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The Scottish Nation

CLAPPERTON, HUGH, a distinguished African traveller, was born in Anna, Dumfries-shire, in 1788. His grandfather, Robert Clapperton, M.D., a native of the north of Scotland, studied medicine at Edinburgh and Paris, and, marrying Elizabeth Campbell, a distant relative of the Campbells of Glenlyon, settled in Dumfries-shire, first at a place called Crowden-Nows, and afterwards at Lochmaben. He acquired some reputation in the locality as a physician and an amateur both in mineralogy and antiquities. He made a collection of objects in natural history in the district mines, and of antiquities at the site of the camps of Agricola; and some old border ballads and genealogies communicated by him were inserted in the ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.’ With one daughter, he had six sons, all of whom were medical men, except the youngest who, in the beginning of 1793, became second lieutenant of marines. George, the eldest son, the father of the traveller, was a surgeon in Annan. He was twice married, and is said to have had in all twenty-one children. By his first wife, a daughter of John Johnstone, proprietor of the lands of Thorniwhate and Lochmaben castle, he had ten or eleven sons and one daughter. Of this marriage Hugh was the youngest child. The limited circumstances of his father prevented him from obtaining a classical education, but he was early placed under the tuition of Mr. Bryce Downie, a mathematical teacher of some eminence at Annan, under whom Edward Irving also studied; and after acquiring an elementary knowledge of practical mathematics, he was, at the age of thirteen, at his own wish, apprenticed to the owner of a vessel, named the Postlethwaite of Maryport, trading between Liverpool and North America, in which he made several voyages across the Atlantic. After one of these, as it proved to him the last, when the ship was at Liverpool, being caught by a custom-house officer bringing ashore a few pounds of rock-salt in his handkerchief, for the use of his landlady, he was threatened with imprisonment for smuggling; but having consented to go on board the Tender, then in that port, he was carried round to Plymouth, and draughted on board of his majesty’s ship Gibraltar, of eighty guns. In 1806, he arrived at Gibraltar in a naval transport, from which he was impressed, with others, on board the frigate Renommée, captain Sir Thomas Livingstone. Fortunately for him, during the time he was there the Saturn, captain Lord Amelius Beauclerc, belonging to off Collingwood’s fleet off Cadiz, arrived at Gibraltar for the purpose of watering and refitting; and learning that his uncle was captain of marines on board of her, young Clapperton sent him a letter describing his situation in the Renommée. The uncle immediately waited upon Sir Thomas Livingstone, who was an old messmate of his, when they were both lieutenants at the Cape of Good Hope many years before, and through his intercession, Sir Thomas at once placed his nephew of the quarter-deck, as a midshipman. The Renommée soon after left Gibraltar for the Mediterranean, and when on the coast of Spain, had occasion to send boats to attack some of the enemy’s vessels on shore. Clapperton being in one of the boats, was slightly wounded in the head, and for a time suffered much annoyance from the wound. On the Renommée being paid off in 1808, he joined the Venerable, Captain King, in the Downs, as a midshipman, but learning from his friends at home, who were interesting themselves in his advancement, that by getting into the Clorinde frigate, Commander Briggs, this object was likely to be facilitated, he applied to be transferred to that vessel. His request was granted; but as the Clorinde had previously sailed for the East Indies, he was ordered by the admiral to have a passage in a ship proceeding to the same destination. In the course of the voyage he was nearly drowned in attempting to aid a vessel in distress, which passed near their ship.

      Clapperton remained on board the Clorinde frigate, and in the East Indies, from March 1810 to the end of 1813. He then returned to England, and was, with some other clever midshipmen, sent to Portsmouth dockyard, for the purpose of being instructed, by the celebrated swordsman Angelo, in the improved cutlass exercise recently introduced, and in which he afterwards excelled. When these midshipmen were distributed to the different ships of the fleet as drill-masters, Clapperton was appointed to Sir Alexander Cochrane’s flagship, the Asia, to instruct the officers and crew in the use of the cutlass. The Aisa sailed from Spithead in the end of January 1814, and during the passage to Bermuda, his services as drill-master were performed on the quarter-deck. On her arrival, he was sent to Halifax, and thence to the Canadian Lakes, just then about to become the scene of warlike operations. With the utmost diligence in the discharge of his duty, he is described as having been at the mess-table the soul and life of the party. He could sing a good song, tell a merry tale, paint scenes for the ship’s theatricals, sketch views and draw caricatures, while his conversation was at all times extremely amusing. He thus became a general favourite on board. He arrived at Upper Canada in 1815, and during the winter he was placed in command of a blockhouse on Lake Huron, with a party of seamen, and one small gun, for the purpose of defending it. Being attacked by an American schooner, the blockhouse was destroyed, and he found that himself and party must either become prisoners of war, or cross Lake Michigan upon the ice, a journey of nearly sixty miles, to York, the nearest British depot. The latter alternative was adopted, and the party, after great suffering and remarkable devotion and humanity on the part of Clapperton, by attempting to carry a poor boy who was unable to proceed, and died of exhaustion while on his back – reached York emaciated, almost famished, and nearly out of clothing. Owing to the long inaction of his left hand in holding up the boy, Clapperton lost, from the severity of the frost, the first joint of his thumb.

      Soon after, on Sir Edward Owen being appointed to the command upon the Canadian lakes, he gave to Clapperton an acting order as lieutenant, and appointed him to the command of the Confiance schooner. While she rode at anchor near the shores of Lake Erie or Lake Huron, he occasionally repaired to the woods, and with his gun kept himself well supplied with fresh provisions. In these excursions he cultivated an acquaintance with the aborigines, whose mode of life he very much admired. His acting order as lieutenant he had sent to England for confirmation by the Board of Admiralty, but a very large promotion having just previously taken place, the board declined confirming the commission. On this disappointment, he formed the idea of abandoning the navy altogether, and become a denizen of the North American forests; but this romantic notion he soon abandoned. At this time he occasionally dined on shore, and being an expert swimmer he not unfrequently plunged into the water with his clothes on and swan to the schooner. This he did, partly to show his dexterity, but chiefly for the purpose of keeping his men on the alert. The practice, however, had very nearly proved fatal to him, as he was one night so much exhausted that he could scarcely make those on board hear his cries, till he was on the point of sinking, when he was luckily observed and taken on board, but he never again tried the experiment.

      About the end of 1816, when Sir Edward Owen returned to England, he got Clapperton’s commission of lieutenant confirmed by the Board of Admiralty; and in 1817, on our vessels on the Canadian lakes being paid off and laid up. Lieutenant Clapperton came home, and, with many more, was put on half-pay. In 1818, he retired to Lochmaben, where he lived with an aged sister of his mother, and amused himself principally with rural sports. In 1820, he removed to Edinburgh, where he became acquainted with Dr. Oudney, a young Englishman who was then about to embark on a mission to the interior of Africa, and requested permission to accompany him. Dr. Oudney was told by a friend, a medical man, who knew Clapperton well, that in all varieties and under every circumstance, that in all varieties and under every circumstance, however trying, he would find him a steady and faithful friend, and that his powerful and athletic form and excellent constitution had never been surpassed; great recommendations for a companion on such a hazardous enterprize. Lieutenant, afterwards Colonel Denham, having volunteered his services, and it being intended that researches should be made to the east and west of Bornou where Dr. Oudney was to reside as British counsul, Clapperton’s name was added to the expedition by Earl Bathurst, then secretary of state for the colonial department. After their arrival at Tripoli, the travellers set out, early in 1822, in a line nearly south to Mourzook, which place they reached on the 8th of April. Clapperton, with his friend Oudney, then made an excursion to the westward of Mourzook, into the country of the Tuaricks, and penetrated as far as Ghraat, in the eleventh degree of east longitude. On the 29th November the travellers left Mourzook, and arrived at Lake Tchad, in the kingdom of Bornou, February 4, 1823, after a journey of eight hundred miles. On the 17th they reached Kouka, where, being well received by the Sultan, they remained till the 14th of December, when they set out for the purpose of exploring the course of the Niger. They arrived in safety at Murmer, where Dr. Oudney died, January 12, 1824.

      Clapperton pursued his journey alone to Kano, and from thence to Saccatoo, the capital of the Felatah empire. On the road he was met by an escort of one hundred and fifty horsemen, with drums and trumpets, which Bello, the sultan, had sent to conduct him to his capital. Not being permitted to proceed to the Niger, which was only five days’ journey to the westward, he returned to Kouka, July 8th, 1824. He was here rejoined by Colonel Denham, who did not at first know him, so altered was he by fatigue and illness. The travellers now returned to England, where they arrived June 1, 1825; and on the 22d of the same month Clapperton was made a commander in the navy.

      The result of this expedition was a work published at London in 1826, in one volume quarto, entitled ‘Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, in the years 1822, 1823, and 1824, by Major Denham, Captain Clapperton and the late Dr. Oudney.’ Although the disputed questions of the course and termination of the Niger were left undecided, the geographical information collected was of great value, inasmuch as it determined the position and extent of the kingdoms of Mandara, Bornou, and Houssa, with the situation of their principal cities. Before he could finish this work for the press, he was engaged again by Lord Bathurst, colonial secretary, to take the management of another expedition, by the way of the western coast of Africa, near the Bight of Benin, to carry presents from his sovereign to the Sultan Bello, and to El Kanemy, the sheikh of Bornou. He sailed from Portsmouth in his majesty’s sloop Brazen, Captain Willis, and was accompanied by Dr. Dickson, Captain Pearce, royal navy, and Dr. Morrison, a naval surgeon, and also by Richard Lander, a young Englishman, who attended him in the capacity of confidential servant. They called at Sierra Leone; from that sailed to Benin, where they landed, and thence proceeded up the country, and on 29th November Clapperton arrived at Badagry. Dr. Dickson had left him near Whidah, and Captain Pearce and Dr. Morrison died a short time after leaving the coast. Quitting Badagry, December 7, 1825, accompanied by his faithful servant Richard Lander, he pursued a north-easterly direction, with the intention of reaching Saccatoo.

      In January 1826, he reached Katunga, the capital of Youriba, and soon after crossed the Niger at Boussa, the place where Park met his fate. Continuing his journey north, he reached Kano, and leaving Lander there with the baggage, he proceeded westward to Saccatoo, the residence of Sultan Bello, who, though he accepted his presents, refused to allow him either to return to Kano, or to revisit Bornou, on account of the war in which he was then engaged with the sheikh of the latter place. He was, in consequence, detained five months at Saccatoo; and in the meantime the Sultan had inveigled Lander to the capital, and obtained possession of the presents intended for the sheikh; and then refused both master and servant permission to leave by way of Bornou. While thus detained, Captain Clapperton was attacked with dysentery, and died April 13, 1827, at Chungary, a village about four miles from Saccatoo. He was the first European who traversed the region of Central Africa, extending from the Bight of Benin to the Mediterranean. He was about five feet eleven inches in height, possessed a frank and generous disposition, and had acquired a thorough knowledge of the habits and prejudices of the inhabitants of Central Africa. On Lander’s return to England, a quarto volume appeared, entitled ‘Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa, from the Bight of Benin to Saccatoo. By the late Commander Clapperton, R.N. To which is added the Journal of Richard Lander, with a portrait of Captain Clapperton.’ From this portrait, which was painted by Gildon Manton, and engraved by Thomas Lupton, the following woodcut is taken:

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