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James Bruce Explorer


James Bruce / Explorer

  • Name  : Bruce
  • Born  : 1730
  • Died  : 1794
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Crossing the Sudan (1771-3)

Born 14 December 1730 at Kinnaird House, Larbert near Stirling, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner. In adulthood Bruce certainly stood out from the crowd, as he was 1.93m (six foot four inches) in height with red hair. He also had a natural arrogance to go with it. He was educated at Harrow School and later studied law at Edinburgh University.

He married the daughter of a London wine-merchant in 1753 and joined the family business, but when his heavily pregnant wife died of consumption (tuberculosis) he set off on a series of travels. In 1762 he was appointed British Consul in Algiers, and six years later set off in search of the source of the Nile, a perennial holy grail in those days.

He travelled from Cairo to the Red Sea by way of the desert, then struck south eventually reaching Gondar, the capital of Abyssinia (later Ethiopia, now Eritrea) in February 1770. He continued after a stay there and reached Lake Tana, where the Blue Nile rises, in November, before returning to Gondar.

His final epic journey began from Gondar in December 1771, heading westward across the terrible landscapes of the Sudan with mountains and deserts. It would be two years before he regained Cairo, and Scotland, in 1774.

His stories were too bizarre for general acceptance, and the otherwise esteemed Dr Johnson, as he did with others, dismissed him as a fraud. He published Travels to Discover the Sources of the Nile in 1790, but this did little to allay the sceptics, and it was only with the slow rediscovery and retracing of his steps by other explorers that his findings were vindicated.

An astronomer, naturalist and linguist, Bruce use a specially-designed portable camera obscura in North Africa, producing many sketches of Roman antiquities. Back home in Kinnaird, he remarried a woman 24 years his junior. Sadly, she died in 1788 aged 34. Bruce himself was a victim of a common enough accident, falling down the stairs at the age of 64 on 27 April 1794.

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