This photo depicts the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, standing over the corpse of a hunted elephant in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) on the 11th of January, 1893. Ferdinand’s life at this time was turbulent for many reasons – after his cousin the Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889, Ferdinand unexpectedly found himself swept in line as the heir apparent to the throne of the Austrian Empire. This new development, coupled with the onset of tuberculosis, prompted Ferdinand to take a vacation from Austria – he embarked on a round-the-world trip, which lasted for about a year between 1892 and 1893. This vacation allowed him some private time to recover from his tuberculosis, and also granted him a break from his duties to the court and military in Austria. To mask the high-profile nature of his real identity, he disguised himself under the alias of the “Count of Hohenberg” and departed eastwards, eventually reaching Ceylon after several months.
Like many aristocrats of his time, Ferdinand was an avid hunter – he hunted nearly 300,000 different animals during his lifetime. During his round-the-world trip, he made it a mission to track down all kinds of exotic animals and bring them back as trophies to his estate in Austria – including the elephant in this photograph. According to his travel diary, he had been unsuccessfully hunting elephants for several days in Ceylon, until his hunting party had caught a stroke of luck and Ferdinand was able to kill not one, but two elephants. One of the elephants is described in his journal as having tusks, ”a great rarity among elephants on Ceylon” – most likely, it is the elephant in this photograph. Ferdinand was certainly creative in how he made his trophies – at his estate in Austria, he had actually taken one of the elephant’s feet and made it into an ashtray as a curiosity.
After departing Ceylon, Ferdinand continued traveling eastwards, visiting much of Asia and eventually crossing the Pacific Ocean to Canada. After traveling through North America, he sailed across the Atlantic and returned to Austria after nearly a year away.