Mungo Park.

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soldiers, not disabled by sickness, fell back; and it was with great
difficulty that any of them could be prevailed on to continue their
march. After a series of dangers and sufferings, such as have been
experienced by few travellers, he at length reached the Niger (at
Bambakoo, where the river begins to be navigable) on the 19th of August

This was more than seven weeks beyond the time, upon which he had
calculated when he quitted the Gambia; and the effects of this
protracted march, which had carried him far into the rainy season, were
unfortunately but too apparent. Of the Europeans who composed the
expedition, consisting of about forty at the time of quitting the
Gambia, there were now only eleven survivors. Of these the principal
persons, besides Park, namely Mr. Anderson, Mr. Scott, and Lieutenant
Martyn, were all more or less affected by the disease; the two former
very seriously, and Mr. Scott, in particular, to so great a degree that
he had been obliged to remain behind, and died shortly afterwards
without reaching the Niger.

It was fortunate that Park's health had hitherto been very slightly
affected, since the whole burden of the expedition evidently rested upon
him. He not only directed all the great movements of the caravan, but
superintended its minutest details, and was foremost on all occasions
requiring physical strength and great personal exertions. In these
arduous services both of body and mind, Mr. Anderson and his other
associates, who might have been expected to share in his labours, were
incapable of rendering him any useful assistance; and by their continued
ill health, contributed in no small degree to the anxiety and
embarrassments attending the expedition.

Being thus arrived at the Niger, he embarked upon that river on the 21st
of August, and the following day reached Marraboo; from whence he
shortly afterwards dispatched Isaaco to Sego, the capital of Bambarra,
to negociate with Mansong the sovereign, for a free passage through his
dominions and for such other facilities as might enable him to prosecute
his journey into the interior. He remained at Marraboo, waiting Isaaco's
return; and in the mean time was seized with the dysentery, which had
been fatal to so many of his followers; but saved himself by a bold and
vigorous course of medicine, which, aided by the great strength of his
constitution, restored him to health very speedily.

After much negociation and many difficulties with Mansong's ministers,
he was at first permitted to go to Samee in the neighbourhood of Sego,
and afterwards to Sansanding; in order to build a vessel and make
preparations for his voyage down the Niger. In this negociation, which
is fully detailed in the Journal, Park appears to much advantage. His
speech to Mansong's messengers, explaining the purpose and objects of
his expedition into Africa, is distinguished by great propriety and good
sense; and affords a very favourable specimen of his talents for such
transactions. [Footnote: Journal, p. 151.]

It may be recollected that when Park arrived at Sego during his former
journey, Mansong sent him a present of five thousand cowries, but
refused to admit him into his presence, and gave directions that he
should immediately depart from that city. [Footnote: Park's Travels, p.
199.] This conduct in a sovereign apparently tolerant and liberal, was
very reasonably attributed by Park to an apprehension on the part of
Mansong, that he should be unable to protect him against the inveterate
malice of his Moorish subjects. There is every reason to think that
Mansong, on the present occasion, was actuated by similar feelings;
since he neither saw Park, nor expressed any desire to see him; and his
whole conduct, both during the negociation and afterwards, indicated
great coldness and reserve. It appears also that many rumours
unfavourable to the mission were industriously circulated; and that
great jealousies, stimulated both by religious bigotry and the
apprehension of commercial rivalship, were excited against Park among
the Moorish inhabitants of Sego and Sansanding.

The anxiety and suspense produced in Park's mind by these rumours, were
in some degree removed by the arrival of Bookari, the singing man or
_bard_ of Mansong, with six canoes, being commissioned to attend him to
the neighbourhood of Sego. Under this escort, he embarked at Marraboo on
the 13th of September; and notwithstanding the unsatisfactory state of
his affairs, his mind was sufficiently at ease to receive great delight
from this short voyage down the Niger. "Nothing," he says, "can be more
beautiful than the views of this immense river; sometimes as smooth as a
mirror; at other times ruffled by a gentle breeze; but at all times
wafting us along at the rate of six or seven miles an hour." [Footnote:
Journal, p. 148] After the indifference shewn towards him by Mansong, he
thought it not prudent to visit Sego; but went on to Sansanding, a place
a little eastwards of Sego on the banks of the Niger, containing about
ten thousand inhabitants. Here Park remained the greater part of two
months, and traded to a considerable extent; and as this was the first
African town distant from the coast, at which he had an opportunity of
residing, he had the means of obtaining much information; which if it
could be communicated to the public, would probably form an important
addition to our knowledge of the internal state of Africa.

Fortunately the information thus acquired has not been entirely lost to
the world; a few particulars, the fruit of his active and intelligent
curiosity, still remain. The view which Park has given of the trade and
population of Sansanding, must be considered as the most original and
valuable part of his Journal. The information which he has collected
concerning _prices_, is new in its kind, and in several points of view,
highly curious and important. But there are other circumstances, which
must strike every intelligent reader as being more peculiarly
interesting and instructive; the existence of regular markets; the
division of labour, appearing from the establishment of distinct
branches of trade; the variety of articles exposed to sale; and the
great extent of commercial transactions. These facts imply that industry
is protected, and property in a certain degree secure; and fully confirm
Park's former statements with regard to the comparative civilization and
improvement of the _interior_ of Africa.

One of Park's principal objects at Sansanding was to provide a proper
vessel for his farther navigation down the Niger; and it was with great
difficulty that he procured two indifferent and decayed canoes; from
which _by the labour of his own hands_, with some assistance from one of
the surviving soldiers, he constructed a flat-bottomed vessel, to which
he gave the magnificent title of His Majesty's schooner the Joliba.

Previously to this time, Park had received intelligence of the death of
Mr. Scott, whom he had been obliged to leave at Koomikoomi, on his march
towards the Niger; and now whilst he was employed in building his
vessel, he had to lament the loss of his friend Mr. Anderson, who died
on the 28th of October, after a lingering illness of four months. He
speaks of this severe blow in his Journal very shortly, but in a strain
of natural eloquence, flowing evidently from the heart, "No event," he
says, "during the journey, ever threw the smallest gloom over his mind
till he laid Mr. Anderson in the grave; he then felt himself as if left
a second time lonely and friendless amidst the wilds of Africa."
[Footnote: Journal, p. 163.]

Fancy can hardly picture a situation more perilous than that of Park at
this time, nor an enterprise more utterly hopeless than that which he
was now to undertake. Of the Europeans who had accompanied him from the
Gambia, Lieutenant Martyn and three soldiers (one of them in a state of
mental derangement) were all who now survived. He was about to embark on
a vast and unknown river, which might possibly terminate in some great
lake or inland sea, at an immense distance from the coast; but which he
hoped and believed would conduct him to the shores of the Atlantic,
after a course of considerably more than three thousand miles, through
the midst of savage nations, and probably also after a long succession
of rapids, lakes, and cataracts. This voyage, one of the most formidable
ever attempted, was to be undertaken in a crazy and ill appointed
vessel, manned by a few Negroes and four Europeans!

On the 16th of November the schooner being completed, and every
preparation made for the voyage, Park put the finishing hand to his
Journal; and in the course of the succeeding days previous to the
embarkation, which appears to have taken place on the 19th, he wrote
letters to his father-in-law, Mr. Anderson, Sir Joseph Banks, Lord
Camden, and Mrs. Park. Those addressed to the three latter, being the
most interesting, are here inserted at length, and cannot be read
without considerable interest. They all of them bear strong traces of
that deliberate courage without effort or ostentation, which
distinguished his whole conduct; and his letter to Lord Camden breathes
a generous spirit of self-devotion, highly expressive of the character
and feelings of the writer.

_To Sir Joseph Banks._

_Sansanding, November 16, 1805._


"I should be wanting in gratitude, if I did not avail myself of every
opportunity of informing you how I have succeeded in this enterprise. I
have sent an account of each day's proceeding to Lord Camden, and have
requested his Lordship to send it to you for your perusal.

"With respect to my future views, it is my intention to keep the middle
of the river, and make the best use I can of winds and currents till I
reach the termination of this mysterious stream. I have hired a guide to
go with me to _Kashna_; he is a native of Kasson, but one of the
greatest travellers in this part of Africa, having visited _Miniana,
Kong, Baedoo, Gotto, and Cape Corse Castle_ to the South, and
_Tombuctoo, Houssa, Nyffe, Kashna, and Bornou_ towards the East. He says
that the Niger, after it passes Kashna, runs directly to the right hand,
or the South; he never heard of any person who had seen its termination;
and is certain that it does not end any where in the vicinity of Kashna
or Bornou, having resided some time in both these kingdoms.

"He says our voyage to Kashna will occupy two months; that we touch on
the Moors no where but at Tombuctoo; the north bank of the river in all
other places being inhabited by a race of people resembling the Moors in
colour, called _Surka, Mahinga, and Tuarick_, according to the different
kingdoms they inhabit. I have as yet had only two conversations with my
guide, and they were chiefly occupied in adjusting money matters; but I
have no doubt that I shall find him a very useful fellow traveller.

"I have purchased some fresh _Shea nuts_, which I intend taking with me
to the West Indies, as we shall probably have to go there on our way
home. I expect that we shall reach the sea in three months from this;
and if we are lucky enough to find a vessel, we shall lose no time on
the coast. But at all events you will probably hear from me; as I mean
to write from Kashna by my guide, and endeavour to hire some of the
merchants to carry a letter to the north from that place. With best
wishes for your health and prosperity I am, &c."

"P. S. Have the goodness to remember me most kindly to my friend Major

_To the Earl Camden, One of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of
State, &c. &c. &c._

_On board of H. M. Schooner Joliba,
at anchor off Sansanding,
November 17, 1805._


"I have herewith sent you an account of each day's proceedings since we
left _Kayee_. Many of the incidents related are in themselves extremely
trifling; but are intended to recall to my recollection (if it pleases
God to restore me again to my dear native land) other particulars
illustrative of the manners and customs of the natives, which would have
swelled this bulky communication to a most unreasonable size.

"Your Lordship will recollect that I always spoke of the rainy season
with horror, as being extremely fatal to Europeans; and our journey from
the Gambia to the Niger will furnish a melancholy proof of it.

"We had no contest whatever with the natives, nor was any one of us
killed by wild animals or any other accidents; and yet I am sorry to say
that of forty-four Europeans who left the Gambia in perfect health, five
only are at present alive, viz. three soldiers (one deranged in his
mind) Lieutenant Martyn, and myself.

"From this account I am afraid that your Lordship will be apt to
consider matters as in a very hopeless state; but I assure you I am far
from desponding. With the assistance of one of the soldiers I have
changed a large canoe into a tolerably good schooner, on board of which
I this day hoisted the British flag, and shall set sail to the east with
the fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish
in the attempt. I have heard nothing that I can depend on respecting the
remote course of this mighty stream; but I am more and more inclined to
think that it can end no where but in the sea.

"My dear friend Mr. Anderson and likewise Mr. Scott are both dead; but
though all the Europeans who are with me should die, and though I were
myself half dead, I would still persevere; and if I could not succeed in
the object of my journey, I would at last die on the Niger.

"If I succeed in the object of my journey, I expect to be in England in
the month of May or June by way of the West Indies.

"I request that your Lordship will have the goodness to permit my friend
Sir Joseph Banks to peruse the abridged account of my proceedings, and
that it may be preserved, in case I should lose my papers.

"I have the honour to be, &c."

_To Mrs. Park._

_Sansanding, 19th November, 1805._

"It grieves me to the heart to write any thing that may give you
uneasiness; but such is the will of him who _doeth all things well_!
Your brother Alexander, my dear friend, is no more! He died of the fever
at Sansanding, on the morning of the 28th of October; for particulars I
must refer you to your father.

"I am afraid that, impressed with a woman's fears and the anxieties of a
wife, you may be led to consider my situation as a great deal worse than
it really is. It is true, my dear friends, Mr. Anderson and George
Scott, have both bid adieu to the things of this world; and the greater
part of the soldiers have died on the march during the rainy season; but
you may believe me, I am in good health. The rains are completely over,
and the healthy season has commenced, so that there is no danger of
sickness; and I have still a sufficient force to protect me from any
insult in sailing down the river, to the sea.

"We have already embarked all our things, and shall sail the moment I
have finished this letter. I do not intend to stop or land any where,
till we reach the coast: which I suppose will be some time in the end of
January. We shall then embark in the first vessel for England. If we
have to go round by the West Indies, the voyage will occupy three months
longer; so that we expect to be in England on the first of May. The
reason of our delay since we left the coast was the rainy season, which
came on us during the journey; and almost all the soldiers became
affected with the fever.

"I think it not unlikely but I shall be in England before you receive
this - You may be sure that I feel happy at turning my face towards home.
We this morning have done with all intercourse with the natives; and the
sails are now hoisting for our departure for the coast."

* * * * *

Here all authentic information concerning Park unfortunately terminates.
His letters and Journal were brought by Isaaco to the Gambia, and
transmitted from thence to England. For some time nothing farther was
heard of the expedition; but in the course of the year 1806 unfavourable
accounts were brought by the native traders from the interior of Africa
to the British settlements on the coast; and it was currently reported,
but upon no distinct authority, that Park and his companions were
killed. These rumours increasing, and no intelligence of Park being
received, Lieutenant Colonel Maxwell, then Governor of Senegal (at
present Governor of Sierra Leone), obtained permission from Government
to send a proper person to ascertain the truth of the reports; and he
was fortunate enough to engage Isaaco, Park's guide, to go upon this

Isaaco left Senegal in January 1810, and was absent about twenty months.
He returned on the 1st of September 1811, with a full confirmation of
the reports concerning Park's death. As the result of his enquiries into
this subject, he delivered to the Governor a Journal of his whole
proceedings kept by himself in the Arabic language, including another
Journal which he had received from Amadi Fatouma, the guide who had
accompanied Park from Sansanding down the Niger. A translation of this
singular document was made at Senegal by the directions of Colonel
Maxwell, and transmitted by him to the Secretary of State for the
Colonial Department.

On the subject of this Journal, so far as it immediately relates to
Park's death, very few remarks will be necessary. Being originally
written by a native African, and translated by some person who probably
had but a moderate knowledge of the Arabian dialect in which it is
composed, it is far from being always clear or even intelligible; and in
the state in which it now appears, it is open to much observation.
Neither indeed can it be considered in itself as a document of a very
authentic or satisfactory description. But the account which it gives of
Park's death appears on the whole to be probable and consistent; and is
so far corroborated by other circumstances as to leave no reasonable
doubt with regard to the fact. [Footnote: The genuine travelling Journal
of a native African Merchant may in some respects be considered as
interesting, simply from the circumstance of its singularity. But it
must be acknowledged that for the mere purpose of gratifying curiosity
very few specimens of Isaaco would have been sufficient. The sole reason
for publishing such a document at full length, is the circumstance of
its containing the only direct evidence of Park's death. In every other
point of view it is wholly destitute of interest, and cannot even be
read through, without a strong effort; being inconceivably tedious, and
having all the dry minuteness of a log book, without its valuable
precision. There is great confusion as to places and times; and it is
possible only in a very few cases, to identify the former by reference
to the names of places given by Park. Incidents the most trifling are
related exactly in the same tone and manner as those of the greatest
importance. The account of Park's death is given with more details, and
the story is not ill told. But some of the facts are very questionable;
and the circumstance of Park and Lieutenant Martyn leaping hand in hand
with the soldiers into the river, is much too _theatrical_ to be
literally true. - What is most incredible, is the description of the
place where the event happened, which is stated to be an opening in a
rock "in the form of a door," forming the only passage for the water; a
fact so strange, that (if it were worth while to conjecture) one might
suspect an error in the translation.]

It is true that the proof of Park's death according to this Journal,
depends entirely upon the statement of Amadi Fatouma; but the nature of
the case admits of no other direct evidence; and some regard must be had
to the opinion of Isaaco, considered by Colonel Maxwell as a person
entitled to a certain degree of credit, who, after full investigation,
was satisfied as to the truth of Amadi's account. It may be observed
also, as a circumstance which gives additional weight to Isaaco's
judgment, that being well acquainted with the anxiety of his employers
respecting Park's safety, he must naturally have been desirous of
discovering reasons for believing that he was still in existence; and
was therefore unlikely to admit the fact of his death upon any ground,
short of his own positive conviction.

But the principal and decisive circumstance in this case, is the length
of time which has elapsed without any intelligence being heard of Park,
since his departure from Sansanding in November 1805. This can only be
accounted for, by supposing either that he is actually dead or detained
in Africa as a captive; and when we consider the nature of the
enterprise in which he was engaged, his personal character, and the
resistance he was likely to make in case of any hostile attack, we must
acknowledge that of the two suppositions, the former is by far the most

To this it may be added, that since the time of the original reports
respecting Park's death in 1806, no circumstance has occurred to bring
that fact into doubt; if we except a few transient rumours relative to
_white men_ stated to be in remote parts of the interior of Africa,
which have led some persons to suppose that Park may be still in
existence. Several surmises of this kind (for they are entitled to no
higher appellation) have from time to time been circulated, and have
found their way into newspapers and public journals; although the
slightest enquiry would have shewn that they were entitled to no credit
or attention. They would commonly be found to originate from loose and
indistinct communications received from some of the settlements on the
African coast, to which very slight and insignificant circumstances
might originally have given occasion. A Moor or an Asiatic, the colour
of whose skin differs by a few shades from that of the native Africans,
would be described by them as a stranger or white man. The _hearsay_
accounts of the appearance of such a person in the interior of Africa
would afford ample materials for credulity and exaggeration; and might
easily give rise to reports and assertions the most unfounded and

Upon the whole there seems to be no reasonable ground of doubt with
regard to the fact either of Park's death or of its having happened in
the manner described in Isaaco's Journal. The first of these may be
considered as morally certain, the latter as highly probable. But the
exact time when this event took place and the circumstances attending
it, are left in great obscurity; partly from a general want of
distinctness and precision in the narrative; but principally because the
particulars related, depend altogether upon the unsupported testimony of
a slave, (represented as the only survivor of those who were with Park
at the time of his death,) from whom the information was obtained at an
interval of three months after the transaction. It is obvious that no
reliance can be placed on a narrative resting upon such authority; and
we must be content to remain in ignorance of the precise circumstances
of Park's melancholy fate. But that he was attacked by the natives on
his voyage from Sansanding eastwards, that he was overpowered by
numbers, and that he perished on his passage down the Niger, cannot
reasonably be doubted.

* * * * *

The leading parts of Mungo Park's character must have been anticipated
by the reader in the principal events and transactions of his life. Of
his enterprising spirit, his indefatigable vigilance and activity, his
calm fortitude and unshaken perseverance, he has left permanent
memorials in the narrative of his former travels and in the Journal and
Correspondence now published. In these respects few travellers have
equalled, none certainly ever surpassed him. Nor were the qualities of
his understanding less valuable or conspicuous. He was distinguished by
a correctness of judgment, seldom found united with an ardent and
adventurous turn of mind, and generally deemed incompatible with it. His
talents certainly were not brilliant, but solid and useful, such as were
peculiarly suited to a traveller and geographical discoverer. Hence, in
his accounts of new and unknown countries, he is consistent and
rational; he is betrayed into no exaggeration, nor does he exhibit any
traces of credulity or enthusiasm. His attention was directed
exclusively to facts; and except in his opinion relative to the
termination of the Niger (which he supported by very plausible
arguments) he rarely indulged in conjecture, much less in hypothesis or

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Online LibraryMungo ParkThe Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805 → online text (page 6 of 21)