Alexander, Boyd (DNB12)

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ALEXANDER, BOYD (1873–1910), African traveller and ornithologist, born at Cranbrook, Kent, on 16 Jan. 1873, was a twin son (with Robert Alexander) of Colonel Boyd Francis Alexander, of an Ayrshire family, by his wife Mary Wilson. Boyd, after education at Radley College (1887–91), passed into the army in 1893, joining the 7th battalion rifle brigade. Devoting himself to travel and ornithology, he visited the Cape Verde Islands twice in 1897 to study their ornithology, and he went, in 1898, for the same purpose to the Zambesi river and its tributary the Kafue. In 1899 he joined the Gold Coast constabulary, and in 1900 he was present at the relief of Kumasi. For this service he received the medal and clasp, and on his return to England he was offered and accepted a commission in the rifle brigade. Keeping up his studies of bird life in West Africa, he visited Fernando Po in 1902, and made there not only ornithological but also ethnological investigations and a map, and gathered material for a review of Spanish missionary work. In 1904 he started on an expedition which was designed to survey northern Nigeria and to show that Africa could be crossed from west to east by means of its waterways. Accompanied by his younger brother, Captain Claud Alexander, Captain G. B. Gosling, Mr. P. A. Talbot, and his assistant and taxidermist José Lopes, Alexander left Lokoja on the Niger on 31 March, and travelled to Ibi on the Benue. There the party separated for a time. Gosling, a zoologist, went off to shoot big game. Claud Alexander and Talbot carried out a valuable survey of the Murchison mountains in spite of sickness, scarcity of food, and difficulties with carriers and hostile natives; they finally reached Maifoni, where Claud Alexander died of fever, after six weeks' illness, on 13 Nov. 1904, at the age of 26. Boyd Alexander meanwhile travelled alone by Loko on the Benue, Keffi, the Kachia and Panda Hills and Bauchi to Yo (26 Oct.), some thirty miles from Lake Chad. He succeeded in visiting his dying brother at Maifoni, and thence he (now with Talbot, Gosling and Lopes as companions) reached Lake Chad by way of Kukawa and Kaddai. Some months were spent in the difficult exploration of the lake. Their valuable surveys of the lake, when compared with other surveys, enabled geographers to form an idea of the remarkable periodic variations of level and other physical conditions to which the lake is liable in sympathy with periods of drought or heavy rainfall. On 26 May 1905 Alexander, Gosling and Lopes (Talbot having returned to the west) started up the Shari, making a detailed survey of the Bamingi tributary in September. They then traversed the watershed to the Ubangi, and proceeded across the centre of the continent, following that river and the Welle. At Niangara on the Welle Gosling died of blackwater fever. Alexander now travelled to N'Soro, turned north to the Lado country, and followed the Yei river and Bahr-el-Jebel downward through the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. He surveyed the Kibali tributary of the Welle in July and the Yei in October 1906, besides carrying out important zoological studies. He reached the Nile in December 1906.

For his journey across the continent Alexander received the gold medal of the Geographical Society of Antwerp in 1907, and the founder's medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1908, as well as the thanks of his colonel, the duke of Connaught, on behalf of his regiment. At the close of 1908 Alexander, with Lopes, left England again for West Africa. He visited the islands of São Thomé, Principe, and Annobom, and, in March 1909, the Kamerun mountain, whence he proceeded to Lake Chad by way of the upper Benue, intending thereafter to make for Egypt through Wadai and Darfur. The country was known to be in a disturbed condition, and Alexander, on reaching Nyeri, seventy miles north of Abeshr, the capital of Wadai, was murdered by the natives on 2 April 1910. He was buried at Maifoni, by the grave of his brother Claud. Lopes, who had accompanied him since his earliest journey to the Cape Verde Islands, escaped. There is a memorial to Boyd and his brother Claud at the parish church of Cranbrook, Kent, and his portrait as a boy, by Godbold, is preserved by his family.

Alexander published an account of his journey of 1904–7 in ‘From the Niger to the Nile’ (2 vols. 1907). He contributed a detailed account of Fernando Po to the ‘Ibis’ (1903), and a paper ‘From the Niger, by Lake Chad, to the Nile,’ to the ‘Geographical Journal,’ xxx. 119.

[Obit. notice, Geographical Journal, xxxvi. 108; private information.]

O. J. R. H.