First published in 1799, Travels in the Interior of Africa is the Scottish explorer Mungo Park's account of his journey through Senegal and Mali to the central portion of the Niger River, the first time a Westerner is known to have reached such central regions. With the backing of Sir Joseph Banks, Park was employed (for £11 a month) to journey solo though unknown lands to seek out the legendary city of "Tambuctoo" and try and ascertain the course of, and if possible, termination point of the river Niger. Park's kit which greeted him upon arrival on the Gold coast was basic to say the least: two shotguns, two compasses, a sextant, a thermometer, a small medicine chest, a wide-brimmed hat, an umbrella and, bizarrely, a blue dress coat with brass buttons (four of which he'd later gift to a native woman for her kindness to him) and a silver-topped cane. 100 miles up the Gambia river, at an English outpost, Park spent five months preparing for the journey — which included learning the local language of Mandingo, and succumbing to a month-long bout of malarial fever (which probably ended up saving him later on). On 2nd December 1795, when the time came to eventually set out on his journey proper, he refused to travel with a local slave caravan — a decision thought to be symbolic — instead, setting out with just two servants and mule. The journey took him two years in total, including a four month stint imprisoned at the hands of a Moorish chief, and seven months in living the simple hut of a man who'd taken him in when he'd fallen ill. Park eventually returned to Scotland by way of Antigua on 22 December 1797. He had been thought dead, and his return home with news of the discovery of the Niger River evoked great public enthusiasm. An account of his journey was drawn up for the African Association by Bryan Edwards, and his own remarkably detailed, honest and compelling narrative appeared in 1799, instantly becoming a best-seller.
Park was to return for a second trip in 1805. This time he travelled much further down the river Niger (reaching, and travelling beyond Timbuktu) but eventually was to perish in its waters. After his canoe struck a rock, hostile spear-throwing natives forced Park and his crew to the river in which they drowned, all apart from a servant who lived to recount the story of the explorer's death. Such a fate was one Park seemed prepared for. In a letter to the head of the Colonial Office, dispatched on route, he wrote: "I shall set sail for the east with the fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish in the attempt. 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 least die on the Niger."
Jun 10, 2014