AFRICAN EXPLORERS

"Captain Littleton, during a stay of four years here, has amassed a considerable fortune. He possesses several ships which trade up and down the river. At any time one can obtain, for the merest trifle, gold, ivory, wax, and slaves. Poultry, sheep, eggs, butter, milk, honey, and fish are extremely abundant, and for ten pounds sterling a large family might be maintained in luxury. The soil is dry, the air very healthy; and the King of Woolli told me that no white man had ever died at Fataconda."

Houghton then followed the Falemé river as far as Cacullo, which in D'Anville's map is called Cacoulon, and whilst in Bambouk gleaned a few facts about the Djoliba river, which runs through the interior of the Soudan. The direction of this river he ascertained to be southward as far as Djeneh, then west by east to Timbuctoo—facts which were later confirmed by Mungo Park. The traveller was cordially received by the King of Bambouk, who provided him with a guide to Timbuctoo, and with cowries to pay his expenses during the journey. It was hoped that Houghton would reach the Niger without accident, when a note, written in pencil and half effaced, reached Dr. Laidley. It was dated from Simbing, and stated that the traveller had been robbed of his baggage, but that he was prosecuting his journey to Timbuctoo. This was followed by accounts from various sources, which gave rise to a suspicion that Houghton had been assassinated in Bambara. His fate was uncertain until it was discovered by Mungo Park.

Walknaer says,—

"Simbing, where Houghton wrote the last words ever received from him, is a little walled town on the frontier of the kingdom of Ludamar. Here he was abandoned by his negro servants, who were unwilling to accompany him to the country of the Moors. Still he continued his route, and, after surmounting many obstacles, he advanced to the north, and endeavoured to cross the kingdom of Ludamar. Finally he reached Yaouri, and made the acquaintance of several merchants, on their way to sell salt at Tischet, a town situated near the marshes of the great desert, and six days' journey north of Yaouri. Then, by bribing the merchants with a gun and a little tobacco, he persuaded them to conduct him to Tischet. All this would lead us to suppose that the Moors deceived him, either as to the route he should have followed, or as to the state of the country between Yaouri and Timbuctoo.

"After two days' march, Houghton, finding himself deceived, wished to return to Yaouri. The Moors robbed him of all he possessed, and fled. He was forced to reach Yaouri on foot. Did he die of hunger, or was he assassinated by the Moors? This has never been rightly determined, but the spot where he perished was pointed out to Mungo Park."

The loss of Houghton's journals, containing the observations made during his journey, deprived science of the result of all his fatigue and devotion. To ascertain what he accomplished, one must have recourse to the Proceedings of the African Society. At this time Mungo Park, a young Scotch surgeon, who had just returned from a voyage to the East Indies on board the Worcester, learnt that the African Society were anxious to find an explorer willing to penetrate to the interior of the country watered by the Gambia. Mungo Park, who had long wished to acquaint himself with the productions of the country, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants, offered his services. He was not deterred by the apprehension that his predecessor, Houghton, had probably perished.

Portrait of Mungo Park
Portrait of Mungo Park.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

At once accepted by the Society, Mungo Park hastened his preparations, and left Portsmouth upon the 22nd of May, 1795. He was furnished with introductions to Dr. Laidley, and a credit of two hundred pounds sterling. Landing at Jillifree, at the mouth of the Gambia, in the kingdom of Barra, and following the river, he reached Pisania, an English factory belonging to Dr. Laidley. He directed his attention first to acquiring a knowledge of the Mandingo language, which was most generally used, and in collecting the facts most likely to be useful in the execution of his plans.

His stay here enabled him to obtain more accurate information than his predecessors with regard to the Feloups, the Yolofs, the Foulahs, and the Mandingoes. The Feloups are morose, quarrelsome, and vindictive, but faithful and courageous. The Yolofs are a powerful and warlike nation, with very black skins. Except in colour and speech, they resemble the Mandingoes, who are gentle and sociable. Tall and well-made, their women are, comparatively speaking, pretty. Lastly, the Foulahs, who are the lightest in colour, seem much attached to a pastoral and agricultural life. The greater part of these populations are Mohammedans, and practise polygamy.

Upon the 2nd of December, Mungo Park, accompanied by two negro interpreters, and with a small quantity of baggage, started for the interior. He first reached the small kingdom of Woolli, the capital of which, Medina, comprises a thousand houses. He then proceeded to Kolor, a considerable town, and, after two days' march across a desert, entered the kingdom of Bondou. The natives are Foulahs, professing the Mohammedan religion; they carry on a brisk trade in ivory, when they are not engaged in agriculture.