Travels in Africa - Park Denham, Clapperton, Lander, and Others

The ship in which Park sailed reached the African coast in the latter end of June 1795, and on the 5th of July the traveler took up his residence in the house of an English settler in the village of Pisania, situated on the northern bank of the Gambia, at a considerable distance from the coast. After remaining here about five months, preparing for his journey into the interior, and acquiring information respecting the western parts of Africa, Park launched upon his perilous enterprise on the 2d of December 1795. For three months he toiled on in a north-westerly direction, passing through various negro kingdoms, and numberless towns and villages, almost everywhere received with kindness and respect, although the cupidity of some of the negro sovereigns stripped him of most of the articles of value he had brought along with him, as a tax for allowing him to pass through their dominions. For a detailed account of all his adventures during the journey, we must refer to his own narrative, which has long and justly been regarded as one of the most interesting and best-written books in the English language. Suffice it to say, that after having pushed on till he found himself near the southern borders of the Great Desert, and when fancy had already placed him on the banks of the Niger, and presented to his imagination a thousand delightful scenes in his future progress,' a cruel accident came to delay, and, as it seemed, utterly to prevent, the fulfillment of his golden dream.' In this part of Africa he found that the Moors, or men of Arab blood, were the ruling race, domineering over the negroes in the most insolent manner; and while from the negroes, almost universally, he experienced kind treatment, the Moors he describes as the most barbarous and tyrannical of the human race. Accordingly, after entering the countries which, from their proximity to the Great Desert, were under the thraldom of the Moors, he proceeded with greater caution than he had found it necessary to adopt in passing through the countries inhabited by a pure negro population. His caution, however, was of no avail; on the 7th of March, 1796, he was carried away captive by a Moorish chief to Benown, a village on the margin of the Desert, where he was detained for nearly three months, enduring incredible hard ships from the cruelty of his keepers, who persecuted him both as a stranger and as a Christian.

Escaping at length from the hands of his tormentors, Park continued his journey in a south-easterly direction, passing, as before, through several negro kingdoms, where, however, the Moors seemed to exercise a powerful influence, and where, consequently, he was obliged to undergo much suffering and insult, although, even in the depths of his distress, he always found sympathy and compassion from some poor negro. On the 21st of July, 1796, he was approaching a large town called Sego, the capital of the kingdom of Bambarra, in company with a party of negroes, who were proceeding thither, and who entertained him on the way with accounts of the traffic which went on at this town, and of the Great Water, or Joliba, which flowed past it. This stream Park had no doubt was the Niger, of which he was in search; and so it proved. We rode together,' he says, through some marshy ground, where, as I was anxiously looking around for the river, one of them called out, " Geo affilli!" (" See the water!") and looking forwards, I saw with infinite pleasure the great object of my mission - the long-sought-for majestic Niger glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, and having drunk of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things for having thus far crowned my endeavors with success.'

Having thus been successful in reaching the banks of the long-sought Niger, Park would have pursued his journey along them so as to ascertain its farther course, and even trace it to its termination; but his entire destitution of everything necessary for such an enterprise, and the reports which he received of the bigotry of the Moors who ruled in the districts through which he must pass, prevented him from advancing farther than. Silla, a town considerably to the east of Sego. Accordingly, having collected all the information he could respecting the course of the river beyond this point - having done all that he could towards the settlement of the question of the course of the Niger - having ascertained the existence of large trading cities in the interior of Africa, some of which he had visited, and the position of three others of which (namely, Jenne, Timbuctoo, and Houssa) he had learnt by accurate inquiry - having, moreover, accumulated a vast mass of information respecting the manners, customs, and social condition of the natives of Central Africa - Park returned to the coast along the banks of the Niger, and consequently by a route different from that which he had adopted on his journey inland. He reached Pisania on the 10th of June, 1797, having thus been absent twenty-one months in the interior of Africa. He arrived in London on Christmas Day in the same year; was received with great enthusiasm by all classes; prepared the narrative of his journey for publication; and at length, in 1800, having in the meantime married, he settled as a medical practitioner in Peebles.