Exploring Africa - The Hunt for the Niger

 Barrow, in the Autobiography, has little to say about these African expeditions, so quotes here are taken from Fergus Fleming's unbeatable accounts in "Barrow's Boys". The chapter headings give the flavour of events: "Death on the Congo", "Squabbles in the Sahara" "The Madman of Timbuctoo" "The Riddle of the Niger", and so on. The expeditions were many and complex and each more disastrous than the last, not least because Barrow had so many irrelevant bees in his bonnet about the interior of Africa - facts which no-one could possibly have known . The only way to begin to unravel the muddle is to read Fleming. Go on, you know you want to. Brilliant fun.

Here is a sample: As so often, Barrow's sense of reality failed him. Crossing the Sahara was a terrible ordeal. True, people did it ... but they did it at great personal risk ... the Sahara claimed about 8,000 lives every year. For Europeans to do it at all was unheard of. Yet in Barrow's eyes it was as simple as catching a coach to Harrogate "

 Portraits of just four of the many "Barrow's Boys" who explored Africa:

 Second attempt through the Sahara (1817): " Oudney, and another Scot, the brawny, adventurous Lt. Hugh Clapperton, who stood over 6 feet tall, boasted a red beard, had a great capacity for port and had risen to his present position from a humble start as a cabin boy. `He was 'not exactly cut out for a drawing room' ... but ..."he wishes no salary, his sole object being the love of knowledge'"
Hugh Clapperton

George Francis Lyon"A bearded, sunburned man, dressed in long desert robes and riding a lame camel, slid down the hills towards them singing "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the KIng" at the top of his lungs. This was Lt George Lyon RN, the only surviving officer of Barrow's latest brainchild: A trans-saharan expedition to find the Niger.
Richard Lemon Lander
Dixon Denham

"....And there was one other matter, ridiculous now but of prime importance then: what clothes should the members of the expedition wear? Lyon had previously stressed the importance of going native [but] ...should the world's leading power shuffle ignominiously into Bornu clothed in robes and turbans? ...It was decided therefore that the expedition should wear, whenever possible, their full dress uniforms displaying all the shiny buttons, epaulettes and medals of British might .....
This painting is actually by Geo. Lyon himself, and says everything about the experience of travelling across the desert in those days.

Not sure who this is, but his ox is so neatly saddled ; goats and baggage and pack-oxen; and another of those curious pointy tents.
These are the Landers brothers, at Badagry, asking the way to the Niger.
Legend has it the locals laughed at them, for the madness of their hats.

This engraving (from my collection) is c 1760; the caption reads: "Arabs and Moors riding on their Camels, Oxen and Horses with their Gum Arabic and other goods to sell at Sanaga River". It shows that riding an ox was not thought an odd thing to do.

On 17 February Denham was riding ahead of the others when he found his way blocked. " by a body of several thousand cavalry, drawn up in a line and extending right and left as far as I could see" . They moved in with "an appearance of tact and management in their movements which astonished me" As they drew closer Denham saw that some were clad head to knee in chain mail ... Their horses also wore armour of iron, brass and silver. This disciplined and well-armed formation, moving without noise or confusion, could have been plucked straight from a history of the Crusades. It belonged to Sheik Mohamed el-Kanemi, the Ruler of Bornu.

Oudney and his party were flabbergasted. Here, in the middle of the desert, where they had expected a rabble of ignorant natives, was a nation of sophistication and power .... B'sBs p188


Present-day African horsemen.

These beautiful ladies are an engraving from the drawings of Dixon Denham.
This is from a later era of Africa exploration - perhaps the Dr Livingstone episode. The style is Illustrated London News. It all looks a bit of a rabble and there's an Englishwoman riding sidesaddle on the big mule in the middle. I've put it in for the sake of the mystery.

This is Sheik Mohamed el-Kanemi, the ruler of Bornu, himself - and his court, on the right.
Inscription reads "Reception of the Mission by the Sultan of Bornu"



Two African landscapes from around the same era as the Barrow expeditions.
The tents are baffling - so pointy as to be pointless ?

 Two amazing examples of
Timbuctoo architecture,
and a more ordinary , Sub-Saharan dwelling on the right,
not unlike the one in the Denham engraving with the stripey ladies,