Mungo Park.

The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805 online

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Africa (a period of about seven weeks) will be best described by the
following letters, and extracts selected from his correspondence.

_To Mr. Dickson_

_Port Praya Bay, St. Jago, March 13, 1805._

"We have had a very tedious passage to this place, having been pestered
with contrary winds, strong gales, and French privateers. We have all of
us kept our health remarkably well, considering the very great change of
climate. Mr. Anderson has the rheumatism in his knee, but is getting
better. Mr. Scott is off this morning for the Interior of the Island, to
take sketches; and as soon as I have finished this letter I am going on
shore to finish my purchase of asses. I bought all the corn, &c. last
night, and twenty-four asses, and I shall purchase thirty-two more to
day; so you see we shall not be detained here. We shall have taken in
all the water today, and the first division of the asses will come on
board to-morrow. We expect to sail for Goree on Saturday or Sunday.

"I have been so much employed that I have had no time as yet to look
after plants; indeed this seems a very unfavourable season of the year
for natural history, the whole country being quite dry and withered. I
have collected some observations on the present state of the Cape Verd
Islands, which I will send home by the sloop of war.

"If Sir Joseph enquires after me, tell him that I am going on as well as
I could wish; and if I have as little trouble at Goree as I am likely to
have here, I hope to be able to date a letter from the Niger by the 4th
of June."

_To Mrs. Park._

_Goree, 4th April, 1805._

"I have just now learnt that an American ship sails from this place for
England in a few days; and I readily embrace the opportunity of sending
a letter to my dearest wife. We have all of us kept our health very well
ever since our departure from England. Alexander had a touch of the
rheumatism at St. Jago, but is now quite recovered; he danced several
country dances at the ball last night. George Scott is also in good
health and spirits. I wrote to you from St. Jago, which letter I hope
you received. We left that place on the 21st of March, and arrived here
with the asses on the 28th. Almost every soldier in the Garrison,
volunteered to go with me; and with the Governor's assistance I have
chosen a guard of the best men in the place. So lightly do the people
here think of the danger attending the undertaking, that I have been
under the necessity of refusing several military and naval officers who
volunteered to accompany me. We shall sail for Gambia on Friday or
Saturday. I am happy to learn that Karfa, my old friend, is at present
at Jonkakonda; and I am in hopes we shall be able to hire him to go with

"We have as yet been extremely fortunate, and have got our business both
at St. Jago and this place finished with great success: and I have
hopes, almost to certainty, that Providence will so dispose the tempers
and passions of the inhabitants of this quarter of the world, that we
shall be enabled to _slide through_ much more smoothly than you expect.

"I need not tell you how often I think about you; your own feelings will
enable you to judge of that. The hopes of spending the remainder of my
life with my wife and children will make every thing seem easy; and you
may be sure I will not rashly risk my life, when I know that your
happiness, and the welfare of my young ones depend so much upon it. I
hope my Mother does not torment herself with unnecessary fears about me.
I sometimes fancy how you and she will be meeting misfortune half way,
and placing me in many distressing situations. I have as yet experienced
nothing but success, and I hope that six months more will end the whole
as I wish."

"P.S. We have taken a ride this morning about twelve miles into the
country. Alexander is much pleased with it; the heat is moderate, and
the country healthy at present."

_To Edward Cooke, Esq. Under Secretary of State for the Colonial

_Jillifree, River Gambia,
April 9th, 1805._


"It is with great pleasure that I embrace this opportunity of sending
you a general account of our proceedings since leaving England.

"We had a very tedious passage to the Cape Verd Islands, being detained
by storms and contrary winds in the Bay of Biscay, so that we did not
reach St. Jago till the 8th of March. I immediately set about purchasing
the asses, corn, hay, &c. and succeeded so well that on the 18th I had
embarked forty-four asses with plenty of corn and hay. The master of the
transport declared that he could not receive any more consistently with
the safety of the vessel. We sailed for Goree on the 21st. While we were
getting under way, six English ships of the line, one of them a three
decker, came into the Bay. They did not hail us; one of them had an
Admiral's blue flag at the mizen.

"We made the coast of Africa on the 25th, and anchored in Goree roads on
the morning of the 28th. I immediately went on shore, and having
delivered the dispatches to Major Lloyd, consulted with him respecting
the proper encouragement to be offered to the troops. We agreed that
nothing would be so great an inducement as double pay during the
journey, and a discharge on their return. A Garrison order to this
effect was accordingly made out; and in the course of a few days almost
every soldier in the Garrison had volunteered his services. Lieutenant
Martyn of the Royal Artillery Corps having likewise volunteered, I
thought it would be of consequence to have an officer who was acquainted
with the men, and who could assist me in choosing such as were best able
to stand fatigue. I therefore accepted his services on the conditions
mentioned in Lord Camden's letter. Captain Shortland, of the Squirrel
Frigate, has allowed two of his best seamen to go with me as volunteers
in order to assist in rigging and navigating our _Nigritian Men of War_.
I have given them the same encouragement as the soldiers, and have had
the four carpenters whom I brought from England attested, in order to
put the whole under the same discipline and regulations.

"On the morning of the 6th of April we embarked the soldiers, in number
thirty-five men. They jumped into the boats in the highest spirits, and
bade adieu to Goree with repeated huzzas. I believe that every man in
the Garrison would have embarked with great cheerfulness; but no
inducement could prevail on a single Negro to accompany me. I must
therefore trust to the Gambia for interpreters, and I expect to be able
to hire or purchase three or four in going up the river. I will send a
particular account of all money matters by the return of the Transport."


_To Sir Joseph Banks._

_Kayee, River Gambia,
April 26th, 1805._

"My Dear Friend,

"I know that you will be pleased to hear that I am in good health, and
going forwards with as much success as I could reasonably expect. In my
letter to Lord Camden, I have given a short statement of my transactions
since I left England, which I have requested his Lordship to shew to
you. By that you will see that I have had but little time to attend to
objects of natural history; but lest you should think that I have
neglected this pursuit entirely, I have sent a few specimens in a trunk,
which I hope will come safe; the most remarkable are,

"1st. The _Fang jani_, or self-burning tree of Gambia. This grows
plentifully on the banks of the Gambia betwixt Yanimaroo and Kayee, and
no where else. It is certainly burnt by some internal process, of which
I am ignorant. Few of the natives have seen it actually burning; but
every person who has sailed up the Gambia will allow that these bushes
are burnt in places where no human being could set them on fire, and
where the grass around them was not burnt. I have sent you a burnt
stump, two tops, and a fruit.

"2d. The _Kino_, (so called by the natives), a branch and fruit of the
original gum kino tree and a paper of the real gum; none of this gum is
at present exported from Gambia, though it might be collected in some

"3d. The _Tribo_, a root with which the natives dye their leather of a
yellow colour. It is not in flower at this season. [Footnote: See
Appendix, No. V.]

"The wars which at present prevail in Bondou and Kasson, have prevented
the merchants from bringing down the _Shea_ butter; otherwise I would
have sent you a pot of it. I have sent you as a specimen of African
manufactures, a Mandingo cloth dyed from the _leaves_ of the indigo,
half a dozen small pots, and some Lefa's or calabash covers. I regret
that I have not been able to procure any Bondou _Frankincense_. - Give my
compliments to Major Rennell, and tell him that I hope to be able to
correct my former errors. The course of the Gambia is certainly not so
long as is laid down in the charts. The watch goes so correctly that I
will measure Africa by feet and inches.

"In case any unfavourable reports should be raised respecting the
termination of our journey, I request that you will endeavour as much as
you can to prevent them from finding their way into the newspapers, or
by any other manner reaching the ears of my dear wife and mother."

_To Mrs. Park._

_Kayee, River Gambia, April 26, 1805._

"I have been busy these three days in making preparations for our
journey, and I feel rather uneasy when I think that I can receive no
letters from you till I return to England; but you may depend on this,
that I will avail myself of every opportunity of writing to you, though
from the very nature of the undertaking these opportunities will be but
few. We set off for the Interior tomorrow morning; and I assure you,
that whatever the issue of the present journey may be, every thing looks
favourable. We have been successful thus far, beyond my highest

"The natives instead of being frightened at us, look on us as their best
friends, and the kings have not only granted us protection, but sent
people to go before us. The soldiers are in the highest spirits; and as
many of them (like me) have left a wife and family in England, they are
happy to embrace this opportunity of returning. They never think about
difficulties; and I am confident, if there was occasion for it, that
they would defeat any number of Negroes that might come against us; but
of this we have not the most distant expectation. The King of Kataba
(the most powerful King in Gambia) visited us on board the Crescent on
the 20th and 21st; he has furnished us with a messenger to conduct us
safely to the King of Woolli.

"I expect to have an opportunity of writing to you from Konkodoo or
Bammakoo, by some of the slave traders; but as they travel very slowly,
I may probably have returned to the coast before any of my letters have
reached Goree; at any rate, you need not be surprised if you should not
hear from me for some months; nay, so uncertain is the communication
between Africa and England, that perhaps the next news you may hear, may
be my arrival in the latter, which I still think will be in the month of
December. If we have to go round by the West Indies, it will take us two
months more; but as Government has given me an unlimited credit, if a
vessel is coming direct, I shall of course take a passage in her. I have
enjoyed excellent health, and have great hopes to bring this expedition
to a happy conclusion. In five weeks from the date of this letter the
worst part of the journey will be over. Kiss all my dear children for
me, and let them know that their father loves them."

In a letter to Mr. Dickson dated Kayee, April 26th, 1805, the day before
his embarkation, Park writes as follows;

"Every thing, at present, looks as favourable as I could wish, and if
all things go well, this day six weeks I expect to drink all your
healths in the water of the Niger. The soldiers are in good health and
spirits. They are the most _dashing_ men I ever saw; and if they
preserve their health, we may keep ourselves perfectly secure from any
hostile attempt on the part of the natives. I have little doubt but that
I shall be able with presents and fair words to pass through the country
to the Niger; and if once we are fairly afloat, _the day is won_. - Give
my kind regards to Sir Joseph and Mr. Greville; and if they should think
that I have paid too little attention to natural objects, you may
mention that I had forty men and forty-two asses to look after, besides
the constant trouble of packing and weighing bundles, palavering with
the Negroes, and laying plans for our future success. I never was so
busy in my life."

On reading this correspondence it is impossible not to be struck with
the satisfaction expressed by Park, and the confidence with which he
appears to have looked forward to a favourable termination of his
journey. Yet in reality nothing could be much less promising than his
actual situation and prospects at the time of writing these letters.

The detachment of the Royal African Corps, which was to escort the
expedition, consisted of a Lieutenant and thirty-five privates. It was
not to be expected that troops of a very superior quality could be
furnished from a regiment which had been serving for any considerable
time at a tropical station, such as Goree. But there is too much reason
to believe that the men selected on the present occasion,
notwithstanding the favourable opinion of them expressed by Park, and
although they were the best that the Garrison could supply, were below
the ordinary standard even of troops of this description; and that they
were extremely deficient both in constitutional strength and vigour, and
in those habits of sobriety, steadiness and good discipline which such a
service peculiarly required.

But besides the indifferent quality of the troops, there was another and
more serious cause of alarm, from the unfavourable period at which,
owing to a series of unforeseen delays, Park found himself obliged to
enter on this expedition. This he was about to do, not actually during
the rainy season; but with a great probability of being overtaken by it
in the course of his journey; and with a positive certainty of
encountering in the mean time, not only the great tropical heats, but
also the _tornadoes_, or hurricanes, which always precede and follow the
rainy season. These hurricanes, of which no idea can be formed from the
experience of our temperate climates, occur more frequently, and with
greater violence as the rainy period approaches; and are attended with
considerable inconvenience, and occasionally with danger, to caravans
travelling at that season.

Whatever might be the opinion of Park as to the quality of his troops,
of which he appears to have formed a very erroneous estimate, he must at
least have been fully aware of the disadvantage arising from the near
approach of the great tropical rains. But his situation was critical;
and he had only a choice of difficulties. He might either attempt (what
he might perhaps consider as being just _possible_) to reach the Niger
before the rainy season should be completely set in; or he might
postpone his journey till the return of the proper season for
travelling, which would be in November or December following. The event
has shewn that he would have acted more wisely in deferring the
expedition. But the motives which might lead him to a contrary
determination, were obvious and powerful; and will be found, on the
whole, sufficient for the justification of his conduct. He must
naturally have considered that the postponement of the expedition _for
seven months_, besides being in the greatest degree irksome both to
himself and the companions of his journey, would occasion a great
additional expense, and disappoint the expectations of Government; and
he might perhaps entertain doubts, since the case was not provided for
by his official instructions, whether he should altogether escape
censure, if he should postpone his journey for so long a period, under
any circumstances much short of a positive and undoubted necessity.

In this difficult situation, he adopted that alternative which was most
congenial to his character and feelings; and having once formed this
resolution, he adhered to it with tranquillity and firmness; dismissing
from his own mind all doubts and apprehensions, or at least effectually
concealing them, from the companions of his journey, and from his
friends and correspondents in England.

* * * * *

For the particulars of this second expedition, the reader must be
referred to the Journal now published, which commences from this period.
But in order to give a general view of the extent of Park's labours, it
may be useful on this, as on the former occasion, to note the more
important dates, and some of the principal circumstances of the journey.

The persons composing the expedition, being assembled at Kayee, a small
town on the Gambia a little below Pisania, Park engaged a Mandingo
priest, named Isaaco, who was also a travelling merchant and much
accustomed to long inland journies, to serve as the guide to his
caravan. On the 27th of April 1805, he took his departure from Kayee,
and arrived in two days at Pisania, from whence he had set out for the
interior of Africa nearly ten years before. Some of the practical
difficulties of the march were apparent during this short journey: and
he found it necessary to stop at Pisania six days (a delay which must
have been highly inconvenient), to purchase additional beasts of burden,
and make other arrangements for the expedition.

He quitted Kayee on the 4th of May, and arrived on the 11th at Madina,
the capital of the kingdom of Woolli. The effects of the season had
already become apparent; two of the soldiers having fallen ill of the
dysentery on the 8th. On the 15th he arrived on the banks of the Gambia;
and about this time lost one of his soldiers, by an epilepsy.

On the 26th, the caravan experienced a singular accident (almost
unintelligible to an European) from the attack of a large swarm of bees;
in consequence of which, besides that many of the people were most
severely stung, seven of their beasts of burden perished or were lost;
and owing to an accidental fire which was kindled in the confusion, the
whole baggage was near being burnt. For half an hour it seemed as if the
bees had put an end to the expedition. [Footnote: A similar accident
from an attack of bees, though much less serious than the present, was
witnessed by Park in his journey with the caravan of slaves from Kamalia
to the Gambia, and is described in his Travels, p. 331.]

On the 28th of May, Park arrived at Badoo, where he mentions having had
an opportunity of sending two letters to England by way of the Gambia.
These letters were addressed to Sir Joseph Banks and Mrs. Park; and are
as follows.

_To Sir Joseph Banks._

_Badoo, near Tambacunda, May 28th, 1805._

"A Slatee is going from this place in a few hours for the Gambia, and I
have hired him to stop his asses till I write a few lines. We have had
as prosperous an expedition thus far, as I could have expected; a short
abridgement of our journey will serve to shew where we are.

[Here follow the names of the places where the caravan rested each
night; the particulars of which are fully detailed in the Journal.]

"We are going this evening to Tambacunda. You must not imagine, my dear
friend, from this hasty sketch that I have neglected astronomical
observations; I have observed the latitude every two or three days, and
have observed three eclipses of Jupiter's Satellites, which settle the
longitude, by the help of the watch, to the nearest mile. I saw plenty
of Shea trees yesterday for the first time since my return to Africa,
the fruit being not yet ripe. The course of the Gambia is laid down on
my chart too much to the south; I have ascertained nearly its whole
course. I find that my former journeys on foot were underrated; some of
them surprise myself, when I trace the same road on horseback.
Sibikillin is 36' East of where it is laid down on the chart. I propose
sending an abridged account of my day's transactions from Baniserile, to
Lord Camden; but I request that nothing may be published till I return
to England. A short time will decide the matter.

"I expect to reach the Niger on the 27th of June. You must excuse this
hasty scrawl, as it is only meant to let you know that I am still alive
and going forward in my journey. Please to let Mrs. Dickson know that I
am well."

_To Mrs. Park,_

_Badoo, 29th May, 1805._

"I am happy to inform you that we are half through our journey without
the smallest accident or unpleasant circumstance. We all of us keep our
health, and are on the most friendly terms with the natives. I have seen
many of my old acquaintances, and am every where well received. By the
27th of June we expect to have finished all our travels by land; and
when we have once got afloat on the river, we shall conclude that we are
embarking for England. I have never had the smallest sickness; and
Alexander is quite free from all his stomach complaints.

"The bearer of this to the Gambia is waiting with his asses for a few
minutes only; you will therefore inform all friends that we are well and
going on prosperously. I see no reason to think that our stay in the
Interior will be longer than I first mentioned.

"We carry our own victuals with us, and live very well; in fact we have
only had a pleasant journey, and yet this is what we thought would be
the worst part of it.

"I will indulge the hope that my wife, children, and all friends are
well. I am in great hopes of finishing this journey with credit in a few
months; and then with what joy shall I turn my face towards home! The
Slatee is impatient for the letter; and I have only time to subscribe
myself, &c."

Notwithstanding these letters, it is evident from Park's Journal that
his situation was now very critical. The tornadoes had begun to be
frequent; and a few days afterwards it became quite apparent that the
rainy season was seriously setting in, before the journey to the Niger
was more than half completed. The effect produced on the health of the
soldiers by a violent rain on the 10th of June, was almost
instantaneous; twelve of them at once were dangerously ill, and from
this time the great mortality commenced, which was ultimately fatal to
the expedition.

At Shrondo, in the kingdom of Dentila, where the caravan shortly
afterwards arrived, there are considerable gold mines; and the journal
contains a minute and interesting description both of the manner of
collecting the metal, and of the country in which it is found.

After quitting Shrondo, Park mentions that on the 12th of June, in
consequence of a very sudden tornado, they were forced to carry their
bundles into the huts of the natives, being the first time that the
caravan had entered a town since leaving the Gambia. Considering the
_climate_ and season, this slight circumstance is alone a sufficient
proof of the hardships which must have been sustained by Europeans
during such a journey.

At Dindikoo beyond Shrondo, Park was much struck with the beauty and
magnificence of that mountainous tract of country, as well as with the
degree in which it was cultivated and the comparatively happy condition
of the inhabitants. Proceeding a little farther, he quitted the track he
had hitherto followed, by which he had formerly returned from Kamalia to
the Gambia; and directed his course towards the north-east, with a view
probably of avoiding the Jallonka Wilderness. But the difficulties of
travelling were now become extreme; partly from the nature of the
country, but principally from the increasing prevalence of the disease
produced by the continued rains.

On the 4th of July he was near losing Isaaco, his guide; who in crossing
a river was twice attacked by a crocodile, and saved himself by
extraordinary presence of mind, though not without some very severe
wounds. This accident detained the caravan several days, and added to
the numerous delays which had so unfortunately impeded the expedition.

Several of the soldiers had died during the course of the journey; and
on the 6th of July the whole number of persons composing the caravan
(except one) were either actually sick, or in a state of great debility.
Yet he still had considerable difficulties to encounter, in traversing a
country, where he was obliged to be constantly on the watch against the
depredations of the inhabitants, and occasionally, the attacks of wild
beasts. Under such circumstances it is not wonderful that the few

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Online LibraryMungo ParkThe Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805 → online text (page 5 of 21)