Edmund Musgrave Barttelot

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Edmund Musgrave Barttelot (28 March 1859 – 19 July 1888) was a British Army officer, who became notorious after his allegedly brutal and deranged behaviour during his disastrous command of the rear column left in the Congo during H. M. Stanley's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. He has often been identified as one of the sources for the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness.


Born in Sussex, England, he joined the army (7th Royal Fusiliers) in 1879 and served in India. In 1886, he volunteered for Henry Morton Stanley's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. As Stanley's second in command he was leader of the Rear Column which was left in the jungle by the Aruwimi River to wait for more porters to be brought by the Arab slave trader Tippu Tib while Stanley marched on to reach Emin as soon as possible. During Stanley's absence, the Rear Column descended into confusion. Barttelot was unable to maintain discipline, and resorted to repeated floggings of Africans, a least two of whom died from the beatings.[1] Large numbers of bearers from the Manyema tribe died from malnutrition and untreated illness or deserted. When he threatened a woman with his revolver after she was beating a drum during a ceremony in the early hours of the morning, he was shot dead by the woman's husband, a man named Samba.[1]

Stanley received reports about Barttelot's behaviour from other officers. One, William Bonny, said that "the least thing caused the Major to behave like a fiend" and that he would repeatedly stab African workers with a steel-pointed cane.[1] Another said that the Major "had an intense hatred of anything in the shape of a black man".[1] A 13-year-old boy named Sudi had been beaten and kicked by him. Stanley nursed the injured Sudi, who died six weeks after Stanley returned. Furious, Stanley mainly blamed Barttelot for the failure of the Rear Column, though he also criticised the other officers for allowing him to "kick, strike and slay human beings".[1]


After the return of expedition-members to Europe and America, Barttelot's alleged abusive and incompetent behaviour was widely reported. In response, Barttelot's brother, Walter George Barttelot edited the diaries of his brother, defending his reputation and adding some biting comments on Stanley's behaviour.[2]

Recent historians have generally accepted the negative assessment of Barttelot. Adam Hochschild writes that after being left in charge of the Rear Column,

Major Barttelot promptly lost his mind. He sent Stanley's personal baggage down the river. He dispatched another officer on a bizarre three-thousand-mile three-month round trip to the nearest telegraph station to send a senseless telegram to England. He next decided that he was being poisoned, and saw traitors on all sides. He had one of his porters lashed three-hundred times (which proved fatal). He jabbed at Africans with a steel-tipped cane, ordered several dozen people put in chains, and bit a village woman. After trying to interfere with a native festival, an African shot and killed Barttelot before he could do more.[3]

Barttelot has been portrayed as a source for Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness.[4][5] Jerry Allen considered him the principal historical source, though Harold Bloom argued that there was no single source, and the many of Kurtz's actions were more likely to be based on Barttelot's contemporary Tippu Tib.[5] Hochschild also considers him a likely source, since he "went mad, began hitting, whipping, and killing people, and was finally murdered", but also thinks that other participants in the expedition and contemporary figures contributed to the character.[3]

He appears as a character in Simon Gray's 1978 play The Rear Column, which tells the story of the men of the rear column left by Stanley to wait for Tippu Tib. He is portrayed as weak and unstable. Barttelot was played by Barry Foster in the original production and in the 1980 BBC television version.

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  1. ^ a b c d e Jeal, T, Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, Yale University Press, 2007, p.357-8.
  2. ^ Barttelot, Walter George: The Life of Edmund Musgrave Barttelot, Captain and Brevet-Major Royal Fuseliers, Commander of the Rear Column of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. London, Richard Bentley and Son, 1890 (2nd edn).
  3. ^ a b Hochschild, Adam: King Leopold's Ghost. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998, pp. 98; 145,
  4. ^ Conrad, J, Heart of Darkness, second edition, Broadview Press, 16 Aug 1999, p.192ff.
  5. ^ a b 'Bloom, Harold (ed)Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Infobase Publishing, 1 Jan 2009, pp.35-6.