Thursday Jul 24

The Expedition to Harar

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sourcw  Richard Francis Burton - English Explorer, Scholar, Soldier and Diplomat (1821-1890)

For his expedition to Somalia, Burton selected three officers: Lieutenant WILLIAM STROYAN of the Indian Navy whom Burton had worked with in Sind; Lieutenant G.E. HERNE of the 1st Bombay European Infantry, a man skilled in photography and surveying; and Assistant Surgeon J.E. STOCKS. Stocks died of 'apoplexy' shortly before departure, but Burton, Stroyan and Herne sailed for Aden, arriving on 1.10.54. At Aden, to fill the place left vacant by Stocks, a young lieutenant, JOHN HANNING SPEKE, was taken on. On the recommendation of James Outram, the British resident at Aden, Burton would proceed alone to Harar while his fellow officers would carry out geographical explorations nearer the coast. Herne was sent to Berbera, joined in January 1855 by Stroyan, to assess the state of commerce and the caravan routes, and to visit the coastal mountains, while Speke was landed at Arz Al-Aman to explore the Wadi Nogal (Nugaal) which was reputed to be gold-bearing. (Speke, after travelling a short distance through the mountains of northern Somalia, was forced to return to Aden in January 1855 due to the treachery of his guide.) Burton, in Arab disguise, took a small steamer from Aden on 29.10.54 and landed at Zayla (Zeila, now Saylac) two days later to spend a month studying Somali customs and language. Leaving Zayla on 27.11.54 with a party of nine, including two female cooks and five camels, he moved directly westward, passing through the village of Wilensi (Welensi) on 27.12.54 and entering the city of Harar on 13.1.55. An interview with Sultn Ahmad bin Abu Bakr, the amir of Harar, passed peaceably and Burton revealed his identity as an Englishman. In the city he was spied upon constantly, but during his ten days in Harar he learnt much from local scholars. Leaving Harar on 13.1.55 with two companions, Burton returned to Wilensi, where he spent a week writing up his notes, and arrived back on the coast at Bulhar (= Bullaxaar), then a deserted ruin, on 10.1.55. Another day brought him to Berbera, where Herne and Stroyan were waiting for him. The three explorers arrived back in Aden on 12.2.55, Speke having returned a few weeks earlier.

Back in Aden, Burton now proposed a more ambitious expedition: a trek to the Nile from the Somali coast. Two months were spent in preparation, and in early April 1855 Burton, Speke, Herne and Stroyan returned to Berbera in the East India Company schooner "Mahi" and on 7.4.55 set up camp outside the city. On 18.4.55, having survived an electric storm which opened the Somali monsoon period, the camp came under severe attack by Somali tribesmen. Burton, Speke and Herne narrowly escaped with their lives, but Stroyan was killed by a spear through the heart. The proposed expedition was immediately abandoned and the three survivors, carrying Stroyan's corpse, staggered into Berbera and took ship for Aden. Stroyan, his body decomposing too rapidly for removal to Aden, was buried at sea. Burton returned to England in May 1855 and, after reading a paper to the Royal Geographical Society, volunteered for service in the Crimean War. By way of Marseille and Constantinople he arrived at Balaklava to be appointed chief of staff of a contingent of Turkish irregular cavalry. He remained in the Crimea until the end of the war in February 1856.

ISABEL BURTON (1831-96) was born in London, the eldest daughter of eleven children of Henry Raymond Arundell, a wine merchant, and Eliza (née Gerard). The family had moved to Furze Hall, Ingatestone, Essex, where Isabel had been educated until the age of sixteen at the Convent of the Canonesses at New Hall, Chelmsford. Like her future husband she longed for adventure and the outdoor life, and often mingled with local gypsies. She first met and fell in love with Richard Burton in 1852 but for the next nine years had to be content with letters and the occasional meeting. The couple were finally married, against the wishes of Isabel's mother, in January 1861. For the next four years the couple met only when Burton returned to England, or when they could holiday together in the Canary Islands. Isabel's first more distant excursion came in 1865 when she was able to join her husband in Brazil. She subsequently accompanied her husband to Damascus and Trieste, and followed him to Egypt. After her husband's death in 1890, condemned by Burton's family for burying her husband as a Catholic, and reviled by the public and press for burning his papers, she lived in reduced economic circumstances in Baker Street, London. She died of cancer in March 1896.

Returning from the Crimean War in February 1856, Burton immediately began reviving plans for an expedition to move overland from the east coast of Africa to the Nile. By April he had resolved not just to reach the Nile, but to go in search of its source, believing it to lie in one of the great lakes reputed to lie in the heart of Central Africa. However, on the advice of the German explorer Heinrich Barth, Burton decided not to commit himself to the discovery of the Nile's source, instead volunteering to seek the 'Sea of Ujiji' (i.e. Lake Tanganyika) which had been reported by Arab traders. The Royal Geographical Society approved the project, the government granted £1000, and the East India Company gave Burton two years' leave on full pay. In the company of JOHN HANNING SPEKE (q.v.), whom Burton had selected to accompany him on the expedition, Burton sailed for Bombay, arriving on 23.11.56. After making the necessary preparations and obtaining supplies and equipment, and obtaining the services of two Goan boys, VALENTINO RODRIGUES and CAETANO ANDRADE, they sailed in an East India Company sloop on 2.12.56 and arrived in Zanzibar on 20.12.56.