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B&C Member Spotlight - Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore

By PJ DelHomme 

At 22, Arthur Dugmore arrived in New York City with 55 cents in his pocket. From there, he conned his way into a good job and found a calling—producing some of the best wildlife photographs the world had ever seen. 


Before he was 20, Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore sailed a schooner across the Atlantic, fought off pirates in the Mediterranean, and escaped a revolution in Honduras, which his father was accused of instigating. As a war correspondent and photographer during World War I, he was arrested on charges of espionage and released three times in three days by three different countries—all of whom thought he was a spy. While cheating death, this Boone and Crockett Club professional member wrote 16 books and revolutionized wildlife photography. And perhaps the strangest twist? He was adamantly against hunting.

A Wild Youth

Born in 1870, a young Arthur Dugmore grew up in an Irish castle where his father was serving as a British army officer. A hard man, the elder Dugmore’s discipline included caning his rambunctious children. When Arthur was 11, his father resigned from the army, and the family bought a 78-foot schooner, hoping to escape taxes and rent. They took to the high seas, where they encountered pirates in the Mediterranean. Once, irritable seas washed the captain overboard. Clinging to a rope, the captain was washed back aboard.

The family explored exotic coastlines, and Dugmore and his father found adventure at every turn. The Dugmores hunted African plover in Morocco and lions in Algeria. They dined with Arabian chieftains and wandered bustling markets filled with strange animals and edibles. At a very early age, Dugmore would wake quietly at dawn and try not to wake his father. He would sit for hours sketching the coastline while anchored in a calm harbor. He studied art in Naples.

When he was just 19, Arthur was commanded by his father to captain the schooner, find the trade winds, and navigate across the Atlantic to the U.S. His father had received a tip about land in Florida on which he hoped to make a fortune in oranges. The farmland turned out to be nothing more than a swamp.

While en route to Florida, they made landfall in the Caribbean. There, his father was imprisoned during a revolution in Honduras. He was showing off his prized gun collection to local officials who accused him of running guns for the rebels. Arthur moved heaven and earth to get him released.

This worm-eating warbler was a wild bird which Mr. Dugmore got so used to his presence that she would bring her young food while on his hand. At the proper moment the bulb of the rubber tube running to the camera was pressed with the left hand.

A Budding Photographer

In Florida, Arthur met and befriended an ornery ornithologist who paid him to collect bird specimens in the mosquito and snake-laden swamps. He slept among the creepy crawlies, loving all of it. He traveled to Jamaica to collect more specimens, exploring caves and the darkest recesses of the jungle.

Arthur’s father torpedoed hopes of being on his own, and eventually, the young man mustered enough nerve to strike out by boat and foot for New York City. In all his adventures worldwide, New York proved entirely foreign. “I have met perils in many parts of the world, but never have I faced death with the terror I felt that morning in May 1892, when I set out for New York City with fifty-five cents in my pocket,” he told biographer Lowell Thomas in his book Rolling Stone. “I was untrained for any task, I did not know the city, and I despaired of finding work that would keep me from starving.”

Dugmore was more than resourceful, whether sailing at sea or in a sea of concrete. He applied for a job as a mechanical draftsman with the Empire City Subway and convinced them he had skills. Once he had the job, he read everything he could about drafting. He excelled at his profession, making enough money to buy photography equipment and lease a studio. He made friends with heavy-hitters in publishing, which was seeing a boom in nature photography and books. Publishers hired him to travel to places like Virginia to stalk and photograph mockingbirds. They sent him to Canada for photos of beavers. When he took photos of salmon fishermen in Newfoundland, they were so good that some accused him of faking the photographs. He was the only photographer to catch a photo of Orville Wright’s long, 55-minute flight.


"I went out ready to face agony, wounds, death. And I was given one of the most interesting experiences of my whole life; and I may look like Robinson Crusoe, and those old Reflect cameras of 1908 were as big as a Brighton bungalow and as clumsy as a rhinoceros skipping rope, but we got some good pictures all the same.”

Dugmore photographed the first long flight ever made by a man, the 55-minute flight of Orville Wright in 1908.

Pictures of Africa and War

Arthur Dugmore (left) and James Clark (right) are dressed in their finest as they travel across the Atlantic by steamship in 1908 to film and photograph African wildlife.

When his studio began doing well, he borrowed $4,000 and some camera equipment to realize his dream of documenting wildlife in Africa. Fellow Club member James Clark asked to come along, to which Dugmore agreed. On that trip, Clark and Dugmore experienced Africa in the raw and captured it on film. Along with their Masai guide, they snuck in on a sleeping rhino. With Clark standing guard with a double-barreled .450, Dugmore shouted to wake up the beast for a photo. The rhino charged, and Clark’s warning shot did nothing. The rhino went straight for the guide, who jumped laterally at the last moment. At night, the Clark and Dugmore huddled in a tiny hut near bait, hoping lions would trip camera traps nearby.

Once, while photographing elephants in Africa, he was spotted by a female elephant. Dugmore described her alarm signal to the other elephants as “the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.” The herd then formed a semicircle and proceeded to close in on him. He was alone and had a gun, which he admitted was useless against ten beasts. He hid under a bush and wished for the best. He was flat on the ground when the lead cow stopped just in front of the bush where he was hiding. The herd hadn’t seen him sneak into it. His only weapon was silence, but he desperately had to cough. He had been gassed during World War I and was prone to coughing fits. The elephant stood one step away from making him toe jam for 15 minutes. She took a step backward and left.

In Thomas’s biography, Dugmore made it clear that he was not a fan of big game hunting. To Dugmore, an animal should only be killed in self-defense. During his travels, he met Theodore Roosevelt and even threatened to publish images of Roosevelt’s dead buffalo that he wounded but did not find. “The truth is that I had little sympathy with the big-game hunter, though I liked and admired the man.” In the end, Dugmore turned the negatives over to Roosevelt.

Dugmore returned from Africa to his wife, three kids, and mounting debt. He traveled, lectured about his adventures, and realized a hard truth about adulting. In a rather sobering passage, he found marriage, parenting, and subsequent responsibilities the biggest challenge. “I often think that the men who have no families, no responsibilities, the men who do nothing but wander around this globe from dramatic peril on the seas, in jungles, on mountains, or in wars, are really missing the profoundly thrilling adventures. My own life has had its share of both kinds of adventuring, and that is my opinion. If I had to choose only one kind or the other, for sheer excitement and for real rewards, I would take the life that is usually called humdrum; the life of a man who marries and takes care of a family.”

When World War I erupted, Dugmore was 44 and too old to fight. Instead, he stalked Germans with a camera. One morning near the Belgian town of Ghent, Dugmore and an American journalist sauntered their way behind German lines, where they were detained. The arresting officer was an Oxford man who spoke perfect English. Dugmore had the men pose for photos, and the officer wrote his name and address in Dugmore’s passport. He wanted a copy of the photos. The men were released. When Dugmore crossed back into Belgian lines, the Belgians arrested him, accusing him of being a spy. After a few days in a small town jail, Dugmore was released. Apparently, he was friends with the chief of police. On his way back to the English lines, he was arrested for spying by the British army and then released for a third time. He and the officer in charge were classmates when they were eight. Unfortunately, Dugmore’s luck didn’t last.

As the war raged, the British army raised the enlistment age, and Dugmore was commissioned a lieutenant. He went directly to the Somme on the Front. A general learned he was good at stalking wildlife with a camera and told him to train scouts to stalk Germans. He used his own stealth skills to crawl into No Man’s Land and sketch detailed maps of German trenches and positions. On one mission, a shell of phosgene gas—a heavy gas that fills trenches and lungs—landed near him. “I was burning up, every atom of my body burning with the pain that flesh feels in a fire.” He was down for months and no longer fit to fight. He slept in a tent in his backyard to help heal his lungs. When he could stand, he was asked to go to the U.S. to lecture on the war, hoping to drum up support.

When he returned to England from America, he was broken—physically and financially. He felt like a failure and hated to watch his family struggle. Visions of his childhood replayed in his head. In time, he was commissioned to return to Africa and make films. When he returned home from that trip, he could not find a buyer for the films. Admittedly, he felt he had hit rock bottom, and the only place to go was up. Then he met Captain John Noel, who made a film about the Mount Everest expedition. Dugmore partnered with Noel to market his film as part of a nature and travel adventure package. It worked. For 11 weeks, Dugmore’s film played to a packed house three times every day at the Polytechnic Theater in London. The film's success breathed new life into Dugmore—physically and financially. Smitten with his images, the British government hired Dugmore to travel to Sudan to document its wildlife.

Dugmore the Enigma

Dugmore was busy writing about his adventures and expertise when he wasn't taking photos or making films. He wrote instant classics like The Romance of the Beaver: Being the History of the Beaver in the Western Hemisphere and followed it with Adventures in Beaver Camp. He was intrigued at the beaver’s engineering. In all, he published 16 books, most of them featuring his photographs and observations on natural history.

Even though he grew up hunting, he never made the connection between sportsmen and hunting. Some have speculated that the disdain he felt for his father was projected in his antihunting attitude. The world will likely never know. His last book, The Autobiography of a Wanderer, was published in 1930, and it’s a rare find. For 25 years after that, little is known of Dugmore’s life. Then again, I’d wager the man lived more in his first 20 years than most of us live in a lifetime.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt