With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

To Help Emin

In 1876, while Stanley was commencing his first exploration of the Congo, and General (then Colonel) Gordon was serving under the Egyptian Government in the Sudan, Dr. Edward Schnitzer, a German Jew, better known by his assumed name of Emin, also entered the Egyptian service. He was sent down to join Gordon, who quickly recognized his merits, and, two years later, appointed him governor of the Equatorial Province. Here he laboured more or less successfully, until in 1883 the extending power of the Mandi cut him off from all communication with the outside world. From that time he was left entirely to himself. Gordon was shut up in Khartum, and was unable to render him any assistance, and the Egyptian Government appeared to have forgotten his existence. No shadow of attempt was made to reach him, and in 1885, finding that his position was untenable, he retreated southward, and established himself at Wadelai, a little to the north of the Albert Nyanza.

From this place the unfortunate governor, abandoned by the Government in whose service he was supposed to be engaged, and disregarded by his German countrymen, wrote to various private individuals stating his case, and asking them, if possible, to obtain assistance for him. Some of these letters were published in the Times, but no Government seemed disposed to take up the matter. Finally, several private individuals formed a Committee, and raised a relief fund, with the view of sending an expedition to rescue Emin. Stanley was consulted on the matter, and expressed his willingness to lead the proposed expedition, if the Committee desired that he should do so; or, if they did not require his services, to contribute 500 to the funds.

Four routes were proposed, but three of them—from the east coast—were, in Stanley's opinion, undesirable. In the first place, by any of them it would be necessary to pass through more or less hostile country; secondly, the risk of desertions from the ranks of the porters was very great, as from almost any point on these routes they would have little difficulty in returning to their own country as soon as they became tired of the hardships of the journey; thirdly, the Masailand route suggested by Mr. Joseph Thompson, who had explored that country, presented special difficulties on account of the scarcity both of food and water. Stanley proposed that the longer but much easier route by the Congo should be adopted, inasmuch as both food and water were plentiful, and water transit could be obtained for the greater part of the distance. His idea was to purchase a number of whaleboats, which could be conveyed in sections from the coast to Stanley Pool; and this he believed would be practically the chief difficulty of the Congo route. Of course, it would be necessary to obtain the consent of King Leopold to the passage of the expedition through the Congo Free State, but in doing this no difficulty was anticipated.

Having laid the pros and cons of the various routes before the Committee, Stanley departed to America, where he had arranged to deliver a series of lectures on his work on the Congo. He had only been there a fortnight, when he received a message from Sir William Mackinnon, informing him that his plan and offer were accepted, and asking him to return at once to England, as the matter was urgent. This, of course, compelled him to cancel his engagements in America, and returning by the first available steamer, he landed in England on Christmas Eve 1884. He then found that, though Mackinnon had cabled that his plan was accepted, the members of the Committee preferred one of the eastern routes. Stanley replied that the decision rested with them, and he proceeded to make arrangements to obtain porters, provisions, trade goods, and donkeys at Zanzibar. These were to be sent forward to the mission station at Mpwapwa, about two hundred miles to the westward of Zanzibar, where he proposed to join them.

Meanwhile he was busily engaged in England in laying in stores, provisions, arms, and ammunition, and in selecting the European members of the expedition from a crowd of eager applicants. Finally, he chose Lieutenant Stairs, a young officer of Engineers, who obtained special leave of absence from his regiment; Mr. Bonny, a well-drilled soldier, recently of the Army Medical Department; Mr. Troup, who had been for some time in the service of the Congo Free State; Major Barttelot, an eager, hardworking officer of the 7th Fusiliers; Captain Nelson, who had seen hard service in Zululand; Mr. Jameson, who, besides having already had considerable experience of African travel, was a large contributor to the relief fund; and Mr. Jephson, who, as yet, had had no experience of travel, rough work, or hardship.

Early in January, Sir William Mackinnon had a letter from King Leopold, expressing his strong desire that the expedition should travel by way of the Congo. All arrangements had been made with the view of taking the east coast route, but on receipt of his Majesty's letter the matter was reconsidered, and Stanley was again consulted. He pointed out some half-dozen reasons which made the Congo route preferable to any other; and finally, as the British Government undertook to transport the expedition from Zanzibar to the Congo mouth, and King Leopold offered the use of his boats on the river, it was decided that the change should be made, though it was now too late to order the whaleboats. This alteration of plans involved a good deal of extra work and expense; but by the end of the third week in January everything was in train, and the 27th of that month found Stanley at Cairo. Here he engaged a new member of the expedition, in the person of Surgeon Parke, of the British Army Medical Department, and also obtained official letters authorizing Emin Pasha and the troops under his command either to retire with the relief expedition, or to remain in the Sudan, as they might prefer. Only, in the event of any one electing to remain, it was clearly stated that the Government would neither accept the responsibility nor send any further relief.

Sixty-one Sudanese soldiers were detailed for service with the expedition, and with these and his European staff Stanley sailed from Aden on February 12th. Ten days later he was at Zanzibar, where he found that his agents had worked so energetically that very little remained to be done. There were, however, a few people to be interviewed, and among them Tippu Tib, an adventurous Arab, who, having amassed a fortune by slave-dealing, had rendered Stanley material assistance in his exploration of the Congo in 1877, and had since extended his power, until he had become practically king of the whole region between Tanganyika Lake and Stanley Falls. It was therefore most desirable to secure his good will; so, as Emin was credited with the possession of about 60,000 worth of ivory, Stanley arranged with Tippu Tib to supply porters to assist in conveying the ammunition and other stores to Emin, and then to bring back the ivory to the Falls. This business disposed of, Stanley made a further proposition—namely, that Tippu Tib should take charge at Stanley Falls, where, after the departure of Mr. Binnie and his immediate successor, everything had gone wrong. A quarrel with the Arabs had led to the destruction of the station; and as a result, the districts below the Falls were at the mercy of the slavers, who were fast devastating the neighbourhood. On the principle, therefore, of setting a thief to catch a thief, Stanley, being authorized by King Leopold to do so, offered Tippu Tib a regular salary to act as governor of the Falls Station, on the understanding that he was neither to indulge in slave-raiding himself, nor allow any one else to do so. To this scheme Tippu Tib joyfully assented, and on February 25th, when the expedition sailed from Zanzibar, he and his followers were included in the party.

The voyage occupied about three weeks, and on March 18th the expedition landed at Banana Point, where Stanley at once set about finding means of transport to Matadi, on the south side of the Congo, nearly opposite Vivi. He was fortunate enough to obtain three steamers, and to these men, goods, and animals were transferred immediately. On the 21st Matadi was reached, and the next few days were spent in unloading the goods and preparing to march overland to Leopoldville. If rumours prevalent at Banana Point were correct, the steamers at Stanley Pool were in very bad condition. The Stanley  was said to be a perfect ruin, the Royal  rotten, while the En Avant  had been reduced to the status of a mere barge. This did not sound encouraging, and one of Stanley's first cares on reaching Matadi was to dispatch messengers to Leopoldville to request Lieutenant Liebrechts, who was now in charge at the Pool, to have the steamers repaired with all possible speed.

Early on the morning of March 25th the camp at Matadi was broken up, the Sudanese troops shouldered their rifles, the Zanzibari porters their loads, and shortly after six o'clock the expedition began its march. At first all went merrily, but the men, being completely out of training after their voyage, soon began to straggle. The furnace-like heat of the weather and the roughness and steepness of the road did not mend matters, and long before camping time Sudanese and Zanzibaris alike had lost all semblance of order, and were straggling along, grumbling as they went at the hardships they were called upon to endure. So much done up were they that on the next day they were unable to go forward, and a halt was made at Palaballa, one of the stations of the Livingstone Inland Mission, where the sick and weary were kindly tended by the missionaries. By the 28th they were again fit for work, and the march was resumed. That day things went on better, and a new recruit was engaged in the person of Mr. Ward, who had been for some years in the service of the Congo Free State, and seemed likely to prove a useful addition to the staff.

During the next few days the heat and hard work tried the men very much; but the expedition wound its weary way along the south bank of the Congo, until, on April 22nd, much to the delight of all, Leopoldville was safely reached. Here the men, having finished their labours for the time being, had nothing to do but rest; but Stanley and other members of the staff found themselves with more than enough to do in obtaining means of transport to Yambuya, more than eleven hundred miles distant on the Aruwimi, whence it would be necessary to march overland to the Albert Nyanza. For the whole distance to Yambuya the streams were navigable, but in the dilapidated condition of the steamers on which Stanley had been reckoning for means of transport what was to be done? It was clear that boats of some sort must be obtained, and in this dilemma Mr. Billington of the Baptist Mission was approached with the view of obtaining the loan of the steamer Henry Reed. Mr. Bentley, of the same mission, had already, after a good deal of demur, consented to lend another of their steamers named the Peace.

At first Mr. Billington's reply was a decided refusal, and Barttelot and Jephson, who undertook to induce him to reconsider his decision, spent many hours in fruitless endeavours. Lieutenant Liebrechts then took the matter in hand; but he too was at first unsuccessful, and it was not until he had spent a whole day in going backwards and forwards with negotiations that Mr. Billington finally consented to hire out his steamer for the somewhat exorbitant charge of 100 per month.

In the meantime the Stanley had been put into working order, and now Mr. Swinburne, formerly Stanley's secretary and the governor of Vivi, offered the loan of the Florida, an incomplete steamer belonging to an ivory-trading company, of whose station at Kinshassa Swinburne was now manager. The Florida was minus engines and machinery, but the hull was completed, and if towed by one of the other steamers would serve as a barge. Stanley, gladly accepting the offer, marched the expedition down to Kinshassa to assist in launching the boat, and by April 30th everything was ready for the advance.

On May 1st the men were distributed among the boats, and the fleet steamed off; but scarcely was the Peace  well on her way when her rudder broke. The current at that point was racing along at the rate of six knots an hour, and as the boat began to drift the captain dropped anchor—with disastrous results, for the flimsy craft was unable to stand the strain, and the anchor chains tore her deck to pieces. An attempt was made to haul up the anchors, but they had fouled among the rocks, and all that could be done was to cut the cable and drift back to Kinshassa. The engineers then set to work to repair the damage; and this done, the Peace  made another start, and succeeded in reaching Kimpoko Station at the head of Stanley Pool, where the rest of the expedition was awaiting her arrival.

The order of advance was much the same as in Stanley's previous voyage with the En Avant  in the service of the Free State. Every evening about five o'clock the boats were moored, a camp was formed, and the men turned out in parties to fetch in wood to be chopped up by firelight for the morrow's steaming. This work sometimes occupied several hours; but until it was completed, and the wood duly stacked on board, the day's work was not at an end. Then came a few hours' sleep, but early in the morning every one was astir in order to get off in good time.

Progress, however, was provokingly slow, owing chiefly to the vagaries of the Peace. Every forty-five minutes or so it was necessary to halt to oil or clean the cylinders, or to raise steam, or clear the charcoal out of the furnace; then, perhaps, as soon as a fresh start had been made, the steam pressure would go down and down, until the vessel, instead of making headway, began to drift back with the current. The next trouble was that the Stanley ran ashore, knocked several holes in her side, and loosened or displaced a number of rivets. The engineers from all the steamers were called to the rescue; but as they were compelled to work in a couple of feet of water, the repairs took some time, and it was not until the fourth day that the Stanley was able to continue her voyage.

Notwithstanding all these difficulties progress was made, and on May 12th the expedition halted at Bolobo, where an abundant stock of provisions was obtainable. It was a good camping-place, and as many of the men showed signs of weakness Stanley decided to leave all who were out of condition to recruit for a while, under the charge of Ward and Bonny.

From Bangala, where the expedition arrived on flay 30th, Tippu Tib departed direct for Stanley Falls; while Stanley and the main body went on to Yambuya, the large settlement on the south bank of the Aruwimi, where Stanley had halted on his first visit to that river. Here he proposed to establish a temporary depot, under the charge of Barttelot, who, with Jameson as his second in command, was to remain in camp until the carriers promised by Tippu Tib should arrive. Stanley himself decided to push on with an advance guard of the best men, and the rear column was to follow at the earliest possible date.

The Yambuya natives, though they abstained from active hostilities, firmly refused to allow the expedition to land. When several hours had been wasted in fruitless negotiations, Stanley determined to carry the thing through with a rush. At a given signal the men swarmed ashore, scrambled up the steep bank, and made a dash for the village. As the first man landed the villagers fled, and by the time the top of the bank was reached not a single native was to be seen. Closer inspection showed that the settlement consisted of many villages extending along the river bank, and backed at a short distance by almost impenetrable forest. No time, however, was lost in making unnecessary investigations, and as soon as the men had taken up the quarters assigned to them guards were set, and work began.

Among such surroundings it would have been the height of imprudence to leave the depot without every possible protection, so, while some of the men were told off to cut fuel for the steamers, which were to return to Stanley Pool to fetch up the ammunition which had been stored there, the rest of the force was detailed to build a stockade and cut a ditch around the site of the proposed camp. In the course of a fortnight the intrenched camp was so far on the road to completion that Stanley felt justified in leaving Major Barttelot and Jameson to their own devices, and on the 28th of June the advance began. Lieutenant Stairs was seriously ill with fever, but though he was unable to walk he was so anxious to go forward that he was carried in a hammock.

Within a few yards of the camp the thick bush presented an apparently impenetrable front, and what was called by courtesy a path bore so little resemblance to anything that is usually so termed that it was constantly necessary to clear the way of tangled creepers, which stretched in all directions. Progress was necessarily slow, but late in the afternoon the leaders reached a point where the path opened out into a broad road, leading to a village called Yankonde. Each side of the road was marked by a stiff bush fence, so closely banked up as to be quite impassable, and at its farther end stood several hundred warriors with bow in hand, apparently daring the strangers to advance. The men halted, and it was then observed that the road fairly bristled with sharp-pointed pegs, smeared with poison, and set upright in the ground. Until these were removed, the road, for shoeless people, was absolutely impassable, and a dozen men were told off to pull up the pegs, while another dozen covered the workers with their rifles. Other parties were sent out to make their way through the bush behind the fences; but long before any one could reach the village the natives fired the huts, and after discharging a flight of arrows in the direction of the column, took to their heels. They did not, however, run far, and throughout the night they hovered round the camp, pouring in spears and arrows to the accompaniment of a chorus of unearthly yells. To guard against surprise a strong force of sentries was posted; but as it was useless to attempt firing in the dark, the orders for the night were merely to keep silence and a strict watch.

The first day's march was a fair sample of what continued for many weeks. Sometimes the way lay along a so-called track, where, however, it was constantly necessary to cut away dependent creepers. Sometimes there was no vestige of a track at all, and then the leaders, with their axes and billhooks, were compelled to clear every foot of ground to be traversed. Here and there giant trees crossed the route, forming barriers troublesome for the men and almost impassable for the donkeys; and in the neighbourhood of villages, where none of these hindrances existed, the ground was usually so liberally pegged that the greatest caution was necessary. Another danger lay in the various pitfalls and other traps for game which usually abounded in the vicinity of tracks and villages. With all these difficulties to overcome, travelling was necessarily slow and diffi cult, and in a six or seven hours' march it was very seldom that more than five miles were covered.

After a week of this sort of progress the expedition again touched the river, which presented a beautiful, calm stretch of water with no impediments to navigation. It occurred to Stanley that a great deal of trouble might be saved by launching the steel boat Advance, which hitherto had been carried in sections, and Jephson, who had special charge of the boat, was desired to fit the sections together. As soon as the boat was launched, Lieutenant Stairs, who was still too ill to walk, was put on board, and the rest of the available space was filled up with baggage. Near the river bank the bush was less thick than farther inland; travelling was therefore decidedly more rapid, and on July 5th a village was reached. Its appearance was hailed with delight, for provisions were rapidly growing scarce, and for the last three days the men had been compelled to keep body and soul together on nothing better than a few manioc roots.

That evening, when the boat, which had been delayed by rapids, made its appearance, Jephson reported the discovery of a fleet of abandoned canoes. These he had secured to an island to await Stanley's pleasure, and he was forthwith sent back with additional men to bring a specially large one up to the camp. Above the village the river bank became more thickly inhabited—or it would be more correct to say there were more villages, for in every case the inhabitants appeared to have fled. This was so far advantageous that the foragers were able to obtain a plentiful supply of manioc and other vegetables entirely free of cost. The only drawback was that nothing in the way of animal food was procurable, for whatever fowls or goats the natives might have possessed had departed with their masters, and the whole country was singularly devoid of game.

The greater part of July 11th was spent in the navigation of a series of rapids which bordered the deserted villages, and only a trifling advance was made. During the whole time that the expedition was in the neighbourhood not a single native was seen, but on the 12th, as the column disappeared, they were observed quietly stealing back with their property.

Later in the day, when the boat was slowly working its way upstream, a native lad appeared coming down with the current on a portion of a broken canoe. As he approached the boat he sprang aboard, and immediately making himself at home, settled down to work, using his paddle with good effect. His name, he said, was Bakula; and though he was suspected of being a cannibal, he proved himself a handy, useful lad, conforming readily to the ways of his new friends, and supplying them with a good deal of information respecting the villages in the neighbourhood.

At this time several canoes were annexed, so that by July 16th the fleet consisted of the boat and five canoes. These were capable of carrying seventy-four men, and such a large quantity of goods that now half the land force was sufficient to carry what remained. This was, of course, a great relief to the porters, who were thus enabled on alternate days to march free of any load.

On the 17th rain fell so heavily and incessantly for several hours that it was impossible to go on, and equally impossible to find any comfort in camp. The sun-loving Africans, consequently, became extremely depressed, and it was not until some hours after the rain had ceased that they began to recover their usual cheerfulness. Their low spirits were possibly caused partly by increasing weakness, for it was now many days since they had had anything more sustaining than a vegetable diet. Better days, however, were coming; for on the 20th, when the expedition was in camp near a large settlement known as Mariri, some of the natives ventured up in a canoe, and, for the first time during the journey up the Aruwimi, consented to trade. On this occasion, it is true, only five fowls could be purchased; but a couple of days later Surgeon Parke captured a native woman, on whom he made such a favourable impression that she induced her neighbours to sell a considerable number of fowls. Prices were low in this neighbourhood, for a single cotton handkerchief would pay for a fowl; while rubbish, such as empty sardine, jam, or milk tins, could be readily exchanged for tobacco, sugar-cane, and maize. In appearance the people much resembled the natives of the Upper Congo country, and the salutation of peace—"Seneenah"—was the same word as that used by the natives of Manyuema, Uregga, and other districts beyond Stanley Falls. They were decidedly lighter-coloured than the Zanzibaris; and when in full dress, which consisted of a layer of red camwood powder mixed with oil, it was no easy matter to distinguish them from the red clay banks of the river.

On July 25th there was again a series of rapids to be negotiated, and the boats, with Jephson and Stanley in charge, struggled foot by foot up a dangerous channel between rocky islets and the bush-clad bank. While some of the men rowed, others endeavoured to assist them by clutching at the over-hanging branches with hands and boat-hooks; but at almost the first touch of the bushes a swarm of furious wasps sallied out, and settled on hands, faces, necks—on every spot where there seemed to be a chance of planting a sting. With every muscle engaged in the fight with the waters, no one had a chance of beating off the infuriated insects. The only chance of getting rid of them was to hasten out of their neighbourhood; but with the rushing current, vicious pointed rocks, and swirling eddies, the battle was a hard one. Half maddened by the stings, however, the men gained new strength with every effort, and in less time than had seemed possible the "Wasp Rapids" were left astern,