Archive for the ‘exploration’ Category

The mystery was solved a century later. There were no fountains as Herodotus first proposed. With the satellite photography we know that the Nile bubbles from the ground high in the mountains of Burundi, half way between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. In their own way Burton, Speke and Livingstone were partially correct.

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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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Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)

Magellan’s voyage is, according to the naval historian Samuel Elliot Morison, ‘the greatest single human achievement in the sea’. An orphan from a good family born about 1480, Fernão de Magalhães grew up as a page at the Portuguese court. It was the time when Portuguese maritime excellence was evident following the feat of Bartholomeu Dias going round the Cape of Good Hope and Vasco da Gama landing off the shores of Calicut in India. There were others too,-Vespucci Columbus and Cabot but the significance of Magellan’s achievement not fully understood in his time was in making the world known as it was.
Magellan’s will outmatched his lame body and his vision in charting the maritime expedition to the east was altogether new. But the king Manuel I didn’t approve of reaching the Spice Islands from the east. Then Magellan turned to Charles I of Spain whose patronage helped him to fit out a fleet of ships. The King entrusted him with the task of finding a route to the Spice islands, Maluku islands in Indonesia. His five ships Concepcíon, San Antonio, Victoria,Santiago together with his flagship Trinidad left Europe from Sanlúcar di Bariameda in the fall of 1519. During the voyage he lost his life in the Philippians but one of his ship Victoria succeeded in circling the globe. Of the 237 men who set out on five ships, only 18 completed the circumnavigation and managed to return to Spain in 1522. Reviled and defamed in his time his legacy is now that of a pioneer. Sir. Francis Drake in his time followed his route. His name has been written among the stars- the nearest dwarf galaxies bear his name, Magellanic clouds. In addition to this he was the first European to note the Magellanic penguin. The strait connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific in South America bears his name. He was the first European to discover Tierra del Fuego just east side of the strait.

Magellan had, however, traveled eastwards to the Malay peninsula on an earlier voyage. He proposed to sail from the east instead of the traditional route from the west. In 1517 he left for Spain where he took up his residence. King of Spain wanted him to find the Spice Islands and let him lead the expedition from the east. This made him one of the first explorers to cross all of the meridians of the globe.
He first named the waters as Mar Pacifico or the Pacific ocean because of its stillness.

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Sir.Rchard Francis Burton in the autumn of 1852 approached the Royal Geographical Society and offered his services to visit the Central and Eastern regions of Arabia. In his time these areas were left blank since no one had systematically mapped it. Considering the dangers it entailed he was allowed instead a three year leave of absence on special duty from India to Muscat. To smoothen the disappointment of turning down his request his superiors added one more year furlough to pursue his Arabic studies in lands where the language was best learned.
Al-Hijaz was the most difficult and the most dangerous point by which a European can enter Arabia. He had intended,
to cross the unknown Arabian Peninsula, in a direct line from either Al-Madinah to
Muscat, or diagonally from Meccah to Makallah on the Indian Ocean. Another object of undertaking this visit was to find out if any market for horsescould be opened between Central Arabia and India, where the studs were falling in standard. Burton found on the Eastern regions some specimen worth looking into and nothing on the Western, where the
animals, though thorough-bred, were ‘weeds’ and at exorbitant prices. Another reason that took him there was to obtain information concerning the Great Eastern wilderness, Rub’a
al-Khai (the “Empty Abode”) in the West; to inquire into the
hydrography of the Hijaz, its water-shed, the disputed slope of the
country, and the existence or non-existence of perennial streams; and
finally, to try, by actual observation, the truth of a theory proposed
by Colonel W. Sykes, and verify the common origin of
the Arab family.
Burton’s foray into the Peninsula led him to believe there were three distinct races.
1. The aborigines of the country, driven into the eastern and south-eastern wilds bordering upon the
ocean. 2. A Syrian or Mesopotamian stock, typified by Shem and Joktan, that drove the aborigines mentioned first; these
invaders now represent the true and proper Arabian people.
Thirdly an impure Syro-Egyptian clan-we personify it by Ishmael, by his son Nabajoth, and by Edom.
Burton’s noted as follows regarding the simple act of drinking between an Indian Moslem and an Englishman.
‘For what polite Chesterfield says of the difference between a gentleman and his reverse-namely, that both perform the same
offices of life, but each in a several and widely different way-is notably as applicable to the manners of the Eastern as of the Western man. Look, for instance, at that Indian Moslem drinking a glass of water. With us the operation is simple enough, but his performance includes no fewer than five novelties. In the first place he clutches his tumbler as though it were the throat of a foe; secondly, he ejaculates, “In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful!”before wetting his lips; thirdly, he imbibes the contents, swallowing them, not sipping them as he ought to do, and ending with a satisfied
grunt; fourthly, before setting down the cup, he sighs forth, “Praise be to Allah”-of which you will understand the full meaning in the Desert; and, fifthly, he replies, “May Allah make it pleasant to thee!”
in answer to his friend’s polite “Pleasurably and health!” Also he is careful to avoid the irreligious action of drinking the pure element in a standing position, mindful, however, of the three recognised exceptions, the fluid of the Holy Well Zemzem, water distributed in charity, and that which remains after Wuzu, the lesser ablution.
Moreover, in Europe, where both extremities are used indiscriminately, one forgets the exclusive use of the right hand, the manipulation of the rosary, the abuse of the chair,-your genuine Oriental gathers up his legs, looking almost as comfortable in it as a sailor upon the back of a high-trotting -the rolling gait with the toes straight to the
front, the grave look and the habit of pious ejaculations’.(selected:Pilgimage to Meccah and Al-Medinah)

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Great Britain was interested in charting the Northwest Passage and there was some 500 kilometres left unexplored so the British Admiralty sent a well equipped Arctic expedition to complete it. Sir John Franklin received the command HMS Erebus on 7 February 1845. Captain Francis Crozier in command of HMS Terror accompanied him. The crew were mostly Englishmen and the ships were fitted with steam engines and carried three years’ worth of conventionally preserved or tinned preserved food supplies. Unfortunately, the latter was supplied from a cut-rate provisioner who was awarded the contract only a few months before the ships were to sail. He had canned using his own process that led to sloppily-applied beads of solder on the cans’ interior edges and allowed lead to leach into the food.The expedition was last seen by Europeans on 26 July 1845, when Captain Dannett of a whaling ship Prince of Wales encountered Terror and Erebus moored to an iceberg in Lancaster Sound.

It is now believed that the expedition wintered in 1845–46 on Beechey Island. The ships became trapped in ice off King William Island in September 1846 and never sailed again. According to a note later found on that island, Franklin died there on 11 June 1847. To date, the exact location of his grave is unknown.

After two years and no word from the expedition, Lady Franklin urged the Admiralty to send a search party. Because the crew carried supplies for three years, the Admiralty waited another year before launching a search. Eventually, more ships and men were lost looking for Franklin than in the expedition itself.

In 1854, Dr.John Rae while surveying the Boothia Peninsula for Hudson Bay Company discovered the true fate of the Franklin party from talking to Inuit. He was told both ships had become icebound, the men had tried to reach safety on foot but had succumbed to cold and some had resorted to cannibalism. Rae’s report to the Admiralty, in a letter headed “Repulse Bay, July 29, 1854,” was published in The Times the day after his arrival back in London on 22 October 1854. This report to the Admirality somehow leaked to the press, which led to widespread revulsion in Victorian society, enraged Franklin’s widow and condemned Rae to ignominy. One of the most eloquent and outspoken critics was the novelist Charles Dickens. It was inconvenient truth. The British Establishment wanted a hero and they made Sir John Franklin one and as the discoverer of Northwest Passage. In the process Dr. Rae the hero of Orkeny was denied the fame due to him.

Reasons why a man is wrongly euologized as the discoverer of North West Passage on insufficient grounds and a man who was entitled to it on patent merits are diffuse: that officers and men of the Royal Navy should be accused of cannibalism or word of Inuit could be trusted as Dr.Rae did was unthinkable in the prevailing mindset of Victorian England. Rae was criticized because he had not gone to the scene of the tragedy to confirm the story, and he was accused of having rushed home to collect the 10,000pounds offered by the British government to anyone who ascertained the fate of Franklin and his party. Rae defended the credibility of the Inuit accounts, and insisted he had not received sufficient information to locate the site of the tragedy until it was too late in the season to continue the search.( Despite the protests of Franklin’s widow, the government’s reward of 10,000pounds for discovering the fate of the missing officers and men was finally granted to Rae and his men.)His adoption of native methods of travel in the Arctic was disapproved of by the Royal Navy.He was, however, accepted as a friend by the Inuit, for whom he had great admiration. Dr. Rae did not softpedal when he found the British naval officers and others who formed snap judgements after spending only a short time in the Hudson Bay company’s territories: “These self-sufficient donkeys come into this country, see the Indians sometimes miserably clad and half-starved, the causes of which they never think of enquiring into, but place it all to the credit of the Company.”

After long and fruitless search it fell to Lady Franklin to send an expedition by her own means. The Fox (177 tons), a three-masted schooner with auxiliary steam power, was purchased, and she put Francis Leopold M’Clintock, who had been promoted to captain in charge.His charge was to recover any survivors, retrieve relics, and to confirm that her husband’s expedition had discovered the Northwest Passage. Money was raised by subscription; the British Admiralty generously contributed many of the supplies. Refitted and strengthened, carrying twenty-eight months of provisions, the Fox left Aberdeen, Scotland, at the end of June 1857.

Tailspin: In his lifetime Rae was a controversial figure. In the 20th century Rae has been recognized as an innovator in techniques of survival in the north, and as the forerunner of the great Arctic explorers Roald Amundsen and Vilhjalmur Stefansson, both of whom acknowledged their debt to him.

I owe this post to BBC- Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival series

( Ack: wikipedia,libweb5.princeton.edu;www.biographi,ca-R.L Richards)


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