A gunshot and a scream shatter the still African morning air. A hunter is dead in his tent from a massive head wound, a gun in hand. A white hunter and his gun-bearers rush to the tent a sobbing woman follows close behind. It is the start of what will become one of Africa’s most controversial scandals – one that to this day remains unresolved.
The year was 1908. The white hunter in my painting is John Henry Patterson (the real rogue), who became famous through his own story of remarkable bravery: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. The woman is Ethel Jane Brunner Blyth, recent widow of James Audley Blyth, one of the heirs to the Gilbey Liquor fortune. In fact, she is a very recent widow, under suspicious circumstances.
In 1908 Patterson had married and become senior game warden in British East Africa. He decided to invite a couple of his English chums, the Blyths, to join him on safari in the Protectorate’s Northern Game Reserve. But the game warden and Ethel were soon having an affair.
One night while her husband lay sick in their tent, she joined Patterson in his. She rose before daybreak, left Patterson’s tent and went to see her husband. In the morning came the shot and the scream, or the scream and the shot, the sight of Effie running from the couple’s tent.
Patterson and Effie continued their safari, sharing a tent as if nothing had happened. James Blyth’s death was eventually ruled a suicide. The truth may never be known. But adultery and murder were on everyone’s minds and tongues.