Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2011


(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Discovery of the North Pole
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo
(HOME)

CHAPTER, XXIX.

PREVIOUS GREAT CONTROVERSIES OF EXPLORERS.

The Cook-Peary controversy, though it bids fair to be the most famous of the great contests of history, because of the startling facts at issue, has aroused no greater bitterness than did several previous agitations of the kind. Fifty years ago something similar aroused all those interested in exploration. It lasted for years, with ever-increasing bitterness of feeling on both sides, and was not definitely settled until long after one of the principals had died.

This was the famous dispute between Sir Richard Francis Burton and Capt. John Hanning Speke as to the source of the river Nile. Burton claimed that the great stream rose in Lake Tanganyika, of which he was the discoverer. Speke, on the other hand, declared that Lake Victoria Nyanza, which he had first seen, was the river's source.

Speke was right. After most acrimonious disputing, the question, already half decided in his favor, was answered once for all by Henry M. Stanley, who, having thoroughly explored the shores of Tanganyika, showed that it was connected, not with the Nile, but with the Congo system.

When Speke first came out in open contradiction to Burton, it seemed as if he had undertaken a hopeless job. He was merely a young officer, while Burton was already making himself known as one of the most daring, original, and versatile men that ever lived. Before his journey to Lake Tanganyika he had won world-wide fame by one of the most audacious exploits ever recorded. Profiting by his remarkable knowledge of Oriental languages, he had, some years before, disguised as an Afghan doctor, penetrated to the sacred Mohammedan cities of Mecca and Medina, where detection by the Mohammedan pilgrims would have meant instant assassination.

This Mecca pilgrimage took place in 1855, when Burton was 34 years old. In October, 1856, having succeeded in interesting influential Englishmen in the exploration of unknown portions of Africa, Burton, then a captain in the British army, sailed from home for Zanzibar with Speke, whom he had first met as an officer of the Anglo-Indian troops garrisoning Aden, on the Red Sea. Speke was 30 years old, had seen service in India, as had Burton, and was a genuine dare-devil adventurer.

The two, organizing an expedition at Zanzibar, proceeded, first of all, to the forbidden city of Fuga, in Somaliland. Already their heads were filled with native tales of the mysterious great lakes in the interior; already Burton and Speke seemed to have entertained their contradictory opinions as to which of these was the source of the Nile. When the expedition got to Fuga the audacious officers gained admittance within its sacred limits by informing the natives that they were wizards, skilled in the curing of disease. The local Sultan, who was very ill, at once asked Burton for a remedy, but it was beyond that resourceful man's powers. When the expedition left Fuga, Burton says that he was haunted by the look in the eyes of the Sultan, hopeless of being cured, as he said farewell to the "wizards."

Returning to the coast, the expedition was attacked by hostile Somalis. A desperate fight ensued. Lieut Stroyan, one of the subordinate leaders, was killed. Both Burton and Speke fought like tigers. Eventually they reached the coast.

Burton at once organized another expedition, purposing this time to advance straight toward Lake Tanganyika. Speke was in rather an unfortunate position, having sunk much money in the disastrous Somaliland venture. Hence Burton's offer to him of the position of second in command on the Tanganyika trip was distinctly welcome. Already bad blood seems to have sprung up between the two adventurers. Speke thought that, instead of advancing through Somaliland, Burton should have taken another route toward the great African lakes. He attributed much of the ill success of the preliminary expedition to Burton's management, and seems even to have considered that the latter showed evidences of timidity.

However, on June 26, 1857, they departed from Zanzibar for Tanganyika, in harmony. Burton, always eccentric, carried some horse chestnuts tied up in canvas bags to ward off the evil eye and sickness. The expedition, in addition to Burton and Speke, consisted of two boys from Goa, two negro gun carriers, a man called Sudy Bombay, who had accompanied Burton in previous explorations, and ten Zanzibar mercenaries. Burton's avowed object was to find Tanganyika and gain for himself thereby the title of discoverer of the sources of the Nile.

At Dut'humi, in spite of his horse chestnuts, Burton got a bad attack of marsh fever. Here hardships began in earnest for the rest of the expedition's members, too, for all the riding asses died. But Burton, in spite of his own worries, found time to head a raid against some Arab slave traders, whom he defeated, thus freeing a number of captives who were being dragged away from their homes.

After traversing a land where a great part of the natives were dying of smallpox, the expedition reached a beautiful country, over which great herds of zebras and antelopes roamed. This, however, did not last long. Beyond it were dreary swamps. The Zanzibar mercenaries grew mutinous. Time and again, when all else failed, Burton used a star sapphire which he carried as an amulet, to enforce obedience from the superstitious negroes. In spite of the awe that he inspired in them, they plotted to kill him. While hunting one day, followed by two negroes, who were not aware that he spoke their dialect, he overheard them arranging to take his life. Without a word, without even turning, he thrust his dagger backward, stabbing one to death. The other, falling on his knees, begged for mercy.

On another occasion some more plotters, having made their plans around a wood fire, went away to gather more wood. Burton, stealing up, put a canister of powder among the embers. When the assassins returned and kindled the fire anew "there weren't any assassins," as one of Burton's biographers succinctly puts it. Both these stories, though not printed in any of Burton's works, were told by him to intimate friends on his return from Africa.

After passing through a realm where no self-respecting man, from King down, was sober after midday, and where obesity and beauty were synonymous terms regarding women, the explorers on Feb. 13, 1858, saw "a long streak of light."

"Look, master, look!" shouted the Arab guide, "behold the great water!"

It was Lake Tanganyika.

The two Englishmen set about the exploration of the great lake's shores, but were not very thorough. While in a boat they were caught in a terrible storm, during which they despaired of ever reaching land again.

They set out from Tanganyika for the coast on May 26, 1858. Burton and Speke were both suffering severely from malaria and complications: in fact, part of the time the former was nearly paralyzed, the latter almost blind.

When they reached Kazeh Speke announced to his chief that he desired to look for another lake, which he understood from the natives was somewhere in the neighborhood. Whether owing to illness or other reasons, Burton refused to accompany Speke on this side trip. :Moreover, he seems to have made himself disagreeable regarding guides and supplies. But eventually Speke set out. He made Burton a promise that he would return to Kazeh within a certain time and resume the march to the coast.

After a difficult advance Speke, like "stout Cortes" of Keats' sonnet, ascended a hill, and beheld before him a great sheet of water. He described his first impressions in these words:

"The vast expanse of the pale-blue waters of the Nyanza burst suddenly on my gaze. It was early morning. The distant sea line of the north horizon was defined in the calm atmosphere, between the north and west points of the compass, but even this did not afford me any idea of the breadth of the lake, as an archipelago of islands, each consisting of a single hill, rising to a height of 200 or 300 feet above water, intersected the line of vision to the left, while on the right the west horn of the Ukerewe Island cut off any further view of the distant water to the eastward of north."

Speke, in fact, seems never to have had an accurate idea of the vastness of the lake that he discovered. However, as he contemplated it he felt absolutely assured that, after centuries of conjecture, the source of the Nile was at last no secret.

He stayed about the lake, which he called Victoria Nyanza in honor of the Queen of England, for some time, gathering a great deal of lore about the natives, as was his wont, and much other valuable data. Then remembering his promise to Burton, he retraced his steps, arriving at Kazeh about six weeks after he had left it.

He told Burton that he felt convinced that Lake Victoria Nyanza was the source of the Nile. Burton promptly ridiculed this idea. To Lake Tanganyika, he insisted, belonged the honor. The two explorers got into bitter dispute. All the way to the coast they were distant and unfriendly to each other; the affectionate "Dick" and "Jack" of their previous intercourse were now replaced by the icy "Sir."

When they reached the coast Burton lingered to wind up the expedition's affairs, but Speke unfairly, as Burton and his friends maintained, hurried to England with the news of his discovery of Victoria Nyanza and his belief that it was the long-sought Nile source. He arrived in England May 9, 1859. Immediately his statements aroused immense enthusiasm. Sir Roderick Murchison, President of the Royal Geographical Society, accepted them without question, as did many other well-known men. Burton's discovery of Lake Tanganyika was entirely overshadowed. On all sides Speke was urged to return to Africa and make certain his theories about Victoria Nyanza.

Burton came back to England on May 22, two weeks later than Speke. He found the "ground cut from under his feet," says his biographer. Already Speke was lecturing "vaingloriously" at Burlington House and writing articles for Blackwood's Magazine. Burton lost no time in getting into the fight. He vigorously championed his view that Tanganyika was the true Nile source. The controversy was fairly under way.

In 1860 Speke set forth anew from England to prove the worth of his contentions. With him this time went Capt. James Augustus Grant, "a man after Speke's own heart," described by another explorer, who knew him well, as "one of the most loyal and charming creatures in the world."

The two reached Lake Victoria Nyanza and made careful explorations of its shores. In the course of these Grant broke down. Speke was compelled to continue his investigations alone. On July 17, 1862, having followed the Nile northward from Victoria Nyanza, he arrived at the first great cataract from its source, which he called the Ripon Falls, after Lord de Grey and Ripon. His theory was now practically proved to be correct.

Picking up Grant again, Speke descended the Nile, but crossed it at Karuma Falls to avoid the territory of Kamurasi, a local King, who had shown signs of hostility. Though they did not know it, the two explorers were only fifty miles from the junction of the Victoria Nyanza with the undiscovered Lake Albert. If they had but kept to the river for only a few marches more they would have found the latter lake, the second great source of the Nile.

As it was, they arrived, on Feb. 15, 1863, at Gondokoro, the highest point on the Nile to which explorers had arrived before them, and there found Samuel Baker. Speke handed over to the latter all the notes that he had taken, and by their aid Baker soon after discovered Lake Albert Nyanza.

On his return from this momentous expedition the only reward received by Speke from the British government was the permission to add to the supporters of his coat-of-arms a hippopotamus and a crocodile.

On his return to England Speke at once set about showing that he had definitely settled the great question regarding the headwaters of the Nile. Even those who admire him admit that his attitude toward Burton, though never unfair, was hard and pitiless. On the Somaliland and Tanganyika expeditions, he seems to have acquired a dislike for his famous companion from which he never freed himself. Fresh attacks by Burton on Speke began to thicken about four years after Speke'S return from his second expedition. They were heated enough, but lacked the younger officer's incisiveness.

Burton's main object, of course, was to belittle Speke's discovery of Victoria Nyanza. He tried to show that that lake was of no special importance, merely a network of swamps and small lakes, and was overjoyed when Samuel Baker, on returning from his explorations subsequent to those of Speke and Grant, claimed that the Victoria Nyanza was the ultimate source of the White Nile, not of the main river. Burton maintained that the Rusizi River flowed out of the northern end of Lake Tanganyika, instead of into that lake, hoping thus to prove that connection existed between Tanganyika and Lake Albert. If successful, he realized that his would materially reduce the importance of the discovery of Victoria Nyanza. He even published a map to illustrate his theory, and worked hard to make geographers agree with him.

The argument in print finally became so fierce that a joint debate between the two rivals was arranged, to take place at Bath, Sept. 15, 1864. Instead of the debate, Bath saw an astonishing and impressive scene of quite a different sort.

"The great day arrived," says Thomas Wright, Burton's biographer, "and no melodramatic author could have contrived a more startling, a more shocking denouement. Burton, notes in hand, stood on the platform, facing the great audience, his brain heavy with arguments, bursting with sesquipedalian and sledge-hammer words, to pulverize his exasperating opponent.

"The Council and other speakers filed in. The audience waited expectant. To Burton's surprise, Speke was not there.

"Silence having been obtained, the president advanced and made the thrilling announcement that Speke was dead. He had accidentally shot himself that very morning while out rabbiting.

"Burton sank into his chair, the working of his face revealing the terrible emotion he was controlling, and the shock he had received. When he got home he wept like a child."

Burton's emotion was not deep or lasting enough, however, to prevent him from hinting that Speke had committed suicide, fearing to face him and his arguments. He had absolutely no justification for such an assumption. His very biographer, avowedly his partisan, wherever possible remarks, that "it was eminently characteristic of Burton to make statements resting on insufficient evidence."

But it was all useless. Speke was right and Burton wrong. In 1870, Stanley terminated successfully his world-famous search for Livingstone by finding the latter at Ujiji, in the Tanganyika region. Together the two explorers voyaged along the northern shore of the great lake which Burton had discovered, and proved conclusively that it had no outlet connecting with the Nile basin.

In March, 1873, Lieut. Cameron, heading another Livingstone relief expedition, met followers of the latter bearing Livingstone's body to the coast. Cameron, however, continued on his way, explored the shores of Tanganyika, and not only corroborated Stanley and Livingstone regarding the non-existence of an outlet toward the Nile, but advanced the opinion that the great lake was a part of the Congo system. This was made absolutely certain in 1874, when Stanley made his celebrated journey from Bagamoyo to Victoria Nyanza and Tanganyika, thence by Nyangwe, on the Lualaba, down the Congo to the sea, verifying all that Cameron had conjectured.

Thereupon no more was heard from Burton as to the Lake Tanganyika's being the source of the Nile.

Farther back in history are records of other explorers failing to convince the world of their deeds.

It is the irony of fate that though Columbus discovered America this continent should be called not after him but after Amerigo Vespucci. According to the latter's own story, which is the only authority the world has for the assertion, Vespucci was the first to discover the mainland of North America, having reached here in 1497, several months before either the Cabots or Columbus. Columbus's discovery was what started Amerigo Vespucci to voyage westward. The firm in which he was a partner fitted out Columbus's later expeditions and it was with one of these that Vespucci sailed, just as it was with Peary that Cook first sailed to the Arctic. However, this continent is named America and not Columbus.

Another notable instance of a real discoverer losing credit for his achievement is that of Verrazzano. That he really discovered the Hudson River in 1524 is a historical fact, proved by his log and by letters of his which are still extant. How far up the river he sailed is a matter of doubt, but it is certain that he sailed into New York Bay sufficiently far to see and describe Manhattan Island. Hudson explored the river that bears his name eighty-five years later, in 1609. The reason that Hudson received the credit for it is to found in the fact that the early settlers were Dutch and English. They knew all about Hudson; few if any of them had ever heard of Verrazzano. Eager to claim credit for a man of their own race, historians dismissed Verrazzano with a line, while they told the full story of Hudson's discovery.


Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.