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Robert "Don Roberto" Cunninghame Graham

The man who brought Tschiffely's Ride to life!

 

Robert Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) author, traveller explorer, politician and adventurer, was a man of extraordinary talents, tireless energy and considerable courage. His friend and contemporary Joseph Conrad remarked, “When I think of Cunninghame Graham, I feel as though I have lived all my life in a dark hole without seeing or knowing anything.”

In a crowded life — Cunninghame Graham was variously a Member of Parliament, a gaucho in South America, a fencing master, a founder member of both the Independent Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, a rancher, horse-trainer, buffalo hunter and Long Rider through North and South America — he wrote prolifically. Known as "Don Roberto," he was the author of travel books, a biography, eleven histories of Latin America and fourteen volumes of short stories and sketches.

In 1872 Cunninghame Graham rode on horseback 600 miles up the river Parana to the Iguacu Falls, researching the role of the early Jesuits with the local Indians. His subsequent book, A Vanished Arcadia, was made into a film, The Mission starring Jeremy Irons.

 

Click on picture of Don Roberto (left) and Aimé Tschiffely riding together in London.

 

Shortly after Aimé Tschiffelyhad achieved his astonishing adventure with his ride from Buenos Aires to Washington, with his two famous horses, Mancha and Gato, he decided to write a book, encouraged by the success of his article in National Geographic.  The book was to be called simply Tschiffely’s Ride.  But nowhere could he find anyone to publish it.  Eventually he decided to come to London to see if he could find a publisher there.

When he arrived in London he had no idea that his story had already been published in a book called Writ in Sand by R. B. Cunninghame Graham, just brought out that very year by his own publishers, Heinemann.  Robert had read of Tschiffely’s amazing feat in a news­paper article some years before and had decided to write a short piece to go in his latest book, a collection of short stories and essays.

His very first sentence said, “Tschiffely, Mancha and Gato.  The three names are as indivisible as the three Persons of the Trinity.”  At the bottom of that first page there is a footnote, *“I did not know Tschiffely when I wrote this sketch, taking my information from Argentine papers and magazines.”  He goes on to say, “Tschiffely, a Swiss long settled in the Argentine, a famous horseman, is a man of iron resolution and infi­nite resource, as his great feat, perhaps the greatest that man and horses have performed in all the history of the world, is there to show, having travelled fifteen thousand miles during their three years’ ride.”

Little did Robert know as he wrote those words that Tschiffely had just reached London with his manuscript under his arm.  After fruitless knocking on doors to find a friendly publisher he was just about to give up the task and return to Buenos Aires.  He had even booked his passage home, and thought he should go and say goodbye to the Argentine Ambassador, Dr. Manuel Malbran, before sailing back to Argentina.

When he was ushered into the ambassador’s private office, there was a young Scot sitting by the desk.  Tschiffely was introduced to Colin Paterson, who was in charge the embassy’s finance department.  Colin listened to the sad tale of Tschiffely’s failure to find a publisher for his unique story, and said, “But you can’t go home till you’ve met my famous countryman, Mr. Cunninghame Graham!  He’ll help you to get your book published, I’m absolutely certain.  I know him well, and I’ll telephone him as soon as I get home tonight.”

Tschiffely had already read several of Cunninghame Graham’s books, but said he could not possibly disturb such a great man with his own affairs;  it was very kind, but he really did not want to bother him.

That evening Tschiffely received a telegram from Robert, inviting him to lunch with him the next day at Martinez’s Spanish restaurant in Swallow Street, near Piccadilly Circus.  Colin Paterson had been as good as his word.

In Tschiffely’s later book, Bohemia Junction (his own autobiography), he describes his first meeting with Robert.

“From the moment I met him and his friend Mrs. Dummett (née Mieville ), the exquisite horsewoman, things began to happen to me with lightning speed!”  He had taken his manuscript with him to the restaurant and Robert bore it off after lunch, suggesting they should meet again at Martinez for lunch the next day.

The following day, there were Robert and Mrs. Dummett at their usual table, smiling kindly when Tschiffely came in.

“I have spent the whole night reading this,” said Robert, “and it must be published!  In fact, it will be published.  I have already made an appointment with my publishers for us to meet them after lunch!”

After the successful meeting with Heinemanns, Robert persuaded the disbelieving and joyful Tschiffely to stay on in London until his book was published, and to cancel his voyage home at once.
 

 

The information above comes from Jean Cunninghame Graham, the great-niece of Don Roberto and author of his biography, Gaucho Laird.    She is shown here riding her famous forebear's horse, Pampas.

 

For the remainder of his life, Don Roberto took a keen interest in Aimé Tschiffely’s literary career, watching with pride as the younger man went on to produce nearly two dozen books. The “gaucho laird,” as Don Roberto was affectionately known, not only introduced the bachelor Long Rider to his future wife, Violeta, he also gave away the bride at the ceremony.
 

In 1934, Aimé rode from southern England to Don Roberto's estate in Scotland.  There the 82-year-old Gaucho Laird (right) greeted Aimé and his mare, Violet.

When in 1936 the elderly Scotsman decided to make a final journey to his adopted homeland of Argentina, Aimé gave him a bag of corn to take to his two beloved horses, Mancha and Gato.

Don Roberto fed the horses on Aimé’s behalf, as requested, and died the following day.  Mancha and Gato were part of Don Roberto's funeral.


Click on image of Mancha and Gato at Don Roberto's funeral to enlarge.

 

Click here to visit Don Roberto's page on Horse Travel Books, which also features Gaucho Laird.

 

Click here for more information on the connection between the two families.

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All information and images on this website copyright (c) 2008-2017 The Aimé Tschiffely Literary Estate, Basha O'Reilly, Executor.

Click on picture to visit The Long Riders' Guild website.

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