Adventures in Peru, Memoir

C. H. Prodgers: A Memoir

Cecil Herbert Prodgers was a remarkable personality. Men of his calibre are seldom met with nowadays. He was one of a thousand, big mentally and physically. Big in his ideas, big in his enterprises, and brimful of love and charity; his versatility and genius were only equalled by his uprightness and piety. Moulded on very generous lines—he stood well over six feet in height and weighed twenty-three stone—this brave figure of a man was the eldest son of Mr. Herbert Prodgers, one time Squire of Kington St. Michael, near Chippenham, Wilts, an old crusted Tory, eccentric to a degree, and autocratic as became one who traced his ancestry back to the ancient Ap Rogers of Wales.

Cecil’s mother, the daughter of Dean Philpotts of Exeter, was famed in the West of England for her graciousness and beauty. In her day she was accounted one of our most accomplished amateur musicians. Old-time frequenters of the Albert Hall Society concerts cherished memories of her harp playing.

Almost as soon as he could walk Master Cecil took a lively interest in horses, and as a lad of twelve participated in the famous Swallets Gate run, which is commemorated by the Duke of Beaufort’s hunt every Ash Wednesday. On this memorable occasion the pack hunted their quarry from the find right away to Oxford, a matter of forty miles and more. Only half a dozen horsemen stuck it to the bitter end, and Cecil Herbert Prodgers was one of them. In remembrance of this remarkable feat, the Duke presented him with the Beaufort gold button—a distinction much coveted by hunting men.

Young Prodgers’ first mentor was a Mr. Meyrick, a parson of the old school who had licked Prodgers senior into shape years before. At his hands he received a thorough grounding in ordinary subjects, and was then sent to Stubbington. Subsequently he passed on to Eton.

When he had attained nineteen years of age his father bade him seek his fortune in South Africa. There he was initiated into all the ins and outs of farming and stockriding, and became well versed in native ways and customs. Keen to learn all there was to know about everything that he hit up against, he had a shot at diamond digging and store keeping. Several times he came within an ace of landing a big coup. Once he bought a farm off a Dutchman on the instalment system; but, owing to the looting of his store, he couldn’t pay one of the instalments when it fell due. His creditor was quite willing to wait awhile, but Prodgers would have none of it. “I will owe no man,” he said, “so you must take to the farm again.” After considerable pressure the Dutchman consented to this arrangement, but, because he liked the boy, insisted on returning £50 of the money he had already received. Later on the property passed into other hands; diamonds were found there, and eventually a company paid £70,000 for it. Such is luck. This was not the only time that the fickle jade jilted Prodgers. Readers of the pages that follow will come across more than two or three instances where she served him cruelly. Yet he never groused or allowed set-backs to damp his ardour; he was always ready and willing to risk a fall, whatever the odds. For example, during one of the troublous periods that were the bane of South Africa, some of the native tribes having gone on the war path, he accepted a wager of £50 to £10 that he wouldn’t ride from Cape Town to Durban in order to warn the burghers and outlying squatters. The distance was five hundred miles, and the adventurous rider had to run the gauntlet on several occasions. He won through all right, and earned the gratitude of the whole Community.

When war broke out with the Boers, Cecil Prodgers proffered his services to the Old Country, and became attached to General Bisset’s staff. In these surroundings he met with adventures galore. Once he fell into the enemy’s hands, only to escape by means of a daring ruse.

Much could be written about our friend’s thrilling experiences in South Africa and his excursions in search of big game further North. When he transferred his energies to the South American continent, he began with a spell of railway construction work and a year spent on the Stock Exchange. Then he blossomed out as a trainer of racehorses. In this sphere of activity he achieved remarkable success, and was esteemed second to none in his profession. During the close season he undertook many expeditions into out-of-the-way parts where white men have rarely penetrated. Peculiar interest attaches to one of these jaunts, in that it was undertaken at the behest of the Kaiser. The disturber of the World’s peace was particularly anxious to ascertain the conditions that prevail in the Andes at various altitudes. In this connection, he expressed an opinion that if an Englishman could withstand them, there was no reason why German soldiers should not. Details of the forage available were required, likewise a full description of how to make chuno. In the light of what occurred subsequently in 1914, it is easy to see that the Alexander microbe was even then working in Wilhelm’s brain.

In 1922 Prodgers’ first book, Adventures in Bolivia, was published with a noteworthy introduction by Mr. R. B. Cunninghame Graham. He then wrote the present work and a collection of Racing reminiscences. While Adventures in Peru was going through the press, he passed away after a very short illness.

As an explorer Prodgers was pre-eminent. He had a way with him that fascinated the native tribes with whom he came in contact. They trusted him, for, like the Quaker Fathers, his word was his bond, and he always treated their rites and ceremonies with scrupulous respect. Small wonder that they reverenced him as a king among men, and in good sooth he was a king—single-minded, generous, unselfish, lion-hearted. The part that he played in helping to bring the terrible Putumayo atrocities to the notice of the civilized world, bears witness to his being the natives’ true friend.

Next to his own homeland, Prodgers loved Peru best, perhaps, of all the countries with which he claimed acquaintance. He honoured her Statesmen, and was highly esteemed by them. There is no doubt that the amicable settlement of the Arica dispute between Peru and Chile, was largely due to the beneficent influence he was able to exert.

—Charles J. Maberly, Lambourn, Easter 1924.