The crocodiles of the Okavanga Delta learned the hard way that it didn’t do to get into Bobbie Wilmot’s line of fire. Some people on St Helena have learned the same about his daughter Hazel, the feisty owner of the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown.
She knows what she thinks is right and what she thinks is wrong, and she’s not afraid to tell people about it.
The consequences aren’t as severe as they were for those crocodiles, in the days before Mr Wilmot decided to become one Botswana’s leading conservationists.
He is reputed to have shot more of the giant reptiles than anyone before or since.
He remains a legendary figure in Botswana, decades after he was killed by one of the world’s deadliest snakes. And his one son and six daughters all inherited his robust approach to life, according to his grandson, Professor Harry Dugmore.
The story came to light when Harry travelled from Rhodes University in South Africa to speak at a conference on health journalism at Coventry University, in the UK.
The owner of St Helena Online was at the same conference, and got chatting to Harry over drinks on the opening night. The discussion got round to diabetes, which prompted mention of St Helena. Botswana also got thrown into the conversation somewhere.
After a few minutes, Harry mentioned that his aunt had moved to St Helena.
It could only be one person. “Is her name Hazel?”
It was. Harry may have been surprised at the chance of finding someone who could name his aunt just from knowing where she lived, in a bar several thousand miles from anywhere connected with either of them.
But he wasn’t surprised that she was well known on the island for speaking her mind.
Hazel has been the source of a number of stories that have found their way to St Helena Online. Some of them could even be published.
Harry was one of the opening speakers at the conference, setting out his university’s approach to teaching responsible health journalism in a country stricken by diabetes and obesity. He told of the courage of journalists who challenged the South African government to confront its appalling AIDS epidemic.
He also became the subject of one of the closing presentations, when delegates were told of the unexpected St Helena connection.
Colleagues were amazed – and delighted – by the story.
“Bobbie Wilmot really was a legend,” says Harry in an interview. “He was a crocodile hunter and hunted for the leather industry. His family subsequently – Hazel’s brother, Hazel herself, and other member of the family – got much more into conservation, with wonderful operations in Botswana. You can’t go to the Okavanga and not hear about the Wilmots.
“He did have it in for crocodiles. You hear all sorts of numbers: 145,000 is the number that I have heard, his lifetime tally. They are quite easy to hunt – you can go out and night and get 20, 30 or 40 of them. I’ve never done it so I’m vaguely remembering things my mother told me.
“[He had] seven children – six daughters – and all of them in their own way are quite amazing.
“I see a lot of them in my own two daughters – feisty, and concerned about things being fair and not tolerant of injustice. It’s a family trait.”
Bobbie died decades ago, bitten by a black mamba. Normally, victims succumb within minutes. But not Bobbie Wilmot.
“The story we got is that because he had been bitten before and got some anti snake venom, he didn’t die quickly. He was on a hunt and had to get back to his Land Rover in a canoe, and just didn’t manage to survive that second bite.”
Harry was also presented with a paper necklace made by a member of St Helena’s SHAPE charity. It was modelled on similar necklaces created by survivors of a bush tribe in the Okavanga Delta. Another of Bobbie’s daughters, Daphne, was given one of the necklaces at a tribal funeral, and sent it to Hazel to be passed on to SHAPE, to see if it could be reproduced. It became a popular craft product.
Some months after that encounter, the interview with Harry about the Wilmot family – and those necklaces – has finally been edited and sent out to the island. It is hoped it can be played on Saint FM Community Radio some time in the near future.
A copy will be posted online and linked from this website in due course.