Patterson, John Henry (1867–1947), army officer, game hunter, and Zionist, was born 10 November 1867 at Forgney, Ballymahon, Co. Westmeath, the son of a protestant father, Henry Patterson. He joined the British army at Dublin in 1885 and was posted with the 3rd dragoon guards to India. In 1892 Sergeant Patterson was seconded to the Indian military works department as a supervisor of civil engineering projects. In 1894 he married Frances Helena Gray, daughter of William Gray of Cork and Belfast, a building surveyor who founded the free library movement in Belfast; Frances went on to earn science and law degrees.
In 1898 Patterson was sent to British East Africa to supervise 3,000 Indian and African labourers who were building a railway bridge spanning the Tsavo river as part of the Mombasa to Lake Victoria line. Construction was interrupted when two man-eating lions repeatedly attacked the labourers’ camp at night. Patterson embarked on a lion shoot, but by the time he shot the two lions they had mauled and mutilated between 130 and 140 labourers. He volunteered for service in the South African war in 1900; he was mentioned in dispatches by Lord Roberts (qv) and Lord Kitchener (qv) and was awarded the DSO. In 1902 he was appointed lieutenant colonel commanding the 33rd battalion imperial yeomanry. While on a shooting trip in east Africa in 1906, he discovered a new species of eland, which was named Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus after him. Patterson's account of his adventures in Africa, The man-eaters of Tsavo, was published in 1907 to instant international acclaim. His exploits were twice made the subject of films: Bwana devil (1952) and The Ghost and The Darkness (1996). In 1907 he was seconded as chief game warden, British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya), and he combined his work of conducting surveys with escorting private safari parties. The following year he led a safari trip in the protectorate accompanied by Audley James Blyth and his wife, Ethel Jane. During the expedition Blyth shot himself in the head with a revolver and died. Patterson claimed that Blyth was suffering from sunstroke, but there were rumours of a romantic attachment between Patterson and Mrs Blyth. The colonial secretary Lord Crewe exonerated Patterson in return for his resignation as chief game warden. The incident served as the plot for Ernest Hemingway's short story ‘The short happy life of Francis Macomber’.
In 1913 Patterson commanded the West Belfast division of the UVF, and saw service in Flanders before being sent to Egypt in early 1915. In Alexandria two Russian Jewish Zionists, the journalist Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky and veteran of the Russo–Japanese war Joseph Trumpeldor, had asked General John Maxwell (qv), commander of the British forces in Egypt, to establish a Jewish legion that would liberate the Holy Land from the Turks. Maxwell refused, proposing instead that the Jews form a volunteer transport unit to serve in Gallipoli. Patterson, who was imbued with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament, and drew spiritual sustenance from biblical heroes such as Joshua and Gideon, was appointed commander of the Assyrian Jewish refugee mule corps, a colonial corps of the Egyptian expeditionary force. He sailed with the Zion mule corps, as it was popularly known, to Gallipoli in April 1915, where the corps served with distinction, carrying water and ammunition to the allied troops on the peninsula. Patterson fell ill in November 1915, and was sent to convalesce in London. The Zion mule corps was evacuated from Gallipoli in December, and disbanded in March 1916. When manpower and political considerations persuaded the British authorities to create the Jewish legion in 1917, Patterson was appointed its commander. He marched his 38th battalion Royal Fusiliers through the City of London and Whitechapel, cheered by a crowd of several thousand Jews. The Jewish legion participated in General Allenby's sustained attack, which successfully pushed the Turks out of Palestine. Patterson's experiences with his Jewish soldiers turned him into a committed Zionist. In 1916 he wrote With the Zionists in Gallipoli, and in 1922 With the Judaeans in the Palestine campaign, which contained a scathing attack on Britain's policy towards the Jews during and after the first world war.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Patterson increasingly allied himself with the revisionist Zionist agenda espoused by Jabotinsky's New Zionist Organisation. When the second world war broke out, Patterson travelled with Jabotinsky to the USA, moving permanently to La Jolla, California, in 1940. With others, including the Irish Jew and later lord mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe (qv), he agitated for the formation of a large Jewish army that would fight with the allies against Nazi Germany. After Jabotinsky's death in 1940, Patterson worked with Benzion Netanyahu, the Palestinian Jewish executive director of the American revisionist Zionists. In 1946 Patterson became godfather to Netanyahu's first son, who was named Jonathan (the closest Hebrew name to John) in Patterson's honour; Jonathan later led the successful 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe to free Israeli hostages. In June 1947, just a year before the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel, for which he had worked so hard, Colonel John Henry Patterson died at Bel Air, California. A week later, the United Zionist Revisionists of Great Britain held a memorial meeting at the Anglo–Palestinian Club near Piccadilly Circus in Patterson's memory. Patterson's documents and personal effects are held at the Jabotinsky Institute and Museum in Tel Aviv. His uniform and other memorabilia are on display in Beit Hagdudim, the Jewish Legions Museum at Netanya, Israel. Patterson's two man-eating lions are on display in Chicago's Field Museum, where his son Bryan (b. 1909) later served as curator.