The Discovery of the Source of the Nile, by John Hanning Speke

Chapter 1. London to Zanzibar, 1859

The design — The Preparations — Departure — The Cape — The Zulu Kafirs — Turtle–Turning — Capture of a Slaver — Arrive at Zanzibar — Local Politics and News Since Last Visit — Organisation of the Expedition.

My third expedition in Africa, which was avowedly for the purpose of establishing the truth of my assertion that the Victoria N’yanza, which I discovered on the 30th July 1858, would eventually prove to be the source of the Nile, may be said to have commenced on the 9th May 1859, the first day after my return to England from my second expedition, when, at the invitation of Sir. R. I. Murchison, I called at his house to show him my map for the information of the Royal Geographical Society. Sir Roderick, I need only say, at once accepted my views; and, knowing my ardent desire to prove to the world, by actual inspection of the exit, that the Victoria N’yanza was the source of the Nile, seized the enlightened view, that such a discovery should not be lost to the glory of England and the Society of which he was President; and said to me, “Speke, we must send you there again.” I was then officially directed, much against my own inclination, to lecture at the Royal Geographical Society on the geography of Africa, which I had, as the sole surveyor of the second expedition, laid down on our maps. 4 A council of the Geographical Society was now convened to ascertain what projects I had in view for making good my discovery by connecting the lake with the Nile, as also what assistance I should want for that purpose.

4 Captain Burton, on receiving his gold medal at the hands of Sir Roderick I. Murchison, said, “You have alluded, sir, to the success of the last expedition. Justice compels me to state the circumstances under which it attained that success. To Captain Speke are due those geographical results to which you have alluded in such flattering terms. Whilst I undertook the history and ethnography, the languages, and the peculiarity of the people, to Captain Speke fell the arduous task of delineating an exact topography, and of laying down our positions by astronomical observations — a labour to which, at times, even the undaunted Livingstone found himself unequal.”

Some thought my best plan would be to go up the Nile, which seemed to them the natural course to pursue, especially as the Nile was said, though nobody believed it, to have been navigated by expeditions sent out by Mehemet Ali, Viceroy of Egypt, up to 3° 22’ north latitude. To this I objected, as so many had tried it and failed, from reasons which had not transpired; and, at the same time, I said that if they would give me œ5000 down at once, I would return to Zanzibar at the end of the year, March to Kaze again, and make the necessary investigations of the Victoria lake. Although, in addition to the journey to the source of the river, I also proposed spending three years in the country, looking up tributaries, inspecting watersheds, navigating the lake, and making collections on all branches of natural history, yet £5000 was thought by the Geographical Society too large a sum to expect from the Government; so I accepted the half, saying that, whatever the expedition might cost, I would make good the rest, as, under any circumstances, I would complete what I had begun, or die in the attempt.

My motive for deferring the journey a year was the hope that I might, in the meanwhile, send on fifty men, carrying beads and brass wire, under charge of Arab ivory-traders, to Karague, and fifty men more, in the same way, to Kaze; whilst I, arriving in the best season for travelling (May, June, or July), would be able to push on expeditiously to my depots so formed, and thus escape the great disadvantages of travelling with a large caravan in a country where no laws prevail to protect one against desertions and theft. Moreover, I knew that the negroes who would have to go with me, as long as they believed I had property in advance, would work up to it willingly, as they would be the gainers by doing so; whilst, with nothing before them, they would be always endeavouring to thwart my advance, to save them from a trouble which their natural laziness would prompt them to escape from.

This beautiful project, I am sorry to say, was doomed from the first; for I did not get the £2500 grant of money or appointment to the command until fully nine months had elapsed, when I wrote to Colonel Rigby, our Consul at Zanzibar, to send on the first instalment of property towards the interior.

As time then advanced, the Indian branch of the Government very graciously gave me fifty artillery carbines, with belts and sword-bayonets attached, and 20,000 rounds of ball ammunition. They lent me as many surveying instruments as I wanted; and, through Sir George Clerk, put at my disposal some rich presents, in gold watches, for the chief Arabs who had so generously assisted us in the last expedition. Captain Grant, hearing that I was bound on this journey, being an old friend and brother sportsman in India, asked me to take him with me, and his appointment was settled by Colonel Sykes, then chairman of a committee of the Royal Geographical Society, who said it would only be “a matter of charity” to allow me a companion.

Much at the same time, Mr Petherick, an ivory merchant, who had spent many years on the Nile, arrived in England, and gratuitously offered, as it would not interfere with his trade, to place boats at Gondokoro, and send a party of men up the White River to collect ivory in the meanwhile, and eventually to assist me in coming down. Mr Petherick, I may add, showed great zeal for geographical exploits, so, as I could not get money enough to do all that I wished to accomplish myself, I drew out a project for him to ascend the stream now known as the Usua river (reported to be the larger branch of the Nile), and, if possible, ascertain what connection it had with my lake. This being agreed to, I did my best, through the medium of Earl de Grey (then President of the Royal Geographical Society), to advance him money to carry out this desirable object.

The last difficulty I had now before me was to obtain a passage to Zanzibar. The Indian Government had promised me a vessel of war to convey me from Aden to Zanzibar, provided it did not interfere with the public interests. This doubtful proviso induced me to apply to Captain Playfair, Assistant–Political at Aden, to know what Government vessel would be available; and should there be none, to get for me a passage by some American trader. The China war, he assured me, had taken up all the Government vessels, and there appeared no hope left for me that season, as the last American trader was just then leaving for Zanzibar. In this dilemma it appeared that I must inevitably lose the travelling season, and come in for the droughts and famines. The tide, however, turned in my favour a little; for I obtained, by permission of the Admiralty, a passage in the British screw steam-frigate Forte, under orders to convey Admiral Sir H. Keppel to his command at the Cape; and Sir Charles Wood most obligingly made a request that I should be forwarded thence to Zanzibar in one of our slaver-hunting cruisers by the earliest opportunity.

On the 27th April, Captain Grant and I embarked on board the new steam-frigate Forte, commanded by Captain E. W. Turnour, at Portsmouth; and after a long voyage, touching at Madeira and Rio de Janeiro, we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on the 4th July. Here Sir George Grey, the Governor of the colony, who took a warm and enlightened interest in the cause of the expedition, invited both Grant and myself to reside at his house. Sir George had been an old explorer himself — was once wounded by savages in Australia, much in the same manner as I had been in the Somali country — and, with a spirit of sympathy, he called me his son, and said he hoped I would succeed. Then, thinking how best he could serve me, he induced the Cape Parliament to advance to the expedition a sum of £300, for the purpose of buying baggage-mules; and induced Lieut.-General Wynyard, the Commander-in-Chief, to detach ten volunteers from the Cape Mounted Rifle Corps to accompany me. When this addition was made to my force, of twelve mules and ten Hottentots, the Admiral of the station placed the screw steam-corvette Brisk at my disposal, and we all sailed for Zanzibar on the 16th July, under the command of Captain A. F. de Horsey — the Admiral himself accompanying us, on one of his annual inspections to visit the east coast of Africa and the Mauritius. In five days more we touched at East London, and, thence proceeding north, made a short stay at Delagoa Bay, where I first became acquainted with the Zulu Kafirs, a naked set of negroes, whose national costume principally consists in having their hair trussed up like a hoop on the top of the head, and an appendage like a thimble, to which they attach a mysterious importance. They wear additional ornaments, charms, &c., of birds’ claws, hoofs and horns of wild animals tied on with strings, and sometimes an article like a kilt, made of loose strips of skin, or the entire skins of vermin strung close together. These things I have merely noticed in passing, because I shall hereafter have occasion to allude to a migratory people, the Watuta, who dressing much in the same manner, extend from Lake N’yassa to Uzinza, and may originally have been a part of this same Kafir race, who are themselves supposed to have migrated from the regions at present occupied by the Gallas. Next day (the 28th) we went on to Europa, a small island of coralline, covered with salsolacious shrubs, and tenanted only by sea-birds, owls, finches, rats, and turtles. Of the last we succeeded in turning three, the average weight of each being 360 lb., and we took large numbers of their eggs.

We then went to Mozambique, and visited the Portuguese Governor, John Travers de Almeida, who showed considerable interest in the prospects of the expedition, and regretted that, as it cost so much money to visit the interior from that place, his officers were unable to go there. One experimental trip only had been accomplished by Mr Soares, who was forced to pay the Makua chiefs 120 dollars footing, to reach a small hill in view of the sea, about twenty-five miles off.

Leaving Mozambique on the 9th August, bound for Johanna, we came the next day, at 11.30 A.M., in sight of a slaver, ship-rigged, bearing on us full sail, but so distant from us that her mast-tops were only just visible. As quick as ourselves, she saw who we were and tried to escape by retreating. This manoeuvre left no doubt what she was, and the Brisk, all full of excitement, gave chase at full speed, and in four hours more drew abreast of her. A great commotion ensued on board the slaver. The sea-pirates threw overboard their colours, bags, and numerous boxes, but would not heave-to, although repeatedly challenged, until a gun was fired across her bows. Our boats were then lowered, and in a few minutes more the “prize” was taken, by her crew being exchanged for some of our men, and we learnt all about her from accurate reports furnished by Mr Frere, the Cape Slave Commissioner. Cleared from Havannah as “the Sunny South,” professing to be destined for Hong–Kong, she changed her name to the Manuela, and came slave-hunting in these regions. The slaver’s crew consisted of a captain, doctor, and several sailors, mostly Spaniards. The vessel was well stored with provisions and medicines; but there was scarcely enough room in her, though she was said to be only half freighted, for the 544 creatures they were transporting. The next morning, as we entered Pamoni harbour by an intricate approach to the rich little island hill Johanna, the slaver, as she followed us, stranded, and for a while caused considerable alarm to everybody but her late captain. He thought his luck very bad, after escaping so often, to be taken thus; for his vessel’s power of sailing were so good, that, had she had the wind in her favour, the Brisk, even with the assistance of steam, could not have come up with her. On going on board her, I found the slaves to be mostly Wahiyow. A few of them were old women, but all the rest children. They had been captured during wars in their own country, and sold to Arabs, who brought them to the coast, and kept them half-starved until the slaver arrived, when they were shipped in dhows and brought off to the slaver, where, for nearly a week, whilst the bargains were in progress, they were kept entirely without food. It was no wonder then, every man of the Brisk who first looked upon them did so with a feeling of loathing and abhorrence of such a trade. All over the vessel, but more especially below, old women, stark naked, were dying in the most disgusting “ferret-box” atmosphere; while all those who had sufficient strength were pulling up the hatches, and tearing at the salt fish they found below, like dogs in a kennel.

On the 15th the Manuela was sent to the Mauritius, and we, after passing the Comoro Islands, arrived at our destination, Zanzibar — called Lunguja by the aborigines, the Wakhadim — and Unguja by the present Wasuahili.

On the 17th, after the anchor was cast, without a moment’s delay I went off to the British Consulate to see my old friend Colonel Rigby. He was delighted to see us; and, in anticipation of our arrival, had prepared rooms for our reception, that both Captain Grant and myself might enjoy his hospitality until arrangements could be made for our final start into the interior. The town, which I had left in so different a condition sixteen months before, was in a state of great tranquillity, brought about by the energy of the Bombay Government on the Muscat side, and Colonel Rigby’s exertions on this side, in preventing an insurrection Sultan Majid’s brothers had created with a view of usurping his government.

The news of the place was as follows:— In addition to the formerly constituted consulates — English, French, and American — a fourth one, representing Hamburg, had been created. Dr Roscher, who during my absence had made a successful journey to the N’yinyezi N’yassa, or Star Lake, was afterwards murdered by some natives in Uhiyow; and Lieutentant–Colonel Baron van der Decken, another enterprising German, was organising an expedition with a view to search for the relics of his countryman, and, if possible, complete the project poor Roscher had commenced.

Slavery had received a severe blow by the sharp measures Colonel Rigby had taken in giving tickets of emancipation to all those slaves whom our Indian subjects the Banyans had been secretly keeping, and by fining the masters and giving the money to the men to set them up in life. The interior of the continent had been greatly disturbed, owing to constant war between the natives and Arab ivory merchants. Mguru Mfupi (or Short-legs), the chief of Khoko in Ugogo, for instance, had been shot, and Manua Sera (the Tippler), who succeeded the old Sultan Fundi Kira, of Unyanyembe, on his death, shortly after the late expedition left Kaze, was out in the field fighting the Arabs. Recent letters from the Arabs in the interior, however, gave hopes of peace being shortly restored. Finally, in compliance with my request — and this was the most important item of news to myself — Colonel Rigby had sent on, thirteen days previously, fifty-six loads of cloth and beads, in charge of two of Ramji’s men, consigned to Musa at Kaze.

To call on the Sultan, of course, was our first duty. He received us in his usually affable manner; made many trite remarks concerning our plans; was surprised, if my only object in view was to see the great river running out of the lake, that I did not go by the more direct route across the Masai country and Usoga; and then, finding I wished to see Karague, as well as to settle many other great points of interest, he offered to assist me with all the means in his power.

The Hottentots, the mules, and the baggage having been landed, our preparatory work began in earnest. It consisted in proving the sextants; rating the watches; examining the compasses and boiling thermometers; making tents and packsaddles; ordering supplies of beads, cloth, and brass wire; and collecting servants and porters.

Sheikh Said bin Salem, our late Cafila Bashi, or caravan captain, was appointed to that post again, as he wished to prove his character for honour and honesty; and it now transpired that he had been ordered not to go with me when I discovered the Victoria N’yanza. Bombay and his brother Mabruki were bound to me of old, and the first to greet me on my arrival here; while my old friends the Beluchs begged me to take them again. The Hottentots, however, had usurped their place. I was afterwards sorry for this, though, if I ever travel again, I shall trust to none but natives, as the climate of Africa is too trying to foreigners. Colonel Rigby, who had at heart as much as anybody the success of the expedition, materially assisted me in accomplishing my object — that men accustomed to discipline and a knowledge of English honour and honesty should be enlisted, to give confidence to the rest of the men; and he allowed me to select from his boat’s crew any men I could find who had served as men-of-war, and had seen active service in India.

For this purpose my factotum, Bombay, prevailed on Baraka, Frij, and Rahan — all of them old sailors, who, like himself, knew Hindustani — to go with me. With this nucleus to start with, I gave orders that they should look out for as many Wanguana (freed men — i.e., men emancipated from slavery) as they could enlist, to carry loads, or do any other work required of them, and to follow men in Africa wherever I wished, until our arrival in Egypt, when I would send them back to Zanzibar. Each was to receive one year’s pay in advance, and the remainder when their work was completed.

While this enlistment was going on here, Ladha Damji, the customs’ master, was appointed to collect a hundred pagazis (Wanyamuezi porters) to carry each a load of cloth, beads, or brass wire to Kaze, as they do for the ivory merchants. Meanwhile, at the invitation of the Admiral, and to show him some sport in hippopotamus-shooting, I went with him in a dhow over to Kusiki, near which there is a tidal lagoon, which at high tide is filled with water, but at low water exposes sand islets covered with mangrove shrub. In these islets we sought for the animals, knowing they were keen to lie wallowing in the mire, and we bagged two. On my return to Zanzibar, the Brisk sailed for the Mauritius, but fortune sent Grant and myself on a different cruise. Sultan Majid, having heard that a slaver was lying at Pangani, and being anxious to show his good faith with the English, begged me to take command of one his vessels of war and run it down. Accordingly, embarking at noon, as soon as the vessel could be got ready, we lay-to that night at Tombat, with a view of surprising the slaver next morning; but next day, on our arrival at Pangani, we heard that she had merely put in to provision there three days before, and had let immediately afterwards. As I had come so far, I thought we might go ashore and look at the town, which was found greatly improved since I last saw it, by the addition of several coralline houses and a dockyard. The natives were building a dhow with Lindi and Madagascar timber. On going ashore, I might add, we were stranded on the sands, and, coming off again, nearly swamped by the increasing surf on the bar of the river; but this was a trifle; all we thought of was to return to Zanzibar, and hurry on our preparations there. This, however, was not so easy: the sea current was running north, and the wind was too light to propel our vessel against it; so, after trying in vain to make way in her, Grant and I, leaving her to follow, took to a boat, after giving the captain, who said we would get drowned, a letter, to say we left the vessel against his advice.

We had a brave crew of young negroes to pull us; but, pull as they would, the current was so strong that we feared, if we persisted, we should be drawn into the broad Indian Ocean; so, changing our line, we bore into the little coralline island, Maziwa, where, after riding over some ugly coral surfs, we put in for the night. There we found, to our relief, some fisherman, who gave us fish for our dinner, and directions how to proceed.

Next morning, before daylight, we trusted to the boat and our good luck. After passing, without landmarks to guide us, by an intricate channel, through foaming surfs, we arrived at Zanzibar in the night, and found that the vessel had got in before us.

Colonel Rigby now gave me a most interesting paper, with a map attached to it, about the Nile and the Mountains of the Moon. It was written by Lieutenant Wilford, from the “Purans” of the Ancient Hindus. As it exemplifies, to a certain extent, the supposition I formerly arrived at concerning the Mountains of the Moon being associated with the country of the Moon, I would fain draw the attention of the reader of my travels to the volume of the “Asiatic Researches” in which it was published. 5 It is remarkable that the Hindus have christened the source of the Nile Amara, which is the name of a country at the north-east corner of the Victoria N’yanza. This, I think, shows clearly, that the ancient Hindus must have had some kind of communication with both the northern and southern ends of the Victoria N’yanza.

5 Vol. iii. of A. D. 1801.

Having gone to work again, I found that Sheikh Said had brought ten men, four of whom were purchased for one hundred dollars, which I had to pay; Bombay, Baraka, Frij, and Rahan had brought twenty-six more, all freed men; while the Sultan Majid, at the suggestion of Colonel Rigby, gave me thirty-four men more, who were all raw labourers taken from his gardens. It was my intention to have taken one hundred of this description of men throughout the whole journey; but as so many could not be found in Zanzibar, I still hoped to fill up the complement in Unyamuezi, the land of the Moon, from the large establishments of the Arab merchants residing there. The payment of these men’s wages for the first year, as well as the terms of the agreement made with them, by the kind consent of Colonel Rigby were now entered in the Consular Office books, as a security to both parties, and a precaution against disputes on the way. Any one who saw the grateful avidity with which they took the money, and the warmth with which they pledged themselves to serve me faithfully through all dangers and difficulties, would, had he had no dealings with such men before, have thought that I had a first-rate set of followers. I lastly gave Sheikh Said a double-barrelled rifle by Blissett, and distributed fifty carbines among the seniors of the expedition, with the condition that they would forfeit them to others more worthy if they did not behave well, but would retain possession of them for ever if they carried them through the journey to my satisfaction.

On the 21st, as everything was ready on the island, I sent Sheikh Said and all the men, along with the Hottentots, mules, and baggage, off in dhows to Bagamoyo, on the opposite mainland. Colonel Rigby, with Captain Grant and myself, then called on the Sultan, to bid him adieu, when he graciously offered me, as a guard of honour to escort me through Uzaramo, one jemadar and twenty-five Beluch soldiers. These I accepted, more as a government security in that country against the tricks of the natives, than for any accession they made to our strength. His highness then places his 22-gun corvette, “Secundra Shah,” at our disposal, and we went all three over to Bagamoyo, arriving on the 25th. Immediately on landing, Ladha and Sheikh Said showed us into a hut prepared for us, and all things looked pretty well. Ladha’s hundred loads of beads, cloths, and brass wire were all tied up for the march, and seventy-five pagazis (porters from the Moon country) had received their hire to carry these loads to Kaze in the land of the Moon. Competition, I found, had raised these men’s wages, for I had to pay, to go even as far as Kaze, nine and a quarter dollars a-head! — as Masudi and some other merchants were bound on the same line as myself, and all were equally in a hurry to be off and avoid as much as possible the famine we knew we should have to fight through at this late season. Little troubles, of course, must always be expected, else these blacks would not be true negroes. Sheikh Said now reported it quite impossible to buy anything at a moderate rate; for, as I was a “big man,” I ought to “pay a big price;” and my men had all been obliged to fight in the bazaar before they could get even tobacco at the same rate as other men, because they were the servants of the big man, who could afford to give higher wages than any one else. The Hottentots, too, began to fall sick, which my Wanguana laughingly attributed to want of grog to keep their spirits up, as these little creatures, the “Tots,” had frequently at Zanzibar, after heavy potations, boasted to the more sober free men, that they “were strong, because they could stand plenty drink.” The first step now taken was to pitch camp under large shady mango-trees, and to instruct every man in his particular duty. At the same time, the Wanguana, who had carbines, were obliged to be drilled in their use and formed into companies, with captains of ten, headed by General Baraka, who was made commander-in-chief.

On the 30th September, as things were looking more orderly, I sent forward half of the property, and all the men I had then collected, to Ugeni, a shamba, or garden, two miles off; and on the 2nd October, after settling with Ladha for my “African money,” as my pagazis were completed to a hundred and one, we wished Rigby adieu, and all assembled together at Ugeni, which resembles the richest parts of Bengal.

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