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Mungo Park


PARK, MUNGO, a distinguished, but unfortunate traveller, was born at Fowlshiels, in Selkirkshire, September 10, 1771. His father, who rented the farm of Fowlshiels from the duke of Buccleuch, had thirteen children, of whom Mungo was the seventh. Notwithstanding his limited resources, he kept a private tutor in his house, for the education of his family; and of the advantage of this arrangement, the subject of the present memoir largely partook. He was afterwards sent to the grammar school of Selkirk, where he made astonishing progress, not so much by his ready talents, as by his remarkable perseverance and application; and, despite of many disadvantages, uniformly kept the place of dux, or head of his class. This early devotion to study and aptitude of acquirement, together with his thoughtful and reserved disposition, seemed to his father to point out the church as his future profession, but upon his son’s expressing a decided preference for that of medicine, he at once agreed, and bound him apprentice for three years to Mr Thomas Anderson, surgeon in Selkirk. At the close of his indenture in 1789, being then eighteen years of age, he went to Edinburgh, and attended the classes for three successive sessions, continuing to exhibit the same thirst of knowledge, and unwearied application to all the studies connected with his profession, particularly botany. In the latter, he is said to have been greatly assisted and encouraged by a brother-in-law, Mr James Dickson, who, from an origin even more humble and obscure than that of Park himself, subsequently raised himself to fame and fortune, and became celebrated as one of the first botanists in the kingdom. He had gone to London in search of employment as a journeyman gardener, and procured an engagement, in that humble capacity, with a nurseryman at Hammersmith, where he had the good fortune to attract the notice of Sir Joseph Banks, to whose kind friendship and patronage he was mainly indebted for his future success and celebrity.

After qualifying himself in his profession at Edinburgh, young Park went to London in search of employment, and was very speedily appointed assistant-surgeon on board the Worcester, East Indiaman, through the interest of Sir Joseph Banks, to whom Mr Dickson had introduced him. Mr Park showed himself everyway worthy of this appointment, and made an adequate return to his distinguished patron, by the valuable observations and discoveries he made in botany, and other branches of natural history, in a voyage to Bencoolen, in the island of Sumatra. On his return in 1794, being then only twenty-three years old, he had the honour of reading a paper before the Linnaean Society in London, giving a description of eight new species of fishes he had observed in Sumatra, which was afterwards published in the Transactions of the Society.

After leaving the Worcester, Mr Park appears to have had no certain or fixed views as to his future career, but his talents and genius distinguished him too much to allow him to remain long unemployed. The wealthy and scientific Association for the Promotion of Discovery through the Interior of Africa, were at that time preparing to send out an expedition, with the view of endeavouring to trace the course of the Niger, and procuring every information relative to the great central city of Timbuctoo, of which little more than the name was then known. Sir Joseph Banks, one of the leading men of the Association, immediately pointed out Park as one peculiarly eligible for taking the management of the expedition, and the offer being accordingly made to him, was eagerly accepted. He immediately prepared himself, therefore, for the task, being liberally supplied, according to his own statement, with the means of furnishing himself with everything he reckoned necessary, and sailed from Portsmouth on the 22nd of May, 1795, in the brig Endeavour His instructions were, to proceed to the Niger by the nearest and most convenient route, and endeavour to trace its course, from its rise to its termination; as also to visit, if possible, all the principal towns and cities on its banks, particularly Timbuctoo and Houssa, and afterwards return to Europe by the river Gambia, or any other way he thought advisable. He arrived at Jillifica, in the kingdom of Barra, and lying on the northern bank of the Gambia, on the 21st of June; and after proceeding up the river as far as Jonkakonda, he quitted the Endeavour, and proceeded by land to a small British factory, which had been established at Pisania, in the king of Yam’s territories, where he took up his residence for a short time with Dr Laidley. He immediately applied himself to the study of the Mandingo tongue, and to collect all the information possible, relative to the various people and countries in the interior, preparatory to his journey. In consequence, however, of exposure to the night dew, while observing an eclipse of the moon, in the month of July, he was seized with fever, attended with delirium, which brought him almost to the grave; nor was he sufficiently recovered to commence his journey till December. On the 2nd of that month he set out, having for his escort a negro servant, named Johnson, who had resided many years in Great Britain, and understood both the English and Mandingo languages, as a guide and interpreter; a negro boy belonging to Dr Laidley, and whom that gentleman promised to set free on his return, in the event of his good conduct; with four others, not immediately under his control, but who were made to understand that their own safety depended upon their fidelity to him. It may be interesting also to notice the nature and value of his equipments for a journey of such length, peril, and importance. These consisted of a horse for himself, two asses for his servants, provisions for two days, a small assortment of beads, amber, and tobacco, a few changes of linen and other apparel, an umbrella, a pocket sextant, a magnetic compass, a thermometer, two fowling-pieces, two pairs of pistols, and a few other trifling articles. Such were all the means of sustenance, comfort, and safety, with which this intrepid man was provided for an expedition, the duration of which it was out of his power to calculate, but whose route, he well knew, lay, in some places, through pathless deserts, where neither tree grew, nor water ran, and beset with beasts of prey; in others, through the territories of barbarous tribes, from whose inhospitality or savage dispositions he had scarcely less to fear.

At the very outset, an event occurred which seemed to bode ill for the result of his journey. Dr Laidley, and a few other of the Europeans at Pisania, having escorted him during the first two days, bade him adieu, convinced that they would never see him more; and scarcely were they out of sight, when he was surrounded by a horde of native banditti, from whom he only got free by surrendering the greater part of his small store of tobacco. Park, however, was not a man to be depressed by evil auguries, and he accordingly pushed on to Medina, the capital of Woolli, where the king, a benevolent old man, received him with much kindness, and furnished him with a trusty guide to the frontiers of his dominions. Our traveller then engaged three elephant hunters, as guides and water-bearers, through the sandy desert which lay before him, where water was frequently not to be found for several days together. He performed the journey in safety, but after much fatigue, and reached Fatteconda, the residence of the king of Bondon, situated upon the very frontiers of his dominions, adjoining the kingdom of Kajaaga. It was at Fatteconda, and at the hands of the same chief, that Park’s predecessor in enterprise, Major Houghton, had received such ill usage, and was plundered of almost everything he possessed; but the only article he exacted from Park, and that not by force, but by such warm and animated expressions of admiration as left our traveller no alternative to choose, was his new blue coat, with gilt buttons, in return for which he presented him with five drachms of gold. From Fatteconda he proceeded to Joag, the frontier town of Kajaaga, travelling in the night-time for fear of robbers, and through thickets abounding with wolves and hyenas, which glided across their silent path in the clear moonshine, and hung round the small party with yells and howlings, as if watching an opportunity to spring upon them. At Joag, and whilst preparing to proceed on his journey, he was honoured by a visit from the king’s son, who plundered him of the half of his little stores, on pretence of his having forfeited all his property by entering the kingdom without leave. As a sort of consolation for this disaster, and whilst appeasing his hunger with a few ground nuts which a poor negro slave had given him in charity, he was waited upon by the nephew of the king of Kasson, who had been at Kajaaga on an embassy, and who, taking pity on him, offered to escort him to his uncle’s capital, to which he was now returning, and which lay in the line of our traveller’s route. After crossing the river Senegal, however, which was the boundary of Kasson, his royal guide left him, having first taken from him the half of the little property he had left. A few days after this, Park, for the first time, had an opportunity of observing the manners of the barbarous and untutored natives of Africa in all their primitive simplicity and unchecked ardour. They came to a village which was the birth-place of one of his faithful escort, a blacksmith that had accompanied him from Pisania, and who was now about to leave him, having amassed a considerable deal of money in his profession on the coast, and resolving to spend the rest of his days in ease and independence amongst his family and friends. The meeting which ensued was characterized by the most extravagant demonstrations of joy and triumph, and Park was convinced, that "whatever difference there is between the negro and European, in the conformation of the nose, and the colour of the skin, there is none in the genuine sympathies and characteristic feelings of our common nature." With these warm-hearted villagers, our traveller rested for a day or two, and then proceeded to Kooniakary, where the king, a worthy old man, who was greatly beloved by his subjects, received him with much kindness. From this point new perils beset Mr Park’s further progress, in consequence of war breaking out between the people of Bambarra, to which kingdom his course was directed, and other tribes, through whose territories he had to pass on his way thither. He nevertheless persevered, although even his faithful negro Johnson, who was aware of the dangers he was running into, refused to accompany him farther. They parted accordingly at Jarra, in the kingdom of Ludimar (the people of which, as well as of the neighbouring nations, were found to be Mahomedans), and Mr Park, having intrusted Johnson with a copy of his journal to carry back with him to Pisania, set out for the camp of Ali at Benowm, accompanied only by Dr Laidley’s slave boy, and a messenger who had arrived from Ali to conduct him thither. On the way he suffered great privations, and was repeatedly beaten and robbed by the fanatical Moors, to whom he was an object of peculiar detestation as a Christian. All the sufferings and insults which he had yet undergone, however, were nothing to what he was doomed to endure while in the power of the tyrant Ali. His appearance at Benowm excited the greatest astonishment and consternation amongst the inhabitants, scarcely one of whom had ever seen a white man before. When taken before Ali, the latter was engaged in the dignified occupation of clipping his beard with a pair of scissors, and paid little regard to him; but the ladies of the court fully maintained the character of their sex for inquisitiveness, searched his pockets, opened his waistcoat to examine his white skin, and even counted his toes and fingers to make sure of his being human. It would occupy far more space than the limits of this memoir will allow, to detail the innumerable and unremitting sufferings of our unfortunate countryman during his detention at this place. The unfeeling tyrant would neither permit him to depart, nor grant him any protection from the persecution of the fanatical rabble. He was beat, reviled, compelled to perform the meanest offices, frequently on the point of starvation, and was often necessitated to sleep in the open air. All his baggage was taken from him to deter him from running away, with the exception of a pocket compass, which was supposed to be the work of magic, from the needle always pointing in the same direction, and was therefore returned to him. At last it began to be debated how he was to be disposed of--some advising that he should be put to death, others, that his right hand should be cut off, and another party, that his eyes should be put out. Park’s health at length gave way under the accumulated horrors of his situation, and he was seized with a fever and delirium, which brought him to the brink of the grave. Yet even in this extremity, his persecutors never desisted from their cruelties, and tormented him like some obnoxious animal, for their amusement. Perhaps the strongest proof that can be given of the extent of his sufferings at this time, and of the deep and lasting impression they made on his mind, is the fact, that years afterwards, subsequent to his return to Scotland, and while residing with his family on the peaceful banks of the Tweed, he frequently started up in horror from his sleep, imagining himself still in the camp of Ali at Benowm. But perhaps nothing gave our traveller so much permanent grief as the fate of his faithful slave boy Demba, whom Ali impressed into his service, as a soldier, and who had conceived a great affection for Mr Park, who describes their parting as very affecting. After a month’s residence at Benowm, Ali removed to Jarra, back to which place, of course, Mr Park was obliged to accompany him. Here all was alarm and terror, from the approach and apprehended attack of the king of Kaarta; and amid the bustle and confusion of the inhabitants flying from their homes, the preparations for war, &c., Mr Park at last, after great difficulty, and amid many perils, found an opportunity of escaping, and struck into the woods back towards Bambarra. Being under the necessity of avoiding all intercourse with the natives, in order to avoid being recaptured by the emissaries of Ali, who were in pursuit of him, he was at one time nearly famished in the wilderness, and we will take his own account of his sensations at this awful crisis. Thirst, intense and burning thirst, was the first and direst of his sufferings; his mouth and throat became parched and inflamed, and a sudden dimness frequently came over his eyes, accompanied with symptoms of fainting. The leaves of the few shrubs that grew around were all too bitter for chewing. After climbing up a tree in the hopes of discovering some signs of a human habitation, but without success, he again descended in despair. "As I was now," says he, "too faint to attempt walking, and my horse too fatigued to carry me, I thought it but an act of humanity, and perhaps the last I should ever have it in my power to perform, to take off his bridle, and let him shift for himself; in doing which, I was affected with sickness and giddiness, and, falling upon the sand, felt as if the hour of death was fast approaching. Here, then, thought I, after a short but ineffectual struggle, terminate all my hopes of being useful in my day and generation; here must the short span of my life come to an end. I cast, as I believed, a last look on the surrounding scene; and whilst I reflected on the awful change that was about to take place, this world and its enjoyments seemed to vanish from my recollection. Nature, however, at length resumed her functions; and, on recovering my senses, I found myself stretched upon the sand, with the bridle still in my hand, and the sun just sinking behind the trees. I now summoned all my resolution, and determined to make another effort to prolong my existence: and as the evening was somewhat cool, I resolved to travel as far as my limbs would carry me, in hopes of reaching (my only resource) a watering place. With this view, I put the bridle upon myhorse, and driving him before me, went slowly along for about an hour, when I perceived some lightning from the northeast; a most delightful sight, for it promised rain. The darkness and lightning increased very rapidly, and, in less than an hour, I heard the wind roaring behind the bushes. I had already opened my mouth to receive the refreshing drops which I expected, but I was instantly covered with a cloud of sand, driven with such force by the wind, as to give a very disagreeable sensation to my face and arms; and I was obliged to mount my horse, and stop under a bush, to avoid being suffocated. The sand continued to fly for nearly an hour in amazing quantities, after which I again set forwards, and travelled with difficulty until ten o’clock. At this time, I was agreeably surprised by some very vivid flashes of lightning, followed by a few heavy drops of rain. I alighted, and spread out all my clean clothes to collect the rain, which at length I saw would certainly fall. For more than an hour it rained plentifully, and I quenched my thirst by wringing and sucking my clothes." Park at length entered the kingdom of Bambarra, where he found the people hospitable, and was astonished at the opulence and extent of cultivation he everywhere found. The country, he says, was beautiful, intersected on all sides by rivulets, which, after a rain-storm, were swelled into rapid streams. He was, however, such an object of amusement and ridicule to the inhabitants, from his own tattered condition, together with the appearance of his horse, which was a perfect skeleton, and which he drove before him, that the very slaves, he says, were ashamed to be seen in his company. Notwithstanding all this, however, he held on his way, and at last, on the 21st of July (1796), had the inexpressible gratification of coming in sight of Sego, the capital of Bambarra, situated on the Niger, which the natives denominated Joliba, or the "Great Water." "As we approached the town," says Park, "I was fortunate enough to overtake the fugitive Kaartans, and we rode together through some marshy ground, where, as I anxiously looked around for theriver, one of them called out Geo affilli (see the water). Looking forwards, I saw, with infinite pleasure, the great object of my mission—the long sought for majestic Niger, glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, and having drunk of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things, for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success." Sego consisted of four distinct towns, two on the northern, and two on the southern bank of the Niger; "and the view of this extensive capital," says our traveller, "the numerous canoes on the river, the crowded population, and the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa." The king, Mansong, however, refused to see Mr Park, for fear of exciting the envy and jealousy of the Moorish inhabitants, and ordered him to remove to a village in the vicinity. He had no alternative but to comply; and it was here that one of those fine traits of female compassion, and of the kind interposition of Providence in his favour when at the last extremity, which he has frequently borne testimony to with thankfulness and gratitude, occurred; and this truly affecting incident we cannot avoid giving in his own simple language. On arriving at the village, he was inhospitably driven from every door, with marks of fear and astonishment. He passed the day without victuals, and was preparing to spend the night under a tree, exposed to the rain and the fury of the wild beasts, which there greatly abounded, "when a woman, returning from the labours of the field, stopped to observe me, and perceiving me weary and dejected, inquired into my situation, which I briefly explained to her; whereupon, with looks of great compassion, she took up my saddle and bridle, and told me to follow her. Having conducted me into her hut, she lighted up a lamp, spread a mat upon the floor, and told me I might remain there for the night. Finding that I was very hungry, she said she would procure me something to eat; she accordingly went out, and returned in a short time with a very fine fish, which having caused to be broiled upon some embers, she gave me for supper. The rites of hospitality being thus performed towards a stranger in distress, my worthy benefactress (pointing to the mat, and telling me I might sleep there without apprehension), called to the female part of her family, who had stood gazing on me all the while in fixed astonishment, to resume their task ofspinning cotton, in which they continued to employ themselves great part of the night. They lightened their labour with songs, one of which was composed extempore, for I was myself the subject of it; it was sung by one of the young women; the rest joining in a chorus. The air was sweet and plaintive, and the words, literally translated, were these: ‘The winds roared, and the rains fell. The poor white man, faint and weary, came and sat under our tree—he has no mother to bring him milk, no wife to grind his corn.’ Chorus—‘Let us pity the white man; no mother has he!’ &c., &c. Trifling as this recital may appear to the reader, to a person in my situation the circumstance was affecting in the highest degree. I was so oppressed by such unexpected kindness, that sleep fled before my eyes. In the morning I presented my compassionate landlady with two of the four brass buttons that remained on my waistcoat, the only recompense I could make her." Mansong, the king, having ordered Park to leave the neighbourhood, (sending him, however, a guide, and a present of 5000 cowries, as some recompense for his involuntary inhospitality,) our traveller proceeded down the Niger, along the northern bank. On one occasion, while passing through the woods, he narrowly escaped being devoured by a large red lion, which he suddenly came upon, crouching in a bush, but which did not attack him. He proceeded first to Sansanding, thence to Moodiboo, Moorzan, and finally to Silla. Here, worn out by fatigue and suffering of mind and body, destitute of all means, either of subsistence or of prosecuting his journey—for even his horse had dropped down by the way—his resolution and energy, of which no man ever possessed a greater share, began to fail him. The rainy season had set in, and he could only travel in a canoe, which he had no money to hire; and he was advancing farther and farther into the territories of the fanatical Moors, who looked upon him with loathing and detestation, and whose compassion he had no gifts to propitiate. It was with great anguish of mind that he was at last brought to the conviction of the necessity of returning; but no one who has read his own simple and manly statement of his actual situation, and of the prospect before him, together with his poignant sensations at his disappointment, can for a moment blame him for turning back. Preparatory to doing so, he collected all the information in his power respecting the future course of the Niger, and the various kingdoms through which it flowed; but subsequent discoveries have since proved how little credit could be attached to the accounts of the natives, either from their positive ignorance or their suspicious jealousy of strangers. Later and more fortunate travellers, have solved the great problem, the honour of explaining which was denied to Park; and we now know that this great river, after flowing to a considerable distance eastward of Timbuctoo, makes a bend or elbow, like the Burampooter, and, after pursuing a south-westerly course, falls into the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Benin. The narrative of Mr Park’s return from the interior of Africa would be little else than a repetition of the various sufferings, adventures, and dangers he experienced on his way there, but only in a more aggravated form, in consequence both of his utterly destitute condition, and from the inundation of the level country, which compelled him to seek his way over chasms and precipices, without a guide, or any other means of shaping his course. He frequently waded for miles breast-deep in water. Once he was beset by banditti, who stripped him of everything but two shirts, his hat, and a pair of trousers; and on arriving at Sibidooloo, he was attacked by fever, which stretched him on his back for many weeks. Here, however, he was fortunate enough to meet with a slave merchant, named Karfa Taura, who treated him with great kindness and humanity—took him into his own house—nursed him until be was well--kept him as his guest for seven months, without asking the smallest recompense—and finally conducted him in safety to Pisania, with a cargo of his living merchandise. Our traveller immediately took his passage in an American vessel, bound for the West Indies, whence he had no difficulty in getting to Britain, and landed at Falmouth on the 22d of December, 1797, after an absence of two years and seven months.

Mr Park was received with distinguished honour by the African Association, and almost all the other scientific bodies and eminent literary characters of the metropolis, and was for some time, what is familiarly termed, the lion of the town. Having made arrangements in London for the publication of his travels, he proceeded to Scotland in June 1798, and spent the succeeding summer and autumn at his native place, Fowlshiels, among his relations and friends, his mother being the only parent then alive. His time, however, was far from being passed in idleness, or merely in social meetings with old friends and acquaintance, much as his company, as may readily be imagined, was sought after. He applied himself indefatigably to the compilation and composition of his travels, which he finished and carried back with him to London in the end of the year. In the following spring they were published, and it is needless to say how universally, or with what avidity, not to mention incredulity, by many, they were read. For the latter contingency, Mr Park himself was prepared, and with a judicious caution, which few of his rivals in discovery, either before or since, have had the prudence or self-denial, as it may aptly be termed, to adopt, omitted the relation of many real incidents and adventures, which he feared might shake the probability of his narrative in the public estimation. This fact has been proved beyond doubt, by the testimony of many of his intimate friends and relatives, to whom, although by no means of a communicative disposition, he freely mentioned many singular anecdotes and particulars, which he scrupled to submit to the jealous eye of the critical public. Amongst those friends to whom Mr Park frequently communicated in a colloquial way many most interesting and remarkable circumstances which did not appear in his printed travels, was Sir Walter Scott, between whom and Mr Park a strong intimacy was contracted subsequent to the return of the latter from Africa, and who tells us, that having once noticed to his friend the omissions in question (which appeared to one of his romantic temperament and ardent imagination to be unaccountable), and asked an explanation, Mr Park replied, "that in all cases where he had information to communicate, which he thought of importance to the public, he had stated the facts boldly, leaving it to his readers to give such credit to his statements as they might appear justly to deserve; but that he would not shock their credulity, or render his travels more marvellous, by introducing circumstances, which, however true, were of little or no moment, as they related solely to his own personal adventures and escapes." If this scrupulousness on the part of the traveller is to be regretted in one sense, as consigning to oblivion many curious and interesting facts, it certainly raises him as a man and an author incalculably in our estimation, and bespeaks the most implicit belief and confidence in what he has promulgated to the world.

After the publication of his travels, he returned to Scotland, and in August the same year married Miss Anderson, the eldest daughter of his old master at Selkirk. For some time after his marriage, and before he set out on his second expedition, Mr Park appears to have been quite undecided as to his prospects in life; and perhaps the comparative independence of his circumstances, from the profits of his publication, and the remuneration he obtained from the African Association, rendered him somewhat indifferent to any immediate permanent situation. But it was likewise strongly suspected by his intimate friends, that he entertained hopes of being soon called upon to undertake another mission to the Niger, although he kept perfectly silent on the subject.

As time continued to elapse, without any such proposition from the expected quarter being made, Mr Park perceived the imprudence of remaining in idleness, and in 1801, removed to Peebles, where he commenced practice as a surgeon. But it would appear he was not very successful in this speculation; and this fact, together with the natural restlessness of his disposition, seems to have rendered his situation peculiarly irksome to him. In answer to a friend, who suspected his design of again proceeding abroad, and earnestly remonstrated with him against it, he writes, "that a few inglorious winters of practice at Peebles was a risk as great, and would tend as effectually to shorten life, as the journey he was about to undertake." In the mean time, his ennui, or impatience, was much relieved by the enjoyment of the best society in the neighbourhood, and by being honoured with the friendship of many of the most distinguished characters in Scotland at that time. Amongst these were the venerable Dr Adam Ferguson, then resident at Hallyards, near Peebles; colonel Murray of Cringletie; and professor Dugald Stewart. As before mentioned, too, a strong intimacy sprung up between our traveller and Sir Walter Scott, then but little known in the literary world, and who resided with his family at Ashiestiel, on the banks of the Tweed. This friendship commenced in 1804, after Mr Park had removed from Peebles to Fowlshiels, and was preparing for his second expedition to Africa, of which he had then got intimation. It is pleasing to know the cordiality and affectionate familiarity which subsisted between these celebrated men, and also that it arose from a marked congeniality in their tastes and habits. [It chanced that they were born within a month of each other.] Park was an enthusiastic lover of poetry, especially the minstrelsy with which his native district was rife; and although he made no pretensions to the laurel crown himself, he occasionally gave expression to his feelings and thoughts in verse, even from his earliest years. It was little wonder, then, that he should own a particular predilection for the society of one whose heart and memory were so richly stored with the ancient ballad lore of his country, although his reserve towards strangers in general, which was carried even to a repulsive degree, was notorious. In particular, Sir Walter Scott has noticed the strong aversion of his friend to being questioned in a promiscuous company on the subject of his adventures, of which grievance, as may be imagined, he had frequent cause to complain.

The new mission to Africa, which was now sanctioned and promoted by government, had been projected so far back as 1801; but owing to changes in the ministry, and other causes of delay, the preparations for it were not completed till 1805. Mr Park parted from his family, and proceeded to London with his brother-in-law, Mr James Anderson, who, as well as Mr Scott, an artist, had resolved to accompany him in his expedition. On this occasion, Mr Park received the brevet commission of captain in Africa, and a similar commission of lieutenant to his relative Mr Anderson. Mr Scott also was employed by government to accompany the expedition as draughtsman. Mr Park was, at the same time, empowered to enlist soldiers from the garrison of the island of Goree, to the number of forty-five, to accompany him in his journey; and the sum of 5000 was placed at his disposal, together with directions as to his route, &c. The expedition sailed from Portsmouth on the 30th January, 1806, and arrived at Pisania on the 28th of April, where preparations were immediately made for the inland journey. The party consisted of forty men, two lieutenants, a draughtsman (Mr Scott), and Park himself; they had horses for themselves, and asses for carrying the provisions and merchandise. Mr Park wrote to several friends at home, previously to setting out, in the highest spirits, and seemingly perfectly confident of success. In his letter to Mr Dickson, he says, "this day six weeks, I expect to drink all your healths in the Niger;" and again, "I have little doubt but that I shall be able, with presents and fair words, to pass through the country to the Niger; and if once we are fairly afloat, the day is won." Alas! how sadly these sanguine expressions contrast with the melancholy issue of the expedition. Park’s chance of reaching the Niger in safety depended mainly upon his doing so previously to the commencement of the rainy season, which is always most fatal to Europeans; but scarcely had they got half way when the rain set in, and the effect on the health of the men was as speedy as disastrous. They were seized with vomiting, sickness, dysentery, and delirium; some died on the road, others were drowned in the rivers, and several were left in the precarious charge of the natives in the villages. Some, still more unfortunate, were lost in the woods, where they would inevitably be devoured by wild beasts; while the native banditti, who imagined the caravan to contain immense wealth, hung upon their march, and plundered them at every opportunity. In crossing the Wondu, they nearly lost their guide Isaaco, by a large crocodile, which pulled him below the water several times, but from which he at last got free, much lacerated. At another time they were encountered by three large lions, but which took to flight at the sound of Mr Park’s musket. At last the miserable remnant of the party--only nine out of forty-four, and these nine all sick, and some in a state of mental derangement--reached Bambakoo, on the Niger. Here Mr Scott was left behind on account of sickness, of which he shortly died; while the rest proceeded to Sego, the capital of Bambarra, which they reached on the 19th of September. Mansong was still king, and was so highly gratified with the presents brought to him, that he gave them permission to build a boat, and promised to protect them as far as lay in his power. Mr Park forthwith opened a shop for the sale of his European goods, which immediately obtained such demand, that his shop was crowded with customers from morning till night, and one day he turned over no less than 25,756 cowries. Here, however, he lost his brother-in-law Mr Anderson, a circumstance which afflicted him greatly, and made him feel, as he himself expressed it, "as if left a second time lonely and friendless amidst the wilds of Africa." But not all the sufferings he had undergone, the loss of his companions, or the dismal condition of the remainder, and the perilousness of his situation—nothing could damp the native ardour of his mind. Having got a sort of schooner constructed and rigged out, he prepared for setting out on his formidable journey, previously to which, however, he took care to bring his journal up to the latest hour, and wrote several letters to his friends and relatives in Britain. These were intrusted to his faithful guide Isaaco, to carry back to the Gambia, whence they were transmitted to England. His letter to Mrs Park, excepting that part of it which mentions the death of her brother and Mr Scott, was written in a cheering and hopeful strain; speaks with confidence of his reaching the ocean in safety, and of the probability of his being in England before the letter itself! His companions were now reduced to four, viz., lieutenant Martyn and three soldiers, one of whom was deranged in his mind; and with this miserable remnant, and a guide named Amadi Fatouma, he set sail, as near as could be ascertained, on the 19th of November, 1806. The progress of the unfortunate travellers after this period, and their ultimate fate, so long a mystery, are now familiarly known, although there are many circumstances attending the unhappy closing scene which are yet shrouded in doubt and uncertainty.

Vague rumours of the death of Park and his companions were brought by some of the natives to the British settlements on the coast, even so early as the end of 1806; but no information could be got for several years of a nature to be at all relied on, during which time the suspense of his friends and of the public at large, but more particularly of his afflicted family, was of the most painful nature. At length, in 1810, colonel Maxwell, governor of Senegal, despatched Isaaco, Park’s former guide, into the interior, in order to ascertain the truth or falsehood of the reports which prevailed. After an absence of a year and eight months, this individual returned, and the many facts of the narrative, which he gave as the result of his labours, are not only but too probable in themselves, but seem to have been thoroughly confirmed by the investigations of subsequent travellers. Isaaco stated, that he had fallen in with Mr Park’s guide, Amadi Fatouma, at Medina, near Sansanding, who, on seeing Isaaco, and hearing the name of Park, began to weep, saying, "they are all dead;" and was with great difficulty induced to detail the melancholy circumstances of the catastrophe. The account which he gave is too long to be introduced entire here, but the substance of it was as follows:—After leaving Sansanding, Mr Park navigated his way down the Niger, as far as Boossa, in the kingdom of Yaour, which was more than two-thirds of the distance between the ocean, or Gulf of Guinea, and where the river is termed by the natives Quorra. They had frequent skirmishes with the natives, particularly in passing Timbuctoo, where several of the natives were killed. On reaching Yaour, Mr Park sent Amadi Fatouma ashore with various presents, some of which were to the chief or governor of the place, but the most valuable portion for the king, to whom the chief was requested to send them. A short while after, the latter sent to inquire if Mr Park intended to come back; and on being answered that he could return no more, the treacherous chief appropriated the presents intended for the king to his own use. This piece of knavery proved fatal to the unfortunate travellers. The king, indignant at the supposed slight cast on him, assembled a large army at the above mentioned village of Boussa, where a large high rock stretches across the whole breadth of the river, the only passage for the river being through an opening in the rock in the form of a door. The army posted themselves on the top of the rock, and on Mr Park’s attempting to pass, assailed him with lances, pikes, arrows, stones, and missiles of every description. The beleaguered travellers defended themselves for a long time, till all were either killed or severely wounded; when, seeing the uselessness of further resistance, Mr Park, lieutenant Martyn, and one or two more, jumped out of the boat, and were drowned in attempting to get ashore. Only one slave was left alive. Such was the narrative of Amadi Fatouma, who had left Mr Park at Yaour, where his engagement with him terminated, and where he was for many months afterwards confined in irons on suspicion of having purloined the presents intended for the king, which had been made away with by the treacherous chief. Amadi had obtained the accounts of the fatal scene from those who had taken a part in it. The natives afterwards endeavoured to account for the disappearance of Park, to the inquiries of subsequent travellers, by saying that his vessel had foundered against the rock, and that he and his companions were drowned by accident. But there is now not the shadow of a doubt that the above narrative of Amadi is substantially true.

So perished Mungo Park, in the thirty-fifth year of his age—a man whose natural enthusiasm, scientific acquirements, undaunted intrepidity, patience of suffering, and inflexible perseverance, in short, every quality requisite for a traveller in the path he adopted, have never been surpassed, and who, had he survived, would no doubt have reaped those laurels which more fortunate successors in the same career have won. To these qualities in his public character, it is pleasing to be able to add those of amiable simplicity of manners, constancy of affection, and sterling integrity in private life.

Mr Park’s papers were, with the exception of a few scraps, [These were, an old nautical publication (of which the title-page was missing, and its contents chiefly tables of logarithms), with a few loose memoranda of no importance between the leaves. One of these papers, however, was curious enough, from the situation and circumstances in which it was found. It was a card of invitation to dinner, and was in the following terms:--"Mr and Mrs Watson would be happy to have the pleasure of Mr Park’s company at dinner on Tuesday next, at half-past five o’clock. An answer is requested. Strand, 9th Nov., 1804." These were the only written documents belonging to Park which the Messrs Landers, after the most anxious inquiries and investigations, were able to discover. They succeeded, however, in recovering his double-barrelled gun, and the tobe, or short cloak, which he wore when he was drowned.] unfortunately all lost with him, and this is much to be regretted, as, notwithstanding the important discoveries of the Landers, who subsequently traced the course of the Quorra or Niger from Boussa, where Park fell, down to the Gulf of Guinea, they were unable to explore a great part of that immense portion of it which flows between Boussa and Timbuctoo, and which Park must of necessity have navigated. Their united labours have, however, solved the grand problem which has engaged the attention of all civilized nations from the earliest ages to which history leads us back; and there seems little cause for doubt, that, in a short time, the still broken links in the great chain of communication with the center of Africa will be united.

You can read his Journal here


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