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Mungo Park Explorer

Mungo Park / Explorers

  • Name  : Park
  • Born  : 1771
  • Died  : 1806
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Mapping the upper reaches of the Niger.

Born 10 September 1771 at Foulshiels in the Yarrow Valley, Park was a neighbour and contemporary of the future Sir Walter Scott. He was one of 14 children and went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. Through an elder sister's marriage to a seedsman, he became aware of the world of botany, and going south to London he became appointed as surgeon on a vessel exploring Sumatra in 1792. Performing well on this trip, and impressing Sir Joseph Banks, the newly formed Africa Association made him leader of an expedition to find the source of the Niger. He was a youthful, but enthusiastic 24. Beginning at the mouth of the Gambia, with six African companions, provisions for two days and a handful of other useful item such as a compass and pocket sextant, his expedition was the epitome of travelling light.

The territory into which he stepped was completely unmapped, unexplored, and potentially hostile. And that was not counting disease and wild animals. They ascended the river for 320 km (200mls) to reach Pisania (now Karantaba, The Gambia). Crossing the upper basin of the River Senegal, he was captured for four months by Arab tribes, before escaping in July 1796. He succeeded in mapping the upper reaches of the Niger, in Mali, before traversing mountainous country to arrive at Kamalia. There he lay with fevers for seven months, before regaining Pisania in June 1797.

His journal was later published as Travels into the Interior of Africa (1797) and it showed that he had a respect for the indigenous natives of the lands he was moving through. He was exploring for the sake of discovery, not for religious or trade reasons.

He returned to the Borders, where he practiced as a doctor and married a surgeon's daughter. But the lure of Africa had infected his blood, along with a host of microorganisms no doubt. Two years later he was invited to lead a government expedition to complete his exploration of the Niger. This was more heavyweight than his first, with a complement of 40 Europeans. Delays saw them starting during the rainy season, and disease struck with a vengeance.

Of the original party, only 11 made it to the Niger, followed by another six. The end came at the Bussa rapids in Nigeria. Park and his remaining companions were drowned, possibly after being attacked. This was in January 1806. It would be another six years before details of their deaths filtered out of Africa.

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