BARTH, Henry

Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa:


Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa:
being a journal of an expedition undertaken under the auspices of H.B.M’s Government, in the years 1849-1855
London, Longmans, 1857-1858.

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Rare first edition set in original cloth.

“Barth is one of the European superstars of African travel and exploration. Disguised as a Muslim scholar, he spent five years ranging widely and freely over northern, central, and western Africa [see the red route on the maps], and returned with much useful information about the region’s culture and economy.

Fluent in Arabic and already a veteran of several years’ Middle East and northern Africa travel experience, Barth was teaching in Berlin in 1849 when he was offered the chance to join a British government-sponsored expedition aimed at establishing commercial contacts and suppressing the slave trade in the area around Lake Chad (today’s Niger, Chad, and Nigeria). British antislavery activist James Richardson and German geologist Adolf Overweg were his two European companions. However, both men succumbed to African conditions and died: Richardson from heat exhaustion and fever in March 1851 and Overweg from malaria in September 1852. Alone, Barth continued the mission with several Arabs he had hired along the way, including two slaves freed by Overweg. Among Barth’s noteworthy achievements in West Africa was his stay for more than nine months in Timbuktu. When he returned to London on 6 September 1855, he was warmly received but not formally recognized by the British government for his services. After additional travel in Greece and Turkey, Barth resumed his academic life in Berlin.

Barth’s five-volume work, published simultaneously in German and English, remains the most scientific publication of its time on the African cultures he encountered. Beyond their compelling narratives, the volumes present more than a dozen detailed maps and several dozen illuminating illustrations. Their appendices contain tables of meteorological data for his five years of travel, chronologies of history for certain areas, vocabularies, descriptions of routes, and lists of towns.” (John Delaney, To the Mountains of the Moon).


First English edition. 5 volumes, 8vo, 15 maps, some folding, 60 tinted lithographed plates, numerous woodcuts, mostly in text, one large folding woodcut, original green blindstamped cloth gilt, a fine set.


Abbey Travel 274; Gay 207; Hilmy I, p53; Playfair & Brown, No. 777.


Stock ID: 98073