Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Cameron, Verney Lovett
CAMERON, VERNEY LOVETT (1844–1894), African explorer, the son of Jonathan Henry Lovett Cameron, rector of Shoreham, Kent, and Frances, daughter of Francis Sapte of Cadicote Lodge, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, was born at Radipole, Weymouth, on 1 July 1844, and educated at Bourton in Somerset. He joined the navy in August 1857, and was placed on the Illustrious training ship, whence he was transferred to the Victor Emmanuel, and spent nearly four years in the Mediterranean and on the Syrian coast. He became a midshipman in June 1860. He was sent to the North American station on the Liffey at the end of 1861, and in the following year was at New Orleans when it was captured by the federals. From 1862 to 1864 he was in the Channel squadron, becoming sub-lieutenant in August 1863; promoted lieutenant in October 1860, he was sent to the East Indies in the Star. He was on the coast of East Africa in 1867, and saw service in the Abyssinian campaign of 1868, where he earned a medal. He was afterwards employed in the suppression of the slave trade in East Africa, and his experiences made a deep impression on him. About 1870 he was put on the steam reserve at Sheerness.
As soon as Cameron found himself in so quiet a berth as Sheerness, he volunteered to the Royal Geographical Society to go in search of Livingstone, attracted by a project which was then in many men's minds; but it was not till 1872, after some disappointments, that he was selected as leader of the expedition sent out by the society to carry aid to Livingstone, who had been discovered by Stanley in the previous year (vide Introduction to Across Africa). The object of his journey was to find Livingstone, who was known to have been bound for the south end of Bangweolo when Stanley left him, and afterwards to take an independent line of geographical exploration, with the aid of Livingstone's advice.
Cameron started on his task early in 1873, leaving England in company with Sir Bartle Frere [q.v.], who was on a mission to Zanzibar. Dr. W. E. Dillon accompanied the explorer, and Lieutenant Cecil Murphy volunteered at Aden to join the expedition. Arriving at Zanzibar in February 1873, they found the task of getting together the necessary carriers unusually difficult. At last they had to push on with an incomplete convoy to Rahenneko, and wait there for Murphy. On Murphy's arrival, further troubles and delays arose before a real start may be considered to have been made. By Mpwapwa, Ugogo,the Mgunda Mkali, and Unyanyembe, they went forward without much incident. At the latter place all three members of the expedition were down with severe fever, and many carriers were tempted to desert. At this stage the news of Livingstone's death was brought to Cameron, and altered all his plans. Dillon and Murphy started to return to the coast with Livingstone's body, and Cameron decided to proceed alone; but very shortly after their start Cameron heard of Dillon's death, and this caused another delay. When he at last got oft" he encountered a series of annoyances and hardships which were only checked on arrival at the Malagarazi. The next point of importance was Lake Tanganyika, a great part of which was still unexplored. Cameron spent a considerable time in determining the proper position of the southern portion of the lake, and, when he had finished, despatched his own servant with Livingstone's papers from Ujiji and his own journals to the coast, gave to those who wished to return the option of doing so, and then proceeded westward with sixty-two or sixty-three men for Nyangwe, which he determined to be on the main stream of the Congo. Here he endeavoured to obtain canoes, with the idea of following the great river; but failing in this, and meeting Tippoo Tib, he was induced to strike southward, where he met with much suspicion from natives who had been raided by slave dealers. His success in avoiding collisions and loss of life was remarkable. At Kasongo he fell in with an Arab who treated him with much kindness, and with a slave dealer from Bibé, in whose company he finally struck westward again along the watershed between the Congo and Zambesi, discovering the sources of the latter. After considerable sufferings from thirst and much worry, owing to the enforced company of slavers, he reached Bibé early in October 1875. He was now 240 miles from the west coast, and the journey seemed almost over; yet the greatest hardships fell upon his party at this point, and finally he had to push on by forced marches of 160 miles in four days to save his own life and send back relief for his men. He arrived at Katombela on 28 Nov. 1875, being thus the first traveller to cross the breadth of Africa from sea to sea.
On his return to England Cameron was naturally received with much acclamation; he was promoted specially to be a commander in July 1876, and was made a C.B.; he was also awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and created hon. D.C.L. of Oxford on 21 June. In September of this year he attended the Brussels conference on Africa.
After returning for a time to his professional duties, and among other things taking courses of gunnery and torpedo practice, Cameron obtained leave in September 1878 to make a journey through Asiatic Turkey with a view to determining the value of a route to India from a point opposite Cyprus, which had just been transferred to British keeping, through Turkish dominions and by way of the Persian Gulf. He received a passage in the troopship Orontes to Cyprus; thence he crossed to Beirut and travelled through Lebanon to Tripoli of the Levant; thence to Aleppo, where he encountered some small difficulties; got on by way of Diarbekir and Mosul to Bagdad; then to Bussora and Bushire, where he heard of the British disasters in Zululand. He then at once telegraphed for leave to proceed to Natal, but by some misunderstanding received a message at Karachi to detain him, and so returned to England . When he arrived there, on 29 May 1879, it was too late for him to proceed to the theatre of war, so he set himself to write a popular description of his late journey, called 'Our Future Highway.'
In 1882 Cameron made a journey of another kind. On 8 January he joined Sir Richard Burton [q. v. Suppl.] at Madeira, and travelled to the West Coast of Africa on a special mission initiated by certain mining companies to examine the gold-producing district of the Gold Coast. They touched at Bathurst and Sierra Leone, and finally disembarked at Axim on the Gold Coast, where they proceeded to explore the interior within some twenty miles of the coast. Cameron in particular, leaving Axim on 16 March, made a route-survey to Tarquah, which is now the centre of the gold district; he also plotted the course of the Ankobra river. He made various collections for Kew and the Natural History Museum, which were mostly spoiled or lost. He returned from this expedition at the end of April, and on 26 June 1882 lectured on the subject with Burton at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society,
In 1883 Cameron retired from the navy and thenceforward devoted himself to the study of African political questions, and the management or direction of various companies, chiefly connected with Africa. In 1890, immediately after the conclusion of the Anglo-German agreement for the delimitation of the possessions of the two powers in Africa, he embarked upon a project for exploration with commercial objects in West Africa; but, finding that the aims of those who had originated the idea would not be acceptable to the government, he withdrew from the project, and it fell through. The development of the Congo Free State was a matter of particular interest to him, and he was on various occasions consulted by the king of the Belgians on this subject. In a lecture delivered on 3 Feb. 1894 he claimed to have been the real originator of the idea of a railroad from the Cape to Cairo.
Cameron usually resided at Soulsbury, Leighton Buzzard, where he regularly hunted in the season. On 27 March 1894 he was thrown from his horse in returning from a day's hunting, and was killed. He was buried at Shoreham, Kent. At the time of his death he was chairman of the African International Flotilla and Transport Company, and of the Central African and Zoutspanberg Exploration Company. Besides the C.B., he received the order of the crown of Italy, and the gold medals of the Royal Geographical Society, the French Geographical Society, and a special medal from King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. The public sense of his services was further marked by the grant of a civil list pension of 60l. a year to his widow.
Cameron's character was remarkably unselfish; his exploration of Africa was marked by intense philanthropy, and his administration of companies by a disregard of personal profit. He was a great reader as well as a fluent writer; and his knowledge of languages was uncommon — he knew twelve in all, including French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as some of the African tongues, as Swahili.
Cameron married, on 2 June 1885, Amy Mona Reid, daughter of William Bristowe Morris of Kingston, Jamaica.Cameron was a fairly prolific writer, particularly of tales of adventure for boys. His more important works are: 1. 'Essay on Steam Tactics,' 1865. 2. 'Across Africa,' 1877, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1885. 3. 'Our Future Highway,' 1880, 2 vols. 8vo. 4. 'To the Gold Coast for Gold' (jointly with Sir Richard Burton), 1883, 8vo. 5. 'The Cruise of the Black Prince, privateer,' 1886. 6. 'The Queen's Land, or Ard al Malakat,' 1886. 7. 'Adventures of Herbert Massey in South America,' 1888. 8. 'The History of Arthur Penreath, sometime gentleman of Sir Walter Raleigh,' 1888. 9. 'Log of a Jack Tar,' 1891.
[Men of the Time, 1891; Times, 28 March 1894; Chums, 31 Aug. 1894 (an interview); Brown's Story of Africa, ii. 266; his own works; private information; Brit. Mus. Cat.]