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Africa Collection

History Archive - Africa Collection

Africa is the name of one of the great continents on Earth. The name is derived from the Roman soldier Scipio Africanus who conquered the Carthaginians and whose name was later used to delineate the entire region of North Africa. Later this term evolved to include the rest of the continent as Europeans explored around the coasts, along the rivers and in the interior jungles and plains.

Many important pictorial works were composed during the European exploration and colonization of Africa which scarcely any portion of Africa during the day could be described as independent of European rule. Even the little Republic of Liberia on the west coast of Africa was founded by white Americans as a refuge for American slaves who had gained their freedom a hundred years ago. Not only was the whole of Africa controlled by Europe, but by Christian Europe; Muhammadan Turkey being excluded from any further interference in African affairs, since the Italian annexation of the Tripolitaine and the establishment of a British control in Egypt.

Overall these works are a priceless view into cultures and customs long since disappeared in Africa as well as views of pristine landscapes and settlements that have been altered by civilization expansion and development. Much like the New World, many people ventured to Africa in search of glory and riches weather through exploration, commerce or other means and some of these works were composed as a result.

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Early History

While Portugal and Spain had been fighting and colonizing back and forth in Africa for centuries and the Muslims had ventured into the interior from their coastal enclaves there was not a lot of other European nations that ventured there in search of exploration or commerce. Much of their attention was turned towards other regions such as North America, South America, the West and East Indies and the Far East.

During the 18th century there is little to record in the history of Africa. The nations of Europe, engaged in the later half of the century in almost constant warfare, and struggling for supremacy in America and the East, to a large extent lost their interest in the continent. Only on the west coast was there keen rivalry, and here the motive was security of trade rather than territorial acquisitions.

In this century the slave trade reached its highest development, the trade in gold, ivory, gum and spices being small in comparison. In the interior of the continent-Portugal's energy being expended-no interest was shown, the nations with establishments on the coast "taking no further notice of the inhabitants or their land than to obtain at the easiest rate what they procure with as little trouble as possible, or to carry them off for slaves to their plantations in America" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd ed., 1797). Even the scanty knowledge acquired by the ancients and the Arabs was in the main forgotten or disbelieved.

The prevailing ignorance may be gauged by the statement in the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that "the Gambia and Senegal rivers are only branches of the Niger." But the closing years of the 18th century, which witnessed the partial awakening of the public conscience of Europe to the iniquities of the slave trade, were also notable for the revival of interest in inner Africa. A society, the African Association, was formed in London in 1788 for the exploration of the interior of the continent. The era of great discoveries had begun a little earlier in the famous journey (1770-1772) of James Bruce through Abyssinia and Sennar, during which he determined the course of the Blue Nile.

Early Exploration

But it was through the agents of the African Association that knowledge was gained of the Niger regions. The Niger itself was first reached by Mungo Park, who travelled by way of the Gambia, in 1795. Park, on a second journey in 1805, passed Timbuktu and descended the Niger to Bussa, where he lost his life, having just failed to solve the question as to where the river reached the ocean. (This problem was ultimately solved by Richard Lander and his brother in 1830.) The first scientific explorer of South-East Africa, Dr Francisco de Lacerda, a Portuguese, also lost his life in that country. Lacerda travelled up the Zambezi to Tete, going thence towards Lake Mweru, near which he died in 1798. The first recorded crossing of Africa was accomplished between the years 1802 and 1811 by two half-caste Portuguese traders, Pedro Baptista and A. Jose, who passed from Angola eastward to the Zambezi.

Although the Napoleonic wars distracted the attention of Europe from exploratory work in Africa, those wars nevertheless exercised great influence on the future of the continent, both in Egypt and South Africa. The occupation of Egypt (1798-1803) first by France and then by Great Britain resulted in an effort by Turkey to regain direct control over that country, followed in 1811 by the establishment under Mehemet Ali of an almost independent state, and the extension of Egyptian rule over the eastern Sudan (from 1820 onward). In South Africa the struggle with Napoleon caused Great Britain to take possession of the Dutch settlements at the Cape, and in 1814 Cape Colony, which had been continuously occupied by British troops since 1806, was formally ceded to the British crown.

Conquest of Africa

The close of the European conflicts with the battle of Waterloo was followed by vigorous efforts on the part of the British government to become better acquainted with Africa, and to substitute colonization and legitimate trade for the slave traffic, declared illegal for British subjects in 1807 and abolished by all other European powers by 1836. To West Africa Britain devoted much attention. The slave trade abolitionists had already, in 1788, formed a settlement at Sierra Leone, on the Guinea coast, for freed slaves, and from this establishment grew the colony of Sierra Leone, long notorious, by reason of its deadly climate, as "The White Man's Grave."[11] Farther east the establishments on the Gold Coast began to take a part in the politics of the interior, and the first British mission to Kumasi, despatched in 1817, led to the assumption of a protectorate over the maritime tribes heretofore governed by the Ashanti.

An expedition sent in 1816 to explore the Congo from its mouth did not succeed in getting beyond the rapids which bar the way to the interior, but in the central Sudan much better results were obtained. In 1823 three English travellers, Walter Oudney, Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton, reached Lake Chad from Tripoli-the first white men to reach that lake. The partial exploration of Bornu and the Hausa states by Clapperton, which followed, revealed the existence of large and flourishing cities and a semi-civilized people in a region hitherto unknown. The discovery in 1830 of the mouth of the Niger by Clapperton's servant Lander, already mentioned, had been preceded by the journeys of Major A. G. Laing (1826) and Rene Caillie (1827) to Timbuktu, and was followed (1832-1833) by the partial ascent of the Benue affluent of the Niger by Macgregor Laird. In 1841 a disastrous attempt was made to plant a white colony on the lower Niger, an expedition (largely philanthropic and antislavery in its inception) which ended in utter failure. Nevertheless from that time British traders remained on the lower Niger, their continued presence leading ultimately to the acquisition of political rights over the delta and the Hausa states by Great Britain.[12] Another endeavour by the British government to open up commercial relations with the Niger countries resulted in the addition of a vast amount of information concerning the countries between Timbuktu and Lake Chad, owing to the labours of Heinrich Barth (1850-1855), originally a subordinate, but the only surviving member of the expedition sent out.

Meantime considerable changes had been made in other parts of the continent, the most notable being-the occupation of Algiers by France in 1830, an end being thereby put to the piratical proceedings of the Barbary states; the continued expansion southward of Egyptian authority with the consequent additions to the knowledge of the Nile; and the establishment of independent states (Orange Free State and the Transvaal) by Dutch farmers (Boers) dissatisfied with British rule in Cape Colony. Natal, so named by Vasco da Gama, had been made a British colony (1843), the attempt of the Boers to acquire it being frustrated. The city of Zanzibar, on the island of that name, founded in 1832 by Seyyid Said of Muscat, rapidly attained importance, and Arabs began to penetrate to the great lakes of East Africa,[13] concerning which little more was known (and less believed) than in the time of Ptolemy. Accounts of a vast inland sea, and the discovery in 1848-1840, by the missionaries Ludwig Krapf and J. Rebmann, of the snow-clad mountains of Kilimanjaro and Kenya, stimulated in Europe the desire for further knowledge.

Era of Great Explorers

At this period, the middle of the 19th century, Protestant missions were carrying on active propaganda on the Guinea coast, in South Africa and in the Zanzibar dominions. Their work, largely beneficent, was being conducted in regions and among peoples little known, and in many instances missionaries turned explorers and became pioneers of trade and empire. One of the first to attempt to fill up the remaining blank spaces in the map was David Livings tone, who had been engaged since 1840 in missionary work north of the Orange. In 1849 Livingstone crossed the Kalahari Desert from south to north and reached Lake Ngami, and between 1851 and 1856 he traversed the continent from west to east, making known the great waterways of the upper Zambezi. During these journeyings Livingstone discovered, November 1855, the famous Victoria Falls, so named after the queen of England. In 1858-1864 the lower Zambezi, the Shire and Lake Nyasa were explored by Livingstone, Nyasa having been first reached by the confidential slave of Antonio da Silva Porto, a Portuguese trader established at Bihe in Angola, who crossed Africa during 1853-1856 from Benguella to the mouth of the Rovuma.

While Livingstone circumnavigated Nyasa, the more northerly lake, Tanganyika, had been visited (1858) by Richard Burton and J. H. Speke, and the last named had sighted Victoria Nyanza. Returning to East Africa with J. A. Grant, Speke reached, in 1862, the river which flowed from Victoria Nyanza, and following it (in the main) down to Egypt, had the distinction of being the first man to read the riddle of the Nile. In 1864 another Nile explorer, Samuel Baker, discovered the Albert Nyanza, the chief western reservoir of the river. In 1866 Livingstone began his last great journey, in which he made known Lakes Mweru and Bangweulu and discovered the Lualaba (the upper part of the Congo), but died (1873) before he had been able to demonstrate its ultimate course, believing indeed that the Lualaba belonged to the Nile system. Livingstone's lonely death in the heart of Africa evoked a keener desire than ever to complete the work he left undone. H. M. Stanley, who had in 1871 succeeded in finding and succouring Livingstone, started again for Zanzibar in 1874, and in the most memorable of all exploring expeditions in Africa circumnavigated Victoria Nyanza and Tanganyika, and, striking farther inland to the Lualaba, followed that river down to the Atlantic Ocean-reached in August 1877-and proved it to be the Congo. Stanley had been preceded, in 1874, at Nyangwe, Livingstone's farthest point on the Lualaba, by Lovett Cameron, who was, however, unable farther to explore its course, making his way to the west coast by a route south of the Congo.

While the great mystery of Central Africa was being solved explorers were also active in other parts of the continent. Southern Morocco, the Sahara and the Sudan were traversed in many directions between 1860 and 1875 by Gerhard Rohlfs, Georg Schweinfurth and Gustav Nachtigal. These travellers not only added considerably to geographical knowledge, but obtained invaluable information concerning the people, languages and natural history of the countries in which they sojourned.[14] Among the discoveries of Schweinfurth was one that confirmed the Greek legends of the existence beyond Egypt of a pygmy race. But the first discoverer of the dwarf races of Central Africa was Paul du Chaillu, who found them in the Ogowe district of the west coast in 1865, five years before Schweinfurth's first meeting with the Pygmies; du Chaillu having previously, as the result of journeys in the Gabun country between 1855 and 1859, made popular in Europe the knowledge of the existence of the gorilla, perhaps the gigantic ape seen by Hanno the Carthaginian, and whose existence, up to the middle of the 19th century, was thought to be as legendary as that of the Pygmies of Aristotle.

In South Africa the filling up of the map also proceeded apace. The finding, in 1869, of rich diamond fields in the valley of the Vaal river, near its confluence with the Orange, caused a rush of emigrants to that district, and led to conflicts between the Dutch and British authorities and the extension of British authority northward. In 1871 the ruins of the great Zimbabwe in Mashonaland, the chief fortress and distributing centre of the race which in medieval times worked the goldfields of South-East Africa, were explored by Karl Mauch. In the following year F. C. Selous began his journeys over South Central Africa, which continued for more than twenty years and extended over every part of Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

In the last quarter of the 19th century the map of Africa was transformed. After the discovery of the Congo the story of exploration takes second place; the continent becomes the theatre of European expansion. Lines of partition, drawn often through trackless wildernesses, marked out the possessions of Germany, France, Great Britain and other powers. Railways penetrated the interior, vast areas were opened up to civilized occupation, and from ancient Egypt to the Zambezi the continent was startled into new life.


The Africa, which has been for two million years or so separated from the great island of Madagascar, extends but little either north or south into the Temperate Zones. It is perhaps the most tropical of the continents, presents the greatest amount of land area to the vertical sun, and is consequently the hottest of the continents. Its greatest length, 5,000 miles, is from north to south, from Latitude 37°;20' N. (Cap Blanc, near Bizerta, in Tunis) to 34°;51' S. (Cape Agulhas, Cape Colony); and its greatest breadth-about 4,000 miles- is from Senegal to the eastern horn of Somaliland.

Its total area is about 11,500,000 square miles. The northernmost projection of the continent, Mauretania, is noteworthy, especially in its western portion, for its high plateaus and ranges of lofty mountains, which culminate in the Atlas peaks of Morocco, attaining to more than 15,000 feet in altitude and being under perpetual snow.

The Tripolitaine, which lies to the east of Mauretania, is little else than the Mediterranean coast of the Sahara, and consists of ranges of stony hills, low mountains, and arid plateaus, with occasional wastes of shifting sand, and a few depressions known as oases, wherein an easily reached water-supply maintains a comparatively rich vegetation. Egypt is a prolongation of this desert region traversed by the course of the Nile, which in its delta completely banishes the desert and presents us with a region of fertile mud and rich vegetation of a European and Asiatic character.

The Sahara Desert region extends with nothing but the interruption of the Nile-and the few miles of cultivated region on either side of the Nile, between the Red Sea on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Arabia carries on the characteristics of the Sahara to the south of Persia and the northwest of India.


The New Student's Reference Work (1914) pg. 22-24

1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 1. pg 320-358

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