Akeley Expedition to British East Africa (1909-1911)

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Exist Dates

1909 - 1911

Biographical or Historical Note

Expedition. Carl Akeley organized the Akeley Expedition to British East Africa (1909-1911) to collect large game, especially elephants, for the American Museum of Natural History and to photograph the flora, fauna and inhabitants of the region.

The Akeley Expedition to British East Africa (Kenya and Uganda) was led by Carl Akeley and his wife Delia to support the creation of the Hall of African Mammals. The party included John T. McCutcheon, a political cartoonist and war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, and Fred Stephenson a big game hunter from Minnesota. The AMNH expedition returned to the sites Akeley visited during his previous collecting trips for the Field Museum. In 1909, the expedition connected with Theodore Roosevelt's Smithsonian African Expedition to collect elephant specimens for the Museum. Both expeditions produced films and photographs that documented the region. The AMNH expedition almost ended abruptly in 1910 when Akeley was severely injured by a charging elephant bull, barely surviving the ordeal.

Chronology adapted from Penelope Bodry-Sanders book, African Obsession: the Life and Legacy of Carl Akeley.


    (1) American Museum of Natural History Annual Report #43 1911, p. 32.
    (2) American Museum Journal, IX, 6, Oct. 1909, p. 137; XII, 2, Feb. 1912, pp. 43-62.
    (3) African Obsession, The Life and Legacy of Carl Akeley by Penelope Bodry-Sanders, 1998.
    (4) Kingdom Under Glass A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals By Jay Kirk, 2010.
    (5) Europeans in East Africa website, http://www.europeansineastafrica.co.uk/
    (6) Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 06-093, Smithsonian African Expedition (1909-1910), Lantern Slides from the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition. https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_259453
    (7) Wikipedia, visited on March 5, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smithsonian%E2%80%93Roosevelt_African_Expedition
    (8) Dugmore, Arthur Radclyffe. “Camera Adventures in the African Wilds.” 1913.
    (9) Wikipedia, visited on March 8, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Radclyffe_Dugmore
    (10) American Museum Journal, XVI, 3, March 1916, p.154.
    (11) Clark, James L. “The Caves of Mt. Elgon.” Natural History 28, no. 2 (1928): 175-187.


  • August 31, 1909: The party departs Naples, Italy via SS Adolph Woermann, where they are introduced to Sir Percy Girouard, the new British East Africa governor, NaplesExternal link.
  • Mid-September 1909: Arrive in Mombasa, Sir Percy Girouard invites expedition party to travel by private rail to Nairobi, MombasaExternal link.
  • September 1909: In Nairobi the party reconnects with old acquaintances and purchases supplies for the journey. Spend five weeks on the Athi Plains for their first visit hunting antelope and lion, traveling toward the Tana River, NairobiExternal link.
  • October 1909: Spend two weeks hunting rhino and lion, in the Lower Tana River Valley, Delia Akeley captures a small monkey and names her J.T. Jr., Tana RiverExternal link.
  • October 1909: Hunting for elephants in Mt. Kenya, KirinyagaExternal link.
  • Early November 1909: Left Londoniani to meet up with Theodore Roosevelt and the Smithsonian African Expedition (1909-1910) for 3 days of hunting elephants for the AMNH on the newly opened Uasin Gishu Plateau, Uasin GishuExternal link.
  • November 1909 - December 1909: James L. Clark joins the expedition to help with the Roosevelt hunt and stays on to hunt elephants with the group for the museum, at one-point visiting the Luhya people living around and in caves of Mt. Elgon. On Christmas Eve Fred Stephenson and John McCutcheon collect two elephant bulls, Elgon, MountExternal link.
  • Early 1910: John and Fred leave the expedition, Carl and Delia continue to Uganda to hunt elephants for months. Both becoming ill, UgandaExternal link.
  • Spring 1910: To recover, they visit the Uasin Gishu Plateau again. Carl films Nandi lion hunts and is frustrated by the limitations of the movie camera he is using and inspired to create a better field camera , Uasin GishuExternal link.
  • Early May 1910: Travel to Mt. Kenya to hunt elephant, KirinyagaExternal link.
  • June 24, 1910: While on Mt. Kenya Carl is attacked by a bull elephant, KirinyagaExternal link.
  • July 1910 - September 1910: Carl spends 3 months recovering and attempting to hunt on Mt. Kenya. Eventually they moved on to Nairobi by way of the Trans-Tana River. Delia puts Carl into a Nairobi hospital where he shares a room with his friend Leslie Tarlton, eventually moves to Tarlton’s home for recovery. During this time Akeley’s idea for the AMNH African Hall is solidified
  • Mid-October 1910: Move on to Uganda to hunt elephants., UgandaExternal link.
  • December 1910: Carl and Delia spend Christmas with the Tegerts, missionary friends living in Masindi. They continue elephant hunting eventually collecting one last elephant, MasindiExternal link.
  • 1911: Travel home to New York City, host Manhattan Banquet for their return around Thanksgiving, New YorkExternal link.



Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

Akeley, Carl E. (1864-1926)
associated dates: 1909-1910

Leader of the expedition.
Akeley, Delia (1875-1970)
associated dates: 1909-1910

Wife of Carl and tireless expedition team member who hunted elephants and other animals with Carl and cared for him after the elephant mauling in June 1910. During this expedition Delia catches and keeps a small monkey who she names J.T. Jr. and will continue to keep the monkey as a pet and companion for the next 9 years. (3, p.120)
Clark, James Lippitt (1867-1956)
In 1908, Clark temporarily resigned from his position at the museum to undertake an expedition to Africa with photographer A. Radclyffe Dugmore. After parting with Dugmore, Clark met up with Akeley on his British East Africa Expedition to support work with the elephants collected by Theodore Roosevelt for the Hall of African Mammals (3, p.136) (11)
East African Elephant Group (Diorama)
Elephants collected on the expedition displayed in the diorama in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.
Mbiru, Gikungu "Bill" (1896-19?)
associated dates: 1909-1910

Referred to as "Bill" by Europeans, joined the Akeley's 1905 expedition as a 9-year-old Kikuyu boy and continued to work for their expeditions in Africa over the following 20 years. (3, p.87) (4)
McCutcheon, John T. (John Tinney), 1870-1949
associated dates: 1909-1910

Expedition member, Political Cartoonist and war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.
Smithsonian African Expedition (1909-1910)
The Smithsonian–Roosevelt African Expedition was an expedition to Africa led by American president Theodore Roosevelt and outfitted by the Smithsonian Institution. Its purpose was to collect specimens for the Smithsonian's new natural history museum, and other museums including the American Museum of Natural History. The group was led by well-known hunter-tracker R. J. Cunninghame. Participants on the expedition included Australian sharpshooter Leslie Tarlton; three American naturalists, Edgar Alexander Mearns, a retired U.S. Army surgeon; Stanford University taxidermist Edmund Heller, and mammalogist John Alden Loring; and Roosevelt's son Kermit who was the official photographer of the expedition (7). The party left New York on March 23, 1909 and sailed for British East Africa, arriving on April 21. From there, the expedition traveled by the Uganda Railway to Kapiti Plains where their safari awaited them. The party followed a route that took them to Nairobi, the vicinity of Mt. Kenja, the Loita Plains, Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and up the Nile to Khartoum. The expedition broke up there on March 14, 1910. (6) The party was joined by the Akeley Expedition at Uasin Gishu, Kenya, in November of 1909 for three days in order to collect elephants for the American Museum of Natural History. (3, p.106, 127)
Stephenson, Fred
associated dates: 1909-1910

Expedition member, a big game hunter from Minnesota. (3, p.111)
Tarlton, Leslie (1877-1951)
associated dates: 1909-1910

Partner of Newland and Tarlton Company, one of the most successful safari outfitters of the time. Akeley became friends with Tarlton while hiring him for his earlier 1905 trip and begins a lifetime friendship with him. During this trip he works with Leslie while hunting with Theodore Roosevelt and later shares a room with him in a Nairobi hospital while recovering from an elephant mauling and general poor health. Delia and he eventually go to stay with the Tarleton's to further recover. (3, pg.87, pg. 135)
Tegart, Hugh Wilson (Rev.) (1867-1956)
Tegart and his wife Ester Mary Constance Tiddy were missionaries in Masindi, Uganda. The Akeleys stay with the Tegarts on multiple occasions to enjoy company and regain their health. (3, p.136) (5)

Related Resources

Akeley British South Africa Expedition Photographs, (1909-1911)
associated dates: 1909-1911

Creator: Carl Akeley and Delia Akeley Extent: approximately 300 photographs Repository: AMNH Special Collections
Mary Jobe Akeley Collection
associated dates: 1859-1940

Creator: Carl Akeley and Mary Jobe Akeley Description: Papers, correspondence, photographs and journals. Extent: 11.25 linear feet (25 boxes) Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .A342-.A344

Written by: Rebecca Morgan
Last modified: 2021 May 12


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