The Triumph of Science

a poem by Richard Owen (1804 – 1892), excerpted from The Shamba Raiders, by Bruce Kinloch

Sam Scroggins was a naturalist and hunter from the nursery;

His maths were poor; his Latin weak; his grammar-studies cursory.

At three he was a graduate of field and forest lore

And broke his father’s windows with a catapult at four;

Could ride and shoot, – just sign his name, and loved a spice of danger;

Equipped in fact by Nature for the duties of a Ranger.

So when he grew to manhood and they offered him a billet

As a Ranger in Uganda, he was very glad to fill it.


He entered on his duties with efficiency and zeal;

Would face marauding lions with a nerve as true as steel;

Could deal with raiding elephants; could follow any track;

And Heaven help the poacher who felt Sam upon his back.

He lived in tents; he liked it tough; his beer was never iced,

And if the dukas hadn’t gin then waragi sufficed.

His letters might be in arrear -his Guards were brisk and neat.

In fact he was ‘The Ranger’ as you might have said ‘Compleat’;

And everybody liked him, for depicted in his face

Was that hardy, horny kindness which transcendeth creed or race.


His prospects were unpromising; that didn’t make him quail.

He liked the life, and didn’t seem to bother with his Scale.*

Accountants, secretaries, clerks and all the inky crew

Were eligible for AI (or anyway B2);

In the eyes of Mr Whats-his-name (the Establishments’ Grand Cham)

Z7 was considered to be adequate for Sam.


But things are never static; Father Time is apt to canter;

Some dismal ancient poet has it ‘Tempora mutantur’.

The Warden told his Rangers (though it seemed a trifle tough)

The old bush-whacking qualities no longer were enough;

We must join the March of Progress, and he looked for some compliance

From subordinates in meeting the demands of Modern Science.


A letter followed presently – there wasn’t long to wait­

From the USA containing application from a great

Demonstrator in Biology (God send he never tutor us!)

For a sample pregnant female Black Rhinoceros’s uterus;

And Samuel, who when peevish was too honest, far, to mask it,

Read, shrugged, then tore it up and threw the fragments in the basket.


But short indeed his respite, for there followed an appeal

From a (Swiss) Monsieur Ie Professeur Ie Coq de Bogusville,

Requesting him to forward (here he grew a little flustered)

The tape-worm from the colon of Neotis (Denham’s Bustard).

Sam wrote a rude epistle, and he hadn’t much to say,

But he called the worthy professeur a Bustard with an A.


He had scarcely mailed his letter when again the postman came

With a large forbidding envelope addressed in Scroggins’ name;

A letter from the Warden, in the which he could discern

A letter from the Minister, which forwarded in turn

A letter from the Governor, of slightly earlier date,

Conveying a direction from the Secretary of State


To assist our politicians in a tricky situation

By acceding to a foreign scientific application –

A certain Dr Bunckheim, who was asking to be lent a

Hyaena (female)’s endotheliochorial placenta.

Sam scratched his head and spelled it out; he turned a little pale,

Then ground his teeth – his attitude was definitely (male);

At length he firmly gripped his pen, and moved by wrath primordial

Wrote a letter which was rather less than endotheliocordial.


And that was Scroggins’ downfall; for alas there’s no specific

To cure a brain which wallows in a bog unscientific.

They sacked him; and a firman came from out the P.S.C.

That Rangers must possess a University degree.


The post has been upgraded now, since applicants were few

And Bachelors of Science may aspire to enter Q:

And if they raise it to P3 we rather hope to get

Some Doctors of Divinity (we haven’t hooked one yet).


*For the uninitiated salary scales in the Civil Service were graded by letters and numbers finally decided by the Establishments Division of the Secretariat and the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.).