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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

'Chimpongani' Fletcher Jamieson

Above: Fletcher Jamieson sitting at rear, with his .500 Jeffery Rimless, and closer to the camera, his brother Norman.

When I was a young Rhodesian game ranger circa 1968, owning a copy of Big Game and Big Game Rifles by John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor was considered de rigueur for anyone intent on hunting dangerous game. It had a frontispiece photograph by C. Fletcher Jamieson, titled, Buffalo Hull. At the time, I wasn’t aware Crawford Fletcher Jamieson had once been considered the most proficient professional elephant hunter in Rhodesia, before his life was so tragically cut short on 17 August 1947 in a freak electrical accident.

His legacy though, lived on in the excellent photographs he provided for use in one of Taylor’s other books, African Rifles and Cartridges. In this latter work, Taylor paid Fletcher-Jamieson high accolades, describing him ‘as a country block ahead of all other professionals in the Rhodesias’. It is unfortunate too, that Fletcher Jamieson, the consummate big game hunter, photographer, and writer of journals, wouldn’t realise his dream of a comprehensive written and photographic hunting record. Had it been completed, it would surely rank today as classic Africana, and his name would be well-known.

Above: Fletcher with his .500/.450 Holland & Holland Royal, and the distinctive hat he always wore when hunting.

Crawford Fletcher Jamieson, known as ‘Fletch’ to his friends was born in Scotland on 17 August 1905. When he was still a child, Jamieson’s parents immigrated to Rhodesia where he’d spend his boyhood on ‘Hillocks’, the 7200-acre family ranch which was situated in game rich western Matabeleland. It wasn’t long before the young Jamieson became proficient with a rifle, and he was soon keeping the family and their farm labourers in meat.

One Sunday, with his father away, the 13-year old Fletch climbed a tree to try and identify a distant bush fire. Unfortunately, a branch broke, and falling, he landed atop a 3-disc ox plough, dislocating his left elbow and breaking the bones of his left arm in three places, completely shattering his left wrist. Because it was a Sunday, numerous delays saw Fletch only getting to hospital a day later. By which time his hand was described as a ‘football of blood’. Fortunately, a combination of youth and exceptional physical condition saw his arm saved, his left wrist, however, was wired together and set in a fixed position. Although the injury didn’t affect his marksmanship ability, there was a limitation. Without any wrist flexibility, he had to shoot with the palm of his left-hand open and facing towards the target, the rifle barrel resting in the fork of his thumb. Despite this disadvantage, Fletcher grew into an extremely strong man, able to handle the heaviest of calibres.

In 1929, at age 24 he decided to embark on a professional hunting career, and after having earned enough money working in construction, he bought two heavy doubles. A .500/.450 Holland & Holland Royal, which became his favourite. And a Manton .577 to use as back up in the notorious Zambezi Valley jesse thickets. Thereafter, and throughout his professional hunting career Jamieson kept meticulous daily journals. Unfortunately, for those seeking an exciting read, there’s little reference to narrow escapes and charges! Rather, there are numerous references to one-shot kills, which certainly indicate he must have been a proficient and controlled hunter. And not given to panic when near elephant. One such entry partially reads, We halted, and suddenly, without warning, a large bull broke cover about six paces from me. A hasty but well-placed shot at that short range brought him down. The herd stampeded, but I managed to get in another two shots, bringing down two more elephants.

Above: One of many buffalo shot for camp rations by Jamieson, when he was using his .500/.450 Holland & Holland double. In this case a young buffalo bull.

Although Fletcher could shoot his doubles accurately, his fixed left wrist was proving problematic when he was elephant hunting in the late season heat of the Zambezi Valley. Because of the extreme temperatures increasing the pressures in his cordite loaded cartridges, it was difficult to open the double’s action after firing. At times, and under extremely dangerous conditions, and to get the leverage needed, he was forced to clamp the barrels of his double under his left armpit. Certainly not the ideal scenario if a hunter ends up in a tight spot.

In the aftermath of several close encounters, Fletcher accepted his beloved doubles weren’t the ideal. For ease of quick loading he’d have to change to a bolt-action rifle. Initially, and after having tried a few different calibres, he chose a .500 Jeffery Rimless. At the time the most powerful sporting magazine rifle in the world. His rifle, Serial No. 25554 was the 21st of only twenty-four .500 Jeffery Rimless that were built.

Above: A winter camp of Jamieson’s deep in the Mozambique bush.

The .500 Jeffery Rimless fired a 535gr bullet in front of 103-grains of HiVel at a muzzle velocity of 2400fps, giving 6844-foot pounds of muzzle energy. The factory specifications for Fletcher’s rifle read; .500 bore Model 2 Magazine rifle 26” barrel, standard and 2 leaf b/s platinum bead f/s with disc & 2 spare. Recoil pad. 10lb 12ozs. The rifle was completed on 15 July 1937 at a cost of £45. It differed from all the others made because instead of an ivory foresight, it had a platinum one. The ‘disc’ mentioned was the flip-up night-sight, and the quoted weight was for the barrelled action only. Fully completed, the rifle weighed over 12 pounds. Engraved on the barrel is; Specially Built For C. Fletcher Jamieson by W.J. Jeffery & Co. Ltd. 9 Golden Square, Regent Street, London WI. Because Jeffery only produced twenty-four of these rifles it placed them amongst the world’s rarest firearms collections. The historical value of Fletcher’s rifle plus the platinum foresight made number 25554 the most sought after of them all.

Fletcher’s reluctance to part with his beloved doubles, and especially his favourite, the .500/.450 Holland & Holland Royal which featured prominently in his photos, is poignantly illustrated by a lengthy and descriptive letter he penned in the Zambezi Valley on 14 July 1934. Going further, he sealed both the letter and a single elephant tail hair in the balance hole under the butt plate. His main request in the letter was that whoever became the proud possessor of the rifle, was to please treasure it. He signed off as C. Fletcher Jamieson. Big Game Hunter.

Above: Fletcher’s .500/.450 Holland & Holland Royal – it was in this gun’s balance-hole behind the butt plate that he placed an elephant tail hair and a letter. Both would be found 57 years later.

Although Fletcher bought the gun second hand in Rhodesia in 1929, no records exist of who he sold the gun to. It’s subsequent owner, must however, have neglected it for some time because it remained in a damp lock-up in its case, resulting in the outside of the barrels becoming badly pitted. In 1992 the gun was bought from a deceased estate by Zimbabwean sport hunter, Douglas M. Riddle. When he stripped it down to clean it, he removed the butt-plate and found the letter and elephant tail hair placed there by Fletcher 57 years earlier. Fletcher’s gun had finally found the owner he’d wished for.

Fletcher Jamieson was probably ahead of his time as a hunter and hunting photographer. Whenever he shot an elephant, he gave it to the nearest tribal village, compensation for crops damaged. In the modern era in which we find ourselves, the same still applies in Zimbabwe with their CAMPFIRE program. Crop raiding elephant shot by safari clients are given to the nearest tribal community.

As a professional who hunted on his own, Fletcher Jamieson also recognised that the quality of elephant ivory, rather than quantity, would provide him with better returns. However, his final tally probably didn’t include those elephants of all ages he culled when contracted by the then Southern Rhodesian Government, to clear an area in the lower Sabi Valley as an experiment in tsetse fly control. Fletcher, also always had on safari with him, a large, cumbersome Graflex 7x5-inch plate camera and tripod. It was more suited to studio work than being lugged around the bush. After setting the camera up, a porter he’d trained in its usage would duck under the ‘hangman’s hood’ and pop the shot.

Having actively hunted both sides of the Zambezi River, in what was then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), mostly in the area now lying beneath the surface of Lake Kariba, the baTonga tribes’ people of the region bestowed on him the name ‘Chimpongani' (The One Who Never Misses). He also hunted extensively in Mozambique, at Changara, south of Tete. And it was, here during the mid-1930s that he first met John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor, and the two hunters became friends. During 1938 they hunted together in Nyasaland (Malawi) near the confluence of the Shire and Zambezi Rivers.

Above: Fletcher Jamieson was used to the difficulties and frustrations of off-road travel prior to the advent of 4x4. On one occasion, it took him 5-days to travel 50-miles.

It was probably during this hunt that Taylor first used Fletcher’s new bolt-action .500 Jeffery Rimless. Due to their having hunted together, in his book African Rifles & Cartridges, where Taylor speaks highly of Fletcher Jamieson as a hunter, he also sings the praises of the .500 Jeffery Rimless as a big game rifle. However, and despite Taylor liking the calibre, he certainly didn’t like the bullet construction. At the time, cartridges were only available from Germany. The book contains some illustrations of broken and distorted bullets Fletcher had recovered from elephant he’d shot. One consignment of new bullets he’d received contained faulty cartridges prone to misfiring. A diary entry of Fletcher’s reads; August 12th (Tuesday) 1947 … I took a side shot for the brain; the rifle misfired – second try dropped him …’ On August 15th (Friday) 1947 there’d be another diary entry describing similar bullet failures.

As fate would have it, these diary entries were written one month before Fletcher’s untimely death on September 17th, 1947 at the relatively young age of 42. And in the last letter Taylor received, written at the time of these last journal entries, Fletcher described how out of seven shots at bull elephant, he’d experienced no less than four misfires.

Above: C. Fletcher Jamieson’s W.J. Jeffery & Co. .500 Model No. 2 single square bridge magnum bolt-magazine big game rifle, in 2009 it was sold for £30,000 to American sport hunter Bill Jones.

I’ve always considered myself fortunate in that I first met Fletcher Jamieson’s son, Fletch Jnr, in early 1974 during the Rhodesian Bush War. He’d transferred from the Rhodesian SAS to the Selous Scouts, where I was serving. We’ve been friends ever since, and in the early 1980’s I was lucky enough to hold and admire his late father’s .500 Jeffery Rimless, which Fletch had inherited. In 2009, South African gunshop owner Bennie Loubscher put Fletch Jnr in touch with American sport hunter, Bill Jones, who bought the rifle. Jones would later send Fletch Jnr a video clip of him using the rifle to shoot a mediocre tusker in Zimbabwe. I’m grateful to Fletch Jnr for allowing me access to his late father’s notes and photos, without which this article would not have been written.

Above: The letter written by Fletcher on 14 July 1934 in the Zambezi Valley, and placed in the .500/.450 butt plate balance-hole, together with an elephant tail hair. It would be 57 years before it was found.

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