Sunday, July 6, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Aloysius Smith (a.k.a. Trader Horn)

Aloysius Smith (Trader Horn) 1861-1931

Aloysius Smith was a true character: adventurer, hero, villain, and just about everything in between. Two movies were made about him, but they were probably heavily fictionalized and inaccurate. When I included him on my old website several years ago, a cousin of his--John Robert Smith of Preston, England--discovered my entry and sent me some information about him. Here is most of what he sent me.
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Trader was born in York Street, Preston, in 1861 and shortly after his birth the family moved to St. Ignatius' Square and it is here that Trader was brought up. Aloysius was the fourth child of Robert Smith and Sarah Broughton. He had 3 brothers (two of them, Thomas & John, became priests) and 5 sisters (one of them, Trinita becoming an abbess in the south of Ireland).

He was educated at St Edward's School, Liverpool. I presume he went here as he was probably following in his brothers' footsteps. Although his brothers joined the priesthood, the impact on Trader was not such as to follow them into the ministry, but rather his education was to stand him in good stead as to his ability to travel and stand on his own two feet.A great influence in his life were his grandfather John Smith (my great great grandfather) who hailed from Myerscough but who died at Raikes Farm, Lea--and his Uncle Edward (Miser Ned) who inherited Raikes Farm but built Raikes House nearby and died there. Ned is buried in a "common grave bought out" with no head stone in St Mary's RC churchyard at Lea, just down the road from Raikes House, as is grandfather John whose grave does have a headstone.

Young Aloysius spent time at the farm at Lea in the company of grandfather John (my grandfather Horn was always fond o' me. Aye, he always encouraged my notions about leaving school and going to sea) and an old family friend, Tommy Bamber, who was a ex-seafairer with a wooden leg. Aloysius sat many hours at the fireside listening to the old people talking of deeds past and adventures undertaken. He also spent time with uncle Ned, fishing and shooting and gaining knowledge of the countryside. It can only be surmised that young Aloysius preferred the adventure and country life to strict Catholic schooling, and for his rebellion he was expelled from St Edwards before he took his final examinations.

So he left St Edward's College, Liverpool in February 1878.

He first worked for Hatton & Cookson of 1-3 Mersey St, Liverpool and was assigned to Equatorial West Africa. So at the age of 17 years, Aloysius embarked upon his career of adventure and started his love affair with Africa. His first tour of duty was mainly undertaken in Gaboon (Gabon).

When Trader returned to England and his beloved Lea, it was with sadness that he discovered the empty chair by the fireside, for his granddad (John Smith) had died in January 1882 and he dearly wished he could have told the old man his tales of adventure and daringdo experienced in his own travels.

Aloysius headed for London and started a new career, in that he became a political correspondent, but he returned to Preston in June 1883, eloped and married his "under-age" wife, Amy Knowles, "his lass from Lancashire," at St George's RC Church, St George's Rd, London on 13th June 1883. Following their marriage, Trader for a time continued as a political correspondent and Marie their daughter was born 9 months later. He worked with George Bussy, to whom he referred often in his conversations with Etheldreda Lewis whilst writing his books in the later years of his life. Aloysius and his young wife and child then made a short trip to the USA but returned and in October 1884 when he joined the London police force, warrant number 69890 and later passed exams to become a detective.

He resigned from the police force on 16 April 1887 and set off for America for a second time and joined up with Buffalo Bill's (William Cody) Wild West Show. Trader's son William was born (circa 1886) and was in fact delivered by Mrs. Cody.

Buffalo Bill's Travelling Circus visited Preston on numerous occassions. "The last visit was in 1904 with a circus which stayed on Penwortham Holme. Cody died in 1917." (From Evening Post Supplement, October 29, 1997). One must wonder weither it was Trader's influence or involvement which led to these visits to Preston.

When Trader left the circus and went to live in Pittsburgh is not certain, but what was certain is that his still young wife had failing health. Amy came home several times to Meadow Street, Preston but eventually grieving for the loss of their 2 year old daughter, Annie, her health had the last say and she died on 28th November 1894 (aged 27) and is buried in an unmarked paupers grave in St Mary's churchyard in Pittsburgh. Just prior to her death, Robert (Trader's brother) went to the States to bring Marie and William home to Preston, no doubt due to Amy's inability to cope due to her sickness.

After Amy's death Aloysius spent sometime in Morocco and then it becomes vague as to exactly where he was and when. However he certainly visited Madagascar and spent considerable time in Africa. He certainly fought in the Boer War and he met Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia. He met up with Mrs. Ethelreda Lewis when he was in his mid 60's. He was in an impoverished state selling gridirons door to door, and living in a doss house in Johannesburg. Aloysius was near to death from malnutrition. I think he welcomed the attention of the Lewis family as life at his lodgings were pretty awful and a friendly fire, a dram of whisky and a square meal were an incentive to write and visit her on a weekly basis.

Trader Horn was the name given to Aloysius Smith to hide his identity and "protect the innocent." Also in the books, relationships have been changed and this makes it confusing to put together the members of the Smith family. We should also remember that the stories told by Trader were no doubt added to, and some were confused by his age and the age of the stories. Trader wrote three books: The Ivory Coast in the Earlies, Harold the Webbed and Waters of Africa. Although these books were written by Trader, Mrs Lewis put them in order and unbeknown to the old man she made copious notes during his visits of everything he said. Much of this is incorporated in the novels and for the genealogist is invaluable as it also tells the life story of Aloysius Smith.

Bearing in mind that his books started to be published in 1927, his fame and acclamation were short-lived in that he died only four years later in 1931. Whether the Old Traveller recognised that his days were numbered, he did return to England to join his daughter, Marie, at Whitstable. Father and daughter knew not of each other's whereabouts and it was only by publication of his books and the publicity that Marie even became aware that he was still alive.

However his return to his family did not slow the old villain down, as with money to spend he regularly went to London and did various tours around the country. On one of these trips to Cornwall his portrait was painted in St Ives by John A. Park and although it languished in the "Golden Lion" in St Ives for some time, it was later acquired and is still owned by the Preston Museum.

He went to America again to publicise his books and there was also a film made about his exploits. He did in fact see the film. I wonder how many people get the opportunity to see the story of their life on film. Normally such credits are reserved posthumously.

The film "TRADER HORN" was made by MGM starring Harry Carey, Edwina Booth and Duncan Renaldo and was released early in 1931 and became a blockbuster of its day. Many people in America flocked to it. When the film opened in Australia police had to be called in to control the crowds and quell riots by the film-goers. In Stockholm, Prince Carl of Sweden, Prince Axel of Denmark, the Crown Prince of Norway and the Crown Princess of Belgium all made sure that they were seen at the premiere. Crown Princess Astrid of Belgium requested a private showing of the film for herself and the Royal Family in Belgium. In India there was rioting in the crowds trying to get in to see the film and two Indians died from stab wounds and the police had to fire shots over the heads of the crowds to calm them.

Normal costs of an MGM production were $350,000, "Trader Horn" cost $3 million . By the end of 1931 the film had grossed $1.7 million. In the end the film just broke even.

In 1973 a second Trader Horn was made by MGM starring Rod Taylor, Anne Heywood and Jean Soel and was directed by Reza Badiyi. Whilst he used Lorreto, Joy Lane at Whitstable (Marie's home) as his base, with not infrequent visits to the local pubs, he eventually became ill and died on 26th June 1931 at St Helier Nursing Home in Tankerton and was buried in Millstrood Lane Cemetery, Whitstable.

In the past when asked to complete a biographical questionnaire as to the jobs held in his lifetime he replied: trader, entertainer, artist, auctioneer, bricklayer, fish-monger, pedler, furniture dealer, hunter, grave digger, detective, miner, sheriff, diamond prospector, light weight boxer, cotton picker, soldier, tobacco dealer, sailor (before the mast), soap merchant, clothier, optician, horse dealer, dental surgeon, horse stealer, quack doctor, cattle ranger, author, house decorator, monumental mason, street musician, circus trainer with Bill Cody, and to this he might also have added, traveller, story teller, hero, villain and history maker.

Also when asked which countries he had lived or travelled in he replied "Never lived in China or Russia." True or false, it shows the scope of his horizons which he encompassed in a mere 70 years which would require lesser mortals several lifetimes.

At his funeral a Zulu shield rested against the coffin and his beloved rifle and stetson lay on top. There were wreaths from the Savage Club, MGM and the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. His death was acknowledged in leading newspapers all over the world, from Canada to Australia, India to Tangayika, The Times, the Guardian, Abbeville Chronicle, Manchester Guardian, Simla Times, Devon & Exeter Gazette, London Morning Post, New York Times, Literary Digest, Daily Express, & the Catholic Times. The inscription on his grave stone is very apt. Whether it was Marie's creativity or a final wish of the old traveller, I know not.


"Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
and the hunter home from the hill."


1 comment:

  1. The "final comment" is, of course, a quote from R. L. Stevenson's poem, 'Requiem'. --Brer