SPEKE, John Hanning.

Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile.


Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile.

Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1863.

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The account of Speke’s third and final expedition to Africa. This took place in 1860 with his friend and fellow Indian army officer James Augustus Grant (1827-1892) on an expedition organized by the Royal Geographic Society and supported by the British government. Their purpose was to explore the Victoria Nyanza area and confirm Speke’s earlier view that the lake was the source of the White Nile.

On 25 September 1860, their caravan left Zanzibar: a force of 217 people, including armed men and porters bearing loads of beads, cloths, and brass wire intended as gifts for safe passage. They arrived at Kazé (today’s Tabora, Tanzania) on 24 January 1861, but further headway was hindered by the defection of carriers, local warfare, the rapacity of chiefs who controlled travel through the territory, and a serious illness suffered by Speke. Moving north between lakes Tanganyika and Victoria, and often traveling separately, Speke and Grant encountered further delays in the kingdoms of Mtésa (Mutesa), the ruler of Uganda, and Kamrasi (Kamurasi), the king of Unyoro. On 28 July 1862, Speke reached the point where the White Nile left Lake Victoria, naming it Ripon Falls—and establishing in his mind the veracity of his claim that the river began there. At Karuma Falls, where the river makes a big turn west, native warfare forced him to cut across country. Ultimately, the expedition reached Gondokoro on 15 February 1863, where Sir Samuel White Baker, coincidentally on his own self-funded mission up the Nile, was able to offer needed assistance.

Back in England, Speke was showered with honors and feted by the Royal Geographical Society. But doubts of his claim remained, voiced particularly by Burton, primarily because Speke had not followed the Nile from Karuma Falls to Gondokoro. (Using Speke’s maps, Baker would discover what Speke had thereby missed: Lake Albert.). A debate with his former friend-turned-nemesis Burton was arranged for 16 September 1864 to settle the matter; however, on that morning word arrived that Speke had died in a gun accident. Some thought it was a suicide, for he was known as an accomplished sportsman and hunter. Speke and Grant’s successes are undisputed, however: they were the first Europeans to cross equatorial eastern Africa, and their explorations added more than 500 miles to the known geography of the area. And today Lake Victoria and its feeder streams are considered the sources of the White Nile.


First edition. 8vo., xxxi, [1], 658 pp., engraved frontispiece portrait of Speke, engraved portrait of Grant (crease to corner), 24 engraved plates, 2 maps (1 folding, laid down), illustrations in text, contemporary half calf gilt, morocco lettering piece, a very attractive copy.



Stock ID: 89676