Archive for May 16th, 2011

Burton and Speke attempted this time with a smaller team of porters, to find the source for the second time in the spring of 1857. As leader Burton made decision to start further south. They just put ashore just north of of the port of Bagamoyo. Their trek of eight-hundred miles through swamps, savannah and forest took them to Ujiji, on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Their going was slow what with porters who were paid in advance deserting them steadily and having to pay exorbitant sums demanded at every turn by chiefs of tribes that controlled the route. They suspected the strangers who were not ivory traders or in pursuit of any enterprise they had known before. Water was scarce and shade a luxury. Burton and Speke were sick more often and yet they covered some 600 miles to reach the village of Tabora.
Although the Arabs had preceded them by two generations their interest in Central Africa were strictly as slave and ivory hunters. On the way to Yombo, Burton was struck by malaria and it brought paralysis to his legs. He was carried in a hammock slung on poles. Doggedly they made out to the Lake Tanganyika. He let Speke who still could see explore the lake and report. But he was the first European to discover Tanganaika. He also had intuitively hit upon the altitude and his reading from a crude bath thermometer was 1850 against the correct figure 2,534. Not until 1875 would he learn that what he discovered was the source not of the Nile but of the mighty Congo. Later on realizing his error he would quote Livingstone,”Who would care to risk being put into a cannibal pot , and be converted into blackman for anything less than the grand old Nile?”
(to be continued).

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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)

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