New York Herald/October 11, 1875
Village of Kagehyi, District of Uchambi, Usukuma, on the Victoria Niyanza
March 1, 1875
The second part of the programme laid before me as Commander of the Anglo-American Press Expedition to perform, ended successfully at noon on the 27th February, 1875. The great lake first discovered by Captain Speke — the Victoria Niyanza — was sighted and reached by us on that day; and it is with the feeling of the most devout gratitude to Almighty God for preserving us, amid manifold perils, that I write these lines.
It seems an age since we departed from Mpwapwa, Usagara, whence I despatched my last letter to you. We have experienced so much, seen and suffered so much, that I have to recapitulate carefully in my memory and turn to my note book often to refresh my recollections of even the principal events of this most long, arduous and eventful march to the Victoria Niyanza.
I promised you in my last letter that I would depart as soon as practicable from the old route to Unyanyembe, which is now so well known, and would, like the patriarch Livingstone, strike out a new line to unknown lands. I did so, but in our adventurous journey north I imperilled the expedition and almost brought it to an untimely end, but which, happily for me, for you and for geographers, a kindly Providence averted.
On leaving Mpwapwa we edged northward across the Desert of the Marenga Mkali, or the Bilber Water, leaving the vain chief of Mbumi far to the south, and traversed Northern Ugogo with the usual success attending travellers in Southern Ugogo. The chiefs practiced the usual arts to fleece us of property and blackmailed us at every opportunity. Now, we met chiefs more amiably disposed toward strangers to pay heavier tribute in other chiefs’ lands. We crossed broad and bleak plains, where food was scarce and cloth vanished fast, to enter hilly districts where food was abundant, the people civil and the chiefs kind. We traversed troublesome districts, where wars and rumors of wars were rife, the people treacherous and hostile, to enter countries lying at the mercy of the ferocious Wahumba on the north, and the Wahehe to the south. Thus good and evil fortune alternated during our travels through Ugogo — an epitome in brief of our after experiences. Furious rainy tempests accompanied us each day, and some days both nature and man warred against us, while on other days both seemed combined to bless us. Under our adverse fates the expedition seemed to melt away; men died from fatigue and famine, many were left behind sick, while many, again, deserted. Promises of reward, kindness, threats, punishments, had no effect. The expedition seemed doomed.
The white men, though selected out of the ordinary class of Englishmen, did their work bravely — nay, I may say heroically. Though suffering from fever and dysentery, insulted by natives, marching under the heat and equatorial rain-storms, they at all times proved themselves of noble, manful natures, stout hearted, brave men, and — better than all — true Christians. Unrepining they bore their hard fate and worse fare; resignedly they endured their arduous troubles, cheerfully performed their allotted duties, and at all times commended themselves to my good opinion.
The western frontier of Ugogo was reached on the last day of 1874. We rested two days, and thence struck direct north, along an almost level plain, which some said extended as far as Niyanza. We found by questioning the natives that we were also travelling along the western extremity of Uhumba, which we were glad to hear, as we fondly hoped that our march would be less molested.
Two days’ march north brought us to the confines of Usandawi, a country famous for elephants; but here our route inclined northwest, and we entered Ukimbu, or Uyanzi, at its northeastern extremity.
We had hired guides in Ugogo to take us as far as Iramba, but at Muhalala, in Ukimbu, they deserted. Fresh guides were engaged at Muhalala, who took us one day’s march farther northwest, but at night they also deserted, and in the morning we were left on the edge of a wide wilderness without a guide. On the roads the previous day the guides had informed us that three days’ march would bring us to Urimi, and relying on the truth of the report I had purchased two days’ provisions, so that this second desertion did not much disconcert us nor raise any suspicion, though it elicited many unpleasant remarks about the treachery of the Wagogo. We therefore continued our march, but on the morning of the second day the narrow, ill-defined track which we had followed became lost in a labyrinth of elephant and rhinoceros trails. The best men were despatched in all directions to seek out the lost road, but they were all unsuccessful, and we had no resource left but the compass. The day brought us into a dense jungle of acacias and euphorbia, through which we had literally to push our way through by scrambling, crawling along the ground under natural tunnels of embracing shrubbery, cutting the convulvulvi and creepers, thrusting aside stout, thorny bushes, and, by various detours, taking advantage of every slight opening the jungle afforded, which naturally lengthened our journey and protracted our stay in the wilderness. On the evening of the third day the first death in the wilderness occurred.
The fourth day’s march lasted nearly the whole day, though we made but fourteen miles, and was threefold more arduous than that of the preceding day. Not a drop of water was discovered during the march, and the weaker people, laboring under their loads, hunger and thirst, lagged behind the vanguard many miles, which caused the rear guard, under two of the white men, much suffering. As the rear guard advanced they shouldered the loads of the weaker men, and endeavored to encourage them to resume the march. Some of these men were enabled to reach the camp, where their necessities were relieved by medicine and restoratives. But five men strayed from the path which the passing expedition had made, and were never seen alive again. Scouts sent out to explore the woods found one dead about a mile from our road; the others must have hopelessly wandered on until they also fell down and died.
The fifth day brought us to a small village, lately erected, called Uveriveri, the population of which consisted of four men, their wives and little ones. These people had not a grain of food to spare. Most of the men of our expedition were unable to move for hunger and fatigue. In this dire extremity I ordered a halt and selected twenty of the strongest men to proceed to Suna, twenty-nine miles northwest from Uveriveri, to purchase food. In the interval I explored the woods in search of game, but the search was fruitless, though one of my men discovered a lion’s den and brought me two young lions, which I killed and skinned.
Returning to camp from my fruitless hunt I was so struck with the pinched faces of my poor people that I could have wept heartily could I have done so without exciting fear of our fate in their minds, but I resolved to do something toward relieving the pressing needs of fierce hunger.
To effect this a sheet iron trunk was emptied of its contents, and being filled with water, was placed on the fire. I then broke open our medical stores and took five pounds of Scotch oatmeal and three tins of revalenta arabica, with which I made gruel to feed over 220 men. Oh, it was a rare sight to see these poor famine stricken people hasten to that torquay dress trunk and assist me to cook that huge pot of gruel, to see them fan the fire to a fiercer heat, and, with their gourds full of water, stand by to cool the foaming liquid when it threatened to overflow, and it was a still more rare sight to watch the pleasure steal over their faces as they drank the generous food. The sick and weaker ones received a larger portion near my tent, and another tin of oatmeal was opened for their supper and breakfast. But a long time must elapse before I shall have the courage to describe my feelings during the interval I waited for the return of my people from Suna with food, and fruitless would be the attempt to describe the anxiety with which I listened for the musketry announcing their success.
After forty-eight hours’ waiting we heard the joyful sounds, which woke us all into new life and vigor. The food was most greedily seized by the hungry people, and so animating was the report of the food purveyors that the soldiers, one and all, clamored to be led away that afternoon. Nowise loath myself to march away from this fatal jungle, I assented; but two more poor fellows breathed their last before we left camp. We camped that night at the base of a rocky hill, overlooking a broad plain, which, after the intense gloom and confined atmosphere of the jungle, was a great pleasure to us, and, next day, striking north along this plain, after a long march, under a fervid sun, of twenty miles, reached the district of Suna, in Urimi.
In Urimi, at Suna, we discovered a people remarkable for their manly beauty, noble proportions and nakedness. Neither man nor boy had either cloth or skins to cover his nudity; the women bearing children only boasted of goat skins. With all their physical beauty and fine proportions they were the most suspicious people we had yet seen. It required great tact and patience to induce them to part with food for our cloth and beads. They owned no chief, but respected the injunctions of their elders, with whom I treated for permission to pass through their land. The permission was reluctantly given, and food was begrudgingly sold, but we bore with this silent hostility patiently, and I took great care that no overt act on the part of the expedition should change this suspicion into hatred.
Our people were so worn out with fatigue that six more poor fellows died here, and the sick list numbered thirty. Here also Edward Pocock fell seriously ill of typhoid fever. For his sake, as well as for the other sufferers, I halted in Suna four days; but it was too evident that the longer we stayed in their country the natives regarded us with less favor, and it was incumbent on us to move, though much against my inclination. There were many grave reasons why we should have halted several days longer, for Edward Pocock was daily getting worse and the sick list increased alarmingly; dysentery, diarrhoea, chest diseases, sore feet, tasked my medical knowledge to the utmost; but prudence forbade it. The rearguard and captains of the expedition were therefore compelled to do the work of carriers, and every soldier for the time being was converted into a pagazi, or porter. Pocock was put into a hammock, the sick and weakly were encouraged to do their utmost to move on with the expedition to more auspicious lands, where the natives were less suspicious, where food was more abundant, and where cattle were numerous. Imbued with this hope, the expedition resumed its march across the clear, open and well cultivated country of Urimi.
We reached Chiwyu about ten o’clock, after a short march, and here the young Englishman Edward Pocock breathed his last, to the great grief of us all. According to two rated pedometers we had finished the 400th mile of our march from the sea, and had reached the base of the watershed whence the trickling streams and infant waters begin to flow Nileward, when this noble young man died. We buried him at night, and a cross cut deep into a tree marks his last resting place at Chiwyu.
The farther we traveled north we became still more assured that we had arrived in the dewy land whence the extreme southern springs, rivulets and streams discharge their waters into the Nile. From a high ridge overlooking a vast extent of country the story of their course was plainly written in the deep depressions and hollows trending northward and northwestward, and as we noted these signs of the incipient Nile we cherished the darling hope that before long we should gaze with gladdened eyes on the mighty reservoir which collected these waters which purled and rippled at our feet, into its broad bosom, to discharge them in one vast body into the White Nile.
From Chiwyu we journeyed two days through Urimi to Mangara, where Kaif Halleck — the carrier of Kirk’s letter bag to Livingstone, whom I compelled to accompany me to Ujiji in 1871 — was brutally murdered. He had been suffering from asthma, and I had permitted him to follow the expedition slowly, the rear guard being all employed as carriers because of the heavy sick list, when he was waylaid by the natives and hacked to pieces. This was the first overt act of hostility on the part of the Warimi. Unable to fix the crime on any particular village, we resumed our journey, and entered Ituru, a district of Northern Urimi, on the 21st day of January.
The village near which we camped was called Vinyata, and was situated in a broad and populous valley, containing, probably, some 2,000 or 3,000 souls. Here we discovered the river which received all the streams that flowed between Vinyata and Chiwyu. It is called here Leewumbu, and its flow from this valley was west. Even in the dry season it is a considerable stream, some twenty feet in width and about two feet deep, but in the rainy season it becomes a deep and formidable river.
The natives received us coldly, but as we were but two days’ journey from Iramba I redoubled my exertions to conciliate the surly suspicious people, and that evening my efforts seemed crowned with success, for they brought milk, eggs and chickens to me for sale, for which I parted freely with cloth. The fame of my liberality reached the ears of the great man of the valley, the magic doctor, who, in the absence of a recognized king, is treated with the deference and respect due to royalty by the natives. This important personage brought me a fat ox on the second day of my arrival at Vinyata, and in exchange received double its value in cloth and beads, and a rich present was bestowed upon his brother and his son. The great man begged for the heart of the slaughtered ox, which was freely given him, and other requests were likewise honored by prompt gifts.
We had been compelled to take advantage of the fine sun which shone this day to dry the bales and goods, and I noticed, though without misgiving, that the natives eyed them greedily. The morning of the third day the magic doctor returned again to camp to beg for some more beads to make brotherhood with him. To this, after some slight show of reluctance to give too much, I assented, and he departed apparently pleased.
Half an hour afterward the war cry of the Waturu was heard resounding through each of the 200 villages of the valley of the Leewumbu. The war cry was similar to that of the Wagogo, and phonetically it might be spelt “Hehu, A Hehu,” the latter syllables drawn out in a prolonged cry, thrilling and loud. As we had heard the Wagogo sound the war notes upon every slight apparition of strangers we imagined that the warriors of Ituru were summoned to contend against some marauders like the warlike Mirambo or some other malcontent neighbors, and, nothing disturbed by it, we pursued our various avocations, like peaceful beings, fresh from our new brotherhood with the elders of Ituru. Some of our men were gone out to the neighboring pool to draw water for their respective messes, others were gone to cut wood, others were about starting to purchase food, when suddenly we saw the outskirts of the camp darkened by about 100 natives in full war costume. Feathers of the bustard, the eagle and the kite waved above their heads, or the mane of the zebra and the giraffe encircled their brows; their left hands held their bows and arrows, while their right bore their spears.
This hostile presence naturally alarmed us, for what had we done to occasion disturbance or war? Remembering the pacific bearing of Livingstone when he and I were menaced by the cannibal Wabembe, I gave orders that none should leave camp until we should ascertain what this warlike appearance meant, and that none should, by any demonstration, provoke the natives. While we waited to see what the Waturu intended to do, their numbers increased tenfold, and every bush and tree hid a warrior.
Our camp was situated on the edge of a broad wilderness, which extended westward many days’ march; but to the north, east and south, nothing was seen but villages and cultivated ground, which, with the careless mode of agriculture in vogue among savages, contained acres of dwarf shrubbery; but I doubt whether throughout this valley a better locality for a camp could have been selected than the one we had chosen. Fifty or sixty yards around us was open ground, so that we had the advantage of light to prevent the approach of an enemy unseen. A slight fence of bush served to screen our numbers from those without the camp, but, having had no occasion to suspect hostilities, it was but ill adapted to shield us from attack.
When the Waturu were so numerous in our vicinity that it was no longer doubtful that they were summoned to fight us, I despatched a young man who knew their language to ascertain their intention. As he advanced toward them six or seven warriors drew near to talk with him. When he returned he informed us that one of our men had stolen some milk and butter from a small village and that we must pay for it in cloth. The messenger was sent back to tell them that white men did not come to their country to rob or quarrel; that they had but to name the price of what was stolen to be paid at once, and that not one grain of corn or millet seed should be appropriated by us wrongfully. Upon this the principal warriors drew nearer, until we could hear their voices plainly, though we did not understand the nature of the conversation. The messenger informed us that the elders demanded four yards of sheeting, which was about six times the value of the stolen articles; but at such a time it was useless to haggle over such a demand, and the cloth was paid. When it was given to them the elders said they were satisfied, and withdrew.
But it was evident that though the elders were satisfied the warriors were not, as they could be seen hurrying by scores from all parts of the valley and gesticulating violently in crowds. Still we waited patiently, hoping that if the elders and principal warriors were really amicably disposed toward us, their voices would prevail, and that they would be able to assuage the wild passions which now seemed to animate the others. As we watched them we noted that about 200 detached themselves from the gesticulating crowds east of the camp and were hurrying to the thick bush west of us. Soon afterward one of my men returned from that direction bleeding profusely from the face and arm, and reported that he and a youth named Sulieman were out collecting firewood when they were attacked by a large crowd of savages, who were hidden in the bush. A knobstick had crushed his nose and a spear had severely wounded him in the arm, but he had managed to escape, while Sulieman was killed, a dozen spears having been plunged into his back.
This report and the appearance of the bleeding youth so excited the soldiers of the expedition that they were only with the utmost difficulty restrained from beginning a battle at once. Even yet I hoped that war might be prevented by a little diplomacy, while I did not forget to open the ammunition boxes and prepare for the worst. But much was to be done. The enclosure of the camp required to be built up, and something of a fortification was needed to repel the attack of such a large force. While we were thus preparing without ostentation to defend ourselves from what I conceived to be an imminent attack, the Waturu, now a declared enemy, advanced upon the camp, and a shower of arrows fell all around us. Sixty soldiers, held in readiness, were at once ordered to deploy in front of the camp, fifty yards off, and the Wangwana, or freemen of Zanzibar, obedient to the command, rushed out of the camp, and the battle commenced.
Immediately after this sixty men, with axes, were ordered to cut bushes and raise a high fence of thorn around the camp, while twenty more were ordered to raise lofty platforms like towers within, for sharpshooters. We busied ourselves in bringing the sections of the Lady Alice to make a central camp for a last resistance, and otherwise strengthening the defenses. Everyone worked with a will, and while the firing of the skirmishers, growing more distant, announced that the enemy was withdrawing from the attack, we were left to work unmolested. When the camp was prepared I ordered the bugler to sound the retreat, in order that the savages might have time to consider whether it was politic for them to renew the fight.
When the skirmishers returned they announced that fifteen of the enemy were killed, while a great many more were wounded and borne off by their friends. They had all distinguished themselves — even ‘‘Bull,” the British bulldog, had seized one of the Watura by the leg and had given him a taste of the power of the English canines of his breed before the poor savage was mercifully despatched by a Snider bullet.
We rested that day from further trouble, and the next morning we waited events until nine o’clock, when the enemy appeared in greater force than ever, having summoned their neighbors all about them to assist them (I felt assured now) in our ruin. But, though we were slow to war upon people whom I thought might be made friends the previous day, we were not slow to continue fighting if the natives were determined to fight. Accordingly I selected four experienced men to lead four several detachments, and gave orders that they should march in different directions through the valley and meet at some high rocks distant five miles off; that they should seize upon all cattle and burn every village as soon as taken. Obedient to the command they sallied out of the camp and began the second day’s fight.
They were soon vigorously engaged with the enemy, who fled fast and furious before them to an open plain on the banks of the Leewumbu. The detachment under Far j alia Christie 11 became too excited, and because the enemy ran, imagined that they had but to show themselves to cause the natives to fly; but once on the plain — having drawn them away isolated miles from any succor — they turned upon them and slaughtered the detachment to a man, except the messenger, who had been detailed to accompany the detachment to report success or failure. I had taken the precaution to send one swift-footed man to accompany each detachment for this purpose. This messenger came from Far j alia to procure assistance, which was at once despatched, though too late to aid the unfortunate men, but not too late to save the second detachment from a like fate, as the victorious enemy, after slaughtering the first detachment, had turned upon the second with the evident intention to cut the entire force opposed to them in detail. When the support arrived they found the second detachment all but lost. Two soldiers were killed. The captain, Ferahan, had a deep spear wound in his side. The others were hemmed in on all sides. A volley was poured into the rear of the astonished enemy, and the detachment was saved. With their combined forces our people poured a second volley, and continued their march almost unopposed to the northern and eastern extremity of the valley. Meanwhile, smoke was seen issuing from the south and the southeast, informing us that the third and fourth detachments were pursuing their way victoriously, and soon a score or more villages were enwrapped in dense volumes of smoke. Even at a distance of eight miles we beheld burning villages, and shortly after fired settlements to the north and east announced our victory on all sides.
Toward evening the soldiers returned, bringing cattle and an abundance of grain to the camp; but when the muster-roll was called I found I had lost twenty-one men, who had been killed, while thirty-five deaths of the enemy were reported.
The third day we began the battle with sixty good men, who received instructions to proceed to the extreme length of the valley and burn what had been left the previous day. These came to a strong and large village to the northeast, which, after a slight resistance, they entered, loaded themselves with grain and set on fire. Long before noon it was clearly seen that the savages had had enough of war and were demoralized, and our people returned through the now silent and blackened valley without molestation.
Just before daybreak on the fourth day we left our camp and continued our journey northwest, with provisions sufficient to last us six days, leaving the people of Ituru to ponder on the harsh fate they had drawn on themselves by their greed, treachery and wanton murder, and attack on peaceful strangers.
We are still a formidable force, strong in numbers, guns and property, though, for an expedition destined to explore so many thousands of miles of new countries, we had suffered severely. I had left the coast with over 300 men; but when I numbered the expedition at Mgongo Tembo, in Iramba, which we reached three days after departing from the scene of our war, I found that I had but 194 men left. Thus, in less than three months, I had lost by dysentery, famine, heart disease, desertion and war, over 125 men natives of Africa and one European.
I have not time — for my work is but beginning — to relate a tithe of our adventures, or how we suffered. You can better imagine our perils, our novel and strange fortunes, if you reflect on the loss of 126 men out of such an expedition. Such a loss even in a strong regiment would be deemed almost a calamity. What name will you give such a loss when you cannot recruit your numbers, where every man that dies is a loss that cannot be repaired; when your work, which is to last years, is but beginning; where each morning you say to yourself, “This day may be your last?”
On entering Iramba we found that the natives called out against all strangers, “Mirambo and his robbers are coming.” But a vast amount of patience and suave language saved us from the doom that threatens this now famous chieftain. Despite, however, all medicines and magic arts that have been made and practised as yet, Mirambo lives. He seems to make war upon all mankind in this portion of the African interior, and appears to be possessed of ubiquitous powers. We heard of him advancing upon the natives in Northern Ugogo, Ukimbu was terror-stricken at his name, the people at Unyanyembe were still fighting him, and here in Iramba he has been met and fought, and is again daily expected.
As we journeyed on through Iramba and entered Usukuma his fame increased, for we were now drawing near some of the scenes of his exploits. When we approached the Victoria Niyanza he was actually fighting, but a day’s march from us, with the people of Usanda and Masari, and a score of times we came near being plunged into wars because the natives mistook our Expedition for Mirambo’s force; but our color always saved us before we became actually engaged in conflict.
Various were our fortunes in our travels between Mgongo Tembo, in Iramba, and the Niyanza. We traversed the whole length of Usukuma, through the districts of Mombiti, Usiha, Mondo, Sengerema and Marya, and, passing through Usmaow, re-entered Usukuma by Uchambi, and arrived at the lake after a march of 720 miles.
As far as Western Ugogo I may pass over without attempting to describe the country, as readers may obtain a detailed account of it from How I Found Livingstone. Thence north is a new country to all, and a brief description of it may be interesting to students of African geography.
North of Mizanza a level plain extends as far as the frontier of Usandawi, a distance of thirty-five miles (English). At Mukondoku the altitude, as indicated by two first rate aneroids, was 2,800 feet. At Mtiwi, twenty miles north, the altitude was 2,825 feet. Diverging west and northwest, we ascend the slope of a lengthy mountain wall, apparently, but which, upon arriving at the summit we ascertain to be a wide plateau, covered with forest. This plateau has an altitude of 3,800 feet at its eastern extremity; but as it extends westward it rises to a height of 4,500 feet. It embraces all Uyanzi, Unyanyembe, Usukuma, Urimi and Iramba — in short, all that part of Central Africa lying between the valley of the Rufiji south and the Victoria Niyanza north, and the mean altitude of this broad upland cannot exceed 4,500 feet. From Mizanza to the Niyanza is a distance of nearly 300 geographical miles, yet at no part of this long journey did the aneroids indicate a higher altitude than 5,100 feet above the sea.
As far as Urimi, from the eastern edge of the plateau, the land is covered with a dense jungle of acacias, which, by its density, strangles all other species of vegetation. Here and there, only in the cleft of a rock, a giant euphorbia may be seen, sole lord of its sterile domain. The soil is shallow, and consists of vegetable mould mixed largely with sand and detritus of the bare rocks, which crown each knoll and ridge, and which testify too plainly to the violence of the periodical rains.
In the basin of Matongo, in Southern Urimi, we were instructed by the ruins of hills and ridges, relics of a loftier upland, of what has been effected by nature in the course of long ages. No learned geological savant need ever expound to the traveler who views these rocky ruins the geological history of this country. From a distance we viewed the glistening, naked and riven rocks as a singular scene; but when we stood among them, and noted the appearance of the rocky fragments of granite, gneiss and prophyry, peeled, as it were, rind after rind, or leaf after leaf, like an artichoke, until the rock was wasted away, it seemed as if Dame Nature had left these relics, these hilly skeletons, to demonstrate her laws and career. It seemed to me as if she said, “Lo and behold this broad basin of Matongo, with its teeming village and herds of cattle and fields of corn, surrounded by these bare rocks — in primeval time this land was covered with water, it was the bed of a vast sea. The waters were dried, leaving a wide expanse of level land, upon which I caused heavy rains to fall five months out of each year during all the ages that have elapsed since first the hot sunshine fell upon the soil. These rains washed away the loose sand and made deep furrows in course of time, until at certain places the rocky kernel under the soil began to appear. The furrows became enlarged, the water frittered away their banks and conveyed the earth away to lower levels, through which it wore away a channel first through the soil and lastly through the rock itself, which you may see if you but walk to the bottom of that basin. You will there behold a channel worn through the solid rock some fifty feet in depth; and as you look on that you will have an idea of the power and force of tropical rains. It is through that channel that the soil robbed from these rocks has been carried away towards the Niyanza to fill its depths and in time make dry land of it. Now, you may ask how came these once solid rocks, which are now but skeletons of hills and stony heaps, to be thus split into so many fragments? Have you never seen the effect of water thrown upon lime? The solid rocks have been broken and peeled in an almost similar manner. The tropic sun heated the surface of these rocks to an intense heat, and the cold rain falling upon the heated surface caused them to split and peel as you now see them.”
This is really the geological history of this country simply told. Ridge after ridge, basin after basin, from Western Ugogo to the Niyanza, tells the same tale; but it is not until we enter Central Urimi that we begin to marvel at the violence of the process by which Nature has transformed the face of the land. For here the perennial springs and rivulets begin to unite and form rivers, after collecting and absorbing the moisture from the watershed; and these rivers, though but gentle streams during the dry season, become formidable during the rains. It is in Central Irimi that the Nile first begins to levy tribute upon Equatorial Africa, and if you look upon the map and draw a line east from the latitude of Ujiji to longitude thirty-five degrees you will strike upon the sources of the Leewumbu, which is the extreme southern feeder of the Victoria N’yanza.
In Iramba, between Mgongo Tembo and Mombiti we came upon what must have been in former times an arm of the Victoria Niyanza. It is called the Luwamberri Plain, after a river of that name, and is about forty miles in width. Its altitude is 3,775 feet above the sea and but a few feet above the Victoria Niyanza. We were fortunate in crossing the broad, shallow stream in the dry season, for during the masika, or rainy season, the plain is converted into a wide lake.
The Leewumbu River, after a course of 170 miles, becomes known in Usukuma as the Monangah River. After another run of 100 miles it is converted into Shimeeyu, under which name it enters the Victoria east of this port of Kagehyi. Roughly the Shimeeyu may be said to have a length of 350 miles.
After penetrating the forest and jungle west of the Luwamberri we enter Usukuma — a country thickly peopled and rich in cattle. It is a series of rolling plains, with here and there, far apart, a chain of jagged hills. The descent to the lake is so gradual that I expect to find upon sounding it, as I intend to do, that, though it covers a vast area, it is very shallow.
Now, after our long journey, the Expedition is halted a hundred yards from the lake, and as I look upon its dancing waters I long to launch the Lady Alice and venture out to explore its mysteries. Though on its shore, I am as ignorant of its configuration and extent as any man in England or America. I have questioned the natives of Uchambi closely upon the subject at issue, but no one can tell me positively whether the lake is one or more. I hear a multitude of strange names, but whether they are of countries or lakes it is impossible to divine, their knowledge of it being very superficial. My impression, however, is that Speke, in his bold sketch and imagined outline, is nearer the truth than Livingstone, who reported of it upon hearsay at a great distance from its shores; but as soon as I can finish my letters to you and my friends the sections of the Lady Alice will be screwed together, and the first English boat that ever sailed on the African lakes shall venture upon her mission of thoroughly exploring every nook and cranny of the shores of the Victoria. It is with great pride and pleasure I think of our success in conveying such a large boat safely through the hundreds of miles of jungle which we traversed, and just now I feel as though the entire wealth of the universe could not bribe me to turn back from my work. Indeed, it is with the utmost impatience that I think of the task of writing my letters before starting upon the more pleasant work of exploring, but I remember the precept, “Duty before pleasure.”
I hear of strange tales about the countries on the shores of this lake, which make me still more eager to start. One man reports a country peopled with dwarfs, another with giants, and another is said to possess a breed of such large dogs that even my mastiffs are said to have been small compared to them. All these may be idle romance, and I lay no stress on anything reported to me, as I hope to be enabled to see with my own eyes all the wonders of these unknown countries.
It is unfortunate that I have not Speke’s book with me; but a map of Central Africa which I have with me contains the statement, in brackets, that the Victoria Niyanza has an altitude of only 3,308 feet above the ocean. If this statement is on Speke’s authority, either he or I am wrong, for my two aneroids, almost fresh from England, make it much higher. One ranges from 3,550 to 3,650 feet; the other from 3,575 to 3,675 feet. I have not boiled my thermometers yet, but intend doing so before starting on the work of exploring the lake. I have no reason to suspect that the aneroids are at fault, as they are both first class, and have been carefully carried with the chronometers.
With regard to Speke’s position of Muanza, I incline to think that he is right, but as I have not visited Muanza I cannot tell. The natives point it out westward of Kagehyi and but a short distance off. The position of the port of Kagehyi is south latitude 2 deg. 31 min., east longitude 33 deg. 13 min.
I mustered the men of the expedition yesterday and ascertained it to consist of three white men and 166 Wanguana soldiers and carriers, twenty-eight having died since leaving Ituru thirty days ago. Over one-half of our force has thus been lost by desertion and deaths. This is terrible, but I hope that their long rest here will revive the weak and strengthen the strong. The dreadful scourge of the expedition has been dysentery and I can boast of but few men cured of it by medicine, though it was freely given, as we were possessed of abundance of medical stores. A great drawback to their cure has been the necessity of moving on, whereas a few days’ rest, in a country blessed with good water and food, would have restored many of them to health; but good water and good food could not be procured anywhere together except here. The Arabs would have taken nine months or a year to march this long distance, while we have performed it in only 103 days, including halts. As I vaccinated every member of the expedition on the coast, I am happy to say that not one fell a victim to smallpox.
I leave this letter in the hands of Sungoro, a Msawahili trader, who resides here, in the hope that he will be enabled shortly to send it to Unyanyembe, as he frequently sends caravans there with ivory; but a copy of it I shall take with me to Uganda, and deliver it to Mtesa, the King, to be conveyed, if possible, to Colonel Gordon. Since leaving Mpwapwa I have not met one caravan bound for Zanzibar; and after leaving Ugogo it was impossible to meet one, or to despatch couriers through such dangerous countries as we have traversed. The letters containing the account of our explorations of the Victoria Niyanza and our subsequent march to the Albert Niyanza I hope to be able to deliver personally into the hands of Colonel Gordon.
P.S. You may have observed that I have differed from Captain Speke in spelling Nyanza, as he calls it. I have taken the liberty of writing it as it is actually pronounced by both Arabs and natives, Ni-yanza or Nee-yanza. 20
March 5. The boiling point observed by one of Negretti & Zambra’s apparatus this day was 205 degrees 6 minutes; temperature of air, 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiling point observed by another instrument by a different maker was 205 degrees 5 minutes; temperature of air, 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The barometer at the same time indicated 26.90 inches. The mean of the barometrical observations at Zanzibar was 30.048. The mean of the barometrical observations during seven days’ residence here has been 26.138.