With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

Fort Bodo

The vast Congo basin now lay to the rearward, for the ridge on which the camp was situated divided the streams which join the Congo from those which, emptying themselves into the Albert Nyanza, belong to the Nile system. To the lake the descent was long and steep; for, while the camp was perched about five thousand feet above sea-level, the altitude of the Albert Nyanza is only two thousand four hundred feet. In any circumstances, to scramble down such a place would have been no easy task for heavily-laden men; and now the difficulties were increased by the hostility of the natives, who harassed the rear guard by hanging round the track, jeering at the men, and at every opportunity pouring in a shower of arrows. Owing partly, no doubt, to the roughness of the ground, and partly to the smartness of the rifle fire with which every flight of arrows was answered, very little damage was done. But the natives would not relinquish the attack, and every few minutes it was necessary to halt and drive them back. Thus the descent occupied about three hours; and even when the force was snugly encamped in an almost impregnable spot on the farther side of a stream the natives did not relinquish hostilities. A determined night attack was, however, successfully repulsed, and in the morning the column was allowed to march peacefully down to the lake shore.

Here the inhabitants, though not aggressive, had no welcome for the strangers; and at the village of a chief named Katonza the people repelled every attempt to make friends, and flatly refused to trade, or even to accept presents. The utmost they could be induced to do was to point out the path along the lake shore to the northward, where, as they said, they had heard that strange people were encamped. But though they had heard that a white man—probably Emin Pasha's coadjutor and friend, Captain Casati—was in Unyoro on the farther side of the lake, of Emin himself they had nothing to say. His very name seemed to be unknown; and after marching up the shore as far as the island of Kasenya without obtaining any news, it was unanimously decided to return to Ibwiri and there form a station, where the bulk of the expedition might remain with the baggage, while a flying column hastened back to Ipoto and Ugarrowwa's to fetch the convalescents, the boat, and a fresh supply of ammunition.

No other course, indeed, was open, for though Wadelai, where Emin was supposed to be encamped, was only four days' distance by water, without canoes the lake could not be navigated. That these could not be bought had already been ascertained; that they could not be built was equally clear, for the barren shores of the lake did not produce a single tree suitable for the purpose. Of course a land route might be taken, but the march could not be made under twenty-five days: food was scarce, and the natives probably hostile. Five cases of cartridges had been expended during the recent fighting; and though forty-seven cases remained, further hostilities at the same rate would so reduce the stock that what was left could be of little use either to Emin or his would-be rescuers.

To remain at the lake would only be to waste time and run the risk of famine, so on the morning of December 16th the return journey began. It was no light task to scramble up the two thousand feet of steep, rocky slope which lay between the lake and the tableland above, especially as the natives hung on the line of march, and succeeded in cutting off three stragglers. A few sharpshooters, however, turned out to avenge their comrades, and the good practice which they made with their rifles taught the assailants to keep their distance. Thenceforward the march was comparatively uneventful, and on January 7, 1888, Ibwiri was safely reached.

Expectations had been entertained of camping comfortably in the village of a chief named Boryo, with whom Stanley had already made acquaintance; but alas for these fond hopes! In accord with what seemed to be a universal custom in that district, the village, having been contaminated by the presence of strangers, had been burned; but the best planks, together with the supplies of corn, had been stored in the forest. These were forthwith annexed, and that same day all hands set to work on the construction of a fort, to which the name of Bodo—that is, Peaceful—was given. By the 18th of January such good progress had been made that Lieutenant Stairs, who was to take charge of the flying column, received his marching orders.

While Stairs, with ninety-seven coloured men of various grades, made his way westward, the rest of the force, numbering seventy all told, completed the fort, and cleared several acres of land around it. Then prowling natives were detected in the neighbourhood, and as they were obviously bent on mischief scouts were detailed to rout them. It then appeared that several parties of dwarfs were encamped within a mile radius of the fort. As long as they remained no security could be expected, so the camps were destroyed, and the pygmies hunted into the recesses of the forest.

No sooner were the dwarfs disposed of than a new annoyance turned up in the shape of an overwhelming incursion of rats, fleas, and mosquitoes. The rats, though they raided the corn, were comparatively innocuous; but the same could not be said of the mosquitoes, which were only kept at bay by suffocatingly close mosquito curtains of thick muslin, while the fleas swarmed to such an extent that the floors had to be damped constantly and swept twice daily. Then came armies of red ants, which overran the whole place, and drove the lightly-clad Zanzibaris half mad with their venomous bites.

On February 8th the Egyptian flag was hoisted, and a salute of twenty-one rounds was fired in its honour. Scarcely had the echoes died away in the forest when a shout from one of the sentries announced the arrival of visitors, and in a few moments Surgeon Parke strode in. His bronzed, healthy appearance and active gait contrasted strongly with the feeble appearance of Captain Nelson, who was still troubled with ulcers in the feet. Most of the men, too, seemed weak and ill, and wore a famished look, which told only too plainly how badly the Manyuema had fulfilled their promises. They had, indeed, utterly ignored the arrangement made with Stanley. No sooner was his back turned than they began systematically to ill treat the sick; and though Parke called their attention to the agreement signed by the three headmen, they provided less and less food, until finally, for seven weeks, the supply ceased entirely. The excuse pleaded was scarcity: evidently the idea was to compel the half-famished people to sell their rifles and ammunition, for it was observed that, though no food could be obtained on the terms mentioned in the agreement, for "cash down "provisions were always forthcoming. To make matters worse, the filthy habits of the Manyuema speedily converted the camp into a hotbed of disease. Both Nelson and Parke were confined to their beds for weeks by sickness; and finally, when Kilonga-Longa, with a force of about four hundred people, arrived at the station, the talked-of scarcity became a reality. The Manyuema were compelled to search far and near for food, and when Stairs appeared on the scene, twelve of the Zanzibaris were absent with one of the foraging parties.

Four days after the arrival of Parke and Nelson the boat sections were brought in by Stairs and his men. The expedition was thus restored to a condition in which it could travel anywhere; and Stanley had now to decide between the rival claims of his own rear column on the one hand and those of Emin Pasha on the other. Whether to return to help Barttelot or to advance to relieve Emin was the question which had to be answered; and as the result of a council held on the evening of Stairs's arrival it was agreed that, while the bulk of the force went on in search of Emin, a smaller party should return to meet Barttelot. For the latter duty volunteers were asked to come forward; and finally, out of fifty Zanzibaris who offered themselves, twenty fine capable fellows were selected. It was further agreed that Stairs should accompany them to Ugarrowwa's; and then, having seen the relief party safely across the river, should return to Fort Bodo, bringing with him the men who had been left at Ugarrowwa's in September. Meanwhile the bulk of the force was to remain at Fort Bodo until the end of March, so as to give Stairs a chance of taking part in the long-talked-of "relief of Emin."

On February 19th, two days after Stairs's departure for Ugarrowwa's, Stanley developed an attack of internal inflammation, which, combined with an abscess in the arm, kept him on the sick list for several days. Meanwhile the recently planted corn was growing with wonderful rapidity, and Nelson and Stanley, the two convalescents, amused themselves by watching its progress. Evidently there need be no fear of famine in the fort; for by the end of March the corn was in ear, and had reached such a height that an elephant could have concealed himself in it. To Nelson, after his long experience of scarcity, the sight must have been specially gratifying; for it was now arranged that he, with all the sick or weakly men, should remain in garrison at Fort Bodo, while Stanley, with Parke, Jephson, and a hundred and twenty-six men, conveyed the boat to the Nyanza.

On April 2nd the march began. The journey through a twice-traversed region was comparatively uneventful, and a twelve days' journey brought the party to Mazamboni's country. This time all was peace and harmony; and when, after a little coy hesitation, the natives ventured into the camp, Stanley inquired if they had ever heard of a white chief who many moons ago was said to have lived near the Nyanza. The answer was entirely satisfactory. Yes, they had heard of him; and only two moons after Bula Matari left their country a white man named Malleju (the Bearded One) came to Katonza's village in a big iron canoe. He had gone away again; but, said Mazamboni, his runners should go to the lake forthwith, and tell Katonza that Malleju's white brother had arrived. Evidently Emin was safe; but this being the case, why had he not sent his "iron canoe "down the lake to meet the relief force which he knew was due to arrive on or about December 15th. Of course it was possible that the news of the dispatch of the expedition had failed to reach him; but no amount of guessing could solve the riddle until Emin himself supplied the answer. At all events the column might rest quietly for a day, and April 14th was spent in a palaver which lasted for hours, and only ended when Mazamboni had made blood brotherhood with Jephson.

Two days later similar ceremonies took place at the village of Mpinga, chief of the Bavira tribe, an agricultural race, who for some reason were held in contempt by their neighbours, the cattle-rearing Wahuma, of whom Mazamboni was chief. The two races lived in peace, and traded together; but they never intermarried, nor would a Mhuma (the singular form of Wahuma) take up his residence in a Bavira village.

Stanley and Emin Pasha


From Mpinga's village the column went on to the Kavalli district, of which Mbiassa, a good-looking young Mhuma, was chief; and here Stanley received a letter which Emin had left with the lake shore natives, who in turn had handed it on to Mbiassa. In this epistle Emin requested Stanley to stay whereever he might happen to be when he received the letter, and to send Emin word of his whereabouts. On receipt of his message Emin would come down to Nyamsassi, a lake island at no great distance from Kavalli, and they could there meet and arrange their plans. In accordance with this request Jephson was entrusted with the task of communicating with Emin, while Surgeon Parke and thirty-five men were detailed to act as escort to the Nyanza, and assist Jephson and his crew to launch the boat.

All went satisfactorily; and so well did Stanley and Emin time their journeys, that on April 29th they reached the rendezvous within a few hours of each other. On the following day the camp was removed to Nsabe, a pleasant grassy spot about three miles north of Nyamsassi Island, and there the expedition halted quietly until May 24th. The time was occupied by Stanley in long discussions with Emin, before whom he laid three propositions:

1. That he and his men should return to Egypt, where it was probable, though not certain, that Emin would obtain further employment.

2. That Emin should transfer his services to the Congo Free State, where King Leopold offered him the post of governor, with a salary of 1,500 per annum. In the event of his accepting this offer, his duty would be to maintain order in the Equatorial Provinces virtually abandoned by Egypt, and keep open the line of communication between the Congo and the Nile.

3. That Emin, with such of his troops as chose to accompany him, should retire to the northeast corner of the Victoria Nyanza, whither the relief force would escort him and see him settled before proceeding to Zanzibar to obtain the sanction of the East African Association. This sanction, it is true, had not been guaranteed; but Stanley had no doubt that the Association would rejoice to obtain the services of so excellent an administrator as Emin.

To the two first propositions Emin returned an unqualified negative, but the third was more to his liking; and after much discussion it was arranged that Jephson and four men should remain with him, while Stanley returned to bring up the rear column.