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of the sources of the Nile as being reported by some to be in the farther
parts of Mauritania. But it may be affirmed with great confidence, that
of all the hypotheses respecting the termination of the Niger, that which
supposes it to be a branch of the Nile, is the most unfounded, and the
least consistent with acknowledged facts. It is indeed rather a loose
popular conjecture, than an opinion deduced from probable reasoning;
since nothing appears to be alleged in its support, except the mere
circumstance of the course of the river being in a direction towards the
Nile; and a few vague notions of some of the African natives with regard
to this subject, which are unworthy of the smallest attention.

Mr. Jackson, indeed, in his Travels (p. 310), states it to be a fact
universally known among the rich African traders, that the Niger and the
Nile are one and the same river, by means of which there is a practicable
communication between Tombuctoo and Grand Cairo. Between these two cities
caravans are continually passing, and a large trade is carried on; but
Mr. Jackson observes, that the expense of land-carriage by means of
camels is more moderate than that by water, and that the journey also is
more agreeable! He gives an account of the voyage to Cairo down the
Niger, having actually been performed in the year 1780 by a party of
seventeen negroes, the particulars of which expedition, he says that he
received from 'a very intelligent man who has an establishment at
Tombuctoo.' These negroes proceeded down the Niger from Jinnie, on a
commercial speculation, and reached Cairo after a voyage of fourteen
months. They returned by the caravan, and arrived at Jinnie, after an
absence of more than three years. Some of the facts which they reported
are not a little extraordinary: - _viz_. that in several places they
found the Nile so shallow, in consequence of channels cut for irrigating
the lands, that they could not proceed in their boat, and were obliged to
transport it some distance over-land; that they saw between Tombuctoo and
Cairo _twelve hundred_ cities and towns, adorned with mosques and
towers, &c. It is needless to comment upon such _hearsay_
statements, received from an African traveller or merchant more than
twenty years after the transaction is said to have happened; nor would
any allusion have been made to them in this place, if Mr. Jackson's book
had not been much commended by distinguished critics, and quoted as an
authority respecting the interior of Africa by several geographical

[Footnote: Edinburgh Review, vol. xiv. p. 306.]

The principal, and apparently decisive, objection against this supposed
junction of the Niger and the Nile, is grounded upon a comparison of the
great _difference of level_ between the beds of the two rivers. From
the authentic information we possess by means of Mr. Browne, respecting
the countries west of the Nile, it is now clear, that if this junction
takes place at all, it must be in the upper part of the Nile, before that
river has quitted the higher regions of Africa, from whence it has still
1000 geographical miles to run before it reaches the sea, passing in its
way through several cataracts. But it is utterly incredible that the
Niger, which, in order to reach this part of the Nile, must have run at
the least 2300 miles, should not in so long a course have descended to a
level considerably lower than that which is here described. This
objection is urged with great force by Major Rennell, who justly
considers it as being entirely decisive of the question; but he has added
several other arguments, which those who take an interest in this
question, will do well to consult.

[Footnote: Proceedings of the African Association, vol. i. p. 537; and
vol. ii. p. 268, 280.]

III. The supposition, mentioned in the text (p. lxviii), that the Niger
terminates in the River Congo, or, as it is sometimes called, the Zaire,
is entirely a recent conjecture, adopted by Park in consequence of the
information and suggestions of Mr. Maxwell, an experienced African
trader, who appears from his letters to have been a man of observation
and intelligence. The principal arguments in support of the opinion are
shortly and clearly given in the memoir addressed by Park to Lord Camden;
but the subject will receive additional elucidation from Mr. Maxwell's
own statement, and especially from his striking description of the river
Congo, the vast magnitude of which is little known, and has not
sufficiently attracted the attention of geographical writers. The
following passage is extracted from a letter, dated Prior's Lynn, near
Longtown, July 20, 1804, addressed by Mr. Maxwell to William Keir, of
Milnholm, Esq., a friend of Park, to whom the letter was communicated by
Mr. Maxwell's desire.

"Before ever the Niger came to be the topic of conversation, it struck
me, that the Congo drew its source far to the northward, from the floods
commencing long before any rains take place south of the equator; since
it begins to swell perceptibly about the latter end of October, and no
heavy rains set in before December: and about the end of January the
river must be supposed at its highest. At no time, however, can the rains
to the southward of the Line be compared with those in the Bight of
Guinea, where ships are obliged to have a house erected over them during
these months.

"But, whether the Congo be the outlet of the Niger or not, it certainly
offers the best opening for exploring the interior of Africa of any
scheme that has ever yet been attempted; and the ease and safety with
which it might be conducted, needs no comment. However, if the Niger
_has_ a sensible outlet, I have no doubt of its proving the Congo,
knowing all the rivers between Cape Palmas and Cape Lopes to be
inadequate to the purpose; nor need the immense course of such a river
surprise us, when we know that the river St. Lawrence, contemptible in
size when compared with the Congo, encompasses the whole of North
America, issuing through a chain of lakes. But instead of seven or eight
lakes, the Congo may be supposed to pass through seventeen or eighteen;
which will solve any difficulty as to the floods of the Niger not
immediately affecting the Congo. I believe that our information of the
Niger losing itself in the Desert rests wholly upon the authority of the
Romans, a people whose pursuits never led them to trace the course of
rivers with a view to traffic or civilization. If we may credit the
accounts of travellers in crossing the deserts, we find that, where-ever
they get water for refreshment, there are invariably verdure and palm
trees; and these spots in the desert of Lybia were termed by the ancients
Oases, or Islands. Now, if such small springs could produce such
permanent effects, we may reasonably suppose, that the immense stream of
the Niger increased to three times the size from where Mr. Park left it,
would long before this have made the desert as green as any water meadow
and found its way gradually to the ocean, or inundated the whole

"I can with much truth say this of the river Congo, that by comparing it
with other rivers, according to the best writers, it must rank as the
third or fourth in magnitude. Considering the force of the current it
produces in the sea, carrying out floating islands sixty or seventy
leagues from the coast, the Amazon or Plata only can cope with it. Many
traders, whom I met with at Embomma, (a settlement on the banks of the
Congo distant thirty leagues from its mouth,) had come one month's
journey down the river, which, reckoned at twenty miles each day (and
they count them by the moon, _Gonda_), would make six hundred miles;
and they spoke of it as equally large where they came from, and that it
went by the name of _Enzaddi_, as it does among all the natives upon
the coast. Should the shallow water, as laid down opposite Saenda,
detract from the assumed size of the Congo, let it be remembered, that
the river there is spread out ten miles in width, the middle channel of
which has never been accurately sounded. It has long been my opinion that
Leyland's or Molyneux Island at Embomma (either of which might be
rendered as impregnable as Gibraltar at a very small expense) would be a
choice station for establishing an extensive commerce with the interior
of Africa. Indeed, if the idea of the Congo being the outlet of the Niger
prove so upon trial, we may consider it as an opening designed by
providence for exploring those vast regions, and civilizing the rude

[Footnote: A chart of the Congo by Mr. Maxwell was published many years
since by Laurie and Whittle, Fleet street.]

Besides this account given by Mr. Maxwell, there are other testimonies to
the magnitude of the Congo, shewing it to be a river of the first class,
and larger probably than the Nile. In a journal (which the editor has
seen) of an intelligent and respectable naval officer, Captain Scobell,
who visited the coast of Africa in the year 1813, in H.M. sloop of war
the Thais, the Congo is described as "an immense river from which issues
a continued stream at the rate of four or five knots in the dry, and six
or seven in the rainy season." In a subsequent passage he says, "In
crossing this stream, I met several floating islands, or broken masses
from the banks of that noble river, which, with the trees still erect,
and the whole wafting to the motion of the sea, rushed far into the
ocean, and formed a novel prospect even to persons accustomed to the
phenomena of the waters." He adds, that there are soundings to the
distance of from thirty or forty miles from the coast, arising probably
from the vast quantity of alluvial matter brought down by the force of
the stream.

Other accounts state, that the waters of the Congo may be distinguished
at sea more than thirty leagues from the coast, and that the water is
fresh at the distance of thirty miles.

[Footnote: Lopez, Merulla, and Dapper, referred to in Phillips's Voyages,
vol. iii. p. 236.]

These, perhaps, are exaggerations; but they may be received, in
confirmation of the preceding testimonies, as sufficient proofs of a
general opinion among navigators with regard to the size and force of
this prodigious river. It is mentioned by Major Rennell in his very
interesting account of the Ganges, that the sea in the bay of Bengal
ceases to be affected by the waters of that river, and recovers its
transparency, only at the distance of about twenty leagues from the
coast. (Phil. Transactions, vol. lxxi.) But the Ganges being obstructed
by its Delta, and passing through eight channels into the sea, is
probably much less rapid and impetuous than the Congo.

To this it must be added, that all the accounts concur in representing,
that the stream of the Congo is of a more uniform height, and subject to
much less variation from the dry and rainy seasons, than any tropical
river which is known; and that on a comparison with such rivers, it may
be considered to be _in a perpetual state of flood_. The average
rising of the Ganges in the rainy season is stated by Major Rennell to be
31 feet, being about the same with that of the Nile; whereas, the
difference between the highest point of the Congo about February, and the
lowest in September, is only about nine feet; and the river, at the
latter period, has all the appearance to a stranger of being in full

[Footnote: MS. Letter of Mr. Maxwell to Mr. Park, Oct. 12, 1804.]

It is this remarkable peculiarity, which distinguishes the Congo from
other great rivers of a similar description, and which leads to important
conclusions with regard to its origin and course.

In support, then, of the hypothesis which identifies the Congo with the
Niger, the following arguments, deduced from the preceding facts and
observations, may be alleged: - 1. The great magnitude of the Congo. 2.
The probability that this river is derived from very remote sources,
perhaps considerably north of the equator. 3. The fact, that there exists
a great river north of the equator, (the Niger,) of which the termination
is unknown, and which may, perhaps, form the principal branch of the
Congo. These, in truth, are the only grounds upon which the present
supposition can be fairly said to rest. Arguments founded upon
etymological conjectures, supposed resemblances of names, or affinity of
languages, &c. &c., are, for the most part, too arbitrary and fanciful,
and liable to too much uncertainty to be entitled to any place in
disquisitions of this nature. The same remark is applicable to the
narratives and descriptions given by native travellers and merchants,
and, in general, to all _African evidence_ whatever, except when
supported by collateral proof from other less exceptionable sources.

Such being the evidence in favour of the hypothesis respecting the Congo,
the objections against this theory must be admitted to be weighty and
formidable. The principal of these are, 1. That it supposes the course of
the Niger to lie through the vast chain of the _Kong_ Mountains
(anciently _Montes Lunæ_), the great central belt of Africa. Of the
existence of these mountains there appears to be no doubt; and from their
situation in the midst of a great continent, they may reasonably be
supposed to be of vast size and extent; in which case it is difficult to
understand, how the Niger could penetrate this barrier, and force a
passage southwards. 2. The course of the Niger, estimated from its source
in the mountains of Senegal (supposing it to be the same river with the
Congo, and to flow by Wangara and Cashna through the centre of Africa
into the Atlantic), would be considerably more than 4000 miles. But the
course of the Amazon, the greatest river in the old or new world with
which we are acquainted, is only about 3500 miles; and, although the
existence of a river considerably greater than any yet known, may be
within the limits of physical possibility; yet, so improbable a
supposition ought not to be adopted upon slight or conjectural reasoning,
or upon any thing much short of distinct and positive proof. To give such
a vast extension to the Congo upon the grounds stated by Mr. Maxwell,
might justly be considered as one of those exaggerations, to which,
according to a remark of D'Anville, geographical writers upon Africa have
always been remarkably prone, 'en abusant, pour ainsi dire, du vaste
carrière que l'intérieur de l'Afrique y laissoit prendre.' (Mém. de
l'Academie des Inscriptions, Tom. xxvi p. 61.)

[Footnote: The following scale (taken from Major Rennell's Memoir of a
Map of Hindostan, p. 337,) shewing the _proportional length_ of some
of the most considerable rivers already known, may be useful to the
reader on the present occasion.

Thames 1
Rhine 5-1/4
Danube 7
Wolga 9-1/2

Indus 6-3/4
Euphrates 8-1/2
Ganges 9-1/2
Burrampooter 9-1/2
Ava 9-1/2
Jennisca 10

Oby 10-1/2
Amoor 11
Lena 11-1/2
Hoanho (China) 13-1/2
Kian Keu 15-1/2

Nile l2-1/2

Mississipi 8
Amazon 15-3/4

It must be observed, however, that the _magnitude_ of a river
depends much less upon the length of its course than upon the number of
auxiliary streams which fall into it. It is this latter circumstance,
which occasions the vast size of the Ganges, compared, for example, with
the Nile; although the course of the latter is so much longer. Rivers not
fed by auxiliary streams, may even become _smaller_ in consequence
of the length of their course. The editor is indebted for these
observations to Major Rennell.]

Before the editor finally dismisses the subject of the Congo, he may be
allowed to express a hope that this distinguished river, which hitherto
has been only known as one of the greatest marts of the Slave Trade, may
at length be rendered conducive to objects of civilization and science;
and that some use will now be made of this great inlet into Africa, for
the purpose of exploring a part of that continent which as yet is
entirely unknown; or, at least, of obtaining more complete and authentic
information relative to the Congo itself, which must unquestionably be
considered as a very curious and interesting subject of enquiry. Such an
enterprise, according to the opinion of Mr. Maxwell, would not be
attended with much difficulty. In a letter to Mr. Park, dated Oct. 12,
1804, alluding to the subject of the Congo, he speaks of an intention
which he had formed some time prior to Park's discoveries, of exploring
that river. His scheme was to carry out with him from England six
supernumerary boats, well adapted for rowing and sailing; each being of
such a size as to be easily carried by thirty people, and transported
across several cataracts, with which the course of the river is known to
be impeded. On his arrival at the coast, he meant to hire about thirty or
forty black rowers, and to sail up the Congo with proper arms,
provisions, and merchandize, in the month of May (the dry season south of
the equator) calculating upon an absence from the coast of about ten
weeks. Mr. Maxwell considered this scheme as perfectly practicable, and
likely to be attended with no very great expense; but he was prevented
from executing his intention by the war of 1793, which made it
inconvenient and unsafe for him to encumber the deck of his vessel with
supernumerary boats.

IV. The fourth and last opinion respecting the termination of the Niger,
is that of a German geographer, M. Reichard, which was published in the
'Ephemerides Géographiques,' at Weimar, in August, 1808, and is referred
to in a respectable French work, entitled, 'Précis de la Géographie
Universelle, par M. Malte-brun.' The fourth volume of this work, which
appeared at Paris in the year 1813, (p. 635) represents M. Reichard's
hypothesis to be, that the Niger, after reaching Wangara, takes a
direction towards the south, and being joined by other rivers from that
part of Africa, makes a great turn from thence towards the south-west,
and pursues its course till it approaches the north eastern extremity of
the gulph of Guinea, when it divides and discharges itself by different
channels into the Atlantic; after having formed a great Delta, of which
the Rio del Rey constitutes the eastern, and the Rio Formoso, or Benin
River, the western branch.

Without entering into the details of M. Reichard's reasoning in support
of this hypothesis, which is often somewhat hazardous and uncertain, it
may be sufficient for the present purpose to observe, that his principal
argument is founded on a consideration of the peculiar character
belonging to the tract of country situated between the two rivers, which
consists of a vast tract of low, level land, projecting considerably into
the sea, and intersected by an infinity of small branches from the
principal rivers. In these and other respects, it appears to bear a
considerable resemblance, according to the best descriptions of that
coast which we possess, to the Deltas at the mouths of the Nile, the
Ganges, and such other great rivers, as by depositing large quantities of
alluvial matter previous to their discharge into the sea, form gradual
additions to the coast. For it may be proper in this place to remark,
that the formation of Deltas, even by rivers of the first magnitude, is
by no means universal; some of the greatest that are known being without
them. Of this the Amazon, Plata, and Oronoko are mentioned by Major
Rennell as distinguished instances; to which may now be added, the Congo.
The difference appears to be owing to the depth of the sea at the mouth
of the rivers, and perhaps to other circumstances, which are not quite

[Footnote: See Reunell's Geogr. System of Herodotus, 4to. p. 483.]

Both of the two rivers, enclosing the great alluvial tract which has been
described (the Rio del Rey and the Formoso), are stated to be of
considerable size, being each of them seven or eight miles broad at the
mouth; and the supposed Delta, estimated by the line of coast, is much
larger than that of the Ganges: consequently, the two streams, if united,
must form a river of prodigious magnitude. But neither of the rivers has
ever yet been explored; nor has the interior of the country, to any
distance from the coast, been accurately described by any European
traveller. Hence, the question whether the two rivers are ever really
united, and whether the tract in question is a complete Delta or not,
still remains to be ascertained. With regard also to the course, or even
the existence, of the great river to which this Delta is said to belong,
and which M. Reichard supposes to come from the northeast of Africa,
there is no tradition nor any vestige among travellers or geographical
writers; the whole is purely conjectural. But the supposition, so far at
least as relates to the alluvial origin of the tract in question and the
junction of the two rivers, has great appearance of probability.

On comparing Mr. Maxwell's hypothesis respecting the Niger with that of
M. Reichard, which we are now considering, the latter may be said to have
gained something in point of probability, by diminishing the distance
which the Niger has to flow in order to reach the Atlantic. But the
length of its course, even when thus reduced, is still a considerable
difficulty, and a great incumbrance on the hypothesis. The objection
arising from the Niger's being conceived to penetrate the Kong Mountains,
seems to be nearly of equal weight in both cases, on the supposition that
this vast chain of mountains is of the extent generally imagined; which
there appears to be no reason to doubt.

It may be mentioned as an objection to both of these hypotheses, that no
traces whatever of the Mahometan doctrines or institutions are now to be
found on either of the coasts where the Niger is supposed to terminate.
In no part of the world has the spirit of enterprise and proselytism,
which properly belongs to the Mahometan character, been more strikingly
displayed than in the extensive regions of North Africa. Its effects are
every where conspicuous, not only in the religious belief of the greater
part of the inhabitants; but even where Mahometism is not actually
established, in their manners, and customs, and in the predominance of
the Arabic language, which is almost every where grafted upon the native
African dialects. These circumstances, however, are peculiar to North
Africa; nothing of a similar kind having been remarked on the coast of
Guinea, and still less on that of Congo and Angola. Mr. Maxwell also
states in a letter to Mr. Park, that he had made enquiries of a great
number of negroes who had come down the Congo from great distances; but
that he could never hear of any Mahometan priests having visited the
countries on the banks of that river. Supposing the Niger really to flow
through the centre of Africa, and to discharge itself any where into the
Atlantic, it is reasonable to believe that some of the Mahometan
colonists must long since have established themselves on the banks of
that river, and penetrated to the shores of the ocean.


The botanical specimens, mentioned in Park's letter, arrived safe in
England, and were received by Sir Joseph Banks, by whose kind information
the editor is enabled to add the following particulars concerning them.

1. _Fang Jani,_ or self-burning tree. The specimens received under
this name, were branches of a species of _Pandanus,_ which, for want
of the parts of fructification, could not be ascertained. The shoots and
bases of the leaves were black and withered, resembling in appearance
leaves and branches that had been subjected to the action of fire. The
leaves, however, above their bases, were green, although dry. On a closer
examination, those parts which appeared like charcoal, were found to
differ entirely from that substance, as they would not give a black
colour to paper when rubbed upon it. Besides, it was wholly incredible
that the young shoots and bases of the leaves should break out into a
blaze, while the tops of the leaves, far less succulent than the young
shoots, remained quite free from fire, not being even singed in the
smallest degree.

On a more careful examination, the black colour appeared to be occasioned
by a disease in the plant, of the nature of the mildew or rust of corn,
arising from a parasitic fungus, probably of the nature of the
_Puccinia_ of Europe; the species of which could not be ascertained

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Online LibraryMungo ParkThe Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805 → online text (page 9 of 21)