The aerial line which Dr. Ferguson counted upon following
had not been chosen at random; his point of departure had
been carefully studied, and it was not without
good cause that he had resolved to ascend at the island
of Zanzibar. This island, lying near to the eastern coast
of Africa, is in the sixth degree of south latitude, that is
to say, four hundred and thirty geographical miles below
From this island the latest expedition, sent by way of
the great lakes to explore the sources of the Nile, had just
But it would be well to indicate what explorations
Dr. Ferguson hoped to link together. The two principal
ones were those of Dr. Barth in 1849, and of Lieutenants
Burton and Speke in 1858.
Dr. Barth is a Hamburger, who obtained permission
for himself and for his countryman Overweg to join the
expedition of the Englishman Richardson. The latter was
charged with a mission in the Soudan.
This vast region is situated between the fifteenth and
tenth degrees of north latitude; that is to say, that, in
order to approach it, the explorer must penetrate fifteen
hundred miles into the interior of Africa.
Until then, the country in question had been known
only through the journeys of Denham, of Clapperton, and
of Oudney, made from 1822 to 1824. Richardson, Barth,
and Overweg, jealously anxious to push their investigations
farther, arrived at Tunis and Tripoli, like their predecessors,
and got as far as Mourzouk, the capital of Fezzan.
They then abandoned the perpendicular line, and made
a sharp turn westward toward Ghat, guided, with difficulty,
by the Touaregs. After a thousand scenes of pillage, of
vexation, and attacks by armed forces, their caravan
arrived, in October, at the vast oasis of Asben. Dr. Barth
separated from his companions, made an excursion to the
town of Aghades, and rejoined the expedition, which
resumed its march on the 12th of December. At length it
reached the province of Damerghou; there the three travellers
parted, and Barth took the road to Kano, where he
arrived by dint of perseverance, and after paying
In spite of an intense fever, he quitted that place on
the 7th of March, accompanied by a single servant. The
principal aim of his journey was to reconnoitre Lake Tchad,
from which he was still three hundred and fifty miles distant.
He therefore advanced toward the east, and reached
the town of Zouricolo, in the Bornou country, which is the
core of the great central empire of Africa. There he heard
of the death of Richardson, who had succumbed to fatigue
and privation. He next arrived at Kouka, the capital of
Bornou, on the borders of the lake. Finally, at the end
of three weeks, on the 14th of April, twelve months after
having quitted Tripoli, he reached the town of Ngornou.
We find him again setting forth on the 29th of March,
1851, with Overweg, to visit the kingdom of Adamaoua,
to the south of the lake, and from there he pushed on as
far as the town of Yola, a little below nine degrees north
latitude. This was the extreme southern limit reached by
that daring traveller.
He returned in the month of August to Kouka; from
there he successively traversed the Mandara, Barghimi,
and Klanem countries, and reached his extreme limit in
the east, the town of Masena, situated at seventeen
degrees twenty minutes west longitude.
On the 25th of November, 1852, after the death of
Overweg, his last companion, he plunged into the west,
visited Sockoto, crossed the Niger, and finally reached
Timbuctoo, where he had to languish, during eight long
months, under vexations inflicted upon him by the sheik,
and all kinds of ill-treatment and wretchedness. But the
presence of a Christian in the city could not long be
tolerated, and the Foullans threatened to besiege it. The
doctor, therefore, left it on the 17th of March, 1854, and
fled to the frontier, where he remained for thirty-three
days in the most abject destitution. He then managed to
get back to Kano in November, thence to Kouka, where
he resumed Denham's route after four months' delay. He
regained Tripoli toward the close of August, 1855, and
arrived in London on the 6th of September, the only
survivor of his party.
Such was the venturesome journey of Dr. Barth.
Dr. Ferguson carefully noted the fact, that he had
stopped at four degrees north latitude and seventeen
degrees west longitude.
Now let us see what Lieutenants Burton and Speke
accomplished in Eastern Africa.
The various expeditions that had ascended the Nile
could never manage to reach the mysterious source of that
river. According to the narrative of the German doctor,
Ferdinand Werne, the expedition attempted in 1840, under
the auspices of Mehemet Ali, stopped at Gondokoro,
between the fourth and fifth parallels of north latitude.
In 1855, Brun-Rollet, a native of Savoy, appointed
consul for Sardinia in Eastern Soudan, to take the place
of Vaudey, who had just died, set out from Karthoum,
and, under the name of Yacoub the merchant, trading in
gums and ivory, got as far as Belenia, beyond the fourth
degree, but had to return in ill-health to Karthoum, where
he died in 1857.
Neither Dr. Penney--the head of the Egyptian medical
service, who, in a small steamer, penetrated one degree
beyond Gondokoro, and then came back to die of exhaustion
at Karthoum--nor Miani, the Venetian, who, turning the
cataracts below Gondokoro, reached the second parallel--
nor the Maltese trader, Andrea Debono, who pushed his
journey up the Nile still farther--could work their way
beyond the apparently impassable limit.
In 1859, M. Guillaume Lejean, intrusted with a mission
by the French Government, reached Karthoum by
way of the Red Sea, and embarked upon the Nile with a
retinue of twenty-one hired men and twenty soldiers, but
he could not get past Gondokoro, and ran extreme risk of
his life among the negro tribes, who were in full revolt.
The expedition directed by M. d'Escayrac de Lauture
made an equally unsuccessful attempt to reach the famous
sources of the Nile.
This fatal limit invariably brought every traveller to a
halt. In ancient times, the ambassadors of Nero reached
the ninth degree of latitude, but in eighteen centuries only
from five to six degrees, or from three hundred to three
hundred and sixty geographical miles, were gained.
Many travellers endeavored to reach the sources of the
Nile by taking their point of departure on the eastern
coast of Africa.
Between 1768 and 1772 the Scotch traveller, Bruce,
set out from Massowah, a port of Abyssinia, traversed the
Tigre, visited the ruins of Axum, saw the sources of the
Nile where they did not exist, and obtained no serious result.
In 1844, Dr. Krapf, an Anglican missionary, founded
an establishment at Monbaz, on the coast of Zanguebar,
and, in company with the Rev. Dr. Rebmann, discovered
two mountain-ranges three hundred miles from the coast.
These were the mountains of Kilimandjaro and Kenia,
which Messrs. de Heuglin and Thornton have partly scaled
In 1845, Maizan, the French explorer, disembarked,
alone, at Bagamayo, directly opposite to Zanzibar, and
got as far as Deje-la-Mhora, where the chief caused him
to be put to death in the most cruel torment.
In 1859, in the month of August, the young traveller,
Roscher, from Hamburg, set out with a caravan of Arab
merchants, reached Lake Nyassa, and was there assassinated
while he slept.
Finally, in 1857, Lieutenants Burton and Speke, both
officers in the Bengal army, were sent by the London
Geographical Society to explore the great African lakes,
and on the 17th of June they quitted Zanzibar, and
plunged directly into the west.
After four months of incredible suffering, their baggage
having been pillaged, and their attendants beaten
and slain, they arrived at Kazeh, a sort of central
rendezvous for traders and caravans. They were in the
midst of the country of the Moon, and there they collected
some precious documents concerning the manners, government,
religion, fauna, and flora of the region. They next
made for the first of the great lakes, the one named
Tanganayika, situated between the third and eighth degrees
of south latitude. They reached it on the 14th of February,
1858, and visited the various tribes residing on its
banks, the most of whom are cannibals.
They departed again on the 26th of May, and reentered
Kazeh on the 20th of June. There Burton, who
was completely worn out, lay ill for several months,
during which time Speke made a push to the northward
of more than three hundred miles, going as far as Lake
Okeracua, which he came in sight of on the 3d of August;
but he could descry only the opening of it at latitude
two degrees thirty minutes.
He reached Kazeh, on his return, on the 25th of August,
and, in company with Burton, again took up the
route to Zanzibar, where they arrived in the month of
March in the following year. These two daring explorers
then reembarked for England; and the Geographical
Society of Paris decreed them its annual prize medal.
Dr. Ferguson carefully remarked that they had not
gone beyond the second degree of south latitude, nor the
twenty-ninth of east longitude.
The problem, therefore, was how to link the explorations
of Burton and Speke with those of Dr. Barth, since
to do so was to undertake to traverse an extent of more
than twelve degrees of territory.