Alone in Africa - Mungo Park
Park's 1795-7 odyssey in search of the Niger first awakened the world to the feasibility of a white man penetrating sub-Saharan Africa. But unlike his illustrious successors, this quiet tenant farmer's son from the Scottish Borders travelled alone; relieved of his meager possessions, he was soon wholly dependant on local hospitality. In what he called "a plain unvarnished tale" he related horrific ordeals with admirable detachment - never more tested than on his return journey through Bamako, now the capital of Mali.
The Road to Kano - Hugh Clapperton
In one of exploration's unhappier sagas two Scots, Captain Hugh Clapperton and Dr. Walter Oudney, were saddled with the unspeakable Major Dixon Denham on a three year journey to Lake Chad and beyond. Clapperton mapped much of northern Nigeria and emerged with credit. Major Denham also excelled himself, twice absconding, then accusing Oudney of incompetence and Clapperton of buggery. Happily the Major was absent in 1824, after nursing his dying friend, Clapperton became the first European to reach Kano.
Down the Niger - Richard Lander
As Clapperton's manservant, Lander attended his dying master on his 1825 expedition to the Niger and was then commissioned, with his brother John, to continue the exploration of the river. The mystery of its lower course was finally solved when in 1831 they sailed down through Nigeria to the delta and the sea. Unassuming Cornishmen, the Landers approached their task with a refreshing confidence in goodwill of Africans. It paid of in a knife-edge encounter at the confluence of the Benoue, although Richard subsequently paid the price with his life.
Arrival in Timbuktu - Heinrich Barth
Born in Hamburg, Barth was already an experienced traveler and a methodical scholar when in 1850 he joined a British expedition to investigate Africa's internal slave trade. From Tripoli the expedition crossed the Sahara to Lake Chad. Its leader died but Barth continued on alone, exploring vast tract of the Sahel from northern Cameroon to Mali. Timbuktu, previously visited only by A.G. Laing and René Caillié, provided the climax as Barth, in disguise, approached the forbidden city by boat from the Niger.
My Ogowé Fans - Mary Kingsley
Self-educated while she nursed her elderly parents, Mary Kingsley had known only middle-class English domesticity until venturing to West Africa in 1892. Her parents had died and, unmarried, she determined to study "fish and fetish" for the British Museum. Her 1894 ascent of Gabon's Ogowé River (from Travels in West Africa, 1897) established her a genuine pioneer and an inimitable narrator. She died six years later while nursing prisoners during the Boer War.