Catalogue description West Africa Niger Expedition

Details of Subseries within RM 19
Reference: Subseries within RM 19
Title: West Africa Niger Expedition
Description:

Records relating to the West Africa Niger Expedition, led by William Balfour Baikie.

Date: c 1840-1886
Held by: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives, not available at The National Archives
Former reference in its original department: AEX/1
Legal status: Not Public Record(s)
Physical description: 1 volume(s)
Administrative / biographical background:

The West Africa Niger Expedition was led by William Balfour Baikie (1825-1864) up the rivers Kwora and Benue in Niger from 1859 to 1863. The Expedition also comprised Lieutenant Glover, the Surveyor and a Botanist, Charles Barter, a Kew Gardener until his death in 1859, being in fact the second expedition, the first having taken place in 1854.. He was later replaced by Gustav Mann, also a Kew Gardener, on the recommendation of William Hooker, then Director at Kew. The purpose of the expedition was to make an official survey of the Niger for the British Government and the idea of Earl of Clarendon, then head of Foreign Department as the Royal Geographical Society at the time was directing its attention to the Niger and urged the government to undertake a survey which would provide charts and maps. During that first major inland expedition up the Niger and its tributaries, Baikie managed to navigate and record scientific data along 700 miles of river, including constant latitude and longitude readings. Indeed, the Pleiad had gone 250 miles further along the Benue than other explorers had dared to venture before. The ship reached the mouth of the Niger exactly 16 weeks after they had set out and not a single white man aboard had died of malaria or some other fever, which seemed endemic at the time; the loss of Charles Barter, the first Botanist of the expedition, was due to dysentery. As Baikie explored the uncharted territory around the upper reaches of the Benue River, he named places after people he knew and respected, including his university professors. There is a Mount Traill and a Mount Christison in that area of Nigeria called after his Edinburgh lecturers, and there is a Mount Trenabie, named after the Westray estate of his Balfour relatives. But he was self-deprecating enough not to use his own name for any place names. Commenting on the success of the 1854 expedition, Baikie himself said: 'We have discovered a navigable river, an available highway, conducting us into the very heart of a large continent. We have found these regions to be highly favoured by nature, teeming with animal life, and with fertile soils abounding in valuable vegetable products. We have met on friendly terms with numerous tribes, all endowed by nature with what I might term the 'commercial faculty,' ready and anxious to trade with us.'. It seems that Gustav Mann never actually reached the expedition itself, but instead based himself on Fernando Po, (now called Bioko) an island off the west coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea; he used it as base from which to explore other areas, such as the Cameroon mountains, and collected thousands of very high quality specimens despite perilous conditions.

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