The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? Looking at the Evidence

The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? Looking at the Evidence

The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? Looking at the Evidence

The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? Looking at the Evidence

Synopsis

This is a study of the famous controversy between Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, fellow explorers who quarreled over Speke's claim to have discovered the source of the Nile during their African expedition in 1857-59. Speke died of a gunshot wound, probably accidental, the day before a scheduled debate with Burton in 1864. Burton has had the upper hand in subsequent accounts. Speke has been called a "cad." In light of new evidence and after a careful reading of duelling texts, Carnochan concludes that the case against Speke remains unproven-and that the story, as normally told, displays the inescapable uncertainty of historical narrative.

All was fair in this love-war.

Excerpt

The mid-nineteenth century in Britain was a great age of African exploration. the missionary David Livingstone (1813–1873) and the adventurers Richard Burton (1821–1890) and John Hanning Speke (1827–1864) were public heroes. But the partnership of Burton and Speke, in their legendary search for the source of the Nile, was strained almost from the start of their acquaintance. a climax came after Speke claimed, in 1858, to have discovered the Nile source in the lake he named after Queen Victoria. Burton did not accompany Speke to the lake, for reasons that are less than clear, and he passionately rejected Speke’s claim. He also charged him with violating a promise not to report his discovery to the Royal Geographical Society without Burton also being present. the sad ending of their story came in September 1864, following another African expedition by Speke and James Augustus Grant to confirm the Nile source. Speke and Burton were to debate the question of the Nile at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Bath. On the day before the debate, the two met on the platform where it was scheduled to take place. Speke immediately left in agitation without a word to Burton. a few hours later he was dead, dying of a gunshot wound suffered while shooting partridge at his cousin’s estate nearby. Burton lived twenty-six more years.

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