In 1837 when Young Victoria came to the throne the source of Nile was still a mystery.
There were many theories. Starting with Herodotus the quest for Nile stumped all those who attempted. After the victory of Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 there were renewed interest but it became in right earnest when David Livingstone opened much of Africa to the whites. Britain’s now burgeoning Imperial aspirations gave it a mystical holy grail status.
Ptolemy when he drew his map in AD140 had speculated it lying hazily somewhere straddled between ‘The Mountains of the Moon.’ Catering to the popular clamor for expeditions worthy of Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Cook, the Royal Geographical Society in 1852 stated that ‘no exploration to Africa’ was more valued than solving this long standing mystery.
It was in 1855 when John H.Speke and Richard Burton made their first bid. Their pairing was accidental and yet there was some kind of hints that fate was conspiring against them in the manner their trip turned out from the first. They first met in Aden while Burton was putting finishing touches to his expedition. Whereas Speke primarily wanted to hunt big game search for the Source and then float downriver to Cairo. They both had military men accompanying them and naturally porters vital for such arduous journey. Neither of them was suited to hold a steady job or to shine at some salons. They were by temperament most suited to undertake such an expedition. Only as later events would prove Africa came in between.
Their forty-two-man expedition in Somalia was ambushed while they were waiting for the monsoon season to pass. The Somali bandits, notorious for cutting of penises of their victims set upon them at 2.a.m on the morning of 18 April 1855. While the sentries and porters were slaughtered first by bandits who wielded six-foot-long spears and sabers. Burton and a companion managed to hold them off while the remaining porters melted in the cover of night to their safety.
Speke who came to the rescue of Burton saw a Somali thrusting a javelin clean through Burton’s face, fleeing before Speke could shoot.Burton gravely wounded managed to survive with the spear still stuck in his face and Speke was taken prisoner. The bandits plunged spears deep into his thighs while they rummaged through their booty. Speke severely wounded managed still to free from his bonds and escape without being detected.
He dragged himself with his hamstrings and quadriceps severed, to where a British ship was anchored. Burton and GE Herne, his companions were already waiting. The javelin still jutting from Burton’s cheek would leave a permanent scar.
(to be Cont’d)