Captain Sir Richard Burton and the “Speke-easy” …
Burton went to Africa in late 1858 with the thirty year old John Speke, who had been wounded with him in Somaliland. This was to prove a disastrous choice. Speke was a passionate game hunter and eager explorer, and also a passable geographer, but he had no competence as a linguist. He was stubborn and competitive, and prone to nurture secret grievances. Alan Moorehead pointed out in The White Nile: “Burton needed a disciple and instead he got a rival.” Moreover, Speke was apparently subject to depressions. “Before we set out,” Richard Burton noted later, “he openly declared that, being tired of life, he had come to be killed in Africa.” Burton on the other hand, was too easily contemptuous and free with criticism, too insistent on being right by virtue of being leader.
On the journey both men were plagued with terrible illnesses, succumbing to almost every disease of the jungle. They suffered also from tropical rain, heat, insects, fatigue, and malnutrition, as well as constant fear of attack from hostile neighbors. After fourteen months they found themselves on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Unable to explore it completely because of opposition from the natives, by no means certain that it was the Nile source, Burton nevertheless was content to end the exploration. Exhausted and ill, he decided to convalesce in Kazeh, where there were Arab traders with whom he could talk, to put his notes in order, and to gather data on the native languages.
Speke pushed on alone to discover the second great inland lake-Victoria- and returned to tell Burton he was certain he had found the true source of the Nile. Jealous and arrogant, Burton scorned the younger man’s claims, pointing out that Speke had neither explored the lake nor ascertained its outlet. Tension between the two men over the issue quickly became intolerable. There were no supplies, however, for further exploration to settle the question, and the men began the hazardous journey home. It was a nightmare of sickness and distrust.
When they got to Aden in March, 1859, Burton dallied, permitting Speke to arrive in London before him. Ignoring his promise to make a joint report with Burton before the Royal Geographical Society, Speke went at once to the president, Sir Roderick Murchison, and convinced him he had discovered the Nile source singlehandedly. In a speech before the Society, he again described the expedition in these terms, incidentally attacking Burton and belittling his role. The group at once invited Speke to head a new exhibition to Africa and raised a substantial sum for it, 2,500, all of which was skillfully managed before Burton’s arrival twelve days later.
Back in London, Burton found himself largely ignored and forgotten. “I shall never forget him as he was then,” Isabel Burton later wrote. “He had had twenty-one attacks of fever, had been partially paralyzed and partially blinded; he was a mere skeleton, with brown yellow skin hanging in bags, his eyes protruding, and his lips drawn away from his teeth.” Full of compassion, she helped nurse him back to health, meanwhile protesting indignantly among his influential friends against what she believed to be Speke’s unpardonable betrayal.
(see link at end)…Burton and his party were attacked by 300 natives, who swarmed round them during the night, and tried to entrap and entangle them by throwing down the tents. A desperate hand-to-hand fight then ensued. Javelins hissed, war-clubs crashed. The forty-two coloured auxiliaries promptly took to their heels, leaving the four Englishmen to do as they could. Stroyan fell early in the fight. Burton, who had nothing but a sabre, fought like a demon; Speke, on his left near the entrance of the tent, did deadly execution with a pair of revolvers; Herne on his right emptied into the enemy a sixshooter, and then hammered it with the butt end. Burton, while sabreing his way towards the sea, was struck by a javelin, which pierced both cheeks, and struck out four of his teeth. Speke received eleven wounds, from which, however, he took no harm—a touching proof,
ments Burton, of how difficult it is to kill a man in sound health. Eventually the survivors, stained with blood, and fearfully exhausted, but carrying, nevertheless, the corpse of poor Stroyan, managed to reach a friendly native craft, which straightway took them back to Aden. Read More:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4315/4315-h/4315-h.htm
…The chief trouble at Kazeh, as elsewhere, arose from the green scorpion, but there were also lizards and gargantuan spiders. Vermin under an inch in length, such as fleas, ants, and mosquitoes, were deemed unworthy of notice. The march soon began again, but they had not proceeded many miles before Burton fell with partial paralysis brought on my malaria; and Speke, whom Burton always called “Jack,” became partially blind. Thoughts of the elmy fields and the bistre furrows of Elstree and the tasselled coppices of Tours crowded Burton’s brain; and he wrote:
“I hear the sound I used to hear,
The laugh of joy, the groan of pain,
The sounds of childhood sound again
Death must be near.”
At last, on the 13th February they saw before them a long streak of light. “Look, master, look,” cried Burton’s Arab guide, “behold the great water!” They advanced a few yards, and then an enormous expanse of blue burst into sight. There, in the lap of its steel-coloured mountains, basking in the gorgeous tropical sunshine, lay the great lake Tanganyika. The goal had been reached; by his daring, shrewdness and resolution he had overcome all difficulties. Like the soldiers in Tacitus, in victory he found all things—health, vigour, abundance. ( ibid.)