Alexandre de Serpa Pinto
|Alexandre de Serpa Pinto|
20 April 1846|
Cinfães, Kingdom of Portugal
|Died||28 December 1900(aged 54)|
|Occupation||Soldier, explorer, colonial administrator|
Early life 
Serpa Pinto was born at the Castelo de Poldras (Tendais) in Cinfães, a Portuguese village on the river Douro. He joined Colégio Militar at age 10. There he became the first student Battalion Commander in 1864, when he joined the Portuguese army and was sent to Portuguese Mozambique. In 1869 he took part in suppressing tribes in revolt around the lower Zambezi.
Also in 1869, Pinto went to eastern Africa on an exploration of the Zambezi River. Eight years later he led an expedition from Benguela, Portuguese Angola, into the basins of the Congo and Zambezi rivers. The town of Menongue was named Serpa Pinto, after him, up to 1975.
In 1877, he and Lieutenant Commander Capelo and Lieutenant Ivens, both of the Portuguese navy, were sent to explore the southern African interior. All three had African experience and seemed to be the right age and temperament for the work. They left Benguela in November. Soon after their departure, however, they parted company at Bié, Capello and Ivens turning northward whilst Serpa Pinto continued eastward, gradually shifting his course to the south. He crossed the Cuando (Kwando) river in June 1878 and in August reached Lealui, the Barotse capital on the Zambezi. There he received assistance from the missionary François Coillard, enabling him to continue his journey along the Zambezi to the Victoria Falls. He then turned south and arrived at Pretoria in northern South Africa on February 12, 1879. Capelo and Ivens emerged at Dondo, on the Cuanza River in northern Angola. Serpa Pinto was the fourth explorer to cross Africa from west to east, and the first to lay down a reasonably accurate route between Bié (in present-day Angola) and Lealui. In 1881 the Royal Geographical Society awarded him their Founder's Medal, "for his journey across Africa ... during which he explored five hundred miles of new country". The account of his travels appeared in English in two volumes entitled How I crossed Africa (London, 1881).
Nyasa Region 
In 1879 the Portuguese government formally claimed the area south and east of the Ruo River (which currently forms the southeastern border of Malawi), and in 1882 occupied the lower Shire River valley as far as the Ruo. The Portuguese then attempted to negotiate British acceptance if their territorial claims, but the convening of the Berlin Conference (1884) ended these discussions. In 1884, Serpa Pinto was appointed as Portuguese consul in Zanzibar, and given the mission of exploring and re-mapping the region between Lake Nyasa and the coast from the Zambezi to the Rovuma River and securing the allegiance if the chiefs in that area. In 1885, Serpa Pinto undertook an expedition in 1885 with Lieutenant Augusto Cardoso as his second-in-command. Serpa Pinto fell seriously ill and was carried to the coast, where he eventually recovered. Cardoso twenty-five-year-old lieutenant continued the exploration, visiting Lake Nyasa and the Shire Highlands but failed make any treaties of protection with the Yao chiefs in territories west of the lake Malawi.
Britain declined to accept the Portuguese claim that the Shire Highlands should be considered part of Portuguese East Africa, as it was not under their effective occupation. In order to prevent Portuguese occupation, the British government sent Henry Hamilton Johnston as British consul to Mozambique and the Interior, with instructions to report on the extent of Portuguese rule in the Zambezi and Shire valleys and the vicinity, and to make conditional treaties with local rulers beyond Portuguese jurisdiction, to prevent them accepting protection from Portugal. In 1888, the Portuguese government instructed its representatives in Portuguese East Africa to attempt to make treaties of protection with the Yao chiefs southeast of Lake Malawi and in the Shire Highlands and an expedition organised under Antonio Cardosa, a former governor of Quelimane set off in November 1888 for the lake. Rather later, a second expedition led by Serpa Pinto, who had been appointed governor of Mozambique, moved up the Shire valley. Between them, these two expedition made over 20 treaties with chiefs in what is now Malawi. Serpa Pinto met Johnston in August 1889 east of the Ruo, when Johnston advised him not to cross the river into the Shire Highlands. Although Serpa Pinto had previously acted with caution, he crossed the Ruo to Chiromo, now in Malawi in September 1889. Following minor clashes with Serpa Pinto's force, Johnston's deputy, John Buchanan, declared a British protectorate over the Shire Highlands, despite contrary instructions, although this was later endorsed by the Foreign Office.
Later life 
In 1890 The Daily Picayune falsely reported that Serpa Pinto committed suicide in a dramatic fashion:
A dispatch from London, June 12, says: Major Serpa Pinto, the African explorer, is chagrined because he was not consulted with regard to the Conceiro expedition which met with such a sad fate in southern Africa. He committed suicide to-day in a novel and startling manner. He made a funeral pyre of fourteen barrels of gunpowder, wrapped himself in a Portuguese flag and set fire to the fuse. The desperate man was blown to atoms by the explosion. He left a paper saying that he sought to secure a patriotic death.
The event actually happened, but with the Portuguese explorer and trade-man Silva Porto.
- Chisholm 1911.
- C E Nowell, (1947). Portugal and the Partition of Africa, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 19, No. 1, p. 7.
- C E Nowell, (1947). Portugal and the Partition of Africa, p. 8.
- J McCracken, (2012). A History of Malawi, 1859-1966, Woodbridge, James Currey, p. 51. ISBN 978-1-84701-050-6.
- C E Nowell, (1947). Portugal and the Partition of Africa, p. 10.
- M Newitt, (1995). A History of Mozambique, London, Hurst & Co, pp 276-7, 325-6. ISBN 1-85065-172-8
- F Axelson, (1967). Portugal and the Scramble for Africa, pp. 182-3, 198-200. Johannesburg, Witwatersrand University Press.
- J G Pike, (1969). Malawi: A Political and Economic History, London, Pall Mall Press pp.83-4.
- J McCracken, (2012). A History of Malawi, 1859-1966, pp. 52-3.
- J G Pike, (1969). Malawi: A Political and Economic History, pp. 85-6.
- J McCracken, (2012). A History of Malawi, 1859-1966, pp. 53, 55
- M Newitt, (1995). A History of Mozambique, p 346.
- The Daily Picayune, 16 June 1890, "Blew Himself to Atoms. The Startling Suicide of Serpa Pinto the Explorer", New Orleans, LA, pg. 2
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Serpa Pinto, Alexandre Alberto de la Rocha". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.