The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805, by Mungo Park


Page xix.

Major Rennell, in his Geographical Illustrations of Park’s travels, has done ample justice to the knowledge and judgment, so eminently displayed by D’Anville in the investigation of several important points relative to the geography of North Africa, which have been elucidated by this writer from very imperfect materials with extraordinary sagacity and success. In the 26th volume of the Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions, there are two very important Dissertations by this distinguished Geographer; the first, On the sources of the Nile; and the second, Concerning the rivers of the interior of Africa, with reference to the opinions of the ancient and modern writers who have treated on that subject. The latter is the most immediately connected with the particular questions alluded to in the text; and it is remarkable that the principal opinions, or rather conjectures, of D’Anville (of which the opinion relating to the course of the Niger is the most important), although deduced from very uncertain and discordant sources of information, have been confirmed in a great degree by the discoveries of modern travellers, especially by those of Park. It appears that D’Anville was well acquainted with the existence of Tombuctoo, and had even ascertained the situation of that city, as well as the general course of the Niger with a considerable degree of precision. He had also formed a plan for sending a person, properly qualified, on an expedition from the French settlement of St. Joseph on the river Senegal, to Tombuctoo; but owing to some circumstance which he does not explain, the scheme did not take effect. As the Dissertation here alluded to may not be in the hands of every reader, the passage relating to this subject may be worth transcribing. — After mentioning Ghana as the principal Mahometan city of Nigritia, spoken of by Edrisi, he says that many of the Fatimites, who escaped from the power of the Califs, took refuge in the interior of Africa, where they formed various states. He then proceeds as follows:

“Tombut ou Tombouctou, est actuellement entre les villes de la Nigritie, celle dont on parle davantage. On ne doit point être surpris qu’Edrisi n’en fasse pas mention. Outre qu’elle se peut juger hors des limites de ce qui lui a été connu, Léon d’Afrique nous apprend que la fondation de Tombut par un prince de Barbarie, appellé Mensa–Suléiman, est de l’an 610 de l’Hégire, qui repond à l’an 1213 de l’ère Chrétienne, ce qui est postérieur à la géographie d’Edrisi, composée vers le milieu du douzième siècle. La situation de cette ville n’est pas précisément sur le Niger; mais elle y a son port, nommé Cabra, à quelques milles de distance. Comme aucune des nations commerçantes de l’Europe n’a pénétré aussi avant dans les terres, en cette partie d’Afrique, que la nation Françoise, par ses établissemens sur le Sénéga, elle est plus à portée qu’une autre d’acquérir quelque connoissance de cet intérieur. J’ai appris, d’une personne qui avoit commandé plusieurs années au fort Saint–Joseph en Galam, lequel se peut estimer distant en droite ligne de l’entrée du Sénéga d’environ cent trent lieues françoises; que les Bambaras, qui du fond du pays amènent des esclaves noirs, comptent quarante huit journées depuis Tombut jusqu’au fort Saint–Joseph, et que la mesure commune de la journée s’évalue à environ cinq lieues, d’où il résulte autour de deux cens quarante lieues. Le moyen d’en savoir davantage seroit, que quelque personne habituée au climat, comme il y en a dans le haut du Sénéga, accompagnée d’interprètes, et qu’une instruction préalable auroit mise au fait d’une partie des choses dont il seroit à propos de s’informer, fît le voyage de Tombut. Un évènement a empêché l’exécution d’un projet, auquel j’avois très-volontiers pris part dans cette vûe.”

Mém. de l’Acad. des Inscriptions, Tom. xxvi. p. 72.

The above passage was written by D’Anville about the year 1754; and it is not a little extraordinary that during the sixty years that have since elapsed, a period so much distinguished for geographical discovery, Tombuctoo should never have been visited by any European traveller: and that one of the greatest marts of African commerce, which is annually resorted to by caravans from various parts of that continent, should remain at this time entirely unknown to the civilized world.

In speaking of Tombuctoo as being still entirely unknown, the writer is aware that a particular description of that city has been given in an Account of the Empire of Morocco published in the year 1809 by Mr. James Grey Jackson, who resided in that part of Africa during many years. But Mr. Jackson derived his whole knowledge of Tombuctoo from the accounts of native traders; upon whose unsupported testimony very little reliance can be placed; especially as to matters of detail, or such facts as require to be stated with any degree of exactness. Considering that Mr. Jackson’s information was obtained from this source, the very minuteness and apparent precision of his account, are circumstances highly unfavourable to its authenticity.

With reference to the internal geography of Africa, the writer may take this opportunity of observing, that next to the African Association, to whom we are indebted for almost all the authentic information which we possess upon this subject, [Footnote: The valuable discoveries of the late Mr. Browne (whose death must be lamented as a public loss) form an exception to this general remark; but perhaps the only exception.] considerable praise is due to the Sierra Leone Company; under whose auspices, during the time they were in possession of that colony, several important journies into the interior were judiciously undertaken and successfully executed. Among these may be mentioned an expedition in 1794 by Mr. Watt and Mr. Winterbottom (being a land journey of near five hundred miles, in going and returning by different routes) to Laby and Teembo, both of them considerable towns, and the latter the capital of the Foulah country. Tombuctoo appeared, from the enquiries made by the travellers, to be well known at both those places; and the communication with that city from Laby, though it was spoken of as a journey of four moons, was represented to be open, and they were furnished with many particulars of the route. Shortly afterwards, in consequence perhaps of this information, a project was formed at Sierra Leone of sending out a mission to Tombuctoo; but Mr. Watt, who was to have undertaken the journey, died; and the invasion of the colony by the French in September 1794, together with the destruction which followed, seems to have put a stop to expeditions of this nature.

The editor has been favoured by Mr. Macaulay, late Secretary of the Sierra Leone Company and formerly Governor of the Colony, with a sight of the Journals of the expedition to Teembo as well as of some other missions from Sierra Leone of inferior importance. They do great credit to the writers (especially the Journal to Teembo) and contain many valuable and interesting particulars; several of which have been given to the public in the Reports of the Sierra Leone Company, and in Dr. Winterbottom’s judicious account of the native Africans in the neighbourhood of that colony. But there is still room for a compilation or selection from these Journals, which, if well executed, would be an instructive and interesting publication.

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