This event is free for Bournemouth University staff, students and RGS-IBG members, for others there is a £5 charge collected on entry to the lecture theatre.
Find out about British expeditions for the source of the Nile in Victorian times and see an exhibit of their scientific instruments, letters and sketchbooks from the Royal Geographical Society collection. This talk will be delivered by Eugene Rae, Principal Librarian for the Royal Geographical Society.
If you look a map of Africa dating from early 19th century, you will see that apart from the coast and other early colonial enterprises (which are fairly well delineated), the interior of Africa remained largely unmapped. Towards the source of the Nile you will find a series of unrealistically drawn lakes shielded by an east-west barrier of mountains, the so called Mountains of the Moon. Such speculative geography is based on the writings of early geographers such as Ptolemy who was working in the 2nd century CE. No European explorer had yet penetrated into the heart of Africa and so the true source of the Nile remained as much of a mystery in the 19th century as it did in the 2nd.
It was this mystery that the Royal Geographical Society set out to solve. In the 1840s William Desborough Cooley, a prominent armchair geographer, began lobbying the society to send an expedition to try and find the source but it wasn’t until the 1850s that the Society’s finances were healthy enough to support such a venture. In 1857 Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke set off from Zanzibar into the interior of Africa thus beginning two decades of involvement in Central Africa searching for the elusive source of the world’s greatest river.