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To the Central African Lakes and Back: The Narrative of the Royal Geographical Society's East African Expedition, 1878-80

Nature volume 24, pages 353354 | Download Citation



OUR readers must be familiar with the leading feature: of the remarkable Expedition which set out at the end of 1878 under the leadership of Mr. Keith Johnston, and returned in 1880 under that of Mr. Joseph Thomson. We have already told the story of the Expedition pretty fully, and Mr. Thomson himself described in these pages the main points in the geology of the Expedition which he traversed. Mr. Thomson was a very young and inexperienced man when, by the sad death of his accomplished chief, the command of the Expedition devolved upon him, just after it had got over the initial difficulties of the coast region and entered on the great tableland which occupies the greater part of the African area. Mr. Thomson showed himself at once equal to the emergency, and succeeded in winning a reputation that is likely to prove fruitful of good results both for himself and for African geology. He has been equally successful in telling the story of his journey. He writes in quiet and simple, but effective, style, his pages are full of incident and information of great interest, and he has a sense of humour and a love of fun which are not only of service to him under trying conditions, but which render his book light and pleasant reading. After seasoning themselves by a little trip to Usambarra, Messrs. Johnston and Thomson (the latter geologist to the Expedition), at the head of 150 men, left Dar-es-Salaam in May, 1879, for the north end of Lake Nyassa. A month later Mr. Johnston died at Behobeho, to the north of the Rufiji, just when the mountains that bound the plateau had been reached, through the usual difficulties attending African travel, partly arising from the nature of the country, partly from the natives, and partly from the men who formed the Expedition; but Mr. Thomson overcame them all with more than usual tact, and with unprecedented success. After a short rest at Lake Nyassa the route was resumed over the previously untraversed country between Nyassa and the south end of Lake Tanganyika. Leaving most of his men here, Mr. Thomson, with a small contingent, proceeded up the rugged west side of the lake to the famous river, about whose course Messrs. Cameron and Stanley gave such inconsistent accounts—the Lukuga. Mr. Thomson's observations on this river are of great value in connection with African hydrography. He found that Cameron and Stanley were both right. At Cameron's visit, what little current existed was towards the lake; Stanley, later on, found a distinct current setting from the lake, and prophesied that in a short time the barrier of vegetation across the river not far from its mouth would be carried away, and the Lukuga would carry the waters of Tanganyika in a full stream to the Lualaba-Congo. And this, Mr. Thomson found, had actually come to pass; he saw the Lukuga as a broad, swift effluent from Lake Tanganyika. When, however, he returned two months later, he found that the strength of the current had considerably decreased, as had also the volume of the river. Mr. Thomson discusses the interesting problem of the Tanganyika at some length, and with great intelligence, as well as with the knowledge of a trained and practical geologist. He refers to the facts observed by previous travellers as well as himself, as to the rise and fall of the level of the lake, the hydrography of the neighbouring country, &c, and concludes as follows:—

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