Henry Morton Stanley's first trans-Africa exploration

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Stanley posing later (in London) with Kalulu in the "suit he wore" when he found Livingstone.

In the years 1874–1877 Henry Morton Stanley traveled Africa, exploring Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lualaba/Congo river.[1] He traveled 7,000 miles (11,000 km) from Zanzibar in the east to Boma in the mouth of the Congo in the west. He thereby solved many questions that were still open on the central Africa geography, including those on the source of the Nile. He proved that the Lualaba river continued as the Congo river – not as Nile.

In 1871–1872 Stanley had searched for Livingstone in central Africa, finding him and greeting with the famous (but probably made up afterwards) words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”.[2][3] Livingstone, with whom he had traveled afterwards, had died in 1873, leaving the questions unresolved.

Stanley started with about 225 people from Zanzibar near the east coast. He was the only European of four to reach the west coast. Apart from being accused in the press of being a murderer, his fame rose extremely high. He proposed to open Africa by trade, so as to remove the slave trade on the continent. Afterward he would be working (traveling) in Africa to advance many political interests of European states.

Topics to explore[edit]

His researching aims were multiple.[4] First he had to explore the lakes as possible sources of the Nile. He had to describe each lake and check incoming and outgoing rivers. Especially: check if the inlet or outlet is connected to other lakes or to the Nile. Then he had to answer where the Lualaba river, already known in Central Africa, ended. For example: Burton thought that Lake Victoria could have a southern inlet, possibly from Lake Albert, meaning that the source of the Nile was not Lake Victoria. Baker had stated a possibility that Lake Albert had an inlet from Lake Tanganyika. Livingstone thought that Lualaba ended up in the Nile. The todo-list for Stanley:

  1. Explore Lake Victoria: incoming and outflowing rivers
  2. Explore Lake Albert: incoming and outflowing rivers
  3. Explore Lake Tanganyika, check the direction of the river in the North: incoming or outflowing?
  4. Explore the Lualaba River downstream: towards the Nile or elsewhere?
  5. Write dispatches for the newspapers and a book


In New York[5] the editor of then New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett Jr., would sponsor the trip, albeit less generous then the earlier trip to find Livingstone. The English paper The Daily Telegraph would also join in.

Stanley had engaged Alice Pike, and promised to return after two years, while knowing that his trip would take three years. He named his boat after her: Lady Alice, and would name an island in Lake Victoria: 'Alice Island'.

On September 21, 1874 he left for Zanzibar. From England he took with him Frederick Barker and the brothers Francis Pocock, Edward Pocock and Kalulu, an African he had taken to England on his earlier trip and who was educated briefly in England. He also took 60 pound of cloth, copper wire and beads (Sami Sami) for trading. Instruments: barometer, watches, chronometers (carefully packed), sextant, compasses, photography, Snider rifles and elephant gun(s). In Zanzibar he completed his troupe to the total 224 people, including 16 women and 5 to 10 boys. He recruited mainly from the Wangwara, given their trustworthiness and endurance in earlier travels.

Stage 1: Onto Lake Victoria[edit]

On November 12, 1874 he left Zanzibar for the mainland.[6] Five days later he left from Bagamoyo. After fighting with Warimi, they reached Lake Victoria (Lake Nyasa) on 27 February, having traveled 720 miles (1,160 km) in 103 days. He had lost 62 lives, including Edward Pocock.

Stage 2: Circumnavigate Lake Victoria[edit]

On March 8, 1875,[7] Stanley and ten Wangana left the camping site near Kageghi in Lady Alice, their 24 ft boat with single sail, transported to this site in parts. They explored and named the Speke Bay, after John Speke, the first European to see the Lake. They also discovered the main river Simiyu inlet in the South. Reaching the island Ukerewe he discovered that Mse Saba and Tarib Sungoro were trading slaves from here, capturing people from the Gaya, assisted by the Gaya chief himself. Sailing past the island he was attacked by Wavuma people in canoes, from which he saved the group by shooting, killing a small number of people.

On April 4 he landed on the northern bank, near the Ripon Falls. The Ripon Falls, the only outlet of the lake, were already named as source of the Nile by Speke. He was received as a royal guest by Mutesa, king of the Kabaka in Buganda. The king wanted to build good relations with Stanley and his country, so as to obtain weapons to improve his slave trade. Stanley thought (and wrote) that this would be an ideal country to establish missions, and to trade regular goods. Mutesa promised Stanley twenty canoes, which Stanley received only months later when he was reaching a war with the island Bumbireh.

They left on April 21 southward, rowing against the wind and with little food. First they reached and checked the inlet of the Kagera river, which they would later explore on their way to Lake Albert.

In need of food they had to land on the island Bumbireh. The locals alternated peace talks with thefts and threats, and had stolen their peddles. Ultimately the crew escaped, killing some warriors in the process. Later Stanley would write he killed 10 (and elsewhere 14) in his dispatches to newspapers. This exaggeration would later cost him dearly, because while he was in the continent, others judged him being a killer. As to why he exaggerated the number of deaths, is not clear; his biographer Tim Jeal has tried to clarify.[8]

On May 5, they arrived back in Kageghi and met their camping group. In the meantime Frederic Barker had died of disease, as had Mabuku Speke (who was on earlier travels with Livingstone, Speke, Grant and Burton), Gardner and Ulimengo (both were on earlier travels).

He had explored Lake Victoria in 57 days. His 37 measurements on longitude/latitude and descriptions of its coast led to a major revision of its geography. He could conclude: Makongothe Kagera River is the main inflowing river. The lake was determined to be 4,093 feet (1,248 m) above sea level, at a maximum depth of 275 feet (84 m).

Stage 3: Onto Lake Albert[edit]

After many months on and near Lake Victoria, he set off for Lake Albert.[9] On September 17, 1875 they sailed to Makongo with 155 souls and 23 canoes. Main goal was to check whether this lake would feed Lake Victoria, thus being a main source for the Nile, or even being fed from another inflow from the south.

He had to pass the trouble-island Bumbiri again, since the canoes were not capable of crossing the lake far from the coast. The Bumbiri-people had received reinforcements from the mainland, and were apparently coordinating actions with the mainland. Now the promised canoes from Buganda arrived with 150 men. When negotiations turned out negative, and capturing a chief by Stanley did not work, they stayed from a safe spear-distance and killed about 33 people by firearm. This fight would afterward be used to prove that Stanley shot without reason. This was a second action, preemptive now, that would bring Stanley into problems by the press at home.

On August 12 they went on land at the western bank, and went for Lake Albert.[10] But they were too few to continue, since there were fiendish tribes. So exploring Lake Albert had to be skipped, denying Stanley the opportunity of reaching of the true source of the Nile: Lake Albert, and its southern feeder Lake Edward.

Stage 4: Lake Tanganyika[edit]

May 27, 1876 they arrived in Ujiji on the border of Lake Tanganyika, the Arab slave village where Stanley had famously met Livingstone a few years before.[11] They were to research the Lake, checking the hypothesis of Livingstone that the outlet in the south would feed the Lualaba and then the Nile.

On July 31 the 450 miles (720 km) lake was charted. The main outlet was located in the west, called Lukaga river. The depth was measured 1,300 feet (400 m).

Stage 5: Follow the Lualaba: it is the Congo[edit]

The final quest was to follow the Lualaba river, to see whether it feeds the Nile (as Livingstone thought), or that it feeds the Congo river.[12] Even ending up in the Niger River could not be ruled out.

On August 25, 1876 132 souls left Ujiji. They crossed the lake westward to Manyema, to disembark and enter the very heart of Africa, 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from any ocean. After 43 days and 340 miles (550 km), on October 17, they reached the Lualaba. Overland they reached Nyangwe, where Tippu Tip had his center of slave trade. Tippu Tip was warlord and master of the area, where tribes were ferociously fighting any intruder, for fear of enslavement or for dinner: in this area cannibalism thrived. Livingstone had not succeeded getting through (neither had Vernon Cameron in 1874, as Stanley had heard in Ujiji), so they both had turned south into lesser relevant researches. But Stanley could convince Tippu Tip, and hired from him a force to guard him for the next 100 or so miles (150 km). The deal was to have protection for 90 days, for 4 hours each day.

The big group left Nyangwe overland through dense Matimba forest. On November 19 they reached the Lualaba again. Since the route through the forest was so heavy to go, Tip reduced the deal and turned around with his party on December 28. Now Stanley was on his own, with 143 people, including 8 children and 16 women. They had 23 canoes.

His first encounter with local tribe was with the Wenya, cannibals. In total Stanley would report 32 unfriendly meetings on the river, sometimes including shootings and killings. He preferred trading and negotiating a peaceful thoroughfare, but the tribes were wary of slave traders. The fact that he did not come to steal people, but was just traveling the river, was difficult to explain. Also, trading and dealing for peace and food would take several days, and would cost him trading goods. So speeding along, with the flow, was preferable.

On January 6, 1877, after 400 miles (640 km), they reached Boyoma Falls (called Stanley Falls for some time after), which they had to pass overland. There are seven cataracts some miles long each. Altogether they span 60 miles (97 km). It took them to February 7 to reach the end of the Falls. Here Stanley learned that the river was called Ikuta Yacongo[13] he had reached the Congo river, and thereby proven that the Lualaba did not feed the Nile. He was now crossing the land of the Bemberi people, leaving cannibals behind. Also, starting here the tribes had firearms, apparently the furthest reach of western (Portuguese) influence from the sea. He also discovered that his trade goods, valuable in eastern Africa, were worth nearly nothing here.

Only some 4 weeks later he reached Stanley Pool (now Pool Malebo). Nowadays there are the capitals Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Further downstream begin the Livingstone Falls (though Livingstone has never been on the Congo River): a series of falls and rapids with a difference of 900 feet (270 m) over 220 miles (350 km). They had traveled the wide bend, 1,200 miles (1,900 km), in about four weeks. On March 15 they started the descent of the falls, 32 separate falls altogether. It took them five months, multiple people and canoes to pass them. Among the men lost were Frank Pocock and Kalulu, his England-educated servant. From the Isangile Falls, with five falls to go, they pulled the canoes and Lady Alice ashore for good and left the river, aiming for the city of Boma via land. On August 3 they reached the hamlet Nsada. From there Stanley sent forward four trusted men to Boma with letters in English, French and Spanish, explaining his trip and asking them to send food for his starving people. On August 7 the relief came, being sent by representatives from the Liverpool trading firm Hatton & Cookson. August 9 they reached Boma. It was 1001 days since leaving Zanzibar on November 12, 1874.

Going home[edit]

In Boma he mailed his editor Bennett in New York to send money for his party: wages and an arrangement to sail home to Zanzibar. Ultimately the group went to Luanda (Angola) first, and from there to Zanzibar by HMS Industry, arriving November 26. He also wrote his newspaper messages about his discoveries, encouraging the powers to start trade in Africa, aiming at the effect of reducing slave trade in the interior, true to his experiences and belief, and as inspired by Livingstone.

Stanley brought home 108 people, including three children born during the trip. Most probably (the figures alter in between Stanley's own publications), he lost 132 people through disease, hunger, drowning, killing and desertion. Some 18 deserted, which is an extreme low figure given the fiendish and dangerous land they had passed, making it inviting to return instead of going into the unknown.[14] He also learned through his publisher that his fiance Alice had married Mr Barney, owner of America's biggest rolling stock producer.

Stanley left on Pachumba for London via Paris. When Stanley left Zanzibar, his men heaved him on the shoulders and brought him to the floating longboat. Aboard the Pachumba his leading personnel, some of whom had already served in the find-Livingstone-journey, acclaimed and vowed to wait on Zanzibar until his safe arrival in London was confirmed.


  • Jeal, Tim (2007). Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-22102-8. 
  • Stanley, Henry Morton (1878). Through the Dark Continent. 
  • The Exploration Diaries of H.M. Stanley. Richard Stanley Richard, Alan Neame, eds. 1961. 
  • "Stanley, Sir Henry Morton". Winkler Prins (Dutch) 17. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 1973. 
  1. ^ Jeal 2007, p. 157-219 passim.
  2. ^ Jeal 2007, p. 117-120.
  3. ^ Winkler Prins 1973, vol 17 p. 745: would have said (nl: "zou hebben geuit")
  4. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 164.
  5. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 157-164.
  6. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 164-170.
  7. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 171-183.
  8. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 178.
  9. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 180-184.
  10. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 184.
  11. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 185-187.
  12. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 188-219.
  13. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 199; February 7, 1877
  14. ^ Jeal, 2007 p. 217.