Sámuel Teleki

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For the Chancellor of Transylvania (1739-1822), see Sámuel Teleki (Chancellor).
The native form of this personal name is Teleki Sámuel. This article uses the Western name order.
Count Samuel Teleki

Count Sámuel Teleki de Szék (November 1, 1845 – March 10, 1916) was a Hungarian explorer who led the first expedition to Northern Kenya. He was the first European to see, and name, Lake Rudolf (Lake Turkana).

Early life[edit]

Teleki was born in Sáromberke, a village in the Kingdom of Hungary, Transylvania (today in Romania). He was a member of a prominent Hungarian family active in both politics and culture. His great-grandfather [1] Sámuel Teleki (1739–1822), a chancellor of Transylvania, had founded the Teleki library in Târgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely), one of the first Hungarian public libraries, which opened in 1802 and holds today more than 200,000 volumes.

For some 40 years, Count Sámuel Teleki von Szék, "a jovial Hungarian aristocrat of immense wealth," managed his property and assets and started a political career by becoming a member of the Hungarian Upper House of Parliament in 1881. A keen hunter, he was fascinated by the early African explorers. In 1886, he accepted a suggestion by his friend and benefactor, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, son of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor-King Franz Joseph I, to turn the East African safari he was planning into a journey of exploration of the territories north of Lake Baringo. He was to explore the lands beyond where Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson had set foot, in order to find the desert lake previous travellers had heard rumours about, based on local legends about a sea that lay beyond the desert, surrounded by tribes of giants and islands inhabited by monsters and ghosts.

His first expedition[edit]

Count Teleki and his companion, Lieutenant Ludwig von Höhnel, an Austrian naval officer, left Pangani (Tanzania) in February 1887 with around 400 porters, following the Ruvu river. They were the first to survey a great part of the East African Rift. Teleki was the first to reach the snow-line on Mount Kilimanjaro at 5,300 m, and the first explorer to set foot on Mount Kenya, climbing up to around 4,300 m. He later headed on northwards, following the interior river system, to discover on 5 March 1888 the last of the Great Lakes, referred to as the Jade Sea by Count Teleki, who named the lake after his friend, Prince Rudolf. The lake was renamed Turkana in 1975 from the tribe that inhabits its shores. Teleki's and von Höhnel's journey in southern Ethiopia also unveiled a smaller lake, Stefanie (named after Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, the prince's wife), now called Lake Chew Bahir.

His collection[edit]

Teleki and Höhnel made many observations on the climate, flora and fauna of the territories visited. One of the giant Lobelia plants found in the Afro-alpine belt of Mt Kenya is named Lobelia telekii, after Count Samuel Teleki. They also collected more than 400 ethnographical objects, most of them from Maasai and Kikuyu tribes and brought home a valuable collection of plants and animals.

Teleki's volcano[edit]

During the return to the East African coast, which they reached at Mombasa in October 1888, along the dry riverbed of the Turkwel, Teleki discovered an active volcano (Teleki’s Volcano) in South Kenya. On their way back, they stopped at Aden whence Teleki apparently intended to explore at a later date the Ethiopian highlands and the great lakes region from the north. In 1895 Teleki was back in Kenya in another unsuccessful effort to climb the Kilimanjaro.

East African diaries[edit]

Teleki wrote "East African diaries", in Hungarian, 1886-95 with English translations. Von Höhnel wrote a report of the expedition entitled The discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie.

After the expedition, Teleki returned to his aristocratic life in Hungary, dying in Budapest after a long illness.