H. M. Stanley

(Sir Henry Morton Stanley)


Henry Morton Stanley was the first European explorer of one of the most inhospitable regions of equatorial Africa—the region surrounding the Congo river, which had defied penetration by civilized man for thousands of years. During his most famous excursion, between 1874 and 1877, he began with several hundred men at the Lualaba river in the Lakes region of Africa, and followed the river all the way to mouth of the Congo. On his route he dealt with hostile natives, wild animals, disease, enormous water-falls, starvation, porter-revolts, cannibals, poisoned arrows, traps, and a myriad of other exceedingly difficult problems. He earned a reputation for brutality in some of his dealings with natives, but no more so than may be expected for a man in constant danger of his life. As it was, he lost dozens of his men on the expedition, including all three of the white men in his original party, and on several occasions escaped death himself by only a hair. When he returned to civilization, however, he was able to provide a great deal of detailed information on a region of Africa which upto that time had remained utterly mysterious and unknown.

Henry Morgan Stanley
H. M. Stanley, (born John Rowlands), was orphaned at an early age, and spent his youth in a workhouse in Wales. He obtained passage to America as a young man and for a time worked for a merchant in Arkansas named Stanley, and it was from this employer, who had befriended and adopted him, that he took his name. He fought for the South during the Civil War, but after being captured, he changed sides and eventually joined the Federal Navy. He enjoyed travel, and eventually became a newspaper correspondent for the New York Herald. He specialized as a traveling war correspondent and in this context traveled to Colorado, Abyssinia, and the Gold Coast of Africa, to report on on-going military campaigns.

Eventually his editor proposed that he go to Zanzibar and attempt to locate the famous explorer Livingstone, who was thought to be in the interior of Africa, but had not been heard from in several years. During the subsequent expedition into the heart of Africa, Stanley succeeded in finding Livingstone, and spent several months assisting him in his explorations. It was, in fact, Livingstone's idea to undertake an expedition which followed the Lualaba river from its source to its mouth (which turned out to be the Congo), but he was too ill-equipped and infirm to undertake the project himself. He did, however, inspire Stanley's interest in exploring the mysterious regions of central Africa.

When Stanley returned to America he wrote a book about his exploits with Livingstone and eventually obtained a sponsor for a mission to explore "Livingstone's river". The expedition itself was extremely grueling and took nearly three years, but it succeeded in answering a great many questions about the unknown regions of the "Dark Continent".

Even after Stanley's expedition, most European countries with interests in Africa still considered the Congo basin uninhabitable, and did not pursue colonization. King Leopold II however, was deeply interested in developing the region as a colony of Belgium and after two years, convinced Stanley to return to the area and help "negotiate treaties" with the natives and set up trading stations. Stanley therefore returned to Africa and spent several years in the region on behalf of the king of Belgium. He also participated in the infamous Berlin Conference in 1884 where Africa was "partitioned" between European imperial interests.

Stanley's final expedition to the interior of Africa, from 1886 to 1888 involved a British mission to rescue Emin Pasha, a German doctor who was serving as governor of Soudan, and had been cut-off by tribal wars. The route that Stanley took, cutting through the jungle north of the Congo had never been explored and was particularly dangerous. The losses on this final mission amounted over two-thirds of his force, and only succeeded in its objectives with great difficulty. After Stanley returned to Britain from this disastrous final expedition, he was elected to Parliament, but it did not suit his disposition. He spent his final years in retirement and died in 1904.

Stanley was a controversial figure in his own age, and even more so today because his methods were considerably more brutal than his predecessor, Livingstone, and there were few positive outcomes to the colonization of the Congo region. At the time however, it was thought that exploration and discovery of unknown regions was an inherent good, just as many people today believe that freedom of inquiry in terms of scientific investigation is an inherent good, and should not be hindered. The negative outcomes that are apparent in retrospect were unforeseen ahead of time, then as now.

Key events during the life of H. M. Stanley:

Birth of John Rowlands (later H. M. Stanley) to an unmarried woman in Wales.
Sent to a workhouse
Worked briefly as a student teacher.
Gained passage to the United States.
Began working for a merchant names Stanley. Assumed his name.
Served for the south during the first year of the civil war.
Taken prisoner by the north but escaped. Returned to wales.
Enlisted in the navy, this time fighting for the north.
Sent as a war correspondent to Abyssinia, for the New York Herald.
Embarks on a mission to find Livingstone in Africa.
Locates Livingstone at Ujiji in Tanzania.
Accompanied Wolsey's trip to Ashanti.
Embarked on journey of Exploration to the Congo.
Returned to Britain after following the Congo from the Lualaba to is mouth.
Returned to the Congo to negotiate 'treaties' for the King of Belgium.
Attended Berlin conference on the partition of Africa.
Led and expedition to rescue Emin Pasha, governor of Sudan.
Final trip to Africa.
Made a Knight.
Died in London.

Book Links
Story of H. M. Stanley  by  Vautier Golding

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Through the Dark Continent  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Preparing the Empire  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Bula Matari.
 in With Stanley on the Congo

Parleying with the Aruwimi native
 in With Stanley on the Congo

Meeting of Stanley and Emin Pasha
 in With Stanley on the Congo

Sir H. M. Stanley
 in The Story of H. M. Stanley

Popcock was drawn down
 in The Story of H. M. Stanley

Stanley and his men marching through Unyoro
 in A Book of Discovery

Toward's the Unknown Stanley's canoes starting from Vinya Njara
 in A Book of Discovery

Sir H. M. Stanley
 in The Reign of Queen Victoria

Short Biography
David Livingstone As a medical missionary, he explored uncharted regions of the interior of Africa.
Leopold II King of Begium who tried to create a Belgian colony in the Congo.
Gordon Bennett Editor of the New York Herald, financed Stanley's trips to Africa.
Dorothy Tennant Well known London artist. Wife of H. M. Stanley.
Tipoo Tib Arab guide who deserted Stanley half-way through the expedition.
Uledi Native guide who was an invaluable aid to Stanley.
Emin Pasha German born doctor who served as governor of the Eygptian province of Sudan.