Explorations in Equatorial Africa
Posted 16 July, 2010 13:04 by Karla Baker
The subject of this entry is close to my heart; that it should be has no real explanation, but for whatever reason, I have long since been drawn to the exploits of adventurers and explorers, and most particularly, those that contended with the mighty continent that is Africa.
I do not think that I am alone in this fascination. As these events unfolded, primarily during the latter half of the 19th century, the contemporaneous thirst for knowledge was almost unquenchable. Yet for them, the news reaching home was revolutionary, awe inspiring and genuinely world changing.
Consequently, the exploits of these explorers inspired a plethora of subsidiary activity and map makers such as Bartholomew were not above cashing in. However, in this instance such activity cannot be judged purely cynically as maps really did have a vital part to play. They helped to reveal the murky corners of our planet. The unknown rivers, mountains, lakes and forests began to emerge, sense and order imposed upon an area which previously occupied the realms of the imagination.
Bartholomew produced a lot of African mapping at this time, no doubt related to the expansion of the Empire into Africa coupled with their reputation at home. But, they also produced maps retrospectively and the latter type of map is the focus of this entry.
On the 28 April 1902 Bartholomew printed 4080 sets of a sheet of nine maps. As the title reveals, they provide a graphic representation of the state of knowledge of the Equatorial Lakes as provided by a succession of different explorers.
Compiling this information must surely have proved difficult and it would appear as a testimony to Bartholomew’s reputation that they could be relied upon to deliver the goods. But then, reputation and contacts seem to have been an important part of business life at the turn of the last century and by a very happy coincidence it emerges that the commission for these maps came from an old friend of both Bartholomew and me, none other than Sir Harry H. Johnston!
Sir Harry is a stalwart of this blog and if you are unfamiliar with him allow me to point you in the direction of an earlier entry, The Empire Strikes Back, which provides a brief introduction to him. Harry’s life became immutable from the central Africa which he came to both love and despair of. His works on the subject are substantial, some are even influential, and the maps printed by Bartholomew on this occasion were destined for his mammoth, two volume tome The Uganda Protectorate published by Hutchinson & Co in 1902.
Harry had much sympathy for these explorers; he himself spent a considerable amount of time exploring this region, albeit arguably more for pleasure than anything else. That said, he had trained as an artist and used these journeys to capture illustrations of the flora and fauna which he encountered, such as this Okapi which he is credited with discovering.
He was also an extremely gifted linguist and these trips equally provided him with the source material for his seminal work on the Bantu and semi-Bantu languages of the region. As such, it is perhaps forgivable that he includes his own name amongst a list of his exploring contemporaries.
The Lakes region was a conundrum for the explorers that were attracted to it. Mysterious and fascinating, missionaries such as Livingstone saw them rather more pragmatically as the key to opening up the dark heart of Africa.
These maps are testament to the endeavours of a succession of men, keen to unlock the intricate and complex hydrology of the area and the concomitant contribution to the greater body of knowledge which they made.
However, since Harry helped to inspire this entry it seems only fitting that he should have the final word.