How Ronan strangled Bobby

Did I ever tell you about Great-Uncle Ronan? He was my paternal grandfather’s elder brother and he was the District Commissioner for Nairobi about 100 years ago. He’s our family hero and we have the leopard to prove it.

Like many people in the Colonial service, he became devoted to the country he was sent to. He lived as one of the ruling classes of course, as was normal at that time. I’m not making any judgment, comment or anything else on British or any other colonialism – that was then, this is now, it would not be appropriate now for an Englishman to rule an area with a load of African servants and I’m not justifying it. But he did care about the people under his care and felt them to be his responsibility, personally as well as professionally.

One evening, he was going out to dinner so had given all his staff the evening off. He was putting on his evening clothes when he heard screams coming from the kitchen. He ran down and found a leopard attacking his house boy, the only other person in the house. Ronan had a revolver in his room, but if he fetched it, the man would be dead by the time he returned. He grabbed the leopard by the throat.

It was a fight to the death.

Once he was better, he carried on with the programme of getting wells dug, to bring fresh and clean water to outlying areas. Unfortunately, he had to drink the local water in the meantime, he caught cholera and he died. In the attic, we’ve got the series of telegrams telling his mother of his illness, finishing with the black-bordered envelope. There is also a scrapbook of press cuttings, including the ones of his funeral. A colleague of my stepfather went to the cemetery in Nairobi and found his memorial some years ago, don’t know if it still exists.

I don’t know a lot else about him. His name is Gaelic, chosen by his Scottish mother. He was married, but divorced his wife on the grounds of her adultery. It was a bit startling, browsing through the Times archives, to find the court case of their divorce. He had no children and died in 1913. We named our second son after him – sorry, Ro, it’s never been easy, having a name everyone gets wrong.

Bobby, the leopard, is in the rafters in one of the garages. I’ve been meaning for a long time to get him hauled down. If he’s rotted away, he’ll be burnt. If not, he’ll be fumigated and brought indoors. I’ve known him all my life, he lived on the landing in my family home and I used to say goodnight to him when I went to bed.

14 comments on “How Ronan strangled Bobby

  1. Dave

    ‘He’s our family hero and we have the leopard to prove it.’

    I think that’s the best line I’ve ever read on a blog. Ever.

  2. Z

    And to think that, on re-reading before I published, I nearly reduced its peculiarness.

    Hello, Libby. It’s a vanished world now, isn’t it?

  3. badgerdaddy

    I’m with Dave on that line. Pure class.

    Also, it might have been hard for Ro with the name, but it’s very, very cool being named after someone who fought hand-to-paw with a leopard and won – to save the life of another, to boot.

    Wonderful. x

  4. Weeza

    Although he pulls a dog’s bottom mouth (DBM) if you call him Rocky. Worth it!

    Bobby’s fab – I hope he’s still ok as he’d make a fabulous coffee table. Surely a Truely Foul job to get him out of the rafters if he’s rotting in his glass box? When’ll you investigate? I wanna be there, at a distance!

    He used to scare me when I was little – I remember him on Grandma’s top landing, which was always a bit darker than everywhere else. Eek!

  5. Z

    It’s up to your father. I’m not sure which car he is keeping in that garage – might be the 1961 mini, and there’s stuff all in front of the doors which haven’t been opened for about 5 years. I do want to do it though soon, I’ll have to have a chat.

    He was properly stuffed in the first place, it’s if mice and insects have got in the case. I don’t know how well it’s sealed.

  6. Anonymous

    That was a great story! Pictures-we want a picture of Bobby when he is freed from his garage lair. There are no heros like your paternal great uncle in our family. Mom killed a mole with a shovel once but no hand to claw combat.

  7. Z

    I told Ro that I’ve told this story – “Just so long as you haven’t mentioned my name” he said in an Eeyore tone of voice. Whoops.

    Mind you, as I said to him, he’s already outed himself by putting his name to Al’s greengrocer site.

    I’m glad you appreciated the story. He really is a hero to me.

  8. Z

    Just the one. There are also two Morris Minors, two other vintage Rovers, a random ’70s Fiesta, a Fergie tractor and the cars we actually drive, which can’t be kept under cover as there’s no room. None of them could be sold to make our fortune, but we’re fond of them, except the Fiesta, which I complain about.

    If I’d had more children, they’d have been called Huckleberry and Xanthe. Just as well I didn’t. And that there will always be dogs to name.

  9. luckyzmom

    I think Ronan is a very distinquished sounding name. What a colorful story of your Uncle. Thank you for sharing. I had an Uncle who went to Alaska. That was really foreign to us then!

  10. Z

    I like the name Ronan. It’s not unusual in Ireland or Scotland, but it is here. When he was at high school, the girls called him Ronnie, which was rather sweet.


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