed off because of tsetse flies. Forced to travel as light as they were—pared down to “one valet for the two of us"—they had had to leave the kites behind; but it really didn’t matter, because there hadn’t been a single day when they could have flown them. On the little steamer crossing Lake Victoria they ran into such a terrible storm that their stateroom was knee-deep in water and many passengers were hysterical. They had heard that Teddy Roosevelt was due to leave for home, and they had time to get back to Nairobi for pictures but their train was shunted onto a siding and when they got to Nairobi Roosevelt was gone.
“As regards leopard skins: I didn’t find any more in Uganda than you did.” But he was still trying, Dad wrote, and he continued in every letter to report relentlessly about the people who promised to find him six of the finest leopard skins but who never made good on their promises.
“Civilization didn’t hit Nairobi as hard as we thought it had. Alas! the two papers there keep no files,” he reported. He did, however, buy the rights to the pictures in a book called The Baganda at Home for $250.
Dad had unloaded a lot of the equipment on a storekeeper in Nairobi—“telephone apparatus, dry batteries which long since lost their effectiveness, and the sulphuric acid which was leaking all over the place and would have cost us twice as much as it’s worth had we attempted to repack it and move it. I still have a mess of those .22 automatics and there seems to be no sale for them.”
Now he and Caywood were stuck in Nairobi, and all attempts to get pictures and carry out all the other orders had to stop for the time being. For how much longer depended on how fast Caywood recovered from the fever that he undoubtedly had picked up in Uganda. He had a temperature of 104.2 degrees. Dad could not leave the hotel, because Cay was out of his mind and there was no telling what he would do if he were left alone. Not that anyone would want to venture out in any case. It was December, the hottest time of the year. Dad wore his pajamas all day, as it was the only way to survive in the sultry inferno.
The news that reached Boyce in London was not much better.
Dad had tried to get the depositions concerning Lawrence’s failures that Boyce had asked him for. He had found a man from whom Lawrence had tried to buy photographs to pawn off on Boyce as his own, but “so far I haven’t been able to get him to swear to it before a notary or to give me a signed statement.” However, Caywood was much better and they were about to leave for Zanzibar.
Perhaps Dad thought he had heaped enough coals and now it was time for a bit of relief. On the other hand, maybe he thought Boyce wanted another reminder of Africa the way he wanted more silk balloons. In any event, Dad told the publisher that the storekeeper who had bought so much of their equipment had presented T. R. with a Zanzibar chest and advised Dad to buy one in Zanzibar, since they were the finest things made in Africa, and Dad said if his money held out, he would buy one for the publisher too.
And speaking of that storekeeper, Dad wrote: “His troubles have just begun. The acid has broken out in new quarters and eaten up one side of that store which an Indian owns. They tried to shift it and several boys were badly burned and Mr. Branwhite’s shoes were eaten almost off his feet (Branwhite being the chief clerk).”
One morning Boyce left his London hotel. If it had been a bright sunny day, he would have proceeded to wherever it was he was going—perhaps to some office on legal business in connection with the myriad unpleasantnesses surrounding the expedition, perhaps to some newspaper office to bolster hopes for the eventual arrival of those sensational African pictures.
If it had been a bright sunny day, heaven knows how much longer my father would have spent trekking through the heat and rain of Africa in search of the elusive pictures or how much longer Mother and her mother would have stayed in their third-rate pension in Brussels before their money was used up completely.
But it was not a bright sunny day. It was thick fog, and Boyce found himself out in the middle of a street, unable to see his way across it.
“A little lad of twelve noticed my futile efforts, and led me with a lantern in the right direction,” Boyce was quoted in the Washington Star of April 21, 1910, among hundreds of other papers. “I thanked him and offered him a penny. But he said: ‘Thank you, sir, but I am a Boy Scout, and we never take tips for doing kind acts.’
” ‘What are the Boy Scouts?’ I asked him in surprise. Then he told me that all Boy Scouts were in honor bound to do one kind act every day. Further information from the lad led me to decide to start the Boy Scout movement among American boys.” Boyce sent for Mother and my grandmother and had rooms waiting for them at the Savoy, where they were when Dad arrived from Capetown to start publicizing the incident in the foggy London street and other information about the Boy Scouts.