CFP: Hakluyt Society Symposium 2019: Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters

Call for Papers

The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2019

Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters (1400-1900)

5-6 September 2019

Leiden University, the Netherlands

Organised in collaboration with the Linschoten-Vereeniging, Itinerario, and Leiden University’s Institute for History

Deadline: 1 March 2019

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Keynote: Joshua Reid (UW Seattle).

Speakers confirmed: Pepijn Brandon (VU), Nathalia Brichet (Aarhus), Kevin Dawson (UC Merced), Mariana de Campos Françozo (Leiden), John McAleer (Southampton), Elsje van Kessel (St. Andrews), Sujit Sivasundaram (Cambridge).


Maritime histories have always told stories about power. Whether in the form of narratives about mastery of the seas, conquest of lands, or enslavement of peoples, traditional accounts of enterprising explorers and hardy mariners have located power and agency with a limited groups of actors: almost always male, and predominantly European. In doing so, histories of maritime encounters have mostly reproduced the perspectives contained in their sources, foregrounding the actions of European men and casting other actors as largely passive, peripheral, or powerless. These histories are in need of revision.

This conference seeks to explore new narratives of maritime power, to investigate the ways in which power was constituted and contested, how it was gendered and racialised, and through what strategies it was subverted or resisted. It aims to bring together historians working on (the limits of) state and non-state power, multiple actors and traditions of seafaring and exploration, and the agency of women, enslaved people, and other historically marginalised groups. Moreover, by expanding the focus to include environmental histories, this conference seeks to reconsider interrelations between humans and their marine surroundings.

This two-day conference will host senior experts and early career researchers in a cross-disciplinary conversation aimed at critically rethinking the role of power in maritime history. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to:

  • Asymmetrical power relations
  • Global actors and agency
  • Writing and discursive power
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Maritime power and the environment
  • Materiality and maritime encounters
  • Maritime encounters and spatiality
  • Resistance, mutinies, rebellions
  • Slavery and maritime labour

Held in the historic city of Leiden, Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters is organised by the Hakluyt Society in collaboration with the Linschoten-Vereeniging. Prospective speakers are invited to submit proposals of no more than 300 words for 20-minute papers along with a brief bio statement to hakluytleiden2019@gmail.com by 1 March 2019. Contributions from postgraduate researchers are particularly encouraged.

The Hakluyt Society will make available five travel bursaries (up to £200 each) to postgraduate and early career applicants with limited access to funding – if you would like to apply for a bursary, please indicate this when sending your abstract and explain your reasons for applying. Reduced registration fees apply for members of the Hakluyt Society and Linschoten-Vereeniging.

Organising committee: Michiel van Groesen, Carolien Stolte, Suze Zijlstra (Universiteit Leiden), and Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick)

Download CFP and poster.


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Hakluyt Society Research Funding 2019

For the fourth year running, the Hakluyt Society in pleased to announce its annual round of Research Funding. In furtherance of the principal objects of the Hakluyt Society, to promote the study of historical exploration, travel, and worldwide cultural encounter, the Society operates two schemes of research funding. These are:

  • The Hakluyt Society Research Grant, up to six of which will be available per calendar year, with a maximum allocation of £1500 each.
  • The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship, two of which will be available per calendar year. The Fellowship may be held for a maximum of four months, with a maximum allowance of £1650 per month. 

These funding opportunities are open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the objects of the Hakluyt Society. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society, and applications must be received by 31 January 2019.

Please ensure that you have read the guidelines below before completing the Application Form.


 

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Guidelines

1. Hakluyt Society funding is given to support and extend the stated aims of the Society. The primary aim of the Society is ‘to advance knowledge and education by the publication of scholarly editions of primary records of voyages, travels and other geographical material’. In addition, the Society also undertakes and supports activities supplementary to its primary role as a publisher of scholarly texts: ‘by organizing and participating in meetings, symposia and conferences which contribute to an increased awareness of geographical exploration and cultural encounter’. Applicants should state clearly in their application how the proposed project meets the aims of the Society

2. The applicant must be a member of the Hakluyt Society at the time of application. (For further information about membership and the activities of the Hakluyt Society, please visit www.hakluyt.com).

3. In completing the form, applicants should make clear which one of the two funding sources is being applied for. It is not possible to apply for both of the funding sources in the same year. In the event of successful application, further financial support from the Society will not normally be considered within two years.

4. The Abstract should be written in language suitable for a non-academic audience and outline the importance and timeliness of the work proposed and its fit to the work of the Society. The section Description of the Research, should place the nature of the research proposed in relation to the relevant scholarly literature and identify the originality and significance of the work proposed.

5. Where relevant, the library/archive or other repository to be visited should be identified, as should the expected time frame in which the research will be undertaken. The application should detail the number of working days that will be spent at the library/archive/repository in question.

6. The Budget must give projected costs in as much detail as possible, and should justify the levels of expenditure proposed.

7. Plans for communication of the research should be fully explained. These should also be realistic and precisely stated.

8. Applicants should note that the funding is intended to cover the costs associated with the conduct of research (including reasonable travel and subsistence expenses), and is not for an applicant’s ongoing maintenance expenses during the period of research. Maintenance can be paid, however, for periods when the research requires the applicant to live away from home. Please note that Hakluyt Society research funding is for research with identifiable publication plans only and may not be used simply for dissertation research or write-up. Funding will not be given for computer hardware or software costs. If applicants are in any doubt over allowable costs, they are advised to contact the Society.

9. Successful applicants are required to acknowledge the support of the Hakluyt Society in any resultant Hakluyt Society publication, other research publication or in events of outreach and dissemination.

10. The maximum sum available for a Hakluyt Society Research Grant (HSRG) is £1500. Normally, there will be up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants available in any one research funding year (April to March). Normally, there will be two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowships available in any funding year. The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship (HSSTF) may be held for a maximum of four calendar months. The maximum sum available for the Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship will be £1650 per calendar month (i.e., the maximum sum that may be sought is £6600). Normally, there will be two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship available in any one funding year.

Normally, in the event of successful application, the sum awarded will be paid directly to the named applicant. It is the applicant’s responsibility to provide the Society with full details of the bank account into which the award should be paid. Upon completion of the project for which an award has been made, the applicant is expected to provide the Society with a summary of the expenditure, with itemized receipts for the same, a brief report of the work undertaken and a blog post on the work or some aspect of it, suitable for publication on the Hakluyt Society Blog. The Society (at office@hakluyt.com) would like to receive the summary of expenditure, report and blog post as soon as possible after the research is completed, but requires them no later than one month after the research funding year, i.e. by 30 April 2019.

11. Successful candidates will receive notification of the outcome of their application. Due to the volume of applications, please note that the Society is unable to enter into correspondence on individual unsuccessful applications. The Society reserves the right to invite selected unsuccessful candidates to develop their proposals further to reapply in subsequent rounds, and may provide additional feedback in such cases.


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The voyage of Captain John Narbrough to the Strait of Magellan and the South Sea in his Majesty’s Ship Sweepstakes 1669-1671

The Hakluyt Society is pleased to present its newest publication: The Voyage of Captain John Narbrough to the Strait of Magellan and the South Sea in his Majesty’s Ship Sweepstakes, 1669-1671, edited by Richard J. Campbell, Peter T. Bradley, and Joyce Lorimer. Purchased in 2009 by the British Library, John Narbrough’s fair copy of the journal of his voyage through the Strait of Magellan and north to Valdivia in the Sweepstakes (1669-1671) is now published for the first time, together with an incomplete and somewhat different copy of the journal, held in the Bodleian Library. The Hakluyt Society publication furthermore contains previously unpublished records made by members of Narbrough’s company, as well as reproductions of the charts on which he relied and those he produced. In this blog post, Captain Richard Campbell explains the circumstances of Narbrough’s voyage and the scholarly significance of the new edition.


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In May 1669 Captain John Narbrough was appointed to command HMS Sweepstakes for a voyage to the West Indies, Shortly thereafter an adventurer who has gone down in history as Don Carlos (he gave different versions of his name, nationality and accounts of his life to virtually everyone with whom he came in contact) submitted a proposal to King Charles II for a voyage to South America with an apparent view to establishing trading relation with the native inhabitants and stirring up a rebellion against the Spanish authorities. The King, having had this proposal investigated, agreed to sending a frigate with a pink in company on a voyage of discovery with a view to investigating the prospects of trade.

Cover Narbrough

Narbrough, whose ship was by this time anchored in the Downs, was recalled to London where he was personally instructed by the King and the Lord High Admiral, James, Duke of York to embark Don Carlos and sail for South America, south of the Río de la Plata and discover the coast round through the Strait of Magellan as far north as Valdivia, making contact with the native inhabitants and ascertaining what the prospects were for trade, with the evident unwritten aim of trying to encroach on the Spanish access to the gold in the area. It is quite clear in Narbrough’s instructions that the King did not trust Don Carlos, but Narbrough was ordered to take his advice if he found him to have any knowledge of the area they were to visit.

An account of this voyage was published in 1669 with a second edition in 1711. This is an abbreviated version of a manuscript in the Bodleian Museum, augmented by the journal kept by Lieutenant Peckett, one of Narbrough’s officers.

The voyage resulted in a series of charts of the harbours visited and of the Strait of Magellan, which became the basic standard of all subsequent charts of the Strait for the next hundred years, together with the knowledge that trade in that area would be impracticable. While in Valdivia, a Lieutenant and three members of Narbrough’s company were detained by the Spanish Governor who refused all requests for their release. Narbrough, whose company by this time was reduced to about 70 people, with a garrison of over 600 Spaniards ashore, and having been expressly forbidden by the King from taking any military action against the Spanish, was forced to leave them there (together with Don Carlos who had been secretly landed at his own request and subsequently surrendered to the Spanish).

On his return to England, Narbrough was well received by the King and immediately re-employed. He went on to have a very distinguished career, being knighted and serving as Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean and a Commissioner of the Navy.

Narbrough map
‘A Draught of Porte San Julyan’ (British Library, BL, Add MSS 88980C)

In the nineteenth century, largely as a result of Admiral Burney’s very unfavourable account of the voyage, it came to be considered a complete disaster – he wrote “It might ironically have been said, that the business of Narbrough’s voyage was to set four men ashore at Baldivia. The persons landed were left to their fate without interference being made on their behalf by the British Government.”[1] This view of the voyage has largely persisted until the present day.

In 2009, the British Library launched a successful appeal to purchase Narbrough’s own manuscript of this voyage, which in the current Hakluyt Society edition is now published in full for the first time, together with the complete Bodleian manuscript; the journal of Lieutenant Peckett; the “short accompt” of Richard Williams, and the journal of William Chambers, who was mate of the pink which accompanied the Sweepstakes for the first part of the voyage. There are also extracts from John Woods’ account and sailing directions, which were abbreviated, combined and published by William Hack in 1699 (of which there are modern reproductions available).  It has also been possible to locate Don Carlos’ original proposals in The National Archives and make use of various other Spanish archives to fill out the picture of his activities.

The new Hakluyt Society edition presents a much fuller account of the voyage than that published in 1694, together with detail of its advent, and seeks to demonstrate that Narbrough carried out his instructions to the letter, and that despite the loss of his men in Valdivia the voyage fulfilled the Kings orders. It also aims to reinstate Narbrough as the exceedingly competent and courageous naval officer he undoubtedly was, and give the voyage its proper place in the hydrographic history of the Strait of Magellan.


Captain Richard J. Campbell, OBE., Royal Navy, joined BRNC Dartmouth as a Cadet in 1946. After service in submarines he specialised in Hydrograhic Surveying. He worked in various regions round the world including Antarctica and the Falkland Islands when he visited the Strait of Magellan. His last command was HMS Hydra serving as a Hospital Ship in the Falkland War in 1982, after which he served in the UK Hydrographic Office until his retirement in 1994. His previous publications for the Hakluyt Society include: The Discovery of the South Shetland Islands / The Voyage of the Brig Williams, 1819-1820 and The Journal of Midshipman C.W. Poynter (3rd series, no. 4); and ‘The Journal of HMS Beagle in the Strait of Magellan, by Pringle Stokes, Commander RN 1827′, in: Four Travel Journals / The Americas, Antarctica and Africa / 1775-1874 (3rd series, no. 18).

[1] Burney, James, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (5 vols, London 1803-17), Vol III, p. 375.


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Hakluyt Society Essay Prize 2019 (deadline: 30 November 2018)

For the fifth year running, submissions are invited for the annual Hakluyt Society Essay Prize. The award (or more than one, if the judges so decide) has this year seen an increase in value to a maximum total of £1,000. The prize or prizes for 2019 will be presented, if possible, at the Hakluyt Society’s Annual General Meeting in London in June 2019. Winners will also receive a one-year membership of the Hakluyt Society. The Society hopes that the winning essay will be published, either in the Society’s online journal or in a recognised academic journal.

Joint winners of the 2018 Essay Prize were Darren Smith (University of Sydney) and Whitney Robles (Harvard University). Previous winners include Owain Lawson (2015), Nailya Shamgunova (2016), and Annemarie Mclaren (2017). You can read about their winning essays herehere and here.


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Eligibility criteria

The competition is open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university or equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years. Proof of student status or of the date of a degree must accompany any submission. Allowance can be made for maternity leave.

Scope and subject matter

Before considering the submission of an essay, entrants should visit the Hakluyt Society’s web-site (www.hakluyt.com) to make themselves aware of the object of the Society and the scope and nature of its publications. Essays should be based on original research in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences, and on an aspect of the history of travel, exploration and cultural encounter or their effects, in the tradition of the work of the Society.

Essays should be in English (except for such citations in languages other than English as may appear in footnotes or endnotes) and between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length (including notes, excluding bibliography). Illustrations, diagrams and tables essential to the text fall outside the word count. Submissions should be unpublished, and not currently in press, in production or under review elsewhere.

Submission procedures and deadline

Essays should be submitted as email attachments in Word.doc format to The Administrator at office@hakluyt.com by 30 November 2018. The entrant’s name, address (including preferred email address), institutional affiliation (if any, with date of admission), and degrees (if any, with dates of conferment) should appear within the body of the email, together with a note of the title of the submitted essay. The subject line of the email should include the words ‘HAKLUYT SOCIETY ESSAY PRIZE’ and the author’s name. By submitting an essay, an entrant certifies that it is the entrant’s own original work.

Selection procedure

The Judging Panel encourages innovative submissions that make an important contribution to knowledge, or a critical or methodological contribution to scholarship. The panel and selected reviewers will pay attention to the analytical rigour, originality, wider significance, depth and scope of the work, as well as to style and presentation. The panel comprises selected academic faculty from among past and present members of the Hakluyt Society’s Council, including the editorial board of The Journal of the Hakluyt Society.

The Prize Committee reserves the right not to award a prize, if no submission is judged to be of sufficient merit. The Committee’s decision will be announced in April 2019.

NOTE: Prize winners agree to acknowledge the receipt of their award in any future publication of the prize essay. In addition, they will be expected to contribute to the Society’s public dissemination as appropriate. This may include, but is not limited to, presenting a paper at a Hakluyt Society symposium (in which case travel expenses within the UK will be reimbursed) and contributing to the Hakluyt Society blog.

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Hakluyt Society Editorial Workshop: A Report by Captain Mike Barritt

On 4 May 2018, the Hakluyt Society hosted its first Editorial Workshop for current and prospective editors of primary historical accounts. The workshop included a session led by former Hakluyt Society President Michael Barritt, focusing on references for terminology, particularly for toponyms and nautical terms, with emphasis on resources available on-line. The following notes by Captain Barritt will serve as general guidance for scholars editing primary materials, particularly those of a maritime nature.


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Present-Day Toponymy

To start, editors should refer to official publications produced by the relevant national authority or a dependable derived publication. In the maritime sphere charts and sailing directions are produced in hard and soft copy by many Hydrographic Offices. Details can be found online using a standard search engine. The Office of Coast Survey makes all charts of domestic US waters available for download online. This is exceptional.

A useful online source, analogous to Google Maps and Earth, is the website of Navionics, where the Chart Viewer allows access to digital charting of most areas. The toponymy on this site will reflect usage of the contiguous state.

The best source of all is the world-wide coverage of Sailing Directions or ‘Pilots’ published by the UK Hydrographic Office, in which nomenclature will have been rigorously checked. Their coverage can be seen in another British Admiralty publication, NP 100, The Mariner’s Handbook. A bonus in this and the Pilots is the inclusion of comprehensive glossaries of geographical and nautical terms. Second-hand copies of all these volumes can be found via online sellers and will be authoritative in all but areas of very rapid change and development.

Toponymy at the Time of the Creation of the Edited Text

Contemporaneous charts can be found in major archives and libraries, and many of these are digitising their collections. The work of the National Library of Australia is particularly impressive, and the display includes an excellent zoom facility.

The Royal Museums Greenwich website is not easy to navigate, but, once located, the ‘Collections’ area contains a button for ‘Charts and Maps’. On the page which is then displayed it is important to tick the box ‘Search within results’ before entering the search term. The zoom facility on those images which are available is satisfactory.

An editor drew attention to the superb coverage of maps and charts made available online by the National Library of Scotland. The staff of the archive of the UK Hydrographic Office (research@ukho.gov.uk) can provide advice and images at reasonable cost. Catalogues of early British Admiralty charts can be downloaded here. An online search, using the toponym of interest, may reveal access to older sailing directions such as John Purdy’s Memoirs or to content in The Naval Chronicle.

No firm rule is set down by the Society for use of present-day or contemporaneous toponymy on the maps in its editions. Consistency, however, is vital.

Nautical Terms

A good first stop for glossaries is the backlist of Hakluyt Society volumes, e.g. the edition of Alejandro Malaspina‘s Pacific voyages [Hakluyt Society Third Series, nos. 8, 11, 13] for Spanish terms; and the French voyages by Louis-Antoine de Bougainville and Jean-François de Galaup de la Perouse edited by John Dunmore.

Bougainville

Copies of recommended sources can be readily found via second-hand booksellers. Amongst those highlighted during the presentation were:

The Country Life Book of Nautical Terms – comprehensive, accessible and well-illustrated.

Guide des Termes de Marine – handy format published by Chasse Marée.

Standard works which are available online include:

The Sailor’s Word Book by W. H Smyth – a classic, comprehensive source.

Nautical Terms in English and French and French and English by L Delbos – a superb source.

The Biblioteca Digital Hispanica gives access to:

Diccionario Marino Inglés-Español Para el Uso del Colegio Naval

General Advice

Captain Barritt also highlighted volumes which provide background on navies in different periods and details of ships, and more detailed treatises such as John Harland’s Seamanship in the Age of Sail.

He noted the website www.medievalandtudorships.org established by the University of Southampton. He suggested that editors without specialist knowledge should consider joining the Society for Nautical Research and gaining access to back numbers of The Mariner’s Mirror.

For editors of Hakluyt Society volumes, Barritt stressed the particular importance of early liaison with the Society’s cartographic adviser and cartographer to determine the scheme needed to complement the text. The volume editor would be expected at a minimum to provide a list of toponyms which he wished to be included.

He concluded with some examples of errors in published volumes to substantiate his advice that access to reference sources will not guarantee correct translation or explanation in the apparatus of a volume. He urged the importance of including in the Society’s Editorial Advisory Group, where appropriate, someone with nautical experience who can understand ‘what is going on’ in the description of a maritime phase of a narrative.


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Grant, the Nile Expedition and Colonisation

The latest Hakluyt Society publication,  ‘A Walk Across Africa: J.A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863’, edited by Roy Bridges, has now been distributed to members. In a series of blog posts, Professor Bridges, a past president of the Society and expert of African history, shines his light on the new volume. In this third post, he reflects on the theme of post-colonial readings of exploration, seeking to provide a more historicised portrayal of Grant that challenges popular views of him as a ‘colonialist explorer’.


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In the early twenty-first century, much popular and academic opinion tends to roundly condemn anything to do with Britain’s past activities in overseas regions as ‘imperialism’ or ‘colonialism’. These activities are, by definition, reprehensible exploitation of non-Western peoples.

It is not politically correct to write about the so-called exploiters. An explorer like Grant is clearly, it is supposed, part of the exploitation processes. His ‘false modesty’ and ‘false philanthropy’ must be exposed. Hence, to give only one example, what I believe was intended as a little joke to be played on Grant by his companion Speke, has been interpreted by post-colonial writers and commentators as an assertion of cultural superiority over the inferior Africans.

The two pictures here (figures 1 and 2) tell the story. Grant attempted to depict a dance as shown in figure 1. The picture was adapted by the engraver working on Speke’s 1863 book to show Grant – drawn as a comic book Scotsman complete with deerstalker – dancing with a bare-breasted African female, called Ukulima as shown in  figure 2. I believe Speke arranged to have the picture so engraved in order to play a little joke on his fellow Indian Army officer.

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Figure 1. The Dance at Doondah in Ukuni, 23 June 1861. This is the original version of the picture which was misrepresented in the version which appeared in Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile p. 138, with Grant wearing Scottish-style clothes inserted as dancing with a female.

 

Figure 2 blog 3 dance engraving
Figure 2. How Speke’s book, p.138, showed the dance with Ukulima who has been transformed into a female and Grant into a comic-book Scot.

In fact, Ukulima was an elderly Nyamwezi chief who was undoubtedly male. Grant’s original picture, as may be noted, does not show Ukulima or himself.

It seems to me absurd to read into Speke’s joke picture serious assertions about the expedition as an exercise in cultural imperialism. Grant, the representative of an advanced civilisation demonstrates his superiority by contrasting himself with the ‘primitive’ African woman. There are other examples, such as Grant drawing what he noted might one day be a steamboat on Lake Victoria (figure 3). This has been seen as an example of Grant demonstrating that he was ‘monarch of all he surveyed’. But Grant drew the picture to amuse his African porters. At the time, incidentally, as for most of the trip, he was entirely at the mercy of the African peoples he encountered, not in any sort of position of power.

This is not to deny that Grant was an imperialist of a kind and moreover someone who after 1864 did his best to promote activities which he believed would ‘redeem’ Africa and provide African peoples with a happier future. His imperialism was probably of a kind which reflected Palmerston’s mid-century brand of ‘free trade imperialism’, with everyone recognising that no British government would be willing to take over new territories to rule.

In other words, one should attempt to provide an accurate and understanding account of Britain’s overseas activities in the past and the assumptions that were made about them at the time. At the period of Grant’s expedition and for the next twenty years, no-one could have foreseen that the Scramble for Africa would take place in the 1880s and 1890s. Even if the details of what occurred were moulded by African events, that it happened at all was probably for global international relations reasons as new powers arose to challenge the previous hegemony of the Europeans, notably as far as Africa was concerned, Britain and France.

MS17919_NO25
Figure 3. Grant’s first view of Lake Victoria at Mwengaruka Bay on the 9th May 1862 when he was at the north west corner looking towards the Sese Islands. The steamship and two other large vessels were imaginary: Grant inserted them to amuse his African companions and to forecast what he hoped would be the future.

The final part of the Introduction to my Hakluyt Society edition of Grant’s Walk surveys the actual historical situation in East Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century and goes on to survey the literature which has dealt – or failed to deal — with Grant and the other explorers of East Africa.

Grant was certainly not a colonialist explorer but a distinguished and worthy traveller. He was, nevertheless, one who was inevitably a child of his time who cannot be held responsible for the deplorable outrages which were later sometimes perpetrated by those seeking to impose their brand of alien rule on Africa.

If anything, Grant was part of a continuing tradition of attempts to improve the lot of some of his fellow men even if that was in what may be regarded as an over-paternalistic manner. He deserves to be remembered with at least considerable respect and his activities examined, not in the light of some easily-assumed contemporary superior morality, but in the light of the actual situation of his time.


Roy Bridges is Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Aberdeen. He joined the Hakluyt Society in 1964 and became its President from 2004 to 2010. With Paul Hair he edited Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth (1996) for the Society’s 150th anniversary. His edition of Jacob Wainwright’s ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, in Four Travel Journals (2006) was the first Hakluyt text by an African. He has now produced an edition of Grant’s A Walk across Africa (2018). Among other books and articles are several studies of the Society’s founder, W.D. Cooley.


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‘A Walk Across Africa’: The Nile Source Problem

The latest Hakluyt Society publication,  ‘A Walk Across Africa: J.A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863’, edited by Roy Bridges, has now been distributed to members. In a series of blog posts, Professor Bridges, a past president of the Society and expert of African history, shines his light on the new volume. In this second post, he goes deeper into the central problem behind the 1860 expedition led by John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant: the 2000-year old question about the source of the Nile.


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When, in 1860, the Royal Geographical Society decided to send Speke and Grant to search for the source of the world’s longest river, the Nile, they were asking the two men to settle not only a series of arguments and disputed information which had arisen during the 1850s, but also arguments and speculations which had interested the learned world for over two thousand years or more.

The immediate problem was that the RGS, founded in 1830, had become a powerful almost quasi-official institution keen to garner accurate geographical information but also perhaps to use that information in the service of especially British overseas interests. A knowledge base would be provided for the officials and service personnel who operated around the world, and not least those concerned with the Middle East and the sea approaches from the Indian Ocean to the all-important India. Hence East Africa began to be seen as part of that interest.

In East Africa itself, developing economic activities in the Indian Ocean region had begun to attract Africans to go down to the coast to sell their ivory or their own labour. Soon Arab and Swahili traders from Zanzibar and the coast towns began more frequently to penetrate inland. As a result, uncertain information filtered out to Europeans about lakes and mountains in the interior and this stimulated speculation on the Nile source which surely had to be somewhere in that region.

In 1856, the RGS commissioned Richard Burton, who already had a great reputation as a traveller in India, Arabia, and Somaliland, to go inland and search for the lakes and the Nile source. Burton chose as his companion, John Hanning Speke, the fellow Indian Army officer who had been with him in Somaliland. Travelling along the ‘caravan’ route from the Zanzibar Coast to Tabora, the two men went on to reach Lake Tanganyika in 1858. They were unable to discover the lake’s outlet. Whether the lake had any connection to the Nile remained in doubt.

On the way back to the coast, while Burton was ill, Speke made a ‘flying trip’ northwards and reached a lake which he named Lake Victoria and claimed must be the source of the Nile. Burton was less certain of this and was angry and mortified when on his return to England, Speke persuaded the RGS to send him on another expedition to prove his Nile theory. He chose yet another India Army officer, James Augustus Grant, the subject of this book, to accompany him.

Hoping to be met on the Upper Nile by a Welsh trader called John Petherick, the two men travelled on to Buganda and, controversially and unfortunately, only Speke himself visited the spot where the Nile does indeed debouch from Lake Victoria, on 28 July 1862.

Back in England in 1863, Speke found that his old companion Burton now threw doubt on his discovery: Burton insisted that his discovery – Lake Tanganyika – must be the western lake reservoir of the Nile, as shown on maps which interpreted the information on the river’s source provided by the 2nd century AD astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (figure 1). Thus the old and the new arguments and speculations about the Nile were brought together.

Grant map 4
Figure 1. Sir Harry Johnston’s Interpretation of Ptolemy’s Information on the Nile. In his Uganda Protectorate of 1902, Johnston provided this map showing what he claimed was Ptolemy’s concept of the Nile source. Note that the two lakes are designated as Albert and Victoria. Given the fact that he had lived in the region, it is difficult to know where Johnston thought the ‘Lunæ Montes’ could have been.

In the end, Speke was right, but he had died in a shooting accident in September 1864. Argument went on. Perhaps, some people argued, Speke’s discovery was Ptolemy’s Eastern lake reservoir while the Western was actually not Tanganyika but another lake discovered by S.W. Baker in 1864, after he had been directed to it by Grant’s map. Incidentally he, Baker, named his discovery, perhaps inevitably, Lake Albert.

It is my contention in the Hakluyt Society edition of Grant’s Walk that the information from Ptolemy is nonsense and that the credulity about it that was displayed in the 1860s and has continued to be demonstrated, even in the twenty-first century, is badly misplaced, to say the least. Rather, I argue, the Nile source problem should be examined not in terms of the arguments between Burton and Speke or the alleged information from Ptolemy (which incidentally helped to push Livingstone to his death), but in terms of geography and, more particularly, the geomorphological history of the Upper Nile.

In this respect, the book offers a major new insight into the Nile problem and so provides an important perspective on the expedition of which Grant’s information and pictures provide such a vital record.

Grant map 9
Figure 2. Grant’s February 1863 map showing the Result of the Expedition. As reproduced in the Illustrated London News of 4th July 1863 shortly after the return of Grant and Speke, this gave the RGS and others in Britain an immediate idea of what the expedition had achieved. Most notably, the map identified the source of the Nile as being in Lake Victoria. However, it also showed how Grant interpreted the general layout of lakes and rivers in East Africa and the upper Nile whilst the Expedition was still in progress.

Roy Bridges is Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Aberdeen. He joined the Hakluyt Society in 1964 and became its President from 2004 to 2010. With Paul Hair he edited Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth (1996) for the Society’s 150th anniversary. His edition of Jacob Wainwright’s ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, in Four Travel Journals (2006) was the first Hakluyt text by an African. He has now produced an edition of Grant’s A Walk across Africa (2018). Among other books and articles are several studies of the Society’s founder, W.D. Cooley.


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