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In 1926 a frail old man from a doss house in Johannesburg turned up on the veranda of novelist Ethelreda Lewis, hawking gridirons and toasting forks. They fell into conversation and his reminiscences about Equatorial Africa in the 1870s so captivated her that she decided to write them down. The resulting book, Trader Horn, became an international bestseller in 1927. It did not take long before the veracity of Lewis’ tale was called into question by many who believed the work to be fiction. The 1931 Hollywood film of the book did little to convince the sceptics.
In Tramp Royal, Tim Couzens picks up the fading trail of the real Trader Horn and follows it from Lancashire in the 1860s, through the frontiers of Africa, to the Anglo-Boer War and Johannesburg. This is the tale of an unquenchable free spirit forever in search of adventure, and Couzens tells it with verve and enjoyment entirely appropriate to the larger-than life character he celebrates.