Celebrate Our Greatest Explorer; There Is No Statue in Wales of Henry Stanley, the Most Famous Welsh Explorer Who Ever Lived. Tim Jeal, Whose Biography of Stanley Is Just out, Explains Why the Greatest of All the Victorian Explorers Deserves to Be Properly Celebrated in the Land of His Birth

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 17, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Celebrate Our Greatest Explorer; There Is No Statue in Wales of Henry Stanley, the Most Famous Welsh Explorer Who Ever Lived. Tim Jeal, Whose Biography of Stanley Is Just out, Explains Why the Greatest of All the Victorian Explorers Deserves to Be Properly Celebrated in the Land of His Birth


Byline: Tim Jeal

HENRY MORTON STANLEY, in one stupendous journey, from 1874-77, sailed round two of Africa's great lakes for the first time, proving that the Nile flowed from one of them, and traced the unknown course of the Congo 1,800 miles from central Africa to the Atlantic.

During this death-defying journey, three white companions died as did 129 of his 225 black followers.

He had just solved all Africa's remaining geographical mysteries.

So why is there no statue of Stanley in Wales?

Partly because he outraged his fellow countrymen by changing his name from the Welsh John Rowlands to that of a New Orleans cotton broker, Henry Stanley.

After that, he would not be forgiven for over a century.

He added insult to injury by pretending to be an American from the age of 20. But all this was only because both his Welsh parents had rejected him at birth, and because other relatives had then dumped him in St Asaph workhouse for a decade. When he became world-famous, his mother and his stepfather and other relatives, tried to extract large sums from him. So his change of identity was not due to a dislike of Wales. It was an attempt to distance himself from his heartless family.

Nor is there a statue of him anywhere in Britain. This is because Stanley has been said to have been brutal to Africans, and has been held responsible, with King Leopold II of Belgium, for horrific crimes against the Congolese people.

Unlike Stanley's earlier biographers, I gained access to the vast archive bought from Stanley's family by the Belgian Royal Museum of Central Africa 30 years ago. These papers show he was modest, loyal to his friends, and feared that he might never attract the kind of woman he longed to settle down with. They also show that he wrote tenderlyof Africans far more often than critically.

Even before starting my research, I wondered why, if he had really been brutal, so many of his black bearers had volunteered to serve him three and even four times?

I soon found that, as a journalist, Stanley had exaggerated his fights with Africans to make his copy more exciting. In a note, dated 18 July 1877, he claimed to have "fought 32 battles" and "destroyed 28 large towns" on the Congo.

This has often been quoted to prove his brutality. But in Belgium I found nothing in his original diary to support the idea that, in the five months when the "32 battles" were alleged to have occurred, he destroyed a single town or fought Africans in earnest. In the first "battle", a few spears were thrown harmlessly into his camp, and three months later in "the fight of fights" (his phrase), his claim to have fought against 60 canoes, was flatly contradicted by Frank Pocock, his companion, who estimated in his diary that there had been no more than six canoes chasing after them on the river, and that casualties were light on both sides.

Stanley emigrated to America aged 18.

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Celebrate Our Greatest Explorer; There Is No Statue in Wales of Henry Stanley, the Most Famous Welsh Explorer Who Ever Lived. Tim Jeal, Whose Biography of Stanley Is Just out, Explains Why the Greatest of All the Victorian Explorers Deserves to Be Properly Celebrated in the Land of His Birth
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