Alfred Arkell Hardwick: Adventurer and sales manager

by Bob Davenport


Alfred Arkell Hardwick (1878–1912), the frontispiece to his An Ivory Trader in North Kenia


Jean Baptiste de Manio and Max Cremetti – the subjects of two earlier posts – are not the only people who ended up in St Pancras Cemetery as a result of accidents in the early days of aviation. Another was Alfred Arkell Hardwick (or Arkell-Hardwick as his name was sometimes given). He used to say that he was too lucky to be killed in an aeroplane. He was mistaken, but it’s understandable that he should have thought that.

Hardwick was born in Dalston, in north-east London, on 14 January 1878, the son of Alfred James Hardwick, a silk salesman, and his wife of a couple of months, Louisa, née Green, who went on to have another three sons and two daughters. (Their third son, Albert, born in 1883, was in 1905 awarded the Royal Albert Medal, first class – the precursor of the George Cross as Britain’s highest gallantry award for civilians – for saving the life of an elderly woman who fell from a crowded platform at Finsbury Park station as a train approached; he jumped down after her and managed to position them both full length between the rails and the platform so that the train could pass safely over them.)

When he was 14, Alfred junior went to sea as an apprentice on an Australian liner and, according to his obituary, ‘spent three or four years knocking about the seven seas’ – surviving being washed overboard on one occasion – ‘and then turned up in Yokohama, and afterwards Beira [on the coast of Mozambique] and Capetown’.

From Cape Town, he and a friend decided to head north to Bulawayo in present-day Zimbabwe, to seek their fortunes where Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company had recently taken over. He drifted into the British South African Police, and fought in the suppression of the Mashonaland revolt of 1896–7, when the pastoral/hunter Mashona people rebelled against those who had taken their land, coerced them into the workforce, introduced a hut tax, and usurped the authority of their chiefs.

Hardwick’s commanding officer, Inspector (later Colonel) Colin Harding, who adopted a controversial policy of dynamiting caves where rebels and their families were sheltering, wrote of him:

Hardwick was a typical Londoner, a type of man very hard to beat. He left a comfortable home in the North of London and joined the British South African Police, as he informed me to see life. I do not think he was disappointed, for everything he had to do, whether rough or smooth, he thoroughly enjoyed, and he was heard to exclaim to a fellow-trooper who was raving about the ‘Devil’s Pass,’ one of the most beautiful sights on the picturesque journey between Umtali and Salisbury [present-day Harare], ‘You may keep your “— view” but give me Hampstead!’ I have seen Hardwick clambering over a stockade far ahead of anyone else, and then with a captured Mashona gun much older than himself, return dirty and glorious to dream of fleeing Mashonas, in his service blanket under the starry canopy. A great lad was Hardwick.


The Devil’s Pass, from H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (1898)


Hardwick was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded a medal and a bar for his part in the campaign.

He then worked on the railway being built to link Beira with Salisbury, before finding his way to Egypt, where he worked on the Nile boats and befriended an engineer in the irrigation department of the Egyptian government, George Henry West.


George Henry West

In late 1899 Hardwick and West left Cairo intending to travel to Uganda via Zanzibar and Mombasa in the hope of finding engineering work. Having got as far as Nairobi, in June 1900 they set out with someone whom Hardwick’s subsequent memoir refers to only as ‘El Hakim’ (’The Doctor’) – ‘said to be one of the most daring and resolute, and at the same time one of the most unassuming Englishmen in the Protectorate; a dead shot, and a charming companion’ – on a five-month expedition in search of ivory and if possible to investigate a supposed great lake called Lorian into which the river Waso Nyiro discharged itself, but which a previous explorer had found to be only a swamp.

During the expedition, as Hardwick recounted in his memoir, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia, they arrived at a place they christened the Green Camp, about 3,500 feet above sea level. There

we felt that we should be content to remain where we were for an indefinite period. Game was more than plentiful, the climate was glorious, and we were free as the pure air we breathed. Only those who have been placed in similar circumstances can appreciate the full value of that word ‘free.’ We did precisely what seemed good to us in our own eyes. We rose early, bathed in the warm spring, ate our breakfast, and then went shooting, or, if disinclined for that, we sat in a folding-chair in the shade of the trees and read, or mended our clothes, ever and anon raising our eyes to watch the herds of game walking steadily past our camp on their way down to the river to drink. In time we got to know the various herds, and even to recognize individual members of the same herd … It was a perfectly Arcadian existence, which we left with very real regret when the exigences of travel compelled us once more to resume our weary march over the sun-scorched desert country down-river.


The Green Camp


However, their appreciation of the wildlife seemed to have deserted them when they later arrived at a place where

Opposite us the cliffs of red gneiss rose to a height of over 300 feet. The face of the cliff was inhabited by thousands of monkeys and baboons, who chattered excitedly over our arrival, an excitement which was not allayed by a bullet I sent through a group of them, which flattened itself against the cliff wall with a sharp smack. They at once scattered to various places of safety behind the rocks, and from thence made rude remarks in monkey language.

Rhinoceroses could be ‘disgustingly frequent’, sometimes being hunted for food and sometimes taking against intruders into their territory:

I remember one rhinoceros which amused us very much. We were making our way across a belt of bush which somehow managed to draw sustenance from the sand, when the familiar but subdued shout of ‘Faru’ caused us to glance hurriedly round. Facing us ten yards away a large rhinoceros was stamping and snorting. In a few seconds he made up his mind to investigate, and charged down upon us. Something impelled George to place his fingers in his mouth and send forth a shrill ear-piercing whistle. The charging rhinoceros stopped suddenly in mid-career, so suddenly, indeed, that he almost sat on his hind quarters. Such a look of porcine surprise came over its ugly features that we involuntarily burst out into a roar of laughter, which apparently completed the ungainly brute’s discomfiture, as it turned and galloped away with every symptom of fear.

They enjoyed a friendly and trusting relationship with the chief of the M’thara tribe, ‘an old man named N’Dominuki. In his youth he had a great reputation as a warrior, and was commonly credited with the slaughter at various times of thirty-five men with his own spear.’ On one occasion

N’Dominuki came into camp with a chief named ‘Karama,’ who wished to make ‘muma,’ or blood-brotherhood, with me, to which I consented. It was rather a long affair. They brought a sheep with them, which was killed, and the liver cut out and toasted. Karama and I then squatted on the ground facing each other, while our men on the one side, and Karama’s friends on the other, formed a circle round us. A spear and a rifle were then crossed over our heads, and N’Dominuki, as master of the ceremonies, then took a knife and sharpened it alternately on the spear-blade and the gun-barrel, reciting the oath of ‘muma’ meanwhile. It was a long, rambling kind of oath … with divers pains and penalties attached, which came into operation in the event of either or both the blood-brothers breaking the said oath. At the conclusion of N’Dominuki’s speech the assembled spectators shouted the words ‘Orioi muma’ three times. Three incisions were then made in my chest, just deep enough to allow the blood to flow, and a similar operation was performed on Karama. N’Dominuki then ordered the toasted sheep’s liver to be brought, which, on its arrival, was cut into small pieces, and a piece handed to both Karama and me. A further recitation of the penalties of breaking the oath was made by N’Dominuki, and again the spectators shouted ‘Orioi muma.’ Karama and I then dipped our pieces of liver in our own blood, and amid breathless silence exchanged pieces and devoured them. This was repeated three times to the accompaniment of renewed shouts from the spectators. The remainder of the liver was then handed round to the witnesses, who ate it, and the ceremony was concluded, it only remaining for me to make my new blood-brother a present.

But relations with the tribespeople were not always so cordial, and after Hardwick and his companions had forcibly repossessed some trade goods stored in the village of Munithu they found themselves pursued by angry villagers. They reached a ravine, at the bottom of which was a small stream, with the edge of a thick forest opposite.

While George superintended the crossing of the men and animals, I and my two men squatted down in the bush at a turn in the path, about a hundred yards in the rear, and prepared a surprise for the enemy. They were howling in a most unmelodious key, and between the howls they informed us that they were coming to kill us, a piece of news which seemed to me to be quite superfluous under the circumstances … Our men in their turn inquired why, if they were coming to kill us, did they not come and carry out their intention? It appears that these exchanges of repartee are part of the ceremonial of A’kikuyu warfare, though at the time it seemed to me to be very childish. The enemy then shouted, ‘Resarse kutire mwaka,’ literally, ‘Your bullets have no fire; ‘meaning to say that they did not hurt – evidently Bei-Munithu’s [their chief’s] teaching. They were asked to ‘come and see,’ an invitation they accepted … and they were within twenty yards when I opened fire. Two of them were put out of action at the first discharge, and the others retreated in disorder, having learnt a wholesome lesson.

As for Lorian, having arrived at its supposed site the expedition found that

Not a sign of the swamp could be seen! The river, scarcely half a dozen yards in width, meandered eastwards, flowing smoothly and sluggishly between its low banks. On every side stretched the silent plains, in some places perfectly bare, and in others covered by patches of dried reeds, while a few solitary thorny acacias stood like ragged sentinels amid the general desolation.

Lorian had vanished!

Hardwick came to the conclusion that

In very wet seasons, or after a series of wet seasons, the Waso Nyiro overflows its banks and covers a portion of the Kirrimar Plain, forming a vast swamp, or more probably a chain of swamps, to which the name of Lorian has been given by the natives … After a long drought, by which the supply of water brought down by the Waso Nyiro would be materially curtailed, these swamps dry up, those lying up-stream, owing to their higher level, naturally drying up first, and consequently the western edge of the swamp, or swamps, called Lorian, would gradually recede more and more to the eastward as the drought increased. At the time of our visit in September, 1900, there had been no rain in Samburuland for three years … and it is therefore quite reasonable to suppose that Lorian, for the reasons enumerated, had receded many miles to the eastward of the point at which Mr. Chanler [the previous explorer] turned back, having satisfied himself that Lorian was merely a swamp and not a lake as he had supposed. It is quite possible that the swamp seen by Mr. Chanler may not have been Lorian at all, but may have been only one of the chain of swamps to the west of it and higher up the river, and which had dried up prior to our visit.

In December 1902 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his report on Lorian. In October 1904 he was reporting on the prospects for ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’ for the African World:

The Ankobra is an ideal river for dredging purposes … The results, so far, have absolutely proved that gold in large quantities can be fairly easily recovered from both the Offin and Ankobra Rivers, and companies holding concessions on those rivers are to be congratulated upon their prospects. Neither the Offin nor the Ankobra Rivers will be worked out in this – and probably not in the next – generation. There is enough work to be done to fully employ 100 or more dredges on each river, and when it is realised that the return from a large dredge is equal to that from a 300-stamp mill, it is easily seen that, as a sound, payable proposition, dredging takes a high place.

Back in London, in January 1906 he married Adeline Kate Dorington, a pawnbroker’s daughter. They were to have three children.

In July 1908 he was interviewed by Central News as the London representative of the war correspondent and former soldier and barrister Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, who was prominent in a group of Englishmen who, in the hope of subsequently receiving ‘concessions regarding mineral rights and exploration and development generally, including the building of railways’, were supporting attempts by Mulai Hafid to depose his half-brother Abdul Aziz as sultan of Morocco. Later that year, with Mulai Hafid now in power, the journalist Lawrence Harris was sent to Fez to interview and sketch the new sultan for The Graphic. As he described in his book With Mulai Hafid at Fez, on arriving in Tangier he found that

Now, in the hotel there sat opposite me at table a quiet, mild-looking, blue-eyed Englishman. Amongst the cosmopolitan crowd who thronged the dining-room he was specially noticeable, for he seldom spoke to any one. During the first three days, beyond a brief ‘Good morning,’ we exchanged but few words. I gathered, however, that he intended going to Fez. I at once made direct inquiries in the right quarter and found that my vis-à-vis, for all his lamb-like appearance, was just such a man as I should wish to accompany me. An ex-member of the South African Police, he had seen service in the native wars in Rhodesia. As a big-game hunter and trader in ivory he had written a successful book on sport and travel in East Africa. He was, in fact, a wanderer of many years’ experience in most of the wilder parts of Africa. I approached him with a view to his accompanying me on my trip to Fez. He agreed at once. Thus began my acquaintance with Mr. A. Arkell-Hardwick. His knowledge of transport and camp equipment was invaluable. A good rider and an excellent shot, he proved throughout the expedition an ideal travelling-companion.


Lawrence Harris in Moroccan dress

As they made their way to Fez, wearing djellabas and with ‘heads shaved and beards trimmed in Moorish fashion’ to avoid unwelcome attention, Harris and Hardwick witnessed the brutality of the sultan’s regime. As quoted by Harris, Hardwick had a low opinion of the Moroccans: ‘You cannot get them to like us, however well you treat them. Educate them, and you fondly imagine they will be grateful for showing them the advantages of civilization and their years of degradation; but nevertheless, they hate us, and – well, after all, why bother? … The east is east and the west is west, and never the twain shall meet!’


Punishment for giving false weights at Fez: ‘From a wooden gibbet fixed in the wall, a man was hanging by one wrist, his toes just reached the ground. A crowd jeered around him, and gamins pelted him;, with stones and refuse. The agony depicted on the face of the sufferer was horrible to see. We reined in our horses and gazed with horror at the scene … Hardwick nervously fumbled with the butt of his revolver, and it was hard to have to ride by indifferently … It appears that a merchant had been accused of giving false weight. He had been seized and carried to the place of punishment, and from sunset to sunrise he would hang as we had seen him. He would then be cut down and his senseless body carried home by his friends. It was the usual method of punishment for giving false weights.’


The purpose of Hardwick’s trip to Fez is not clear, but on 1 January 1909 he left Harris there and set off back to Tangier with a friend.

In March 1910 he was sailing to America on the SS Friesland, in whose manifest his last permanent residence is said to be Southampton and his destination Chicago, although he ended up working with George A. Spratt, a Pennsylvania-based inventor and associate of the Wright brothers, in his experiments in aviation. Back in London again, he joined the Handley Page aircraft company as a sales manager, and ‘In his work’, said Flight magazine, ‘he was very popular, for with his organizing abilities he had an unvarying good humour.’

In May 1912 he was quoted on Handley Page’s having bought all the assets of the failed Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd, in advance of a proposed auction, in order to avoid a loss of confidence in the British aircraft industry. He complained that ‘Money does not flow into the aeroplane industry here as it does in France or Germany, largely because, with a few notable exceptions, the ordinary member of Parliament has not yet recognised the absolute necessity of a thriving British aeroplane industry to provide war material.’ He seems also to have made some input into design matters, and in the previous month it had been announced that he would be speaking on ‘Breaking Stresses’ as part of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’s 1912–13 lecture series.

One of the machines to whose design he apparently contributed was the two-seater Handley Page Type-F monoplane, and both his father and one of his sisters had been given joyrides in this before, at about 11.50 a.m. on 15 December 1912 in a gusting south-westerly wind, it set out from Hendon Aerodrome in north London with the very experienced Lieutenant William Parke of the Royal Navy as the pilot and Hardwick in the passenger seat, intending to fly to Oxford.


The Handley Page monoplane in which Hardwick was killed


The plane’s engine – a 70-h.p. Gnome – was not running well at take-off, and the plane had difficulty in leaving the ground and climbing. It continued to fly weakly, and appeared to be turning around to return to Hendon when, having just cleared a belt of trees on a ridge alongside Wembley Golf Club, it dived head first into the ground near the sixteenth hole of the course. The aircraft was completely wrecked, and both Hardwick and Parke were killed almost instantly. It was later concluded that the accident had been due to the failing engine combined with the loss of speed on making a sharp turn, aggravated by wind disturbances caused by the trees and the ridge on which they grew.


The Handley Page monoplane in flight in November 1912


Hardwick was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 20 December. A detachment of the Legion of Frontiersmen, to which he had once belonged, accompanied the hearse, and as the procession entered the cemetery a monoplane sent by Handley Page appeared overhead and made a circuit of the cemetery before flying off in the direction of Hendon. Two trumpeters of the Royal Horse Guards (one of them a brother of his), who had also accompanied the hearse, sounded the Last Post as his coffin was lowered into the grave.


Hardwick’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery



• A. Arkell-Hardwick, ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’, African World, 1 October 1904, quoted in C. C. Longridge, Gold Dredging (London: Mining Journal, 1908)
——, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia: The Record of an Expedition through Kikuyu to Galla-Land in East Equatorial Africa, with an Account of the Rendili and Burkeneji Tribes (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1903)
Daily News and Leader, 16 December 1912 (‘Two More Air Victims’), 17 December 1912 (‘Sailor, Soldier and Airman: Remarkable Career of the Dead Aviator’)
Flight, 27 April 1912 (‘Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’), 26 October 1912 (‘The Handley Page Monoplane’), 30 November 1912 (‘The graceful Handley Page monoplane in flight at the London Aerodrome last week-end’), 21 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Fatality’), 28 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Disaster’), 11 January 1912 (‘Report on the Fatal Accident … on Sunday, 15th December, 1912 … ’)
Glasgow Herald, 24 July 1908 (‘British Support for Mulai Hafid’)
• Colin Harding, Far Bugles (London: Simpkin Marshall, 1933)
• Lawrence Harris, With Mulai Hafid at Fez: Behind the Scenes in Morocco (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1909)
New York Times, 16 December 1912 (‘Two British Airmen Dashed to Death’)
The Star, 16 December 1912 (‘Fell Fifty Feet: Eye Witnesses’s Graphic Story of the Wembley Disaster’)
• Edward I. Steinhart, Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006)
The Telegraph (Brisbane), 31 January 1913 (‘Aviation Accident: Aeroplane Falls Like Stone’)
• H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1898)
The Times, 11 February 1905 (‘Court Circular’), 16 December 1912 (’Aeroplane Accident at Wembley’), 19 December 1912 (’The Wembley Aeroplane Accident’), 21 December 1912 (‘Funeral: Mr A. A. Hardwicke [sic]’)
Times of India, 3 May 1912 (‘Aeroplanes Sold: Syndicate’s Auction Averted’)