Letter regarding the Nile II

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To the Editor of the Atfienmim.

November 2Oth, 1869.

I enclose you a copy of a small map which I have had for many years in my possession, showing Captain Burton's theory respecting the sources of the Nile as far back as 1856. In that year he left England to command the Expedition for their discovery, which had been the object of his thoughts and studies for many previous years always a disciple of Ptolemy. Captain Speke joined him, and after three years of unheard-of difficulties and dangers, they returned, having discovered Tanganyika. Whilst they were absent, Captain Burton, being very ill for a short time, and experiencing a yearning to be alone, sent Captain Speke on a twenty days' march to try and find a lake, which his calculations, theories, and inquiries from the Arabs, assured him ought to be there. Speke sighted a water then, and subsequently found on his next expedition, but much farther north, a lake which he called Victoria Nyanza.

I quote a note from Captain Burton's ' Nile Basin,' p. 37, which is the pivot of the whole affair : ' I distinctly deny that any " misleading, by my instructions from the Royal Geographical Society as to the position of the White Nile," left me unconscious of the vast importance of ascertaining the Rusizi river's direction. The fact is, Captain Speke was deaf and almost blind. I was paralytic, and we were both helpless [he might have added penniless]. We did our best to reach it, and failed.'

Captain Burton always said from the first that the Nile must have many sources, and that there were probably waters south of the Tanganyika. In his 'Lake Regions' he speaks of a large river, Marungu, draining the southern countries towards the Tanganyika, and entering the lake at its southernmost point, which has now been proved by Dr. Livingstone.[1] He was misled by Captain Speke's erroneous elevation of the lake, and by the more than probably wrong information received from the African chiefs, as interpreted by his negro servant Bombay. In short, Captain Speke determined to have his own lake at all hazards, and for a time he became master of the field.

I am anxious, before I sail to join Captain Burton at Damascus and I have not many days left to claim Captain Burton's proper position amongst the five explorers of the lakes, having already had a reminder that 'les absents ont toujours tort?' That position means, second to Livingstone as explorer, to whom he has shown the way to the Nile, and first as lake discoverer.

The outlines of the map I refer to were drawn for me in 1856, and where lakes are now correctly marked on maps stood pencil notes, which said, ' Should be water here,' 'Supposed site of a lake.'

The lakes and names were successively filled up for me in 1859 and 1864. Perhaps you may think it interesting enough to give it a place in your paper, and will kindly allow this letter to accompany it; or the letter by itself if there is no room for the map.


  1. Dr. Livingstone died with this belief, but he had really discovered the head-waters of the Great Zaire or Congo River (1892).