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Monday, 30 April 2007
William Mackenzie, Camel Judge

Yes, the camel's nose should droop. And the eyes, the eyes -- they must have that Bedouin bedroom look, sleepy-eyed, sloe-eyed, come-hithering.

It was William Mackenzie,  the intrepid Scotsman who, while on a visit into the Sahara, was captured by Arab tribesmen and delivered up as tribute to a local ruler in Tunis in the early 19th century, and then managed to save himself from abject slavery or worse by making himself useful. For Mackenzie somehow became an unsurpassed connoisseur of camel -- camelus dromedarius -- beauty, and judged the bi-monthly contests that were held in both Tripoli and Tunis and, before 1830, in Algiers. 

Mackenzie was later freed by the Americans during the Barbary Wars (William Eaton himself led him to safety) and, via Egypt,  Mackenzie ultimately made it back to Edinburgh -- or was it Inverness? -- anyway, a place known for its its rooky woods, subequently retired to a palm-shaded  (well, cabbage-tree-shaded, anyway) house in Plockton because it reminded him, he said, of the warm south, and there wrote up his experiences.  Twenty-Four Years in Tunis and Tripoli is well worth reading, as the only account by an English camel-judge, of his fascinating life. A very good copy, its pages unfoxed, and with the map, was three years ago offered for sale at Francis Edwards.

In his brief and true relation Mackenzie (no relation, incidentally, to another intrepid Mackenzie, Alexander Mackenzie,  who at the beginning of the nineteenth century was the first European to cross Canada from sea to shining sea)  sums up the requirements for the camel judged beautiful according to Arab criteria  -- the noble rhinal curve,  the sleepy bedroom eyes -- thus:

"Good things for deys begin to droop and drowse."

An unfortunate traveller but extremely fortunate camel-judge, was that well-read Scotsman, William Mackenzie.  

Posted on 04/30/2007 5:02 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
30 Apr 2007
Hugh Fitzgerald

?Riley's story of what happened to the brig Commerce (c. 1817), and of his?own travails as a captive of the Arabs in North Africa, was extremely popular, and went through many editions, in the early Republic. I have one, but it is a third?or fourth printing.

And for some reason I haven't been able, ever since I saw that copy of Alexander Mackenzie's?"Twenty Four Years in Tunis and Tripoli" in a catalogue from Francis Edwards -- or was it possibly Quaritch? -- to find it?on offer anywhere since. again.??Do let me know if you come across a copy.

30 Apr 2007
Send an emailRobert Bove
The bright Celts don't stop coming. Yet another is manifest in Capt. James Riley of Connecticut, in this, his harrowing account.