High Noon 1
High Noon 2
Dawn of Empire 1
Dawn of Empire 2
Great Armada
Birth of the Raj
New World
Conquest Canada
America Revolts
Cook in Australia
Settling Australia
China Opium War
Indian Mutiny 1
Indian Mutiny 2
S. Africa, The Boers
The Far South East
Dark Africa 1
Christian Empire
U S Independence
Burma & Ceylon
Egypt and Sudan
Nile Quest - the Source
Abyssinia 1
White Man’s Grave
The Great Game
The Boer War
Death or Glory
World War ll(1943-45)
World War II (1939-43)
Empire & The Great War 1914-18
Abyssinia 2
In the middle of the 19th century, the river Nile, one of the greatest remaining challenges for explorers, still had its origins behind a barrier of fetid swamps, fatal diseases and ferocious tribesmen.  Its mystery was compounded by reports of fabulous lakes and mountains.  This challenge fired the imagination of aggressive and individualistic British explorers who went out on dangerous and fever ridden expeditions to find the source of the Nile.  They went into this forbidding area only “because it was there”.  Successive journeys by Richard Burton, John Speke, James Grant and the Bakers - Samuel and his wife Florence - marked the Nile to its beginnings and pencilled in the central lakes region of Africa one of the last remaining blanks on the worlds maps.  
Although most of the world had been mapped by Europeans by the middle of the 19th century, one of the very oldest and greatest mysteries of geography remained unsolved .  Until 1856, no more was known of the source of the Nile, the great river that was the cradle of western civilisation, than had been known to the geographer Ptolemy, in AD150.  He had reported that the Nile originated in two great lakes in central Africa about 10 degrees south of the Equator, flanked by two peaks the “Mountains of the Moon”.  This explanation had been incorporated in a map made by an Arab geographer about AD1100. In 1856, there was a growing feeling within the Royal Geographical Society that the time was at hand to settle the matter.  Enter a swarthy stern moustachioed man of 35 who offered to take an expedition into the region, he was Lieutenant Richard Burton of the East India Company’s Bombay Light Infantry.  The Society accepted his offer, sufficient money was raised, and the East India Company granted him leave.  Burton selected as his companion, Lieutenant John Hanning Speke.  These two individuals seemed perfectly suited to the task.  Burton was already known for his bold exploits and although he had blighted his prospects in the Indian Service by his bluntness, he was not yet the frighteningly controversial figure he was to become His linguistic abilities and his evident valour and resourcefulness made him an obvious leader.
Speke seemed almost as suitable, he was 29 and had considerable experience in collecting botanical and zoological specimens in the Himalayas and was also a surveyor.  Although appearing complimentary, the two personalities were in fact utterly incompatible and the violent personal quarrel between Burton and Speke that followed saw armchair geographers taking bitterly opposed sides.  Other explorers were involved variously Livingstone, who died whilst trying to clear up the Burton/Speke Nile controversy; Stanley who found his vocation in Africa: James Grant who joined Spekes second expedition to Africa; and Samuel Baker because he went to verify Spekes theories.
Burton was an enigmatic character, and had developed a taste for wine, women, fighting, gambling mysticism, daredevilry and above all for languages.  They were the precious tools with which to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about exotic peoples. In India, Burton’s rapid mastering of Persian, Afghan, Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic won him the friendship of Sir Charles Napier, conqueror of Sind to whom he rendered superlative service a an intelligence officer.  He earned the animosity of his superiors in the East India Company when he told them that they were losing touch with their subjects and made an accurate prediction of the approximate date of the 1857 Mutiny.
In 1853, Burton left his clothes with a friend in London,  donned an Arab personality so complete that he was able to pass among the most devout Muslims, letter perfect in his command of the language, and the rituals of the religion of Allah.
Speke, as fair and charming as Burton was saturnine and sarcastic, came of a Somerset family whose origins went back to the conquest of 1066,  he was a fanatic about personal fitness, dominated by his mother and sisters, awkward with other women he had an narcissistic tinge to his make-up.  At 17 he joined the Indian Army and found action in the Sikh Wars under Sir Colin Campbell.  In India Speke met James Augustus Grant, a Scot who was to play an important role in the future.  In this friendship Speke was the impetuous leader, while Grant was the cautious admiring follower. Despite his blundering during the earlier expedition, Speke was invited by Burton to join his official “lakes” expedition to Central Africa in 1856. Burton later said that he took Speke to “give him another chance”.  Speke was however determined to be associated with the Nile discoveries.
In 1857, the two partners embarked at Bombay and landed at Zanzibar.  They made hasty preparations for the march inland from Bagamoyo.  With the help from the British consul Col. Atkins Hammerton, Burton and Speke assembled their party which included 36 African porters, 10 gun carrying slaves, 4 drivers and a posse of Baluchi soldiers to protect them.  There was much additional equipment required including ammunition, medicines, stores and an iron boat in seven sections intended to enable them to explore the great lake.  Therefore a second caravan was organised to carry up the additional stores.  On June 25th 1857, the march began. In the early stages Burton overheard the Hindus telling each other that he would never get as far as Ugogo (not a third of the distance) whereupon they would seize all his belongings; he then had his moment of despair.  The caravan proved to be only nominally under the command of its European leaders.  The column moved at its own pace; indiscipline was the rule, theft endemic, and desertions began as soon as the men marched from the coastal strip.
Within three weeks they had covered 118 miles with more than 600 ahead of them, both men were already so sick they often had to be carried.  Smallpox was rife and the way was well marked by the bones of slaves who had died of this and other diseases.  When they reached Morogoro they were, said Burton physically and morally incapacitated.  At this point the Baluchi soldiers mutinied and had to be quelled by an emaciated Burton who faced them down with a revolver in his hand.  Throughout the journey, and despite his ill-health, Burton continued his ethnological studies, which were so uncomplimentary to the black people that they are unprintable today.  By the time they reached Ugogo, half the supplies intended to last a year had been consumed or stolen.  This was serious because the  local tax, called “hongo” payable to chieftains over whose land they passed was rising progressively had to be paid out of the supplies they carried.  
The travellers health improved as they reached the savannah country.  Tattered and emaciated, the two Englishmen walked into Kazeh on November 7th 1857,  Speke was almost blind with opthalmia. There they learned that there was not one but three great lakes or seas, The Sea of Niassa to the south; The Sea of Ujiji (Lake Tanganyika) just ahead, and the Sea of Ukewere (Lake Victoria) to the north.  On December 14th they were in sight of Lake Tanganyika and despite their incapacity and disabilities they attempted to explore the lake in a canoe, much too small a craft for such a large body of water.
Their position now seemed to be so desperate that Burton decided to return to Zanzibar with news of the discoveries thus far made.  Speke later claimed that he suggested that they should march north from Ujiji, to the Sea of Ukwere but Burton felt unable to do so, even though the relief caravan had arrived.  It had been badly plundered en route and the goods it brought quite insufficient to enable the party to barter its way onwards. Had a further journey been possible, Burton would have discovered that Lake Tanganyika was 400 miles long.  As Burton continued with his ethnological investigations Speke was irked by the time being wasted, he persuaded Burton to permit him to take a small party on a three week trek to the reputed Sea to the north.  
The most urgent task was to find what outlets there were from the lake, and thus to decide whether the Nile had its origin here.  But they were unable to reach the northern end of the lake. However the natives assured them that at the northern end there was a river the Ruzizi that flowed into not out of the lake, meaning it could not be the Nile’s source.
Speke made a momentous foray northwards, and three weeks later, on August 3rd, 1858, beheld the huge expanse of the Sea of Ukerewe, which, he decided in a flash of inspiration was at last the Ptolemaic source of the Nile.  He then hurried back to Burton to announce the great discoveries.  Burton at first received the information coldly, then whilst acknowledging that Speke had found ‘a’ lake, demanded what possible proof he had that it was ’the’ lake. His forthright denigration of Spekes achievement further antagonised his companion, while his rejection of Speke’s suggestion that they should both go and investigate the lakes true extent, was a gross tactical blunder. The result was that Speke hugged the ‘discovery’ to himself.  Burton’s growing sceptic ism was fuelled by a suppressed fear that he had made a fatal mistake himself. On the way back to Zanzibar the two men avoided the subject of the Nile altogether.  When the explorers returned to Aden, their friendly relationship was merely a polite veneer covering profound hostilities.  Speke immediately found a vessel available to take him home to England, but Burton overlooked the importance of prompt public presentation of his claims and dallied in Aden.  Speke promised to say nothing of their discoveries until Burton rejoined him in London, but on the ship he met an old acquaintance, a journalist, Lawrence Oliphant who quickly drew him out.
On arrival in London Speke went straight to Sir Roderick Murchison, the President of the Royal Geographical Society, to claim the Nile, immediately the ship docked.  When Burton arrived in London, he found his chance of a lifetime was gone forever. Speke had been promised command of a new expedition.  Burton received the Societies coveted Gold Medal but Speke was the hero of the hour. Burton then took sick leave to visit the USA where he reported on Salt Lake City, headquarters of the Mormons as a kind of new ‘holy city’ which he compared with Mecca and Harar.  On his return to England he found himself out of fashion and out of money. He now compounded things by making what is considered to be an even greater error by marrying Isabel Arundell,
Thereafter, Burton declined into the most eccentric member of the consular service, generally given the most unpleasant postings that the foreign office had on its books.  For his new expedition to central Africa Speke selected as his companion, his old friend James Grant who was prepared to accept from Speke the subordinate position that Speke had rebelled against with Burton.  The partnership of Speke and Grant was to be harmonious.
a passionate, romantic and bigoted catholic girl who offered no possibility of helping her husband in his career or understanding his linguistic and literary powers.
On his first sight of Lake Victoria, John Hanning Speke was convinced that the Nile must rise here.  But he had no proof: he had no idea of exactly where the great river started or how it reached mapped regions.  These gaps in geographical knowledge were filled by two subsequent explorations.  The first headed by Speke himself and James Grant, led to a European standing for the first time, at the actual headwaters of the Nile.  The second expedition was led by an intrepid big-game hunter, Samuel Baker, and his wife Florence.  These two were to discover Lake Albert, through which the Nile flowed on its long journey to the Mediterranean.
Samuel Baker, Speke’s old hunting companion, from India, though ostensibly in Africa to search for the overdue Speke and Grant, had secretly decided to discover the Nile’s source if they had failed.  But to his chagrin, the two explorers staggered into Baker’s base at Gondokoro on the Upper Nile with the news that they had succeeded.  Wistfully, Baker asked if they were not “one leaf of the laurel left for me?”. There was indeed.  Neither Speke nor Grant had discovered whether the river flowing out of Lake Victoria passed through another great lake before continuing its journey.
Husband and wife determined to find out and Baker left a lively account of the expedition to the lake he was to name after Prince Albert.  Samuel and Florence travelled slowly and methodically to their goal.  When delayed, they set about building houses, planting vegetables and roaming the country in search of wild game.
During this trip they came to hate the slave-trade and its resultant havoc, a reaction in strange contrast to their conviction - echoing that of Burton, Speke and Grant before them - that the African was no more than a savage child.
Further Reading -  Search for the Source!
Burton prepared to embark on a pilgrimage to Al Medinah and Mecca. Almost immediately afterwards he was world famous.  In 1854 an early expedition by Burton and Speke to penetrate central Africa from the Somali coast led to disaster.  Shortly after Speke met Burton on the Somali coast, their camp was attacked and sacked; Burton and Speke were wounded a brother officer killed, and the expedition was saved from destruction only because a friendly Arab boatmen took the survivors back to Aden. Although Burton, in his report criticised Speke he nonetheless annexed Speke’s notes on the botany and zoology of the area to his report.  Speke felt humiliated and ill-used, their relationship was already an explosive, psychic mixture.
Custom Search
Search results published at foot of the home page
To navigate to other topics - click here
 Current Active Viewers -


Did this web site interest you?  If so perhaps a visit to the following by the same web master, you would also find enjoyable and informative -

Football aka Soccer - The Game - CLICK HERE

Louis XVI and the French Revolution - CLICK HERE

World War II - Epic Events - Key Players - CLICK HERE

Aviation - 1890 - 1949 The Pioneering Years - CLICK HERE

The History of the British Empire - CLICK HERE

Fall of The British Empire - CLICK HERE

Victorians and Empire, The British Way - CLICK HERE

True Tales of War, Adventure and Exploration - CLICK HERE

Greatest Highlights of Sport in the 20th Century - CLICK HERE

Milestones of the 20th Century Cinema - CLICK HERE

The fascinating story of the British Monarchy - CLICK HERE  

Eyewitness to the History of America         CLICK HERE

Eyewitness History of America - The Later Years - CLICK HERE

Lindfield Village - An English Classic - CLICK HERE

Start Lawn Bowls - CLICK HERE

Explore Sussex England - CLICK HERE

Gripping True Stories - CLICK HERE

Play Lawn Bowls to Win - CLICK HERE