The Guns of Ghost and the Darkness
Dr. John Woods 02.18.17
It is always intriguing to see the firearms used in various movies, especially the very few that depict stories of hunting adventures. The 1996 movie The Ghost and the Darkness is based on the book The Man-eaters of Tsavo, by John Patterson. The book and the movie give a true account of lion attacks in Tsavo, Kenya during the 1898 construction of a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River.
The main actor playing the part of John Henry Patterson is Val Kilmer as the military construction engineer sent to design and supervise the bridge construction. Michael Douglas (the anti-gunner) depicts a PH, professional hunter, also contracted to dispatch the lions that were attacking the construction workers, killing over 100 workers during the siege.
The firearms used by actors Kilmer and Douglas among others was a curious collection of rifles and other guns of the times. Primary on the list of two rifles used by the lion hunters was a bolt action Birmingham Lee-Speed Sporter used by Kilmer likely chambered for the .303 British round. He also used without success a loaned Farguharson rifle (a foundation design for the Ruger No. 1 much later on) perhaps chambered for the .400 Nitro Express, a favored African big game cartridge.
The PH Douglas ironically going by the name of Remington used a classic double rifle, which was probably a Holland and Holland double, using either the .450 or .500 Nitro Express. The double rifle is well known as a very traditional African big game gun capable of taking any game animal on the Dark Continent.
Usually manufactured nearly by hand, the double rifles by the likes of H&H, Wesley-Richards, Purdey and other British rifle houses, are among the most finely made guns in the world with prices to reflect this refinement. Today, some of these classic doubles can fetch six figures new or as collectable auction house guns.
Another most interesting gun used by Remington was the Howdah double-barreled pistol with external hammers garnered its name from the basket riding atop elephants in India. Hunters would ride in these baskets and were often attacked by tigers, thus the need for a powerful close range gun.
Other guns used in this movie included the Martini-Henry rifle, the Snider Enfield Carbines, and a 12 gauge shotgun often wielded by Samuel, the native project overseer. If you have never seen this movie, I encourage you to view this classic hunting story using classic firearms.