With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

"'Tis Dogged as Does It"

When the necessary staff had been assigned to Vivi, the force available for pioneering work numbered only a hundred and six men—a mere handful in proportion to the magnitude of the proposed work. But inasmuch as no more were forthcoming, Stanley put a brave face on the matter, and on March 18th he turned his back on Vivi, pitched his camp on the bank of the Loa River, and then proceeded to clear a road through the canelike grass, which in many places was over ten feet in height. His own share of the work consisted in marking out the course with a long cord and a series of white flags, a duty that could only be performed with the aid of a pair of steps high enough to enable the pathfinder to obtain a view of his surroundings. This done, the road-makers, each armed with a sharp Dutch hoe, attacked the grass, working so effectively that by sunset nearly half a mile of roadway fifteen feet wide was cleared.

Farther on the roughness of the ground added to the difficulty of the undertaking. Here a deep gully had to be filled up; there boulders to be removed or levelled, trees and scrub to be cut down. But Bula Matari was at work, and one by one the obstacles were overcome. Still it was a weary, heart-breaking task; for as food, cloth, tools, and requisites of all descriptions had to be carried or hauled by the men, every foot of the way had to be traversed at least three times. Snakes of various species were frequently encountered, but though many of them were poisonous no one was bitten. Game, too, was fairly plentiful; and as fresh meat was a most desirable addition to the otherwise rather monotonous bill of fare, Stanley undertook the duty of hunter to the party, and, when his other labours were finished, went off with his rifle in search of hartebeest, a kind of antalope whose flesh was voted particularly delicious.

Just over a month's hard labour brought the expedition to Makeya Manguba, a convenient landing-place on the banks of the Congo, about five miles from the confluence of the Bundi River, and twenty two miles from Vivi. From this point the river was navigable for some miles, so road-making was suspended, and the pioneers returned to Vivi, whence, after a few days' rest, they again set out, hauling the steamer Royal on a wagon, with the view of launching her at Makeya Manguba. Other carts were loaded with a miscellaneous assortment of goods, ranging from a boiler to a coil of wire, not to mention tents, baggage, and provisions. Five Europeans —Mr. Swinburne, two Danish sailors, Martin Martinsen and Albert Christopherson, and the engineers of the Royal—with fifty Vivi natives were added to the party.

This time, notwithstanding the heavy loads to be hauled, comparatively rapid progress was made, and on May 11th the Royal was triumphantly launched. This accomplished, Stanley left the engineers to superintend the cutting of a supply of wood for fuel, while he returned to Vivi.

It was not to be expected that an expedition such as that which Stanley had in hand could be carried through without losses and difficulties, other than those due directly to the country and the natives. The undertaking had attracted sundry Europeans who had no real fitness, either mental or physical, for the work: as a natural consequence the gloss quickly disappeared, and while some fell ill or died, others became unhappy and discontented. Thus Mr. Pettit, one of the engineers, had already succumbed; and several others, finding the work harder or the discomforts greater than their fancy had pictured, had resigned their posts during Stanley's absence. His return was the signal for further changes, and Mr. Moore, the storekeeper at Vivi, being unable to stand the climate, was compelled to go home. Two or three others who did not know their own minds first resigned, and then withdrew their resignations.

The work of conveying the boats, machinery, furniture, and other heavy goods, from Vivi to Makeya Manguba, kept the men fully occupied until the end of July; and meanwhile death was busy among them. Martin Martinsen and an Englishman named Deanes both succumbed; one of the blacks was snapped up by a crocodile; two fell victims to dysentery; and a number of others were on the sick list for longer or shorter periods.

The first difficulty with the natives occurred about the time that the last loads reached Makeya Manguba, where Mr. Swinburne was then in charge. It was occasioned by an ill-conditioned chief, who, for some reason unknown, had taken umbrage at the advent of the white men. During one of Stanley's absences at Vivi, he had forbidden his people to trade with the expedition, and after roundly abusing the Europeans of the party, ended by spitting in their faces. Shortly after Stanley returned he paid a second visit, and finding some of his people trading in the camp, began to knock them about. Stanley's indignation was aroused, and seizing the chief by the arm, he inquired what was meant by such conduct.

Instead of answering, the chief raised his hand to strike; but Stanley was quicker, and administered a hearty slap on the face before the chief could touch him. The war was thus carried into the enemy's camp, and the chief, now thoroughly angry, sprang to snatch his gun from a man who was carrying it. Before he could fire, however, Stanley's men, at a word from their leader, seized and bound the aggressor, whose followers were sent off to inform the paramount chief of the occurrence, and demand the payment of a fine for the misconduct of the minor chief. Native law fortunately ordained that the aggressor in any quarrel, if not the winner, must pay the penalty; and on the following day, when the senior chief arrived, and the assault was proved by sundry witnesses, the offender was condemned to pay a fine of four pigs and four goats, and to convey personally three letters separately to Vivi. Stanley reduced the penalty to one pig and three goats; and later on, when the letters had been conveyed and the chief brought to order, he remitted the fine altogether.

The next camp, on the Bundi River, was accessible by water, and on August 3rd the boats were loaded up, and the transport of the goods began. In a week the transfer was completed, and on August 10th some of the pioneers set to work to chop a road through a trackless forest of bombax, guaiacum, mahogany, and teak. Tree after tree fell before the fierce onslaught of the woodmen; and whilst they were busy among the timber, another gang cleared the path of rocks, filled in the chasms, levelled the inequalities of the ground, and generally prepared the way for the passage of the wagons.

The food supply now became something of an anxiety; for though a few natives with sweet potatoes, bananas, fowls, and other produce, followed in the track of the expedition, the route lay through an uninhabited wilderness. Mr. Swinburne, who acted as caterer, consequently bought up anything and everything eatable that was offered to him; for as the daily consumption equalled four hundred pounds of rice, or its equivalent, it was very desirable that the commissariat should not be wholly dependent on the supplies brought up from Vivi. For the same reason Stanley put in a good deal of his spare time in hunting, and the game—chiefly hartebeest and buffalo—which he brought in made a welcome variation in the otherwise chiefly vegetable diet. Sometimes, when the supply of meat exceeded the requirements of the camp, the surplus was bartered for fresh vegetables, or, with other gifts, was utilized to induce a few of the natives to enlist themselves as labourers.

A month's hard work brought the expedition to the foot of the steep Nyongena Hill, whose precipitous slopes were thickly strewn with huge boulders. The ascent proved quite as troublesome as it looked; but by dint of persevering labour the difficulty was overcome, and the explorers entered a forest reputed to be haunted by evil spirits given to carrying off intruders into their domains. The natives feared to proceed; but when they saw the Zanzibaris and other strangers boldly attack the trees without feeling any evil consequences, they regained confidence, and wielded their hoes and choppers with their accustomed energy.

The next noteworthy difficulty occurred immediately after crossing the Lulu River, beyond which the ground rose in a remarkably steep ascent. To haul up the heavy wagons in the usual way was out of the question; but an ingenious arrangement of blocks and tackles, worked with the aid of the huge trees growing by the wayside, proved most satisfactory, and in a couple of days boats, machinery, and other baggage were all safe at the top of the hill.

Unfortunately, every obstacle overcome seemed but to open the way for others, and now the Ngoma Mountain loomed ominously ahead. Sweeping round its base was the Congo with its impassable rapids, and in closer proximity to the camp was the deep valley of the Bulu River, which must be traversed before the mountain could be tackled. Altogether the prospect was anything but encouraging.

Sunday, November 7th, was a day of rest for all, and after a stroll down to the Congo, a bath, a shave, and a hearty breakfast, Stanley sat down for a comfortable read. Before long, however, Lutete Kuna, one of his young men, came running up to him with a scrap of paper bearing the words, "Le Comte Savorgnan de Brazza, Enseigne de Vaisseau," hastily inscribed in pencil. As counts are not to be met every day in Central Africa, and Stanley had only vaguely heard of the gentleman in question, who, when he left Europe, was supposed to be somewhere on the Ogowai, he naturally felt some surprise; but the messenger was unable to furnish any satisfactory information. He had met a tall white man, he said, who claimed to be a Frenchman, and amused himself by firing at the trees.

This mysterious person had entered into conversation with Lutete, and finding that he belonged to Stanley's party, sent him off with an imp visiting card to his master.

M. de Brazza in due time followed his card, and received a hearty welcome, though, as neither he nor Stanley could speak much of the other's language, conversation was carried on under difficulties. It appeared, however, that he had succeeded in exploring the Ogowai, and had afterwards made his way from that river to Stanley Pool, whence, travelling seawards, he heard of Stanley, and struck off to his camp, where he rested for a couple of days. After his departure the refreshed and rested explorers pushed forward to a sandy flat, beyond which the Ngoma Mountain made a sheer descent to the Congo. The mountain appeared impracticable, the stream unnavigable; what was to be done?

Fairly at his wits' end, Stanley strolled down to view Ngoma Point, where mountain and torrent met. Yes, here was his chance; for the tracks of various animals were plainly marked between the rocks, going on and on towards a wooded terrace visible beyond the point. Where a beast could go a man could follow: but what about the wagons? They could not scramble between the boulders, where there was barely foothold for a goat. Stay, though: why should not those very rocks, which seemed to bar the way, be turned into the means of passing the barrier? By rolling down some large ones into the stream a foundation might be made to carry a wall, which, in its turn, might support a road. It would be stiff work, of course, but not so stiff as hauling the wagons over the mountain; and then and there Stanley decided on the wall.

Stanley supervising workers


Trees were cut to act as levers, hard-wood poles for handspikes, and forty of the best men were told off to act as builders, while the rest brought stones from the mountain side. First one big boulder, then another, was dislodged from its resting-place, and hauled and levered to its new position at the margin of the river. In the course of a week a solid foundation was laid; stones were piled one upon another, until at last such a height was reached that, as the mountain sloped away from the stream, sufficient width had been gained to allow of the passage of a wagon. A few irremovable boulders still remained; but just when his services were most required, Lieutenant Valcke, a Belgian engineer officer, arrived on the scene, and promptly set to work to blast the rocks. With his timely assistance the great work was satisfactorily completed; and when the road had been levelled with a deep layer of earth, the way was open for the wagons to pass the point which had threatened to bring their advance to an abrupt conclusion.

Next a road was cleared across the wooded terrace, and then a path was cut along the sides of a few steep bluffs where it was necessary to level the ground. This brought the expedition to a point above the rapids where the Congo again became navigable, and a good landing-place having been found, a camp was formed, the wagons were unloaded, and the boats restored to their proper element. Here, too, the party received an addition in the arrival of Mr. Paul Neve, another young engineer, who rendered valuable service in launching the En Avant.

The Congo proved to be navigable to within three-quarters of a mile of Isangila, and the last day of 1880 found the party at their destination. A landing-place was found in a cove—perhaps a trifle near the cataract, but, with a little care, safely accessible; and there, on January 2, 1881, the boats were beached, to be repaired and painted after their nine months' knocking about. The road was finished, and with the comfortable assurance of "something attempted, something done," Stanley left Lieutenant Valcke and the other Europeans at Isangila, and once more went back to Vivi, where he found another reinforcement of Europeans, among them Captain Anderson, a Swedish merchant-sailor, who had brought a number of mules from Brussels.

Stanley's stay at Vivi was but short, and in the middle of February he was back at Isangila with two wagons, another steel lighter, and five hundred man-loads of materials. During his absence affairs had not been altogether prosperous; for his two principal assistants, Mr. Swinburne and Lieutenant Valcke, had both been ill, and on his return were still so feeble that it was necessary to send the former to Madeira, and the latter to Vivi, where he was to act as second in command.

Meanwhile Isangila camp had been fixed at a point above the cataract, and when the boats had been hauled up to it they were finally launched in readiness for a long voyage upstream to Manyanga. Below was the wild, roaring cataract; on the farther shore a dreary cone of rust-coloured rock; all around silent hills and stony valleys, half hidden by tall grass. The outlook was weird and gloomy; but the place suited the practical work of the expedition, and the character of the scenery was a minor detail too unimportant for consideration. For the present, however, though a few men remained to keep open the line of communication, no station was founded at this somewhat dreary and forbidding spot.

Between February 23rd and May 1, 1881, the whole of the goods and material of the expedition were transferred from Isangila to Manyanga, where Stanley proposed to establish another trading-station. As, notwithstanding several rapids, the Congo was navigable all the way, this section of the journey was accomplished with comparative ease, though the steamers being unable to carry more than a small portion of the load at one time, it was necessary to make the journey in short stages, each of which had to be traversed several times. Sundry camps, therefore, were established by the way, and in connection with these two of the newly-arrived Europeans, Lieutenants Harou and Braconnier, made themselves specially useful, as their military knowledge rendered them well fitted to look after the details of camp life.

The journey was not wholly uneventful. On Sunday, February 27th, when, in accord with Stanley's custom, the expedition was enjoying a day of rest at Kilolo, a few miles above Isangila, shouts were heard, and shortly afterwards two missionaries appeared. They told an exciting tale of their adventures, for at one of the places they had visited the natives would have none of them, and for some time their lives seemed to be in imminent danger. Finally the chief relented and allowed them to cross to the northern bank, where they met with a somewhat similar reception. Thoroughly alarmed, they then abandoned the idea of proceeding, and having obtained a canoe, descended the river in search of more friendly districts.

Two days after the departure of the missionaries Stanley sent some of his Zanzibaris to Vivi to carry a letter to the officer in charge, and also to bring up the European mail. Among the messengers was one Soudi, who, during Stanley's first journey down the Congo in 1877, had been swept over the Kalulu Falls and nearly drowned, and a little later had been captured and enslaved for a time by the natives. His various mishaps and adventures had not, however, sufficed to teach him wisdom, and when, some distance below Isangila, the party fell in with buffalo, he proceeded single-handed to stalk one of the herd. When sufficiently near he fired. The buffalo fell, and Soudi, casting caution to the winds, rushed in to cut the animal's throat. The buffalo, however, was not by any means disabled, and scrambling to his feet, he caught the luckless Soudi on his horns, tossed him high into the air, and mauled him so terribly that he died shortly after his companions came to the rescue. His death cast a gloom over the whole expedition, for he was a general favourite; but there was little time for grief, and the daily round of labour went on as before.

The pioneers had now reached a somewhat cheerless region, where the Congo flowed between rugged hills, bare rocks, and barren soil, hardly relieved by occasional patches of dark green scrubby bush. Not a single village or hut broke the monotony; but on the hills, where the land was more fertile, were numerous villages, from which at intervals a fisherman or two descended to the stream. Altogether the scene was anything but enlivening, and several of the members of the expedition, suffering perhaps from their depressing surroundings, became more or less seriously ill.

Much of the country around Manyanga was equally cheerless, though it was varied here and there by tree-clad ravines, and in some places, where the rocks formed what might be termed dry-land bays along the river bank, the soil washed down from above had formed fertile terraces. On one of these Stanley decided to land. There was a suitable harbour for the boats, a stream of clear, drinkable water—in fact, every convenience for a camp. The only draw-back was the fact that the terrace was cultivated, and might therefore command a high figure.

On April 29th the work of disembarkation was begun, and that afternoon two chiefs appeared from neighbouring villages with the customary offering of palm wine. Stanley hinted as delicately as he could that he wished to form a permanent settlement in the neighbourhood; but somewhat to his discouragement, they did not seem to jump at the prospect, and all he could say only elicited permission to stay where he was for the present. Times had been bad, they said, of late; all the other chiefs in the district had died, and the survivors seemed to feel a sort of vague, undefined mistrust of strangers. Still they were so far friendly that Stanley was able to hope for the best, and by the 1st of May the transfer of the goods from the last camp was completed.

Hard work, an unhealthy climate, or anxiety, or possibly a compound of all three, now proved too much for Stanley's strength, and scarcely was the new camp established when a slight feverish attack made itself felt. It was so trivial that he kept about as usual, until May 6th, when a fresh access of fever drove him unwillingly to bed. On the following day he was worse; and although on May 10th he had his tent removed to the top of a hill nearly three hundred feet above the river, the fever continued to gain ground. Medicine seemed ineffectual; but after a week of severe illness he took stronger measures, and swallowed twenty grains of quinine in a single dose. The first noticeable effect of this treatment was to render him partially unconscious; but on recovering the power to think he was aware that, though he was extremely weak, the fever was less violent. Promptly following up the advantage gained, he took a second dose—this time of thirty grains of quinine. After this he once more lapsed into unconsciousness, and for another six days lay between life and death, with only occasional short intervals of full consciousness. During all this time he was tenderly nursed by his two young Africans, Mabruki and Dualla; while Mr. Braconnier daily visited him, to urge the necessity of taking nourishment, and persevering in ever-increasing doses of quinine.

Notwithstanding all their care, the invalid grew steadily weaker. At last he became convinced that he was dying, and on May 20th he sent Mabruki to call up the other members of the expedition, in order that he might bid them farewell. Dualla meanwhile weighed out sixty grains of quinine, and when this powerful dose had been dissolved in acid, and diluted with a little Madeira to make it drinkable, Stanley obediently swallowed the mixture. Its effects instantly made themselves felt; and when his companions, white and black, appeared on the scene, for some minutes he struggled vainly to speak to them. The words would not come, and all he could do was to hold the hand of Albert Christopherson, and endeavour to gain strength by gazing intently into his eyes. Steadily the young fellow returned the gaze; and then, possibly by some inexplicable magnetism, strength returned to the sick man, and he spoke clearly and intelligibly. With the power of speech came also the conviction that he would after all recover. "I am saved," he said; but in his exceeding weakness the exertion had been too much, and as he spoke he fell back into unconsciousness, from which he did not awake for twenty-four hours. When he revived, his first desire was for something to eat—not for quinine. Of that he had had more than enough, and feebly calling Mabruki, he asked for some soup. Uncertain what to do, Mabruki consulted Braconnier, and the two compounded some broth, which the invalid drank with infinite satisfaction. From that hour he steadily improved, and by the end of the month was able to be up. On June 4th the arrival of the whale-boat, with the good news that a strong reinforcement from Zanzibar had reached Isangila, and that a young German named Lindner, with a specially-selected party, was hurrying up to Manyanga, gave him an additional fillip; for now, for the first time, he could venture to count on success.

Lindner, with twenty-four men, many of whom had served under Stanley on his previous journey, arrived on June 5th. He was full of life and energy—just the man for the work—and within a week he was off again to Isangila with the steamers to bring up the rest of the reinforcement.

Stanley, in the meantime, had gained strength so rapidly that the day after Lindner's departure he began to arrange for a pioneer journey to Stanley Pool. Before he could leave Manyanga, however, he had much to do. First, he must conclude his treaty with the Manyanga chiefs; and then, when the necessary ground had been purchased, the actual work of constructing the new station must be taken in hand. There were tents to be cut out and made, a road to be constructed, the station itself to be built, wagons to be repaired, and a thousand and one incidental duties to be performed. Each and all of these required his personal attention; and when he had put Braconnier in charge of the road-makers, and detailed Harou to superintend the building of the station, he turned his hand to tent-making, wagon-repairing, and an assortment of other handicrafts that might well have dismayed a Jack-of-all-trades.

All this work occupied about a month, and during that time Stanley had plenty of opportunity of observing native habits. Manyanga was evidently a good site for a trading-station, for it was already an important market centre, to which goods were brought from all the country round. The chief market, it appeared, was held about five miles from the river; but every other day an exchange of commodities took place on one or other of the hill-tops around the new station. Traders bound from the coast to Stanley Pool always made Manyanga one of their halting-places, and thus the people had grown accustomed to bring their produce thither for sale. The only drawback was that they were apt to be quarrelsome. Brawls were of frequent occurrence, and more than once Stanley's people became involved, though he threatened them with dire consequences should any of them ever provoke a breach of the peace. On the whole, however, they behaved well, and not a single complaint was brought against them.

So long was the return of the boats delayed that Stanley became anxious. In the early part of July, however, the whaleboat appeared, and a letter from Lindner brought the news that, though all was well with his own party, the recently-arrived engineer, Neve, had died of fever at Isangila—the second white man who so far had fallen a victim to the climate.