Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 43.djvu/225

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Sumatra. In May 1794 Sir Joseph Banks promised, if he wished to travel, to apply on his behalf to the African Association. This corporation, which was supported by powerful and wealthy men, had been founded in 1788 for the purpose of furthering geographical discoveries in Africa. Sir Joseph was a member of the committee of the association, and he saw in Park a suitable successor to Major Houghton, who had been despatched by the association in 1790 for the purpose of discovering the true course of the Niger, but had never returned. Park willingly accepted the offer of the association. His instructions were ‘to pass on to the River Niger either by way of Bambouk or by such other route as should be found most convenient, to ascertain the course, and if possible the rise and termination, of that river.’ On 22 May 1795 he sailed from Portsmouth in the brig Endeavour, a small vessel trading to the Gambia for beeswax and ivory. On 5 July 1795 he arrived at Pisania, a British factory two hundred miles up the Gambia. Here he stopped for five months in the house of Dr. John Laidley, learning the Mandingo language, and getting over his first severe attack of fever. Finding it difficult to arrange to travel with a caravan, Park set out on 2 Dec. 1795 on his journey of exploration accompanied only by a negro servant and a boy, one horse, and two asses. He proceeded in a direction at first north-east, and subsequently due east, and, after almost incredible hardships, arrived at Sego, on the Niger, 20 July 1796. Early in his journey he was robbed of all his trafficable property by the petty sovereigns through whose territories he passed. For four months he was kept a close prisoner at Benowm by the Arab chief Ali. He escaped with great difficulty on 1 July, alone, and in the possession of nothing but his horse, his clothes, and a pocket compass, which he had saved from the rapacity of his captors by burying it in the sand. From Sego, Park proceeded down the river as far as Silla, but here most reluctantly he was forced to turn back, owing to the exhaustion of his horse and his lack of means of purchasing food. He left Silla on his return journey on 3 Aug. 1796, making for the Gambia by another route further south, through the Mandingo country; most of the journey as far as Camalia he performed on foot. At the latter place he fell dangerously ill of fever, and his life was only saved through the care of Kaarta Taura, a negro, in whose house he stayed for seven months. He concluded his journey in the company of a caravan directed by Kaarta, reaching Pisania on 10 June 1797. Embarking almost immediately on board a slave ship bound for America, he arrived eventually at Falmouth on 22 Dec. 1797.

After his return Park at first remained in London. In the spring of 1798 a negotiation was proceeding as to his undertaking a survey of New Holland, and in the following year a proposal was made to him with regard to an appointment in New South Wales; but the negotiations in each case failed. In June 1798 he visited his family at Fowlshiels, and remained there till the end of the year, being engaged in the preparation of the account of his travels for publication. An abstract of the travels had been drawn up by Bryan Edwards, the secretary of the African Association, and distributed for the private use of the subscribers in 1798; but the complete work was not published until the spring of 1799, when it appeared in a quarto volume, with a dedication to the members of the African Association, and instantly achieved a great success. A popular song, the words of which were contributed by the Duchess of Devonshire, the music by Ferrari, was composed on one of the most pathetic episodes related in the volume (it is printed in the edition of 1799). The book passed through three editions in 1799, and Park became famous and popular. After the publication of his travels, Park went back again to Scotland, and married the eldest daughter of his old master, Anderson of Selkirk, 2 Aug. 1799. For the next two years he and his wife appear to have lived with his family at Fowlshiels, but it is apparent from a letter written to Sir Joseph Banks, dated 31 July 1800, in which he ‘hopes that his exertions in some station or other may be of use to his country’ (quoted in the Account of the Life of M. Park by Wishaw, p. 32), that he was still awaiting further employment abroad. Meanwhile Park undertook a medical practice at Peebles, October 1801. In September 1803 he wrote to his brother on the death of Dr. Reid, who had held the best practice in Peebles: ‘There will probably be another surgeon or two here in a week, but I shall have the best part of the practice, come who will’ (Addit. MS. 30262, f. 38). During this period he became acquainted with Dr. Adam Ferguson, Dugald Stewart, and Walter (afterwards Sir Walter) Scott, and his acquaintance with the latter rapidly developed into a warm friendship (Lockhart, Life of Scott, 1st ed. ii. 10–14).

He seems to have been restless at Peebles, and it was strongly suspected by Scott and other friends that he entertained hopes of being called upon to undertake another mis-