Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Park, Mungo
PARK, MUNGO (1771–1806), African explorer, was born 10 Sept. 1771 at Fowlshiels, a farm on the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch near Selkirk. The son of Mungo Park and his wife, the daughter of John Hislop of Tennis, he was the seventh child in a family of thirteen. He was educated at home and at Selkirk grammar school, and in 1786, at the age of fifteen, was apprenticed to Thomas Anderson, surgeon, of Selkirk. In October 1789 he entered Edinburgh University, where he passed three sessions, employing his time in the study of medicine, and distinguishing himself by his application to botanical science. He procured his surgical diploma at Edinburgh, and proceeded to London in search of employment towards the end of 1791. Through his brother-in-law, James Dickson, who, after commencing his career as a working gardener, had established a considerable reputation in London as a botanist, he secured an introduction to Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.], then president of the Royal Society, and, through the latter's influence, was appointed assistant medical officer on board the Worcester East Indiaman. In February 1792 Park sailed for the East Indies, and after a successful voyage to Bencoolen in the Isle of Sumatra, he returned to England in the following year. While in Sumatra he continued his botanical studies, and wisely brought home certain rare plants for presentation to his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, in whose estimation he rapidly grew. During the two years following his return from Sumatra, Park chiefly resided in London. On 4 Nov. 1794 he read a paper before the Linnean Society on eight new species of fishes found in 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 mission to the Niger, though he kept perfectly silent on the subject. Such hopes were realised in October 1803, when he received an invitation from Lord Hobart, then secretary of state for the colonies, to consider the organisation of a fresh expedition of discovery to Africa. Park promptly accepted the leadership of the proposed enterprise; but a change of administration in 1804, and the succession of Lord Camden to Lord Hobart, occasioned considerable delay in setting out. Park spent the interval in the study of Arabic at the cost of the government. In a memoir which he presented to the colonial office in September 1804, he stated the object of the expedition to be generally ‘the extension of British commerce and the enlargement of our geographical knowledge.’ In the same memoir he also gave his reasons for believing that the Congo would be found to be the termination of the Niger. The brevet commission of a captain in Africa was conferred in a letter from Lord Camden to Park, dated 2 Jan. 1805, which instructed him ‘to pursue the course of this river [i.e. Niger] to the utmost possible distance to which it can be traced.’ The sum of 5,000l. was placed at his disposal, and he was empowered to enlist soldiers to the number of forty-five to accompany him on his journey. On 30 Jan. 1805 Park, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Alexander Anderson, a surgeon, and George Scott, a draughtsman of Selkirk, sailed from Portsmouth on the transport Crescent. They arrived at Goree on 28 March, where they were joined by Lieutenant Martyn, R.A., and thirty soldiers from the garrison, all of whom had volunteered, with four carpenters and two sailors. On 29 April the expedition arrived at Pisania, where Park engaged a Mandingo priest named Isaaco to accompany them as guide. On 19 Aug. 1805, when they reached Bambakoo on the Niger, only eleven out of the forty Europeans survived. On 21 Aug. Park embarked on the Niger, and proceeded down the river to Sansanding, a little eastward of Sego, where he remained for two months, trafficking with the natives and preparing for his passage down the river. The terrible effects of the climate continued to work havoc among the survivors of the expedition. Scott had fallen a victim a few days before the Niger was reached. Anderson, whom Park had nursed with most affectionate care for three months, died 28 Oct. (Addit. MS. 33230, f. 37). Undaunted by these disasters, Park continued his preparations for the descent of the unknown river. After constructing, mainly with his own hands, a flat-bottomed vessel out of two canoes, which he named H. M. schooner the Joliba (i.e. ‘the great water’), he started on his descent, leaving Sansanding on 19 Nov., accompanied by Lieutenant Martyn and three soldiers, the remnant of his party. To Lord Camden he wrote a remarkable letter on the eve of his departure. ‘I have changed,’ he wrote on 17 Nov., ‘a large canoe into a tolerably good schooner, on board of which I this day hoisted the British flag, and I shall set sail to the east with the fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish in the attempt. I have heard nothing that I can depend on respecting the remote course of this mighty stream, but I am more inclined to think that it can end nowhere but in the sea. My dear friends, Mr. Anderson and likewise Mr. Scott, are both dead; but though all 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.’ This letter, together with others addressed to members of his family, and his journal were delivered by Park to the guide Isaaco, by whom they were safely conveyed to the Gambia; they were the last communications ever received from Park. Rumours of the explorer's death reached the coast in 1806, but no definite account of the fate of the expedition was obtained until 1812. In 1810 Colonel Maxwell, the governor of the Congo, had despatched the guide Isaaco on a mission to discover the facts, and if possible to secure any papers or journal belonging to Park. Isaaco returned with written information supplied by a guide named Amadi Fatouma, whom Park had engaged at Sansanding to accompany him down the river. This account, though not wholly satisfactory and much doubted at the time it was received (Philanthropist, July 1815; Edinb. Rev. February 1815), has subsequently been confirmed in its main features by the investigations of Bowditch, Denham, Clapperton, Lander, and later travellers (Addit. MS. 18390, for Sheerif Ibraham's account given to Bowditch, and translated by Professor S. Lee). Park apparently sailed down the stream past Timbuctoo as far as the town of Boussa, where, in a narrow and rocky stretch of the stream, an attempt was made by the natives to stop his further progress. A fight resulted, in which his whole party, except one slave rower, lost their lives. The various accounts agree in attributing the death of the white men to drowning, but give different explanations as to how the fight originated. There appears to be some reason for suspecting that Amadi Fatouma was responsible for the attempt to detain Park, after having some dispute with him with regard to his payment (Journal of Geogr. Soc. vol. xvi. 157). Isaaco failed to secure any journal or papers belonging to Park, and Clapperton and Lander were equally unsuccessful; but the latter were shown certain small articles, of no value, which had belonged to various members of the party. Probably such papers as were recovered from the river were torn up, and served the purpose of charms for the natives.
Although Park was not spared to solve the problem which he had set himself, his discoveries and his observations enabled others to finish what he had begun; he was the first European in modern times to strike the Niger river, and he drew a correct inference when he convinced himself that the Niger ‘could flow nowhere but into the sea.’ In his travels he proved himself an explorer of untiring perseverance and inflexible resolution. His heroic efforts served to stimulate the enthusiasm of travellers who during the next twenty years followed in his footsteps, and they aroused a keen public interest in African discovery and development. After James Bruce, who, like himself, was a Scotsman, he was the second great African traveller of British origin.
The unaffected style and simple narration made use of by Park in the ‘Travels’ increased the popularity of what would have been in any case a much-read book. The accuracy of the general narrative has never been impugned; but, owing to an unfortunate mistake in reckoning thirty-one days in April, the observations of longitude and latitude are not to be depended upon (Bowditch, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, 1819, 4to, appendix). The work was translated into both French and German the year after publication, and subsequently into most European languages; it has passed through a great number of editions, the quarto edition of 1799 being the best. The ‘Travels’ will also be found in Pinkerton's ‘General Collection of Voyages,’ vol. xvi.; Duponchel's ‘Nouvelle Bibliothèque de Voyages,’ vol. ix.; Amorelli and Soave's ‘Opusculi scelti Scienze,’ vol. xxi.; E. Schauenburg's ‘Reisen in Central-Afrika,’ and in R. Huish's book on African travels. Park's journal, together with Isaaco's journal and the story told by Amadi Fatouma, was published in 1815, for the benefit of the widow and family, by the African Institution, into whose charge the papers had been delivered by the government (Eighth Report of the Directors of the African Institution, 1814, p. 20). A well-written memoir of Park's life, composed by E. Wishaw, a director of the institution, was prefixed to the volume; on this memoir subsequent biographies have been based, a few new facts being added in a life of Park by ‘H. B.,’ published in Edinburgh, 1835.
Park was a finely built man, six feet in height, with a generally prepossessing appearance; his manner is said to have been somewhat reserved and cold. A portrait engraved by Dickinson, after the picture by Edridge, is prefixed to the quarto edition of the ‘Travels,’ published in 1799, and a portrait engraved by R. Bell, after the same picture, is to be found in the ‘Life of M. Park by H. B.,’ published in Edinburgh, 1835. In an open space in the centre of Selkirk a colossal monument was erected to the memory of the explorer in 1839. Park is represented standing, a sextant in his right hand, in his left a scroll, on which is inscribed one of the remarkable sentences from his last communication to Lord Camden already quoted.
Park's wife and four children, three sons and a daughter, survived him; they received the sum of 4,000l. from the government. The second son, Thomas, a midshipman in H.M. ship Sybille, hoping to discover something further with regard to his father's fate, obtained leave from the authorities to make the attempt to reach Boussa from the coast; but after accomplishing two hundred miles of his journey, he died of fever on 31 Oct. 1827 (Quarterly Review, xxxviii. 112).[The Account of the Life of M. Park by Wishaw, prefixed to the Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, published 1815; Scots Magazine, lxxvii. 343; Life of Mungo Park by ‘H. B.,’ Edinburgh, 1835; Biographie Universelle; Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, by T. E. D. Bowditch, 1819, 4to, p. 20; Journal of a recent Expedition into the Interior of Africa, by H. Clapperton and R. Lander, pp. 85, 100, 134, 133; Examen et rectification des positions déterminées astronomiquement en Afrique par Mungo Park, par d'Avezac; Edinb. Rev. February 1815, pp. 471–490; Quarterly Rev. xxii. 293, xxxix. 153, xxxviii. 112; Reports of the African Association; Reports of the African Institution.]