If a sportsman true you’d be, listen carefully to me…
Matt Limb OBE looks at gun safety as the shooting season gets underway – and why a poem on the subject, first printed more than a century ago, is still valid today.
With the nights drawing in, the shooting season is now underway, with the traditional pheasant season in full swing. I have often been told that pheasants are not ready until they are in full colour, with good long tail feathers – and that does not happen until they have had a respectable frost on them.
In the coming weeks the old and seasoned Gun will hope to beat his own record for that high and soaring bird, or even better, a lifelong memorable left and right – or should that be an ‘over and under’ in this day of modern game shooting? Personally, I think I prefer the tradition of a left and right.
But whatever your thoughts on tradition, every Gun must above all remember, at all times, gun safety and safe gun handling. We live in a country with some of the strictest regulations when it comes to firearms, their purchase, storage and use along with their respective cartridges or ammunition. Thankfully accidents are very rare, but one is one too many.
I remember growing up and being lectured about safe gun handling, but I also remember a piece of poetry I first came across as a young boy. It was written by a father and given to his son. Despite being written over 120 years ago, the advice it contains is as relevant today as it was at the end of the Victorian era. The poem, ‘A Father’s Advice’, has over the years become much quoted in connection with gun and shooting safety.
It was written by Mark Hanbury Beaufoy, who came from a strong military family. His own father served in the Royal Navy and his father before him was Colonel Beaufoy, best known as an astronomer and mountaineer. Colonel Beaufoy was involved in the fourth ascent of Mont Blanc in the Alps and was commissioned into the Hackney Volunteer Company in 1794.
Mark Beaufoy was born in 1854 in south London, then educated at Eton followed by Trinity Hall, Cambridge. It was here that his sporting abilities were first identified on the football field. After university he played for Old Etonians Football Club participating in the 1879 FA Cup Final, which was played at the Oval in Kennington, when they beat Clapham Rovers by a goal to nil.
Alongside Mark Beaufoy in the Old Etonians team that afternoon was Edgar Lubbock, who went on to be director of Whitbread Brewery and the Bank of England. After he was married in 1886, he lived in Grantham before moving with his family to Caythorpe Court, which had been designed for him by Sir Reginald Bloomfield. Caythorpe Court, today a Grade II listed building, was built as a hunting lodge with stables for 50 horses.
Edgar became Master of the Blankney Hunt in 1904. Given his popularity in the county he was appointed High Sheriff in 1907, but his tenure was short-lived: he died suddenly in September of that year aged just 60, his funeral taking place at St Vincent’s Church, Caythorpe.
Mark Beaufoy did not follow the family tradition of military service, but entered the family business of vinegar manufacturing. The business, which was established by his grandfather, had a factory on the site of what is now Waterloo Bridge (later moving to Lambeth).
Mark Beaufoy started shooting when he was 20 years of age, with his own shoot in Wiltshire. He married Mildred Tait in 1884 and they had a daughter, Margaret, and three sons, Henry, George and Robert. The youngest, Robert, served in the First World War where he lost an arm, but followed his father as a keen game-shooter and became well known as a one-armed shot. George, the middle son, tailed his father into the business but was tragically killed in May 1941, when a bomb was dropped on the vinegar factory during one of Germany’s last raids of the London Blitz. George was also the last of the family to manage the business.
As well as being a successful businessman, Mark Beaufoy served as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Kennington, High Sheriff of Wiltshire and a Justice of the Peace. But it was because of his great love of dogs, having kept both bloodhounds and mastiffs, that he became chairman of the Kennel Club in 1920 until his death aged 68 in 1922.
But despite a full and exciting life Mark Beaufoy is best known for his poem, ‘A Father’s Advice’, which was written in the late autumn of 1902 when he was aged 48. It was given to his eldest son, 15-year-old Henry, together with his first shotgun, a 28-bore, for Christmas that year.
From that Christmas with the memorable gift, Henry became a life-long sportsman and would later live in Oxfordshire and become High Sheriff of the county during World War Two.
Additionally, copies of the poem were printed and given to friends; very soon ‘A Father’s Advice’ became well known in the shooting world, and it is still quoted today. Over the years the verses of the poem have appeared in shooting publications, and gunmakers have been known to send a copy out with their cartridges.
Several times people have claimed they wrote the poem, one has attributed it to an officer killed in the Boer War. Credit has also been given to the Reverend JL Brown in Eastbourne, who replied to say that it was not his poem.
added ‘Perhaps they have not been wholly useless – if so, I am amply rewarded.’
The common-sense rules of game shooting are included in his poem, and I know of young men not being allowed to shoot until they could recite it from memory. The poem also captures the true spirit of game shooting; always thinking about others and their safety, above your own pleasure and enjoyment.
For that the shooting world today, over a hundred years after his death, owe a lot to Mark Hanbury Beaufoy.
Left is Mark Hanbury Beaufoy’s famous poem, ‘A Father’s Advice’.