A Toy for the Lion (T. R. Timothy Robin Nicholson)

A Toy for the Lion (T. R. [Timothy Robin] Nicholson) lands on the shelves of my shop, where it will be found in my Travel section. priced at £8.50! Call in and get 40% OFF that price when you mention this post…

London: William Kimber, 1965, (First Edition) Hardback in dust wrapper.

Contains: Black & white photographs;

From the cover: In the autumn of 1907, Menelik II, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings, Emperor of Ethiopia, was sixty-two and at the zenith of his career. Feared and respected by the nations of Europe, he was an enthusiastic amateur of their latest mechanical inventions in particular, of field-guns and steamrollers. He had first heard of the motor-car three years ago; now he wanted to see one.

Three thousand miles away, an extraordinary young Englishman called Bede Bentley set out to gratify that wish. His father was architect of Westminster Cathedral, his uncle had invented the modern diving gear and he was related by marriage to Joachim von Ribbentrop, later German ambassador to Great Britain. Bentley himself had fought the Boers and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, had got himself expelled from German East Africa as a suspicious character, and had been involved in the Russo-Japanese War. After the First World War, he was to fight for recognition as the inventor of the tank. Now, spurred on by rumours of rival bids by French and German expeditions, he planned to be the first man to drive a motor-car to Menelik.

Bentley took with him a brand-new Siddeley, picked out in light and dark green stripes; a taciturn chauffeur called Reginald Wells; a Somali known as George; and a brindled bulldog called Bully. The desert and mountain country between Jibuti and Addis Ababa was criss-crossed by more or less appalling camel tracks. It was utterly devoid of roads and bridges, but not, unfortunately, of human beings. Herr Arnold Holtz and his thirty-five-horsepower Nacke were in close pursuit. So were the Isa Somalis, who were even less amiable than usual thanks to this intrusion by infidel machinery, and the Danakil Somalis. To the Isas, wholesale murder was often a necessity and always a sport. To the Danakil, who claimed that it is better to die than live without killing, it was a social obligation. Isas and Danakils between them turned the journey, already a nightmare struggle with heat, sand, thirst, starvation and wild beasts, into a running battle. On New Years Day, 1908, however, the car was presented to the Emperor. It had taken four months to cover five hundred miles. Bentley experienced the final hazard of his preposterous adventure when, the roads round Addis Ababa having been cleared of pedestrians, the Lion of Judah took the wheel himself for the first time.

Why exactly Bentley thought the operation was worth the effort is by no means clear, but as an example of courage, endurance and tenacity, his and his companions achievement must not be underestimated. The story itself is an astonishing one, in turn exciting, hilarious and incredible; but it was only a single episode in the life of a man who was surely one of the most remarkable characters to emerge from the byways of English history.

Very Good in Good Dust Wrapper. Unlaminated dust wrapper a little edgeworn and faded. Previous owner’s lable to the first blank. Text complete, clean and tight otherwise.

Faun boards with Gilt titling to the Spine. 139 pages. Index. 8¾” x 5¾”.

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