The Dead White Men

Henry Stanley

New York Herald/October 11, 1875


Letter to Pocock’s Father

Kagehyi, on the Victoria Niyanza

March 4, 1875

Dear Sir. A most unpleasant, because sad, task devolves upon me, for I have the misfortune to have to report to you the death of your son Edward of typhoid fever. His service with me was brief, but it was long enough for me to know the greatness of your loss, for I doubt that few fathers can boast of such sons as yours. Both Frank and Ted proved themselves sterling men, noble and brave hearts and faithful servants. Ted had endeared himself to the members of the expedition by his amiable nature, his cheerfulness, and by various qualifications which brought him into high favor with the native soldiers of this force. Before daybreak we were accustomed to hear the cheery notes of his bugle, which woke us to a fresh day’s labors; at night, around the camp fires, we were charmed with his sweet, simple songs, of which he had an inexhaustible repertoire. When tired also with marching it was his task to announce to the fatigued people the arrival of the vanguard at camp, so that he had become quite a treasure to us all; and I must say that I have never known men who could bear what your sons have borne on this expedition so patiently and uncomplainingly. I never heard one grumble either from Frank or Ted; have never heard them utter an illiberal remark, or express any wish that the expedition had never set foot in Africa, as many men would have done in their situation; so that you may well imagine that, if the loss of one of your sons causes grief to your paternal heart, it has been no less a grief to us, as we were all, as it were, one family, surrounded as we are by so much that is dark and forbidding.

On arriving at Suna, in Urimi, Ted came to me, after a very long march, complaining of pain in his limbs and loins. I did not think it was serious at all, nor anything uncommon after walking twenty miles, but told him to go and lie down, that he would be better on the morrow, as it was very probably fatigue. The next morning I visited him and he again complained of pains in the knees and back, at which I ascribed it to rheumatism and treated him accordingly. The third day he complained of pain in the chest, difficulty of breathing and sleeplessness, by which I perceived that he was suffering from some other malady than rheumatism, but what it could be I could not divine. He was a little feverish, so I gave him a mustard plaster and some aperient medicine. Toward night he began to wander in his head, and on examining his tongue I found it almost black, and coated with dark gray fur. At these symptoms I thought that he had a severe attack of remittent fever, from which I suffered in Ujiji in 1871, and, therefore, I watched for an opportunity to administer quinine — that is, when the fever would abate a little. But on the fourth day, the patient still wandering in his mind, I suggested to Frank, that he should sponge him with cold water, and change his clothing, during which operation I noticed that the chest of the patient was covered with spots like pimples or smallpox pustules, which perplexed me greatly. He could not have caught the smallpox, and what the disease was I could not imagine; but, in turning to my medical books, I saw that your son was suffering from typhoid, the description of which was too clear to be longer mistaken, and both Frank and I devoted our attention to him. He was nourished with arrowroot and brandy, and everything that was in our power to do was done; but it was very evident that the case was serious, though I hoped that his constitution would brave it out.

On the fifth day we were compelled to resume our journey, after a rest of four days. Ted was put in a hammock and carried on the shoulders of four men. At ten o’clock on the 17 of January we halted at Chiwyu, and the minute that he was laid down in the camp he breathed his last. Our companion was dead.

We buried him that night under a tree, on which his brother Frank had cut a deep cross, and read the beautiful service of the Church of England over him as we laid the poor wornout body in its final resting place.

Peace be to his ashes! Poor Ted deserved a better fate than dying in Africa, but it was impossible that he could have died easier. I wish that my end may be as peaceful and painless as his. He was saved the stormy scenes we went through shortly after in our war with the Waturu; and who knows how much he has been saved from? But I know that he would have rejoiced to be with us at this hour of our triumph, gazing on the laughing waters of the vast fountain of old Nile. None of us would have been more elated at the prospect before us than he, for he was a true sailor and loved the sight of water. Yet again I say, peace be to his ashes; be consoled, for Frank still lives, and from present appearance is likely to come home to you with honor and glory such as he and you may well be proud of.


Letter to Mrs. Barker

Village of Kageriji. District of Uchanbi, Usukima, Central Africa

May 15, 1875.

Dear Mrs. Barker, I grieve to have to write to yon on such a sad topic as this letter must contain. I would that someone else had undertaken the task or that Francis Pocock, your son’s companion, had fulfilled before his departure from here what I had expressly ordered him to do.

But that I wish to save you from a too sudden blow I would have delayed writing until Pocock had written his report to me of the manner how or where of your poor son’s last hours, for you must know that your son, Frederick Barker, is gone to his eternal rest.

I was absent on an exploring expedition of Lake Victoria, having left Francis Pocock and Frederick Barker in charge of my camp. Altogether I was absent fifty-eight days. When I returned, hoping that I would find that all had gone well, I was struck with the grievous news that your son had died twelve days before of an intermittent fever.

How Barker Died

What little I have been able to learn of your son’s death amounts to this: On April 22 he went out to the lake with Pocock to shoot hippopotami, and all day enjoyed himself. On the morning of the 23rd he went out for a little walk, had his tea and some pancakes, washed himself, and then suddenly said he felt ill and lay down in bed. He called for a hot stone to be applied to his feet; brandy was given him, blankets were heaped on him; but be felt such cold in his extremities that nothing availed to restore the heat in his body. His blood seems to have become congealed. At eight A. M., an hour after he lay down, he was dead. Such is what I have been able to glean from Pocock of the manner of his death, but by our next letter-carrier Pocock shall send you a complete account.

His clothes and effects shall be sold at auction in the camp, and whatever they produce, with such money as may be due to him for wages, shall be rendered to you. His papers, photos and Testament I shall keep until I have an opportunity to send them to you.

Barker’s Good Qualities

Dear Mrs. Barker, you may believe me as you may, but in Fred Barker I have lost one of as much value to me as he was dear to you. He was such a clever, quite intelligent servant that had he lived to reach home, and I had lived to see him there, his future need never have been a source of anxiety to him. Indeed, there is no doubt he before long would have ranked high in the estimation of worthy men, and become a most useful member of intelligent society. Gentlemanliness, honesty and politeness were his special characteristics. I had such confidence in him that I had placed him in charge of all my stores, and, during my absence on the lake, appointed him half share in the command of 166 soldiers.

From the coast to this lake, a distance of 720 miles; he trudged it afoot like a hero. When sick, of course he rode one of our animals. Whatever I told him became so impressed on his memory that I need never repeat the order or complain of its neglect. Whatever I advised him to do became with him a law; whatever I suggested to him immediately was obeyed as though it were a command. He was a rare young man, mettlesome, manly, and thoroughly English in his good qualities. It is then to be grieved that you have lost such a hopeful son, I such a true servant, and his country such a promising character. I sympathize with you deeply–not I alone, we all of us in this camp, for we have lost one such that his place cannot be filled. God’s comfort be with you in this distress, and believe me yours faithfully, HENRY M. STANLEY.


(Source: “Stanley’s Despatches to the New York Herald,”