It was announced in the dining car that the train would arrive at the Nairobi station in 45 minutes. I shook Duncan Guthrey's hand and thanked him for taking the time to tell me about the history of this most peculiar railway line.I had sufficient time to return to my compartment and record in my travel journal all that he had related to me. One of the stories I was particularly anxious to write down involved a former British officer who offered himself as live bait in order to kill a lion. This man-eater had carried off several Indian railway employees at a work camp outside a station called Kima.
"What I am about to tell you is one of the most oft-told stories about the attempts to hunt down the man-eating lions that had taken such a toll among the railway workers. The year was 1899 and the man was Captain Charles Ryall. He had previously seen service in the British Army of India. He had hunted tigers in India and was considered a crack shot by those who had safaried with him.
"After arriving in Kenya, Captain Ryall became an assistant superintendent in the newly formed Kenya Police on attachment from the Royal Punjab Police of India. The 25-year-old Ryall had hunted lion and cheetah in East Africa since his arrival 11 months earlier. When he learned of the problems at the labor camp at Kima, he received permission to catch the next construction train leaving Mombasa. Kima was 225 miles inland from the coast.
"As I recall, he was accompanied by three other gentlemen. They were not hunters, but he would need their help in executing his plan and the lion in the process. One was a German merchant named Hans Huebner who wanted to eventually reach Uganda. The second was an Italian by the name of Parenti, I believe. He had business in Nairobi. The last was another policeman named Inspector Bishen Singh. He was on his way to a station some distance beyond Kima to investigate a series of problems that had been reported. Inspector Singh is important to this story because he was the one who described the tragic details of it in a lengthy report to the Police Commissioner in Mombasa. After the incident at Kima, Huebner and Parenti were never heard from again.
"These three gentlemen agreed to help Ryall with the plan to kill the man-eater. All it really involved was each of them taking his turn standing watch for the lion throughout the night. Ryall explained that he would leave his compartment window open in the carriage and offer himself as bait to tempt the lion to the railway carriage. Once the animal came within shooting range, Ryall would bag him from the safety of the inspection coach.
"It was not a particularly brilliant plan, and it may have even worked except everything went dramatically wrong.
"When the train reached Kima, Ryall had the inspection coach detached from the train and switched to a side track. Ryall opened the window in his compartment so the lion could both smell and see him. The other men positioned themselves in various locations throughout the coach behind closed and locked windows. There was, however, a fundamental mistake made. No one was aware of it. A sliding door at the rear of the coach had been left partially open.
"Ryall's watch was from midnight to three a.m. Parenti awakened him just before midnight and then fell asleep on the floor of the carriage outside Ryall's compartment. Ryall, unfortunately, was not fully awake when he began his watch. Within minutes he had dozed off. The awaiting lion must have sensed this somehow. The beast waited another 45 minutes and then leaped to the small platform at the rear of the coach and entered through the sliding door.
"According to the Singh report, the lion was after one man, Captain Ryall. The man-eater stepped on Parenti to get to Ryall. The Captain never awoke. The beast grabbed him by the throat and then pulled his victim to the open window and leaped to the ground.
"Ryall's body was found later and buried in a railway cemetery in Nairobi. The granite gravestone, as I recall, reads simply, `Captain Charles Ryall. He was attacked whilst sleeping and killed by a man-eating lion at Kima.'
"The killer lion was eventually found and shot. The inspector's coach became a museum piece in Nairobi and another grand drama on the Lunatic Line thus became history."
(SB) Jim Kimball is a Salt Lake travel consultant.