Tuesday, August 18, 2009



Joe Da Silva

I have been a firearms dealer for over 26 years in South Africa, based in Cape Town. All through the years I have had a passion for double rifles, especially for the English doubles. I have hunted with doubles and have also shot with many of them up to the 600, my favourites being the 470 and the 500/416. I have always dreamed of owning a double rifle.

Naturally, I have dealt with many a double in the trade. The rifle I remember most clearly was one that I foolishly let slip through my fingers, but maybe the time was not right. A gentleman came in with a cased 470 Jeffery and the appropriate ammo. He wanted to sell it. He had inherited the firearm from his brother, but did not have any use for it.

The double was in perfect condition. There was not a mark or scratch to be seen and even the leather had that new smell. The seller mentioned that only 12 rounds had been fired. I then said that I was interested and would like to fire a couple rounds at the range. I did this on the same day, a Saturday. After shooting at the range, we sat down to discuss an asking price. The gentleman mentioned R15.000.00 (US$ 3 157. 00 at 4.75 to the Rand). That was back in 1993. At that time, this was a great deal of money for me. R15.000.00 would have bought 10 X Rossi 38 Special revolvers, representing important stock for my business and also more profit for me. I offered the seller R12.000.00, but he declined it, saying that he would get back to me. Of course, he never did.

Two months later, I heard that the double had been sold for R15.000.00. It was resold again for R50.000.00 and then, within a year, it fetched R140.000.00! What a fool I had been and what a lesson I had learned.

Some 16 years later I received a call from a very good friend of mine, Adelino Serras Pires, one of the pioneers in the African safari industry and the well-known author of the book WINDS OF HAVOC. Adelino mentioned that he was at the home of a very good friend of his in Pretoria who had an English double for sale. My ears pricked up in an instant.

The person in question was Sérgio Pais Mamede. He had been a professional hunter up to the early 1970s in Mozambique in Area 16. Adelino said he was holding Sérgio’s Cogswell & Harrison in his hands and that it felt very heavy. Did I know anyone who would be interested in buying the double? I can remember shouting “YES! YES! Tell me more!” Adelino told me that the seller also had the ammunition - 450/400 three-quarter. When I said that I wanted the rifle, Adelino was surprised, saying that he didn’t know I was interested in English doubles.

Remembering the expensive lesson concerning the Jeffery in 1993, I then had a chance to speak with Sérgio who told me at length about his double rifle. I knew straight away that I wanted to buy it and I asked him what he wanted for it. Sérgio was unsure, advising me to fly up and come and see him at his home in Pretoria in order to discuss the matter in person.

I had to contain my growing excitement for a month as Sérgio had business commitments in Mozambique. During those four weeks, I spent all the time I could spare researching the double rifle. I contacted Cogswell & Harrison over the Internet, asking them to give a ballpark price if the double was in good condition. They weren’t very helpful, saying that I should consult a gunsmith who had knowledge of these types of firearms. Well, there are only a handful of such people in South Africa and most of them would have grabbed the rifle in a flash before I could even have had a chance to examine it. The 1993 Jeffery lesson was uppermost in my mind and I was not about to make the same stupid mistake again.

What Cogswell & Harrison would offer, when provided with the serial number, was a Certificate of Origin giving the date when the rifle was completed and the full original records from the archive section for that year, the name of the first purchaser and the price paid for the rifle. Cogswell & Harrison is one of the oldest firearms companies in the world and has records going back over 240 years.

I asked if the company had any secondhand or new leather cases for the double as Sérgio mentioned that the case was no longer available. I did not receive any response which I found a little strange. I waited for a solid month in ever-growing anticipation for my day to arrive and my flight up to Johannesburg to meet Sérgio and examine the double rifle.

The day finally dawned and I was on my way. Adelino Serras Pires kindly collected me at the airport. At rising 81, he is still sharp and very fit. Off we went to Pretoria and Sergio’s home. He and his lovely wife had organised lunch at a restaurant before we could come back to the house, settle down and talk doubles. The anticipation was killing me throughout lunch. I kept wondering if Sérgio was going to accept the offer I had in mind.

Two hours later, we entered Sérgio’s study where he showed me the double. It was great being able to finally handle that 13-pound beauty. It was immediately apparent that the firearm had been re-blued. What was not so quickly evident was the extraordinary story that resulted in the re-blueing. As Sérgio started telling me the story, I knew that I was onto something special and that the 1993 Jeffery fiasco was about to be overridden by an exceptional find.

Sérgio’s father, Orlando, was from a great pioneering family in Mozambique. Between the two World Wars, they had helped found and develop out of pristine bush and under very tough conditions what became the small town of Mapai, on the Limpopo River. It is close to the northern reaches of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The settlement’s name was inspired by the family surname Pais Mamede.

Hunting was a natural part of daily life and Sérgio’s father became an accomplished big game hunter. He regularly hosted special guests such as General Jan Smuts who hunted a great deal with him in the vast open country of Mozambique with its then flourishing wildlife populations. As Sérgio began sharing the unique story behind the double rifle, my eyes wandered along the walls of his study with their historic photographs of that time.

When Sérgio was only eight years old, he remembered his dad taking the heavy double out on hunts. Nobody was allowed to touch it, let alone fire it, without Orlando’s express approval. The Pais Mamedes hunted most of the time with 375 H&H and 458 WM rifles, but when the heat was on Orlando would bring the double as backup gun.

Something very odd then happened to Orlando’s double. It started with a buffalo hunt. Sérgio and his father had gone hunting for buffalo and they were both using their bolt action rifles. One of the trackers acted as gun bearer and had been instructed to carry the double just in case. Father and son were successful in hunting three buffalo that day. The vehicle had been parked quite some distance from where they had decided to skin all three buffalo, the process lasting until late into the night. Sérgio, in the meantime, set off to fetch the vehicle. When he returned, all the meat was loaded onto the jeep and the entire group headed back to the farmhouse, the staff already excited at the prospect of a feast.

This is when the story takes a strange turn. Some three years after that buffalo hunt, Sérgio and his father were hosting clients who had come over to hunt two elephant and three buffalo. While packing the vehicle and organising the necessary equipment and firearms, Orlando asked where his double was. Sérgio was unable to help as he had not seen it for a long time. He had presumed his father had locked it up as was his custom.

All hell then erupted as Orlando barked orders and everybody, be they kitchen staff, trackers or drivers, had to pitch in and pretty well tear the place apart in the search for the missing double rifle. It was pandemonium. Sérgio simply couldn’t figure out how his father had not seen to the safe storage of the double rifle at the time. Nobody was ever allowed to casually handle the rifle.

Suddenly, a very short chap, one of the family’s best trackers, spoke up. He said that he seemed to remember leaving the double under the big baobab tree near where father and son had shot the three buffalo three years previously and where everyone had worked until late into the night skinning the trio. Well, it was like a series of hand grenades going off as Orlando angrily ordered his son and the tracker to drive out that second and see if his most valuable firearm was still under the baobab. Out into the wilds Sérgio and the tracker went, making for the landmark baobab, not daring to even think what would happened if the rifle had since disappeared.

To the utter astonishment of both men, there it was, lying at the foot of one of the massive baobab roots, in a somewhat sheltered position, exactly where the tracker had left it. After three years in the open where it could so easily have been destroyed under the weight of the big game that roamed or by the elements alone, the rifle was still in remarkably good shape. Nothing that a little re-blueing couldn’t fix! The fact that the rifle had not been touched also proved how remote and uninhabited that particular area was at the time.

I listened, looked, asked questions and turned the double over and over in my hands, shouldering it and feeling it every which way before making my bid. Sérgio accepted my offer on the spot. I felt quite light-headed with relief because I knew I had at last been able to fulfill a very special ambition of mine – to own a British double rifle.

My relief and genuine delight turned into outright elation when Cogswell & Harrison sent me the Certificate of Origin, revealing the provenance of the rifle. I learned that it had been completed on 18 January 1905 and that it had been customised for none other than William Waldegrave Palmer, the 2nd Earl of Selborne KG, GCMG, PC, who took delivery of the rifle on 27 April 1905.

That was the year in which Lord Selborne succeeded Lord Milner as High Commissioner of South Africa and Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies. He had just completed his term as First Lord of the Admiralty before assuming this new office in May 1905 in Pretoria!

Lord Selborne had a very distinguished political career, retiring as High Commissioner on the eve of the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. He had come to South Africa at a time when memories of the ruinous Anglo-Boer War were still raw. Such was his character and attitude that he came to be known as “the Peacemaker”, earning the genuine respect and affection of the Boer people while in South Africa. My double rifle can rightly be classed as an item of true Africana significance because of the Selborne provenance. The 1993 Jeffery disappointment seemed as nothing now that I understood just what a treasure I had acquired.

The Selborne double, very tastefully engraved by the way, has a hammerless action and was fitted with the Cogswell and Harrison assisted opening and ejector mechanism, known as the Avant Tout. It has top lever opening and automatic top safety, the barrels being 23½ inches and made of fine English steel. They are designed for 60grain with 400 grain bullets, the barrels weighing 7 lb and 11 oz, the total weight of the double being 13Ibs on the nose. The rifle, covered by a three-year warranty, cost Lord Selborne forty-one guineas, a sizeable amount of money at the time.

When I received the Cogswell & Harrison Certificate of Origin, it was dated 21 April 2009, one hundred and four years and five days after Lord Selborne took possession of his custom-built double rifle.

I now finally have my double rifle, a truly historic firearm. I am planning my next big game hunt and this firearm will be my back up. Adelino Serras Pires called me the other day and asked if I would consider parting with this new treasure. I replied that everything is for sale – at a price.