I am presently reading a book about Scots plant collectors. It is interesting not just because it is a record of the arrival in Britain of most of our garden plants but, as they go about their business, they try to avoid the warfare and the political situation of the day. Masson, for example, was twice captured by what he called French privateers. He died in 1805.
What I want to share with you are two accounts of an incident that happened while Masson was in South Africa. He had paired up with a Swedish botanist named Thunberg, a follower of Linnaeus.
This is Thunberg's account. 'I who was the most courageous of any of the company, and in the course of the journey, was constantly obliged to go on before and head them, now also, without a moment's consideration, rode plump [sic] into the river, till, in a moment, I sunk with my horse into a large and deep sea horse [hippo] hole, up to my ears. This would undoubtedly have proved my grave, if my horse had not been able to swim; and I, who have always had the fortune to possess myself in the greatest dangers, had not, with the greatest calmness and composure, guided the animal (which foundered about violently in the water) and kept myself fast in the saddle, although constantly lifted up by the stream.'
Now, hear Masson's report. 'The doctor imprudently took the ford without the least inquiry; when on a sudden, he and his horse plunged over head and ears into a pit, that had been made by the Hippopotamus amphibius which formerly inhabited these rivers. The pit was very deep, and steep on all sides, which made my companion's fate uncertain for a few minutes: but after several strong exertions, the horse gained the opposite side with his rider.'
They view the incident from a wholly different perspective. But, an incident undoubtedly occurred!