CHAPTER I. THE EXPEDITION
In March, 1861, I commenced an expedition to discover the sources of the Nile, with the hope of meeting the East African expedition of Captains Speke and Grant, that had been sent by the English Government from the South via Zanzibar, for that object. I had not the presumption to publish my intention, as the sources of the Nile had hitherto defied all explorers, but I had inwardly determined to accomplish this difficult task or to die in the attempt. From my youth I had been inured to hardships and endurance in wild sports in tropical climates, and when I gazed upon the map of Africa I had a wild hope, mingled with humility, that, even as the insignificant worm bores through the hardest oak, I might by perseverance reach the heart of Africa.
I could not conceive that anything in this world had power to resist a determined will, so long as health and life remained. The failure of every former attempt to reach the Nile source did not astonish me, as the expeditions had consisted of parties, which, when difficulties occur, generally end in difference of opinion and retreat: I therefore determined to proceed alone, trusting in the guidance of a Divine Providence and the good fortune that sometimes attends a tenacity of purpose. I weighed carefully the chances of the undertaking. Before me - untrodden Africa; against me - the obstacles that had defeated the world since its creation; on my side - a somewhat tough constitution, perfect independence, a long experience in savage life, and both time and means which I intended to devote to the object without limit. England had never sent an expedition to the Nile sources previous to that under the command of Speke and Grant. Bruce, ninety years ago, had succeeded in tracing the source of the Blue or Lesser Nile: thus the honour of that discovery belonged to Great Britain; Speke was on his road from the South; and I felt confident that my gallant friend would leave his bones upon the path rather than submit to failure. I trusted that England would not be beaten; and although I hardly dared to hope that I could succeed where others greater than I had failed, I determined to sacrifice all in the attempt. Had I been alone it would have been no hard lot to die upon the untrodden path before me, but there was one who, although my greatest comfort, was also my greatest care; one whose life yet dawned at so early an age that womanhood was still a future. I shuddered at the prospect for her, should she be left alone in savage lands at my death; and gladly would I have left her in the luxuries of home instead of exposing her to the miseries of Africa.
It was in vain that I implored her to remain, and that I painted the difficulties and perils still blacker than I supposed they really would be: she was resolved, with woman's constancy and devotion, to share all dangers and to follow me through each rough footstep of the wild life before me. "And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest will I die; and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me."
Thus accompanied by my wife, on the 15th April 1861, I sailed up the Nile from Cairo. The wind blew fair and strong from the north, and we flew towards the south against the stream, watching those mysterious waters with a firm resolve to track them to their distant fountain.
On arrival at Korosko, in Lat. 22 degrees 44 minutes, in twenty-six days from Cairo, we started across the Nubian desert, thus cutting off the western bend of the Nile, and in seven days' forced camel march we again reached the river Abou Hamed. The journey through that desert is most fatiguing, as the march averages fifteen hours a day through a wilderness of scorching sand and glowing basalt rocks. The simoom was in full force at that season (May), and the thermometer, placed in the shade by the water skins, stood at 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
No drinkable water was procurable on the route; thus our supply was nearly expended upon reaching the welcome Nile. After eight days' march on the margin of the river from Abou Hamed through desert, but in view of the palm trees that bordered the river, we arrived at Berber, a considerable town in lat. 17 degrees 58 minutes on the banks of the Nile.
Berber is eight days' camel march from Khartoum (at the junction of the White and Blue Niles, in lat. 15 degrees 30 minutes), and is the regular caravan route between that town and Cairo.
From the slight experience I had gained in the journey to Berber, I felt convinced that success in my Nile expedition would be impossible without a knowledge of Arabic. My dragoman had me completely in his power, and I resolved to become independent of all interpreters as soon as possible. I therefore arranged a plan of exploration for the first year, to embrace the affluents to the Nile from the Abyssinian range of mountains, intending to follow up the Atbara river from its junction with the Nile in lat. 17 degrees 37 minutes (twenty miles south of Berber), and to examine all the Nile tributaries from the southeast as far as the Blue Nile, which river I hoped ultimately to descend to Khartoum. I imagined that twelve months would be sufficient to complete such an exploration, by which time I should have gained a sufficient knowledge of Arabic to enable me to start from Khartoum for my White Nile expedition. Accordingly I left Berber on the 11th June, 1861, and arrived at the Atbara junction with the Nile on the 13th.