Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer (Tim Jeal)

This is another book read and enjoyed by Mr Maxted.  his synopsis and review follow:

Between 1874 and 1877, Henry Moreton Stanley circumnavigated and produced the first reliable maps of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika and the river system of the Central African watershed. He mapped the course of the Congo and took boiling point readings to establish heights above sea-level and used a theodolite to estimate the height of distant hills. On 24 September 2002 his original map of the Congo sold for £78,000 at Christie’s. In 1876 he stated that he thought that the Kagera river was ‘the true parent of the Victoria Nile’, exactly what was claimed in 2006 by a British and New Zealand expedition, and established Lake Victoria as the primary source of the Nile.  

 Stanley negotiated on behalf of Belgian king, Leopold II but refused to agree to impose treaties on tribal chiefs which ceded sovereignty over their lands. He was accused of brutality and racism but his letters show a man loyal and generous to his friends and sources show that he was not a racist. Right from the beginning of his first African trip he was ‘prepared to admit any black man possessing the attributes of true manhood, or any good qualities, to my friendship, even to a brotherhood with myself’. And he hated it when any black man was called ‘nigger’ by a white. He called the word ugly and derisive.  

Stanley has ironically been compared unfavourably with Livingstone whose saintly image he did much to uphold and yet Livingstone also killed Africans and made some significant navigational miscalculations which Stanley did not. Livingstone’s neglected wife became an alcoholic and his eldest son changed his name and left the country. During his last journey, Livingstone failed to discipline his followers so that their crimes included rape, murder and slave-dealing. As a consequence he was forced to rely on Arab-Swahili slave-traders to protect him.  

In the closing sentence of this extraordinary biography of an almost unbelievable life, Tim Jeal states that “Facts, too, can change reputations, and there are more than enough in the family archive in Brussels to make sure that, one day, Henry Morton Stanley will no longer be a scapegoat for the post-colonial guilt of successive generations”.


Author: Berkhamsted School Library

Main aims for Berkhamsted School Library • to provide a central resource for the whole school curriculum • to encourage an ethos of enquiry and discovery • to assist pupils in becoming confident and independent learners • to develop research and information skills throughout the school • to offer resources which enrich cultural values and experiences for pupils, as well as have a role in their recreational life and promote reading for pleasure as a lifelong activity

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