With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

The Rear Column

When Stanley, with the advance column, began the long and difficult journey up the Aruwimi on June 28, 1887, the only Europeans left in charge at Yambuya were Major Barttelot and Mr. Jameson. These two had their hands quite full; for there was a boma or bush fence round the camp to be completed, a deep ditch to be dug, and firewood for the steamer Stanley  to be cut, not to mention sundry odds and ends of work, all of which required attention. They soon found that incessant personal supervision must be the order of the day, for the men were not by any means disposed to over-exert themselves, and stopped work directly they were left to their own devices. At night the case was as bad as by day, for the sentries who were posted to guard the camp took every opportunity of going to sleep, and before they could be cured of this dangerous habit it was found necessary to inflict several severe thrashings.

Another trouble which began to make itself felt immediately after Stanley's departure was scarcity of food. Manioc and bananas, the principal native products, were indeed procurable; but no game of any description existed in the neighbourhood, and the natives, most of whom had removed from the immediate locality, were unwilling or unable to supply fowls or goats. Of the European provisions served out by Stanley to the two officers, the amount was almost ridiculously small: two and a half pounds of coffee, one and a half pounds of tea, half a pound of sugar, three tins each of jam and butter, one tin of salt, one tin of flour, four tins of condensed milk, two tins of biscuits, and half a tin each of red herrings, tapioca, chocolate, and sago, with a few other trifles, composed the six months' ration given out to each man. Occasionally a fish or two or a small fowl were obtained, and these made a welcome change; but as a general rule, Barttelot and Jameson were forced to content themselves with a meagre diet of boiled rice and beans.

The men, whose principal diet was manioc, fared even worse, and illness soon broke out in the camp. The first death occurred on July 1st, when one of the Zanzibaris, who had been ill for some time, breathed his last. So far neither of the Englishmen had been seriously ill, but both had been out of sorts, and the major, who suffered from what appeared to be some sort of low fever, became unable to eat the rough fare available.

At last, despairing of obtaining meat by ordinary means, Jameson decided to capture one or two native women, in the hope of inducing their friends to ransom them with goats or fowls. With this end in view, he and a few of the men lay in wait by one of the manioc plantations, and soon succeeded in catching a boy, two women, and a baby, all of whom were led off in triumph to the camp. There Barttelot presented the boy with four brass rods, and sent him off to tell the chief of his tribe that the women would be given up in return for a supply of goats and fowls. Shortly afterwards the husband of the woman with the baby made his appearance, and offered five goats and ten fowls as a ransom. He was informed that for double that number of goats and fowls both women would be released, and that a further contribution of honey would ransom the baby; but until these were brought in, the captives must remain in the camp. He therefore departed, promising to return in the morning; and this he did, bringing one fowl and some fish. In consideration of this he was allowed to see his wife; and thus negotiations continued for some days, during which several more fowls were brought in.

Mount Ruwenzori


Thus, with plenty of work and worry, and very little interest or excitement, July wore away. On August 4th a rumour reached the camp that Tippu Tib's people were coming down the Aruwimi in canoes, and had burned a village, in spite of being assured that the chief was Bula Matari's brother. This was puzzling, for, as Tippu Tib had for some time been established at Stanley Falls, what could his canoes be doing on the Aruwimi? Four or five days later the mystery was explained, for the raiders turned out to be a band of marauding Arabs, who were coming down the Aruwimi, and destroying every village they found.

On August 12th one of the deserters from Stanley's column limped into camp, bringing rather a pitiful account of the hard times on which the column had fallen. Food had run short, the men were fast weakening, several had fallen ill, and one had been injured in a skirmish with the natives. The prospect was not encouraging; but on the 14th the arrival of the Stanley, with Ward, Troup, and Bonny, the stores, and a number of Zanzibaris on board, gave a wonderful fillip to the two weary officers. After the departure of the Stanley down-stream camp life settled into a regular routine, and Barttelot and Jameson were relieved of some work, as now the five Englishmen took it in turn to act as orderly officer. At half-past five in the morning the big native drum aroused the sleepers, and at six the men were told off for their respective duties, such as standing sentry, sweeping the camp, cutting wood, and collecting manioc. Noon brought dinner and a couple of hours' rest, and then work was resumed until half-past five. At sunset additional sentries were posted, and the duties of the orderly officer of the day included the not very pleasant task of making the round of the sentries three times during the night. To these duties Bonny added the important charge of catering, while to Ward the arrangements for the officers' mess were entrusted.

On August 18th ten of Tippu Tib's men were brought in by a reconnoitring party of Zanzibaris. They said that they had been sent from the Falls to collect men, and that seven hundred porters who also started with them had come across one of Stanley's camps, and had therefore leaped to the conclusion that the whole force had gone forward, consequently they had returned to Tippu Tib. This might be true, but also it might not; and on August 23rd, Jameson and Ward set out for the Falls to learn the real state of affairs. Nothing very satisfactory could, however, be discovered. Tippu Tib and his people were keeping the Mohammedan festival answering to Christmas, and though Tippu Tib made many promises to collect men, Jameson and Ward had to return to Yambuya without receiving anything more satisfactory than empty words.

Slowly the days passed until the end of September. No porters had arrived, and now came news which destroyed the last lingering hope that the rear column might overtake Stanley. Tippu Tib, ashamed, as he said, to come himself, sent word that he was unable to supply the promised men. Rumours of the heavy work of the expedition had reached his camp, and his followers, being apparently not altogether under control, had scattered themselves over the country on their usual business of fighting, raiding, and trading. Forty carriers, of whom Barttelot might dispose as he would, were all he could then supply; but he had sent to Kassongo for a reinforcement, which, however, could not reach Stanley Falls for about another month. By this reckoning some porters might arrive at Yambuya in six weeks' time. Without them it was impossible to advance the baggage; and the officers could not blind themselves to the fact that their chance of going forward was daily diminishing. Indeed, on Stanley's reckoning, it was not improbable that by the time the rear column was in a condition to move, the advance column would have returned from the Nyanza.

Slowly and sadly the days dragged along. The six weeks came to an end without bringing a sign of the reinforcement, and almost the only events which distinguished one day from another were the illness of one or other of the officers and the frequent deaths among the men, of whom by the end of the year no less than forty-one had been laid in the camp grave-yard.

The New Year (1888) brought no brighter prospects, and by February 5th the number of deaths had risen to fifty. Some of the men had been ill for weeks, and were so reduced in strength that after a cold wet day or night one or two of them almost invariably died. It was distressing work, for in the absence of proper medicines Bonny, with his limited medical knowledge, could do little or nothing to save the poor fellows who died, as it seemed, of no specific disease. The trouble doubtless lay with the manioc, of which there are two varieties. One kind is wholesome and edible either raw or cooked; but the other, or bitter variety, which grew at Yambuya, though wholesome enough when properly prepared by long steeping in water and thorough cooking, in its raw condition is slow but deadly poison. This, apparently, was unknown to officers and men; and the poor fellows, whom a little more knowledge would have saved, went on day after day ignorantly eating the bitter manioc in its raw state or insufficiently cooked and unsoaked. The fact that very little manioc was eaten by the officers, who lived chiefly on rice and beans, doubtless accounted for their immunity from the unknown complaint that killed so many men.

On February 14th, Major Barttelot and Mr. Jameson started for Stanley Falls to make another attempt to obtain porters from Tippu Tib, who was reported to have gone to Kassongo to get men. Should this be a failure, Barttelot proposed to transfer all the baggage to the Falls, and leave it there under the care of one of the officers, while the rest of the force, with as many armed men as Tippu Tib could be induced for extra payment to supply, hastened up-country in search of Stanley, whose continued absence began to cause some uneasiness. He had told the major verbally that, in the event of his not being overtaken or met by the rear column, he expected to be back at Yambuya early in November; yet by the middle of February no word from him had reached the camp. It was clear that he had met with some unexpected delay.

A fortnight after Barttelot's departure, Troup, who, during the major's absence, was in charge of the camp, received a letter from Stanley Falls, where the travellers had arrived on February 20th. Tippu Tib was still absent, the date of his return was uncertain, and till he should come back nothing could be done. On March 24th, Barttelot returned from the Falls without Jameson, who had gone on to Kassongo to find Tippu Tib, and, if it could be done, hurry his movements.

Matters were by this time worse than ever. Sixty-seven men were dead, and Barttelot himself looked ill and worn. Both he and Jameson had been constantly ailing during their absence—so much so, indeed, that the major had some suspicions that the Arabs had tried to administer poison. However this might be, the day after his return he was seized with a sharp attack of fever. But he could not rest. He had decided to send Ward down to the coast, to cable for instructions to Sir William Mackinnon, the chairman of the Relief Expedition Committee, and, ill as he was, he was anxious that Ward should start at once.

Of the wisdom of this course neither Ward nor Troup was by any means persuaded. But whatever their opinions might be, it was their duty to obey; and Troup, seeing that the major's mind was made up, offered to escort Ward and his party overland to Yangambi, a village on the north bank of the Congo, some miles above the confluence of the Aruwimi. Here they were to obtain canoes, and cross the river to an Arab settlement at the mouth of the Lomami River. The object of this apparently roundabout course was to avoid the warlike Basoko villages at the confluence of the Aruwimi, as it was quite on the cards that the inhabitants might prove troublesome.

Ward's orders were to proceed by canoe to Bangala, hugging the southern bank of the Congo until the dangerous region was passed. At Bangala he was to leave his Zanzibaris, and obtain fresh boatmen from the Belgian station to take him to Leopoldville, whence he was to travel overland to Matadi, and thence by steamer to the coast. At Banana Point he was to wait for a mail steamer, and take passage in her either to San Thome or St. Paul de Loanda, the two nearest points from which it was possible to cable to Europe.

On March 28th the start was made. Long privation had so weakened the men that the difficult journey through the forest was almost too much for them. The path was wet and slippery, and over and over again the poor fellows stumbled and fell with their loads, which they had not the power to replace on their heads. Ward and Troup were compelled to help them; and thus, travelling slowly and by short stages, the journey to Yangambi was accomplished. Crossing the Congo presented further difficulties, for the Zanzibaris were totally unacquainted with the art of managing a canoe, and it was not without considerable risk that the Lomami was finally reached.

Here Tippu Tib's nephew Raschid, who was in command, gave the travellers a friendly reception; and after Ward's departure on April 3rd, he asked Troup to wait a few days for some goats which he proposed to send to Yambuya. Ten days passed, but still the goats were not forthcoming, and Troup, unable to wait longer, set out without them. Raschid sent his own canoe to take his departing guest to Yangambi, where, to Troup's surprise, he met the major, who was on his way back to Yambuya, after a hurried trip to Stanley Falls. There had been a quarrel with some Arabs stationed near the camp; and after a day or two matters had assumed such a threatening aspect that Barttelot had rushed off to the Falls to ask for the recall of Selim, the Arab captain.

Barttelot still looked very ill, and was so excited that his account of what had occurred was not very coherent; but he would brook no delay, and after sleeping one night at Yangambi the travellers hurried forward so rapidly that when camping-time came a good many men had lagged behind. In the morning the major again pushed on, while Troup, who was suffering from fever, and had further strained himself severely by a fall on the previous day, followed at a more leisurely pace. The journey did not improve his condition; and though for another ten days he managed to crawl about, he grew worse and worse, until on April 25th he was compelled to take to his bed.

On May 5th the steamer A.I.A. arrived with Lieutenant Vankerckhoven, a Free State officer, who brought the welcome news that Ward had reached Bangala in safety. The A.I.A. was on her way to Stanley Falls, and Vankerckhoven, having landed Ward's Zanzibaris and presented Troup with a much-needed supply of brandy, went his way, promising to pay another visit to Yambuya on his return down-stream. Meanwhile Troup, in the absence of any proper treatment, grew worse rather than better. He was entirely incapacitated, and Bonny, who was acting as doctor in charge, said that he ought to be invalided home. Barttelot was of the same opinion, and Troup, though bitterly disappointed, unwillingly concurred.

Before the steamer reappeared, Jameson, who had at last succeeded in obtaining four hundred men to act as carriers, reached the camp. Unfortunately they were all Manyuema, and being entirely unused to porterage, had stipulated that the loads should be reduced from sixty to forty pounds each. This entailed the entire rearrangement of the baggage and the abandonment of many articles, including a considerable portion of Stanley's personal kit. These goods were shipped on board the A.I.A. and the Stanley, which arrived at Yambuya on June 4th.

Though the Manyuema had stipulated for forty-pound loads, no one supposed that a matter of a pound or two would be noticed by them. Consequently, when the loads were rearranged, some of them slightly exceeded the weight agreed, and this the men were quick to discover. They flatly refused to carry anything overweight, so the offending loads had to be reduced. But at last, on June 11th, Barttelot, Jameson, and Bonny, with their men and loads, began the long-deferred march up the Aruwimi.

Troubles speedily began. The road was bad; and the men, finding the work hard and difficult, soon began to desert, sometimes with and sometimes without their loads and rifles, while the Manyuema lost no time in proving themselves unruly. The result was that, within a few days of leaving Yambuya, the force was again subdivided—the major pushing on ahead with some of the men, while Jameson endeavoured to capture the deserters and look after the Manyuema, whose headman, Muni Somai, had insisted on halting in order to forage. Very soon it became apparent that Muni Somai's authority was only nominal—he had no real control over his men; and when, towards the end of the month, smallpox broke out among them, the tale of misfortunes and difficulties might have seemed complete. Jameson, however, struggled manfully onward, and on June 28th succeeded in reaching the major's camp, only to find that Barttelot himself was absent on another trip to Stanley Falls. He had left directions with Bonny that Jameson should take over the command and push forward to Banalya, now an Arab station commanded by Abdallah Karoni.

To give orders was easy enough, but to carry them into effect was more difficult; and owing chiefly to the misconduct of the Manyuema, Jameson had hard work to get on at all. So slow, indeed, was his progress that he finally sent Bonny on ahead to meet the major, who had sent word that he would be at Banalya about July 14th. Bonny, with the advance guard, reached his destination on July 15th, and in due course was joined by Barttelot, who marched in from Stanley Falls.

The major had never got on well either with the Zanzibaris or the Arabs, and on the day after his arrival he fell out with Abdallah because certain expected carriers were not forthcoming. Hot words passed, and the major threatened to return to Stanley Falls to complain to Tippu Tib. Two or three days passed, and though no carriers appeared, all went on as usual, until early on the morning of July 19th, when, in accordance with a daily custom of the Manyuema, a woman began to sing and beat a drum. The noise disturbed the major, and he sent his boy South to stop it. But a further commotion at once began. Loud, angry voices were heard, and a couple of shots were fired.. Barttelot then ordered some of the Sudanese to find out what was the matter, and who was shooting. At the same time he sprang out of bed, and taking his revolver, told Bonny he would shoot the first man he caught firing. Bonny tried to soothe him; but he insisted on going out, and pushing his way through to the woman who was still beating the drum, ordered her to be quiet. Scarcely were the words uttered, when her husband, a man named Sanga, fired from a neighbouring hut and shot the major dead.

Bonny ran out, and with the help of a couple of men carried the murdered man into the hut. A moment or two later a party of armed Manyuema came towards him, and fully believing that a general massacre was about to commence, he asked the leader if they were going to attack him. The man said "No;" and Bonny, Laving desired him to call the headmen together, induced them to have the scattered baggage collected. The last duty of that sad day was the burial of the major, and at sunset Bonny read over him the solemn words of the Church of England burial service, and laid him to his rest under the forest trees.

Three days later Jameson, to whom Bonny had sent word of what had occurred, appeared on the scene. All was now quiet and orderly in camp, but Muni Somai and other headmen had taken their departure to Stanley Falls; and thither Jameson decided to follow them, in the hope of making some arrangement by which the expedition might be enabled to proceed. He therefore stayed at Banalya but a couple of days, in order to transact some necessary business, and on July 25th set out for the Falls.

About a week was spent in fruitless negotiations, and then, after witnessing the execution of Sanga, who had been captured by Tippu Tib's men, Jameson decided to go down the Congo to Bangala to meet Ward, of whose arrival at that station he had heard. For this purpose he obtained canoes from the Arabs, and on August 9th began his long voyage. Misfortune, however, still dogged his steps. That night he caught cold, and the next day was, as he said, "frightfully seedy." But he pushed on with indefatigable energy. On the 11th the mouth of the Aruwimi was passed; and though the chill taken two days before had developed into a severe attack of fever, he sat for hours in the hot sun engaged in soothing the natives, who had been much upset by a recent murderous raid on their villages. The following day the fever took stronger hold upon him. He became unable to touch the coarse food available, and by the 13th—the fourth day of his illness—he was in a dying condition.

His men, with the best will in the world, could do nothing for him. Their only hope lay in reaching Bangala, and with scarcely a halt they paddled on day and night, until on the 16th the weary journey ended. Ward came out to meet them, and the dying man was carried up to Vankerckhoven's hut, where for the next two days every effort was made to save him. But it was too late. His strength was worn out, and at half-past seven on the evening of the 17th, the very day of Stanley's arrival at Banalya, his brave spirit passed away.