Maya Angelou once opined that “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
On this note, and in continuation of our treatise on historical figures and events, we discussed Mungo Park, and commenced a discourse on Hugh Clapperton last week. These were two of the greatest discoverers of all time. Today, we shall further continue with Mungo Park and Hugh Clapperton. Read on.
Still on Mungo Park
We saw how Mungo Park “discovered” the River Niger at New Bussa, Kainji. My argument is that, having met the natives living by the bank of the River Niger, bathing and drinking from it, it is wrong to say he discovered it. He saw it, yes, the first white man to do so. Yes. But, when he fell ill, it was the natives that came to his aid.
However, this is not to play down or underestimate his tortuous journey, sufferings, illnesses, attacks, etc. The story is that, in June 1788, nine of the 12 members of the Saturday Club, a gentlemen’s dining club, formed an ‘Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa,’ as they deemed it unworthy of their ‘present age’ that only so little was known about ‘so large a portion of the globe’ as the African continent.
When in May 1795, the 23-year-old Scottish surgeon Mungo Park (1771-1806) left on his expedition to ‘ascertain the course and if possible, the rise and termination of [the river Niger]… [and] to visit the principal towns or cities in its neighbourhood, particularly Tombuctoo and Houssa,’ he was already the fourth explorer to be sent out by the African Association, as it was commonly known. Two of his predecessors, John Ledyard (1751-89) and Daniel Houghton (1740-91), had died in the attempt. The third, Simon Lucas (ca. 1766-99), had not penetrated far into the interior, due to political upheaval in the region.
Park arrived in the Gambia in June. From there, he travelled on with only a small amount of luggage, accompanied by his interpreter, Johnson, a freed slave, and Demba, his servant. At first, all went well but then Park was captured by Moors and badly treated. He eventually managed to escape and after being repeatedly robbed, suffering from fever, starvation and thirst, he finally reached the banks of the river Niger in July 1796.
He then declared famously:
“I saw with infinite pleasure the great object of my mission; the long sought for, majestic Niger, glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward.”
Although we had a bite of this last week, let us start this great discoverer all over again, to enable readers capture his true essence.
Clapperton’s early life
Clapperton was born in Annan, Dumfriesshire, where his father, George Clapperton, was a surgeon. He gained some knowledge of practical mathematics and navigation, and at 13 years was apprenticed on board a vessel that traded between Liverpool and North America. After having made several voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, he was impressed for the navy, in which he soon rose to the rank of midshipman. During the Napoleonic Wars, Clapperton saw a good deal of active service, and at the storming of Port Louis, Mauritius, in November 1810, he was first in the breach and hauled down the French flag.
In 1814, Clapperton went to Canada, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and to the command of a schooner on the Canadian lakes. In 1817, when the flotilla on the lakes was dismantled, he returned home on half-pay. In 1820, Clapperton removed to Edinburgh, where he made the acquaintance of Walter Oudney, who aroused his interest in African travel.
Lieutenant G.F. Lyon, having returned from an unsuccessful attempt to reach Bornu from Tripoli, the British government determined on a second expedition to that country. Walter Oudney was appointed by Lord Bathurst, then colonial secretary, to proceed to Bornu as consul, accompanied by Hugh Clapperton. From Tripoli, early in 1822, they set out southward to Murzuk, where they were later joined by Major Dixon Denham, who found both men in a wretched condition. They eventually proceeded south from Murzuk on November 29, 1822. By this time, a deep antipathy had developed between Clapperton and Denham, with Denham secretly sending home malicious reports about Clapperton having homosexual relations with one of the Arab servants. The accusation, based on a rumour spread by a disgruntled servant dismissed by Clapperton for theft, was almost certainly unfounded, and Denham later withdrew it but without telling Clapperton he had done so, leading the historian Bovill to observe that ‘it remains difficult to recall in all the checkered history of geographic discovery.’
On February 17, 1823, the party eventually reached Kuka (now Kukawa in Nigeria), capital of the Bornu Empire, where they were well received by the sultan Sheikh Al-Kaneimi, having earlier become the first white men to see Lake Chad. While at Kuka, Clapperton and Oudney parted company with Denham on December 14, to explore the course of the Niger River. Denham remained behind to explore and survey the western, South and South-Eastern shores of Lake Chad, and the lower courses of the Rivers Waube, Logone and Shari. However, only a few weeks later, Oudney died at the village of Murmur, located near the town of Katagum on the road to Kano. Undeterred, Clapperton continued his journey alone through Kano to Sokoto, the capital of the Fulani Empire, where by order of Sultan Muhammed Bello, he was obliged to stop, though the Niger was only a five-day journey to the west. Exhausted by his travels, he returned by way of Zaria and Katsina to Kuka, where Denham found him barely recognizable after his privations. Clapperton and Denham departed Kuka for Tripoli in August 1824, reaching Tripoli on January 26, 1825. Their mutual antipathy unabated, they exchanged not a word during the 133-day journey. The pair continued their journey to England, arriving home to a heroes’ welcome on June 1, 1825. An account of their travels was published in 1826, under the title Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the years 1822–1823 and 1824.
Elevation and further voyages
Immediately after his return to England, Clapperton was raised to the rank of commander, and sent out with another expedition to Africa, the Sultan Bello of Sokoto having professed his eagerness to open up trade with the west coast. Clapperton came out on HMS Brazen, which was joining the West Africa Squadron for the suppression of the slave trade. He landed at Badagry in the Bight of Benin, and started overland for the Niger on December 7, 1825, having with him his servant Richard Lemon Lander, Captain Pearce, and Dr. Morrison, navy surgeon and naturalist. Before the month was out, Pearce and Morrison were dead of fever. Clapperton continued his journey, and, passing through the Yoruba country, in January 1826, he crossed the Niger at Bussa, the spot where Mungo Park had died 20 years before.
In July, Clapperton arrived in Kano and thence the Fulani capital, Sokoto, intending to continue to Bornu and renew his acquaintance with the Kanuri leader Sheikh al-Kaneimi. However, the Fulani were now at war with Al-Kaneimi, and Sultan Bello refused him permission to leave. After many months’ detention, afflicted by malaria, depression, and dysentery, Clapperton died, leaving his servant Lander the only survivor of the expedition. Lander returned to the coast, and at Fernando Po, by extraordinary coincidence, he met Clapperton’s old antagonist, Dixon Denham, who duly relayed the news of Clapperton’s demise to London.
Clapperton was the first European to make known from personal observation the Hausa states, which he visited soon after the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate by the Fula. In 1829, the “Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa”, by Clapperton appeared posthumously, with a biographical sketch of the explorer by his uncle, Lieutenant-Colonel S. Clapperton, as a preface. Richard Lander, who had brought back the journal of his master, also published “Records of Captain Clapperton’s Last Expedition to Africa … with the subsequent Adventures of the Author (2 volumes, London, 1830).”
Hugh Clapperton was painted in 1817, by Sir Henry Raeburn. The painting now resides in the United States. A later oil painting by Gildon Manton is held by the National Gallery of Scotland. The frontispiece to Clapperton’s “Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa” features an engraving by Thomas Goff Lupton. Clapperton was renowned for the following works:
Clapperton, H. (1826). Difficult and Dangerous Roads – Travels in Sahara and Fezzan, 1822–1825. Eds. Bruce-Lockhart, J. & Wright, J. Sickle Moon Books, London.
Clapperton, Hugh; Lander, Richard (1829). Journal of a second expedition into the interior of Africa, from the Bight of Benin to Soccatoo by the late Commander Clapperton of the Royal Navy to which is added The Journal of Richard Lander from Kano to the Sea-Coast Partly by a More Easterly Route. London: John Murray.
Denham, Dixon; Clapperton, Hugh; Oudney, Walter (1826). Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa: In the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824 (2 volumes). London: John Murray. Scans: Volume 1, Volume 2.