THE EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION OF AFRICA, I
Without any delay Denham obtained the necessary equipment, and accompanied by a carpenter named William Hillman, he embarked for Malta, joining his future travelling companions at Tripoli on the 21st November, 1821. The English at this time enjoyed very great prestige, not only in the States of Barbary, on account of the bombardment of Algiers, but also because the British consul at Tripoli had by his clever diplomacy established friendly relations with the government to which he was accredited.
This prestige extended beyond the narrow range of the northern states. The nationality of certain travellers, the protection accorded by England to the Porte, the British victories in India had all been vaguely rumoured even in the heart of Africa, and the name of Englishman, was familiar without any particular meaning being attached to it. According to the English consul, the route from Tripoli to Bornou was as safe as that from London to Edinburgh. This was, therefore, the moment to seize opportunities which might not occur again.
The three travellers, after a cordial reception from the bey, who placed all his resources at their disposal, lost no time in leaving Tripoli, and with an escort provided by the Moorish governor, they reached Murzuk, the capital of Fezzan, on the 8th April, 1822, without difficulty, having indeed been received with great enthusiasm in some of the places through which they passed.
At Sockna, Denham tells us, the governor came out to meet them, accompanied by the principal inhabitants and hundreds of the country people, who crowded round their horses, kissing their hands with every appearance of cordiality and delight, and shouting Inglesi, Inglesi, as the visitors entered the town. This welcome was the more gratifying from the fact that the travellers were the first Europeans to penetrate into Africa without wearing a disguise. Denham adds that he feels sure their reception would have been far less cordial had they stooped to play the part of impostors by attempting to pass for Mahommedans.
At Murzuk they were harassed by annoyances similar to those which had paralyzed Hornemann; in their case, however, circumstances and character were alike different, and without allowing themselves to be blinded by the compliments paid them by the sultan, the English, who were thoroughly in earnest, demanded the necessary escort for the journey to Bornou.
It was impossible, they were told, to start before the following spring, on account of the difficulty of collecting a kafila or caravan, and the troops necessary for its escort across the desert.
A rich merchant, however, Boo-Bucker-Boo-Khaloum by name, a great friend of the pacha, gave the explorers a hint that if he received certain presents he would smooth away all difficulties. He even offered to escort them himself to Bornou, for which province he was bound if he could obtain the necessary permission from the Pacha of Tripoli.
Denham, believing Boo-Khaloum to be acting honestly, went off to Tripoli to obtain the governor's sanction, but on his arrival there he obtained only evasive answers, and finally threatened to embark for England, where he said he would report the obstacles thrown in his way by the pacha, in the carrying out of the objects of the exploring expedition.
These menaces produced no effect, and Denham actually set sail, and was about to land at Marseilles when he received a satisfactory message from the bey, begging him to return, and authorizing Boo-Khaloum to accompany him and his companions.
On the 30th October Denham rejoined Oudney and Clapperton at Murzuk, finding them considerably weakened by fever and the effects of the climate.
Denham, convinced that change of air would restore them to health, persuaded them to start and begin the journey by easy stages. He himself set out on the 20th of November with a caravan of merchants from Mesurata, Tripoli, Sockna, and Murzuk, escorted by 210 Arab warriors chosen from the most intelligent and docile of the tribes, and commanded by Boo-Khaloum.
The expedition took the route followed by Lyon and soon reached Tegerry, which is the most southerly town of Fezzan, and the last before the traveller enters the desert of Bilma.
Denham made a sketch of the castle of Tegerry from the southern bank of a salt lake near the town. Tegerry is entered by a low narrow vaulted passage leading to a gate in a second rampart. The wall is pierced with apertures which render the entrance by the narrow passage very difficult. Above the second gate there is also an aperture through which darts, and fire-brands may be hurled upon the besiegers, a mode of warfare once largely indulged in by the Arabs. Inside the town there are wells of fairly good water. Denham is of opinion that Tegerry restored, well-garrisoned and provisioned, could sustain a long siege. Its situation is delightful. It is surrounded by date-trees, and the water in the neighbourhood is excellent. A chain of low hills stretches away to the east. Snipes, ducks, and wild geese frequent the salt lakes near the town.
Leaving Tegerry, the travellers entered a sandy desert, across which it would not have been easy to find the way, had it not been marked out by the skeletons of men and animals strewn along it, especially about the wells.
"One of the skeletons we saw to-day," says Denham, "still looked quite fresh. The beard was on the chin, the features could be recognized. 'It is my slave,' exclaimed one of the merchants of the kafila. 'I left him near here four months ago.' 'Make haste and take him to the market!' cried a facetious slave merchant, 'lest some one else should claim him.'"