Letter regarding the Nile
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To the Editor of the Times.
Sir, As you daily devote a certain portion of the Times to redressing wrongs, I may hope that you will not make an exception to the disadvantage of Captain Burton.
Five African explorers have pined for the honour of discovering the sources of the Nile, and each one in his turn has believed himself to be that fortunate person, until now that Livingstone (the one who cared the least for that honour) has discovered waters more southerly still. We have all been looking forward with eagerness for this news. Judge, then, of my mortification at the meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on Monday night, to hear all the papers read and discussed almost without reference to Captain Burton, who is en route to Damascus. His lake (Tanganyika), which lies the nearest to Livingstone's new discovery, was almost skipped over, and my revered friend, Sir Roderick Murchison, spoke of 'Central, or Equatorial Africa, in which lie those great water basins which, thanks to the labours of Speke, Grant, and Baker, are known to feed the Nile.' After the meeting I went up to Sir Roderick Murchison and asked him why Captain Burton had been left out, and he replied in the kindest manner, that if it had been so, it was a mere oversight, which he was sorry should have occurred, and I heard him give the order that it should be rectified in the report before sent to press. I see by your columns of Wednesday, the 10th, that it was not done, and I therefore ask you in kindness and courtesy to insert these few lines, that Captain Burton may not be counted for nothing by that large meeting on Monday night in the matter nearest his heart.
In 1854 and 1855 Captain Burton was employed in heading the Somali Expedition (which ended so fatally), taking with him Captain Speke and two others. From 1856 to 1859 he was occupied in exploring Central Equatorial Africa, taking again Captain Speke as second in command. He was the first to conceive the idea twenty years ago, the first to enter and to penetrate that country, which he did under every obstacle and difficulty, bringing back sufficient information to smooth the path to all who chose to follow him. Lake Tanganyika was his first discovery, Nyanza was Speke's.
In 1860 Captain Speke started on his own account, taking Captain Grant as second in command, whereby we gained some three hundred and fifty geographical miles, only hitherto known by vague report Captain Burton spent those three years on the West Coast, at Dahome and Du Chaillu's country, making ten years, off and on, in Africa.
Then followed Sir Samuel Baker's Lake, and now Livingstone's.
It is therefore impossible to ignore Captain Burton's services in the Nile question. Dr. Livingstone has undoubtedly discovered the sources, and must rank the first, but no man can claim the second honour, or the water nearest Livingstone's discovery, but Captain Burton, and no one can deny the fact that he, so to speak, opened the oyster for the others to get at the pearl.
All our friends are asking me why he was left out the other night, and the kind-hearted ones offer me the consoling proverb that 'good wine needs no bush,' which, after all, is nonsense to any but connoisseurs.
I am, Sir, yours obediently,
- ISABEL BURTON.