Monday, 27 January 2014

Henry Morton Stanley


Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904), Anglo-American journalist and explorer of Africa, best known for locating Scottish missionary-explorer David Livingstone in East Africa in 1871. Sir Henry Morton Stanley was among the most accomplished and most noted European explorers of Africa. His work played an important part in bringing about the Scramble for Africa, the frenzied seizing of African territory by European powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Born John Rowlands in Denbigh, Wales, and raised in poverty, he spent his youth in a Welsh workhouse. He worked running errands in Liverpool, then sailed for New Orleans, Louisiana, as a cabin boy in 1859. An American merchant named Henry Stanley found Rowlands a job and virtually adopted him, inspiring the young man to take his benefactor’s name. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 Stanley joined the Confederate Army and in April 1862 was captured at the Battle of Shiloh. Union forces released him when he agreed to join a federal artillery regiment, but soon discharged him after he contracted dysentery. Upon his recovery, Stanley sailed with the U.S. Navy and on merchant ships before returning to the United States, where he traveled to the Rocky Mountains and took up descriptive writing. In 1866, as a correspondent for the Missouri Democrat, he traveled with the U.S. cavalry on campaigns against Native Americans in Missouri and Kansas. The next year Stanley gained employment with the New York Herald. He accompanied a British military campaign against Ethiopian emperor Theodore II and was the first to relay news of the fall of Magdala, Theodore’s capital, in 1868.


Between 1869 and 1871 the Herald’s proprietor, James Gordon Bennett, sent Stanley to report on the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt, then to Crimea, Persia, and India. His final assignment was to attempt to locate Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who had been out of touch for several years as he explored the lake region of Central Africa. This mission would make Stanley’s name. At the head of 2000 men, he set out eastward from Zanzibar toward Livingstone’s suspected whereabouts in March 1871. On the way Stanley ruthlessly crushed all opposition from Africans, a practice that he believed critical to his success but one which would taint his reputation. After eight months, on November 10, Stanley encountered the ailing Livingstone at Ujiji, a town on Lake Tanganyika, and supposedly greeted him with the famous remark, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Stanley resupplied Livingstone, nursed him back to health, and then accompanied him on an exploration of the northern end of Lake Tanganyika. Stanley’s book on these ventures, How I Found Livingstone (1872), was extremely popular in Britain. Following his return to Europe, the Herald sent Stanley to report on the British campaign against the Ashanti Kingdom in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1873. He wrote of this and his earlier Ethiopian episode in Coomassie and Magdala: Two British Campaigns (1874).

The New York Herald and London Daily Telegraph shared the cost of Stanley’s next venture, intended to answer geographical questions about Central Africa that remained after Livingstone’s death in 1873. This expedition, which lasted from October 1874 until August 1877, was one of the most difficult ever undertaken by a European explorer of Africa, yet it significantly advanced European understanding of the continent. Stanley left Zanzibar with a party of 359 and slowly made his way to Lake Victoria. He visited Kabaka (King) Mutesa of Buganda on the west side of the lake, an experience that prompted Stanley later to summon missionaries to bring Christianity to the kingdom. Stanley then circumnavigated the lake, becoming involved in several skirmishes with the inhabitants of the lakeshore. In these encounters Stanley again employed brutal methods of dealing with African resistance. In one such incident, Stanley responded to the defiance of a small island’s inhabitants with modern firepower, killing dozens and wounding many more.

After circumnavigating Lake Victoria Stanley went south, circumnavigated Lake Tanganyika, and headed west to the Lualaba River, a headstream of the Congo River that Livingstone had located. In what may have been his greatest feat of exploration, Stanley led his party down the length of the Lualaba and Congo rivers to the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of nearly 3000 km (about 2000 mi), through equatorial forests along uncharted waters. Along the way, the expedition suffered from disease, desertion, drowning, and attacks by Africans, including an ambush by thousands of cannibals. Of the 359 people who had accompanied him, only 108 reached the Atlantic. This adventure, which Stanley wrote about in Through the Dark Continent (1878), answered many of the major questions in European minds about Central African geography, including the size and drainage of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika. The trip also revealed the existence of a navigable waterway, the Congo, reaching into a region of Central Africa that held commercial potential. This was information not lost on Belgian king Leopold II, who was eager to tap Africa’s wealth.


Leopold offered Stanley employment as soon as the explorer reached Europe, but Stanley needed rest and preferred to work for the interests of Britain. When Stanley found the British less interested in developing and colonizing Central Africa, he returned to the Congo under Leopold’s sponsorship in 1879. For the next five years Stanley worked to open the lower Congo to commerce, constructing a road from the lower river to Stanley Pool (now Pool Malebo), where the river became navigable. This work earned him the African nickname Bula Matari, or “breaker of rocks,” an epithet that also aptly reflected his ruthless tendencies. He obtained treaties with local leaders recognizing the authority of the International Association of the Congo, a supposedly philanthropic organization that Leopold founded and headed. Stanley found himself competing in treaty gathering with French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, who was staking French claims in the region. This competition helped bring about the Berlin West Africa Conference, between 1884 and 1885, in which major colonial powers met to sort out competing claims in Africa. Because of Stanley’s efforts, Leopold obtained rights to what was called the Congo Free State, which occupied most of the Congo Basin. Stanley wrote about his work for Leopold in The Congo and the Founding of the Free State (1885).

Stanley next became interested in furthering British imperial aims in East Africa. He sought to do so by leading an expedition to relieve Mehmed Emin Pasha, a local governor in the Egyptian Sudan, and expanding British claims in the region. Emin had been cut off from Egypt since 1883 by a revolt led by Muhammad Ahmad, an Islamic holy man known as the Mahdi. This difficult trip, which took up most of 1888 and 1889, brought Stanley through lands no European had visited. Stanley reached Emin near Lake Albert in April 1888, but found him unwilling at first to evacuate. Stanley obtained treaties with African leaders in the region that enhanced British claims in what would become British East Africa, and by 1889 persuaded Emin to pull out. On their way to the Indian Ocean coast, Stanley sighted the Ruwenzori Range and determined that the Semliki River linked Lake Albert to Lake Edward. Stanley wrote of these exploits in his book In Darkest Africa (1890).


Stanley settled down following this last venture. In 1890 he married Dorothy Tennant and through 1892 went on lecturing tours in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. On his return to England he became a British subject again (he had become a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1885), and in 1895 he won a seat in the British Parliament, a position he held until 1900. He made his last trip to Africa in 1897, visiting British holdings in southern Africa and writing Through South Africa (1898). Stanley was knighted by British monarch Queen Victoria in 1899.


If Stanley was among the most ruthless and driven of Europe’s African explorers, he also was among the most accomplished. Much of what the Western world came to know about Central Africa, including the drainage of its lakes and rivers, was derived from Stanley’s explorations. Moreover, he was one of the central figures in events leading to the Scramble for Africa. His call for the Christianizing of Africans and for the development of commerce with the interior echoed the call Livingstone had made a decade earlier and spurred on Europeans to settle African territory. When Stanley died in 1904 virtually all of Africa was in European hands.

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