Big Double Rifle of Pondoro Taylor
African Outfitter Back Issues: CONTENTS – June / July 2007 - (Vol 2/4)
Regarding John Taylor’s last double rifle - Mauritz Coetzee
During the early beginnings of 2007, I was fortunate enough to start corresponding with Tony Sánchez-Arinõ, one of the last remaining great elephant hunters.
During the course of many faxes and the exchanging of ideas, I mentioned to Tony that I did have an article on the sale of John Taylor’s last double, a John Wilkes .450 3½ inch.
Tony responded quite promptly with a request that the article be faxed as soon as possible to his home in Valencia, Spain.
The reason why I actually mentioned the article on John Taylor’s last double rifle was simply because Tony referred to this double in his book, “Elephants, Ivory and Hunters“.
On page 114 of this book Tony makes the following observations: “I have seen magazine articles stating that Taylor’s favourite calibre was supposed to be the .500 Nitro. Some quote the .450 Nitro and other calibres, but in fact he always preferred the .465 Nitro, though his last rifle (rarely used against elephant) was a .450 Nitro with a box lock action by John Wilkes. I have discussed this matter at length in correspondence with Taylor, so I know this to be correct” (“Elephants, Ivory and Hunters“, page 114).
Quite eager to supply Tony with the article on John (Pandoro) Taylor’s last double, there was however one slight problem.
I had sent the August 1970 edition of the Guns & Ammo magazine to Koos Barnard of Man/Magnum magazine three years ago. The reason for this was simply to supply Brian Marsh, well-known author, with some additional information on John Taylor’s rifles, since Brian Marsh wrote extensively on the legacy of Pondoro.
A quick phone call to Koos Barnard solved a potential problem and a very old edition of Guns & Ammo arrived a few days later.
The article on John Taylor and his supposedly last double was written by Jacques (Jack) Lott, well known author and rifle enthusiast. Jack died in 1995 and I can quite vividly remember a toast I shared to Jack Lott’s life with Joe Coogan, Coenraad Vermaak and Ronnie Rowland out in the northern Transvaal.
The essence of the article by Jack Lott centred on the sale of a John Wilkes box lock double in a .450 3½ inch persuasion – serial number 4988, which was sold to an American buyer, Steve Miller.
Dated 5 August 1965, the bill of sale states that John Taylor, Box 177, Mozambique, Portuguese East Africa had sold one John Wilkes London-made double rifle, serial number 4988 to Steven G Miller from the USA. It also stated that Steven Miller resided at Doornkloof, Irene in the Transvaal, South Africa.
Furthermore, the rifle is described as item number 5 on John Taylor’s firearms permit issued on 11 June 1965 and also expiring 11 September 1965.
A piece of paper was also photographed and is shown in this article. Dated 7 July 1965, PEA it says the following: “To Steve Miller, a ‘young’ old African hand from far older ‘old’ African Hand – John Taylor”.
As to the bill of sale, it shows that Louis Weyers signed as a witness to this document. Imagine my disappointment when Tony phoned me on 1 April of this year only to inform me that the sale of John Taylor’s last double was a complete hoax! Tony knew about the existence of this article.
The whole debacle is in fact discussed in a later publication by Tony, “Elephant Hunters, Men of Legend” (2005).
This book is the most complete discussion on the elephant hunters of yesteryear and as such the lives of great hunters, such as George Rushby, “Samaki” Salmon, Eric Rundgen, Harry Manners and John “Pondoro” Taylor are discussed.
The whole problem around the so-called sale of John Taylor’s last double rifle is contained in the dating of the ‘sale’ of this gun.
As Tony Sánchez-Arinõ mentions, John Taylor arrived in 1957 in London and died in 1969 in London without having left London since his arrival in 1957.
Apart from this, an old friend of Tony, Louis Weyers, a grandson of General Smuts, shown on the bill of sale as being a witness to the transaction, knew nothing about the sale of the Wilkes double. His signature was fraudulently added onto the document.
What is extremely sad about this whole episode is the fact that John Pondoro Taylor was in reality living a life of poverty in London, unaware that money was made in his name under false pretence.
Like other great elephant hunters his final years showed a recurring pattern of loneliness and poverty. A typical example here is “Mickey” Norton, who shot around two thousand elephant. Like Taylor, he died at the age of seventy six in poor health and poverty.
As to the article by Jack Lott on John Taylor two positive issues came from this article. Firstly, the recognition that John Taylor’s “African Rifles & Cartridges” will forever remain unmatched for its contribution to big game hunting. Secondly, a realisation of the impact John Taylor had on the people where he hunted. The late Jack Lott, quite correctly, described this impact in the following manner: “Pondoro somehow impressed his personality on the land and it’s peoples, for the name John Taylor is something to conjure with in the vast span of Africa lying north of the Limpopo, east of the Kalahari, South of the Rovuma and especially the lower reaches of the Zambezi. This is Pondoro territory, the haunts of a hunter who during his lifetime was a legend and as a legend lives on. ‘Sala gahle Pondoro’ (goodbye, Pondoro)”.
One should ask however, whether the original buyer of this gun, Steve Miller, and the subsequent owner mentioned in the article, Dr C Robert White, ever got to know the real circumstances surrounding the John Wilkes .450 3½ inch double.
Whilst working on this article I got to think about the chances of finding this John Wilkes double rifle serial number 4988 ever again. I am glad to inform you that I managed to trace this gun and its owner to Colorado in America. This whole episode will be covered in a later article.