Thomas John Spooner (Junior)

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Thomas John Spooner (Junior) born 1862, died 1937

Son of Thomas John Spooner (Senior) who was brother of Charles Easton Spooner.

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo is a book written by a railway engineer, Col John Henry Patterson, who worked on the building of the main line of the Uganda Railway from Mombasa through Kenya [1]. In 1898 he was in charge of construction of a length of line and the bridge over the Tsavo River, 132 miles from the coast. In his preface he records his thanks to Mr T J Spooner. The book includes interesting details of the building of the railway as well as accounts of how he hunts the lions which are devouring his Indian labourers. It is considered a colonial classic. It is still in print and easily available. In chapter 23, Patterson, by now on the Athi plains, sets off from his camp with a Masai who has offered to lead him to two lions. He has left word at the camp for his friend T J Spooner the District Engineer, but he hopes to get back to the camp by nightfall.

He shoots a lion but is almost benighted before getting back to camp. He has almost lost his bearings when he hears a rifle shot which he guesses has been shot by Spooner to guide him in. Patterson gives a reply shot and successfully meets up with Spooner who with some work men has set off in the direction in which Patterson had left the camp to look for him. Spooner is delighted to find him safe and sound and with a lion’s skin trophy.

That night after dinner Patterson gets Spooner’s enthusiasm up by telling him of two lions which had watched them skinning the shot lion. They agree to go after them the next day and also discuss late into the night the comparative courage of lions and tigers. Spooner backs tigers and Patterson lions. He reckons that lions once roused are “unequalled for pluck and daring, and was in fact the most dangerous enemy one could meet with”.

That night Patterson hears the lions roaring in every direction around his camp – not a comfortable sound when you are in a tent. They had work to do that morning and could not leave camp until midday. Spooner generally declined to hunt with Patterson as he reckoned the “pop gun” of a .303 rifle which he used was too light a weapon. This time Patterson compromised by taking with him as a second weapon Spooner’s 12-bore rifle. He records that a borrowed gun is a dangerous thing unless it has precisely the same action as your own – and in this instance it almost proves disastrous.

They set off on the hunt in Spooner’s tonga – a two-wheeled cart with a hood in the company of Spooner’s huntsman Bhoota, his own gun boy Mahina and two other Indians. One, Imam Din, rode in the tonga and the other lead the spare horse, “Blazeaway”. After bagging a gazelle and a wildebeest they reach the place where he had seen the two lions the previous day. They spot the black tips of a lioness’s ears projecting above the grass, and then a lion. They give chase in the tonga to the lions which are making off. After rounding a knoll the lions were on, at a range of four hundred yards they open fire and to Patterson’s third shot with his .303 the lioness tumbles over but in the end gets up and follows the lion.

They set off back to camp in the tonga intending to return the next day to track the wounded lioness but on the way they come across two more fine lions. Patterson and Spooner carefully advance on the two lions which are cautiously watching them crouched on the ground. When they get to within sixty yards they are surprised by the lions turning and bolting off. Patterson put a .303 bullet into one and chases them on the spare horse, but then realises he has no rifle with him. When the lions turn and charge he has to flee on Blazeaway and eventually he get back to Spooner who has the rifles and they return to the attack. At first Patterson concentrates on the unhurt lion still using the .303 and hits him with the second shot at a range of about three hundred yards. Then he uses Spooner's 12-bore rifle and turns his attention on the other lion which had been lying still watching their movements ready for charging when they get close enough. Spooner kills him from ninety yards with a shot from his .577 rifle.

It was almost dusk as they set after the other lion which as watching them ready to charge when the distance was short enough. The lion charges and Patterson’s two shots fail to stop him and the lion seizes Bhoota. Spooner’s servant Imam Din gives Patterson more cartridges for the 12-bore and he goes to the aid of Bhoota. Spooner is already there and actually has his left hand on the lions flank to push him off Bhoota. The lion rears up to spring and Patterson, knowing he has little time pulls the trigger but it does not go off. He thinks it has misfired but just in time realises he has not pulled back the hammer (his own was hammerless). He shoots and the dead lion falls on Bhoota. They get Bhoota's wounds dressed up back at camp by a doctor and he at first survives but after a few days his leg is amputated half way up the thigh – his hunting days were over. He does not recover from the operation. “Spooner especially could not have looked after a brother more tenderly.”

The full name of T J Spooner is Thomas John Spooner, son of another of the same name, a solicitor of Birmingham and brother of Charles Easton Spooner (1818-1889) who was the Secretary and Engineer of the Festiniog Railway Company from 1856 until 1886. The first Thomas John did numerous legal jobs for the FR. From Festipedia we can learn that in the FR Company’s Day Log on 24/4/1857 and 3/8/1857 father Thomas John the solicitor (presumable also acting for the FR) was written to by C. E. Spooner regarding Hall & Wakefield, gunpowder manufacturers[2] . They already had magazines at Rhiwbryfdir, but had been asked to move them. A location near the Old Moelwyn Tunnel was under consideration and the second letter included a draft of the lease and the plans.

Dan Wilson’s Magazine article [3] records the following about Thomas John junior. He was born in 1862, known as Jack and died in 1937. Over six feet tall he was an engineer with the Madras State Railway before his time with the Uganda Railway and then returned from Kenya to India. A keen photographer he retired to Seaford in Sussex where his colonial pension appears to have evaporated and he received support from Annie his older sister (born 1864 died 1944) a nurse who until 1921 had run a nursing home in London. Jack had a reputation with young relatives for telling tall stories. He died in Newhaven Infirmary.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Henry Patterson, (undated) The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  2. ^ Festipedia, FRS Heritage Group, accessed 14/4/2013.
  3. ^ Wilson D H (1977) The Spooners up to Date, FRM No. 77