Front Matter A Little Old World Early Mariners Is the World Flat Herodotus the Traveller Alexander Explores India Pytheas Finds British Isles Julius Caesar as Explorer Strabo's Geography The Roman Empire and Pliny Ptolemy's Maps Pilgrim Travellers Irish Explorers After Mohammed Vikings Sail Northern Seas Arab Wayfarers Travellers to the East Marco Polo Mediaeval Exploration Ends Mediaeval Maps Prince Henry of Portugal Bartholomew Diaz Christopher Columbus A Great New World Vasco da Gama Reaches India Discovery of Spice Islands Balboa Sees Pacific Ocean Magellan Sails Round World Cortes Conquers Mexico Explorers in South America Cabot Sails to Newfoundland Cartier Explores Canada Search for a Northwest Passage Frobisher Searches for Passage Drake's Famous Voyage Davis Straight Barents Sails to Spitzbergen Hudson Finds His Bay Baffin Finds His Bay Raleigh Searches for El Dorado Champlain and Lake Ontario Discoverers of Australia Tasman Finds Tasmania Dampier Discovers a Straight Behring Finds his Straight Cook Discovers New Zealand Cook's Third Voyage Bruce in Abyssinia Mungo Park and the Niger Vancouver and his Island Mackenzie and his River Parry and Lancaster Sound The Frozen North Franklin's Land Voyage Parry's Polar Voyage The Search for Timbuktu Landers Discover the Niger Ross Discovers North Pole Flinders Names Australia Sturt's Discoveries in Australia Ross in the Antarctic Seas Franklin Discovers Passage David Livingstone Burton and Speke in Africa Livingston Traces Nyassa Expedition to Victoria Nyanza Baker Finds Albert Nyanza Livingstone's Last Journey Through the Dark Continent Nordenskiold's NE Passage The Exploration of Tibet Nansen Reaches Farthest North Peary Reaches the North Pole The Quest for the South Pole Dates of Chief Events

Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Expedition to Victoria Nyanza

While Livingstone was discovering Lake Nyassa, Speke was busy preparing for a new expedition to find out more about the great sheet of water he had named Victoria Nyanza and to solve the vexed question: Was this the source of the Nile?

In April 1860, accompanied by Captain Grant, an old friend and brother sportsman, he left England, and by way of the Cape reached Zanzibar some five months later. The two explorers started for their great inland journey early in October, with some hundred followers, bound for the great lake. But it was January 1861 before they had covered the five hundred miles between the coast and Kaze, the old halting-station of Burton and Speke. Through the agricultural plains known as Uzarana, the country of Rana, where many negro porters deserted, because they believed the white men were cannibals and intended to eat them when safe away from the haunts of men; through Usagara, the country of Gara, where Captain Grant was seized with fever; through Ugogo's great wilderness, where buffalo and rhinoceros abounded, where the country was flooded with tropical rains, on to the land of the Moon, three thousand feet above sea-level, till the slowly moving caravan reached Kaze. Here terrible accounts of famine and war reached them, and, instead of following Speke's route of 1858, they turned north-west and entered the Uzinza country, governed by two chieftains of Abyssinian descent. Here Speke was taken desperately ill. His cough gave him no rest day or night; his legs were "reduced to the appearance of pipe-sticks." But, emaciated as he was, he made his way onwards, till the explorers were rewarded by finding a "beautiful sheet of water lying snugly within the folds of the hills," which they named the Little Windermere, because they thought it was so like "our own English lake of that name. To do royal honours to the king of this charming land, I ordered my men," says Speke, "to put down their loads and fire a volley."

The king, whom they next visited, was a fine-looking man, who, with his brother, sat cross-legged on the ground, with huge pipes of black clay by their sides, while behind them, "squatting quiet as mice," were the king's sons, six or seven lads, with little dream-charms under their chins! The king shook hands in true English fashion and was full of inquiries. Speke described the world, the proportions of land and water, and the large ships on the sea, and begged to be allowed to pass through his kingdom to Uganda. The explorers learnt much about the surrounding country, and spent Christmas Day with a good feast of roast beef. The start for Uganda was delayed by the serious illness of Grant, until at last Speke reluctantly decided to leave him with the friendly king, while he made his way alone to Uganda and the Lake Victoria Nyanza. It was the end of January 1861 when the English explorer entered the unknown kingdom of Uganda. Messengers from the king, M'tesa, came to him. "Now," they said, "you have really entered the kingdom of Uganda, for the future you must buy no more food. At every place that you stop for the day, the officer in charge will bring you plantains."

Mtesa, king of Uganda


The king's palace was ten days' march; the way lay along the western coast of the Lake Victoria Nyanza, the roads were "as broad as our coach roads cut through the long grass straight over the hills and down through the woods. The temperature was perfect. The whole land was a picture of quiescent beauty, with a boundless sea in the background."

On 13th February, Speke found a large volume of water going to the north. "I took off my clothes," he says, "and jumped into the stream, which I found was twelve yards broad and deeper than my height. I was delighted beyond measure, for I had, to all appearance, found one of the branches of the Nile's exit from the Nyanza."

But he had not reached the Nile yet. It was not till the end of July that he reached his goal.

"Here at last," he says, "I stood on the brink of the Nile, most beautiful was the scene, nothing could surpass it—a magnificent stream from six hundred to seven hundred yards wide, dotted with islets and rocks, the former occupied by fishermen's huts, the latter by crocodiles basking in the sun. I told my men they ought to bathe in the holy river, the cradle of Moses."

Marching onwards, they found the waterfall, which Speke named the Ripon Falls, "by far the most interesting sight I had seen in Africa." The arm of the water from which the Nile issued he named "Napoleon Channel," out of respect to the French Geographical Society for the honour they had done him just before leaving England in presenting their gold medal for the discovery of Victoria Nyanza.

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


The English explorers had now spent six months in Uganda. The civilisation in this country of M'tesa's has passed into history. Every one was clothed, and even little boys held their skin-cloaks tightly round them lest their bare legs might by accident be seen! Everything was clean and orderly under the all-powerful ruler M'tesa. Grant, who arrived in the end of May, carried in a litter, found Speke had not yet obtained leave from the king to "open the country to the north, that an uninterrupted line of commerce might exist between England and Uganda by means of the Nile." But at last on 3rd July he writes with joy: "The moment of triumph has come at last and suddenly the road is granted."

The explorers bid farewell to M'tesa. "We rose with an English bow, placing the hand on the heart, whilst saying adieu; and whatever we did M'tesa in an instant mimicked with the instinct of a monkey."

In five boats of five planks each tied together and caulked with rags, Speke started with a small escort and crew to reach the palace of the neighbouring king, Kamrasi, "father of all the kings," in the province of Unyoro. After some fierce opposition they entered the palace of the king, a poor creature. Rumours had reached him that these two white men were cannibals and sorcerers. His palace was indeed a contrast to that of M'tesa. It was merely a dirty hut approached by a lane ankle-deep in mud and cow-manure. The king's sisters were not allowed to marry; their only occupation was to drink milk from morning to night, with the result that they grew so fat it took eight men to lift one of them, when walking became impossible. Superstition was rife, and the explorers were not sorry to leave Unyoro en route for Cairo. Speke and Grant now believed that, except for a few cataracts, the waterway to England was unbroken. The Karuma Falls broke the monotony of the way, and here the party halted a while before plunging into the Kidi wilderness across which they intended to march to save a great bend of the river. Their path lay through swampy jungles and high grass, while great grassy plains, where buffaloes were seen and the roar of lions was heard, stretched away on every side.

Suddenly they reached a huge rock covered with huts, in front of which groups of black men were perched like monkeys, evidently awaiting the arrival of the white men. They were painted in the most brilliant colours, though without clothes, for the civilisation of Uganda had been left far behind. Pushing on, they reached the Madi country, where again civilisation awaited them in the shape of Turks. It was on 3rd December that they saw to their great surprise three large red flags carried in front of a military procession which marched out of camp with drums and fifes playing.

"A very black man named Mohammed, in full Egyptian regimentals, with a curved sword, ordered his regiment to halt, and threw himself into my arms endeavouring to kiss me," says Speke. "Having reached his huts, he gave us two beds to sit upon, and ordered his wives to advance on their knees and give us coffee."

Captains Speke and Grant


"I have directions to take you to Gondokoro as soon as you come," said Mohammed.

Yet they were detained till 11th January, when in sheer desperation they started off, and in two days reached the Nile. Having no boats, they continued their march overland till 15th February, when the masts of Nile boats came in sight, and soon after the two explorers walked into Gondokoro. Then a strange thing happened. We saw hurrying on towards us the form of an Englishman, and the next moment my old friend Baker, famed for his sports in Ceylon, seized me by the hand. What joy this was I can hardly tell. We could not talk fast enough, so overwhelmed were we both to meet again. Of course we were his guests, and soon learned everything that could be told. I now first heard of the death of the Prince Consort. Baker said he had come up with three vessels fully equipped with armed men, camels, horses, donkeys; and everything necessary for a long journey, expressly to look after us. Three Dutch ladies also; with a view to assist us (God bless them!); had come here in a steamer, but were driven back to Khartum by sickness. Nobody had dreamt for a moment it was possible we could come through."

Leaving Baker to continue his way to central Africa, Speke and Grant made their way home to England, where they arrived in safety after an absence of three years and fifty-one days, with their great news of the discovery of Uganda and their further exploration of Victoria Nyanza. When Speke reached Alexandria he had telegraphed home: "The Nile is settled." But he was wrong. The Nile was not settled, and many an expedition was yet to make its way to the great lakes before the problem was to be solved.