An Expedition To Africa With Samuel Baker
In 1869, Sir Samuel Baker set off from Egypt in an expedition to abolish slavery in the upper reaches of the Nile. My great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis was on that expedition, acting as the Chief Shipwright.
It all began with Ismail Pasha, known as Ismail The Magnificent who was the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863-1879. The Khedive was sponsored by the British and could rely on them to maintain his regime. In turn, the Khedive sympathised with the British government’s desire to gain territory for the Empire. Ambitious and passionate about Egypt and Sudan’s future, he was investing heavily in industrial development and urbanization in order to modernise the countries he governed. Among his many projects was the building of the Suez Canal, education reform and the creation of an assembly to bring together village headmen who increased the political and economic influence over the countryside.
British expeditions into Africa during the 19th century had revealed an active and profitable slave trade and many of the expeditionaries who returned lectured and campaigned against the evil effects that it produced. Explorers would arrive back in London and describe whole tracts of land having been gutted of their population for there was lucrative money to be made from servitude.
One such explorer, Sir Samuel White Baker, had mounted an expedition to discover the source of the Nile in 1861 and although he was beaten to it, he did discover Lake Albert through which the Nile flowed. Sir Samuel White Baker was your classic english eccentric. After a private education, he completed his studies in Frankfurt and became a civil engineer. At the age of 20, he had invented a gun capable of killing an elephant with a single shot. Fluent in many languages, including arabic and german, Sir Samuel became an explorer, officer, naturalist, big game hunter, engineer, and abolitionist.
Baker was also a prolific writer and friend of the future king Edward VII, whom he accompanied on a trip to Africa. There he met and developed a friendship with Ismail Pasha that was to change the course of my great great grandfather's career. At the time Ismail Pasha was keen to expand his territory’s borders and sphere of influence so while listening to Sir Samuel White Baker talk about the slave trade, he saw a joint opportunity.
Ismail Pasha appointed Baker to a four year term as Governor General of a new territory of Equatoria that included parts of Egypt, Southern Sudan and northern parts of present-day Uganda and asked him to suppress the slave trade in the region so that it could be opened to commerce and civilisation. He was given an armed force of 1,645 Egyptian troops and the rank of Pasha and Major General in the Ottoman Army. And as the expedition would need ships to navigate the Nile, Ismail Pasha called on my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis to be the Chief Shipwright on the expedition.
Charles Robert Owen Jarvis left the employment of the Samuda Brother shipyard in September 1869 by which time he had been earning 3 pounds per week - 156 pounds per year.. His new employer was the Egyptian Government and his boss was Khedive Ismail Pasha. Charles negotiated and signed a contract giving him a salary of 35 pounds per month (420 pounds per year), some of it paid in advance in London so that Maria could take care of the children in his absence. Leaving his wife and children must have been hard, particularly as Maria was pregnant again with their eighth child. As a good husband, his last act before leaving was to move Maria and his young family out of the dirtiest part of Poplar and into a nicer house at 24 William Street, on the border of Stepney and Poplar.
Charles must have felt nervous excitement at what was to come as he boarded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s ship Hindostan, an 1,800 ton wooden paddle steamer. The journey to Alexandria in Egypt, known as the Steam Route, took 12 days and then Charles took a smaller paddle steamer up the estuary of the Nile to Cairo. There he immediately took responsibility, as Chief Shipwright with four staff, for the 36 ships to be used in the initial phase of the expedition. Charles knew the steamers to be used on the expedition well. Two of them - the Bordein and the Khedive had been built by Samuda in 1864 .
There have been many books written about the expedition, including Samuel Baker’s own account, Ismailia. His wife Florence Baker also kept a diary, in which she mentioned Charles a few times. Both Baker and his wife would collectively refer to Charles and the other English crew as the Englishmen. In his book Stanley In Africa, the author James P. Boyd, describes the entire expedition in gripping terms and rather than paraphrasing, I thought I would provide the account in its entirety (in italics) while occasionally adding commentary from other sources, including Florence Baker’s diary (in other font).
James P. Boyd’s narrative starts as follows:
Colonel Baker, on his trip to Lake Albert found that at least 15,000 Arabs, subjects of the Khedive of Egypt, were engaged in the African slave trade, with headquarters at Khartoum, and mostly in the pay of merchants there. They were nothing but cruel brigands, well armed and officered, and equal to any outrage on the natives to secure slaves and other booty. They sowed the seeds of anarchy throughout Africa, and contributed to the suspicion, treachery, blackmailing, and every evil that cropped out in the chiefs of the African tribes.
He determined to attack this moral cancer by actual cautery at the very root of the evil. These brigands were cowardly, and, he thought, could be crushed by a show of force, provided it emanated from the Khedive, the only sovereign they acknowledge. Therefore the Khedive was asked for authority, which he conferred, and Baker started having full power to suppress the slave trade, to reduce the countries south of Gondokoro, to annex them, to open navigation to the lakes under the equator, to establish military stations, to mete out death to all opponents, to govern all countries south of Gondokoro.
Baker took his wife, Lady Baker, and a goodly number of English assistants along, contracted for provisions for four years, supplied himself with money, trinkets, tools, and a total of 36 vessels, six of which were small steamers, to be increased to 55 vessels and 9 steamers at Khartoum.
In his memoir of the expedition, Ismailia, Baker mentions Charles Jarvis by name:
The English party consisted of myself and Lady Baker; Lieutenant Julian Alleyne Baker, R.N.; Mr. Edwin Higginbotham, civil engineer; Mr. Wood, secretary; Dr. Joseph Gedge, physician; Mr. Marcopolo, chief storekeeper and interpreter; Mr. McWilliam, chief engineer of steamers; Mr. Jarvis, chief shipwright; together with Messrs. Whitfield, Samson, Hitchman, and Ramsall, shipwrights, boiler-makers, &c. In addition to the above were two servants.
Now let’s get back to James P. Boyd’s story:
The armed force consisted of 1,645 troops, 200 of which were cavalry, and two batteries of artillery. The troops were of the forces of the Khedive, half Egyptians and half natives of Sudan, the latter colored and by far the best warriors. There is something to be admired in these Sudanese soldiers. They are active, willing, brave and perfectly submissive to kind discipline. They have taste, skill and are acclimated. In their tribes they perpetuate traits which must have come down from old Egyptian times. Among the wives, especially of chiefs a favorite head dress is one which is supposed to reflect the appearance of the honored sphinxes, and it is, to say the least, very becoming.
Perhaps one of the most incredible aspects of the story is what happened before the expedition even began. Knowing that a land expedition was both dangerous and impractical, Baker had 15 sloops, six steamships and 15 diahbiahs (small sailboats) dismantled in Cairo and transported by 1,000 camels to Khartoum. There they were re-assembled by Charles Jarvis and his crew - a time consuming task. Let’s continue with the story:
Every precaution was taken to have all assemble at Khartoum, but the expedition was not popular in Egypt, the boats could not be gotten over the Nile cataracts, and months rolled away before the Colonel got ready to start. The fleet of thirty-three vessels in which he did start were nearly all prepared at Khartoum. On these he embarked 1400 men for his voyage of 1450 miles to Gondokoro. His cavalry was dismissed as useless, his bodyguard was made up of a corps of picked men, forty-six in all, half of whom were white and half black, that there might be no conspiracy among them, and that the one might stimulate the other. This guard was put into perfect drill, armed with the Snider rifle, and named “The Forty Thieves,” on account of the propensity they at first manifested. They afterwards became models of military discipline.
On February 8, 1870, two small steamers and thirty-one sailing vessels started up the White Nile from Khartoum, with 850 soldiers and six months’ provisions. The rest were to follow as fast as transports could be supplied. In five days they were at Fashoda, in the Shillook country, 118 miles from Khartoum. On February 16 they reached the mouth of the Sobat, 233 miles from Khartoum. This stream was then sending down a volume of muddy water much larger than the White Nile itself.
They were now in the region of immense flats and boundless marshes through which the White Nile soaks and winds for 750 miles from Gondokoro. The river proper is almost wholly obstructed by compressed vegetation known as “sponge,” and at points this is so thick as to defy the passage of boats without cutting. But the slavers had discovered another route through an arm or bayou called the Bahr Giraffe, and this Baker determined to take. The Bahr Giraffe proved to be winding, but deep enough at first. Like the White Nile, its waters and banks abounded in game, the first specimen of the larger kind of which proved to be a lion, which bounded off to cover on the approach of the boats.
At this point in the expedition, Baker realised that he needed more flexibility in the boats at his fingertips. He describes it in his diary of the time:
“Although there was a considerable extent of forest, there was a dearth of useful timber for building purposes. The only large trees were a species of mimosa, named by the Arabs "kook." We were very short of small rowing boats, those belonging to the steamers were large and clumsy, and I wished to build a few handy dinghies that would be extremely useful for the next voyage up the obstructions of the Bahr Giraffe. I therefore instructed the English shipwrights to take the job in hand, and during a ramble through the forest they selected several trees. These were quickly felled, and the sawyers were soon at work cutting planks, keels, and all the necessary wood for boat-building. It is a pleasure to see English mechanics at work in a wild country; they finish a job while an Egyptian workman is considering how to do it. In a very short time Mr. Jarvis, the head shipwright, had constructed an impromptu workshop, with an iron roof, within the forest; several sets of sawyers were at work, and in a few days the keel of a new boat was laid down.”
Now let’s get back to our story:
By February 25, they were in a mass of floating vegetation through which a canal had to be cut. These obstructions now became frequent and could only be pierced by means of canals and dams. On March 5, the Colonel was roused from a nap on the steamer’s deck by a shock, followed by a cry “The ship’s sinking!” A hippopotamus had charged the steamer from the bottom, and then had attacked her small boat, cutting two holes through her iron plates with his tusks. The steamship was only kept from sinking by the aid of the steamer’s pumps.
At this point in the expedition, Baker paused so that repairs could be made to the flotilla. He describes the repairs in his account of the journey:
“Every vessel had been thoroughly repaired, but many were so rotten that the caulking was considered by the English shipwrights as quite unreliable for a long voyage. I had dragged the iron diahbeeah out of the water, and had substituted new plates in many places where the metal was honeycombed with rust. The plate that had been pierced by the tusks of the hippopotamus was removed, as it proved to be very defective, and could be broken through with the blow of a heavy hammer, therefore it was not astonishing that it had been easily penetrated by the sharp ivory of so powerful an animal.”
Let’s continue with the story:
Obstructions became thicker and canal cutting almost continuous. The men got sick with fever. The grass swarmed with snakes and poisonous ants. The black troops proved hardier and more patient than the Egyptians. There were some ducks but not enough to supply meat for all. The Colonel discovered a hippopotamus some distance off and ordered a boat to pull for him. He disappeared on its approach, but soon reappeared about thirty yards away. The Colonel planted a bullet in his head. The animal sank, but was found floating near the fleet the next morning. The men speedily cut him up and were delighted with their supply of fresh meat.
On March 21, while the men were digging out the steamers which had become blocked by the floating masses of vegetation, they felt something struggling beneath their feet. Scrambling away, they beheld the head of a crocodile protruding through the sudd. The black soldiers, armed with swords and bill-hooks, attacked him, and soon his flesh gladdened the cooking pots of the Sudan regiment.
In thirteen days the fleet only made twelve miles through the sudd, although a thousand men were at work all the time cutting and tugging. The Egyptians fell sick by scores, and many died. On March 27, another hippopotamus was killed, which gave the men a supply of fresh meat. Several buffaloes were also killed.
I cannot help at this point but comment on my great great grandfather’s diet. It is truly amazing to know that he feasted on a diet of hippopotamus, buffalo and crocodile. Now let’s get back to the story:
After having wasted fifty-one days since leaving Khartoum, it was discovered that the Bahr Giraffe became too shallow for further venture. Return was therefore compulsory, much to the disgust of the officers but to the great satisfaction of the troops. The whole season was lost, for no other route was practicable till there should come a flush of waters. And the return was hardly less difficult than the upward progress. The canals they had cut were filled with vegetable masses and had to be re-opened. But they finally reached the White Nile again and in time to intercept a Turkish slave party who had been raiding the Shillooks. Seventy-one slaves were found closely stowed away in their boat and eighty-four concealed on shore, under guard. These were liberated, and both slaves and captors informed that slavery had been abolished by the Khedive’s order.
Baker paused again to regroup and instructed Charles Jarvis and his crew to build some more boats more suitable to the river navigation challenges they were experiencing, as described in his diary:
“The English shipwrights had constructed three very useful boats, each exactly the same size, about 16 ft. x 5 ft.; thus we had a total of seven small boats to assist in the explorations of the obstructed river.”
Now back to the story:
The party sailed down the White Nile to its junction with the Sobat and there, on high, hard ground, prepared a permanent camp—really a little town with houses and workshops. The acquaintance of the Shillooks was made and cordial relations established. They brought their vegetables to camp to sell, and proved very kind and useful. But they had been greatly demoralized by the Arab kidnappers, as had all the tribes on both sides of the river.
Soon after they were stationed here a sail was observed bearing down the river. It proved to be that of the boat from which the slaves had been liberated up near the mouth of the Bahr Giraffe. It was ordered to stop and found to be loaded with corn. But there was an awkward smell about the forecastle. An officer drew a ramrod from a rifle and began to poke the corn. A cry came from beneath and a wooly head protruded. A woman was dragged forth by the arm. Then the planking was broken and the hold found full of slaves, packed like sardines in a barrel. Orders were given to immediately unload the vessel. One hundred and fifty slaves, many of them manacled, were taken out of that small, stench-ridden place. The slaves were released and the officers and crew of the boat put in irons. The former consisted of men and women. All were given freedom papers, and allowed the privilege of returning home. Those who did not wish to go might remain and they would be treated well. The women might marry the soldiers if they chose. Strange to say they all selected soldier husbands, and there would have been a grand wedding day after the African fashion, if Colonel Baker had not limited the engagements to a few at a time.
In addition to his duties as Chief Shipwright, Charles assisted with any other work that was needed. Baker described their activities on April 29th as follows:
The Englishmen set up their forge and anvil; and we commenced unloading corrugated iron sheets to form our magazines. Fortunately, I had a number of wall-plates, rafters, etc. that I had brought from Egypt for this purpose, as there is not straight wood in the country.
On April 30th, Baker complained that some of the officers were not doing some of the work:
We commenced erecting the iron magazines. Lieutenant Baker, Mr. Higginbotham, and the Englishmen all actively employed, while Raouf Bey and his officers, instead of attending to the pressing work of forming the permanent camp, sit under a tree and smoke and drink coffee throughout the day.
Back to Boyd’s story:
Land was cleared around the encampment, and all hands kept to work at mechanics, farming, hunting, etc. Meanwhile Colonel Baker went to Khartoum with his steamers and a fleet of sail boats for a supply of corn. He then returned and prospected up the White Nile only to find it hopelessly obstructed, unless a special expedition were sent up to cut away “the sponge” and other vegetable obstructions. He also found out that most of the leaders of the very brigands he was sent out to capture were in league with the home authorities, and that they had territory assigned them in which to operate, for which privilege they paid good round sums annually. He was therefore in the dilemma of openly serving a government which was secretly opposing him.
By December 1, 1870, at which time the Upper Nile would be in flood and the season propitious, he expected to start again from his camp at Tewfikeeyah for Gondokoro. But it was December 11 before his full fleet of twenty-six vessels got off. Not daring to risk the White Nile, he turned off again through the Bahr-Giraffe, which he found more open. Nevertheless canals had to be frequently cut through the vegetable obstructions, and nearly the same incidents as the year before were repeated. When they arrived at the shallows, there was not water enough and the boats had to be dragged over the bars, after discharging part of their cargoes.
Finally the White Nile was reached again, and all were thankful. Their last adventure in the Bafr Giraffe was with a hippopotamus which, in the night, dashed furiously on the small boats. The zinc boat was loaded with flesh. With one blow he demolished this. In another instant he seized the dingy in his immense jaws, and the crash of splintered wood told of its complete destruction. He then attacked, with a blind fury, the steam launch, and received shot after shot. Retreating for a time, he returned to the attack with even greater fury, when he received a ball in the head which keeled him over. He was evidently a character of the worst description for his body was literally covered with scars and wounds received in fights with bulls of his own species.
Baker goes into more detail in his memoir about the encounter with the hippo and the repairs to the boat in the aftermath:
“We raised the zinc boat, which was fortunately unhurt. The dinghy had lost a mouthful, as the hippopotamus had bitten out a portion of the side, including the gunwale of hard wood; he had munched out a piece like the port of a small vessel, which he had accomplished with the same ease as though it had been a slice of toast.
I sent the boat to the English shipwrights for repair, and these capital workmen turned it out in a few days nearly as good as new.”
Kudos indeed! Back to the story:
By March 10, all the vessels were afloat on the White Nile, and their further upward journey began. In a month (April 15) they were all safely at Gondokoro, 330 miles from Bahr Giraffe junction and 1400 from Khartoum. Gondokoro was much broken up and nearly depopulated. The Austrian Missionaries were gone and the place given over to raiders and kidnappers. The Bari tribes, great fighters and hunters, were in the employ of the Arab slave dealers, and Gondokoro was their headquarters. They received Colonel Baker coldly, for though they did not want to be slaves themselves, they had no objections to lending their aid to the Arab brigands to take slaves from other tribes, provided they were well paid for it.
A military station was founded at Gondokoro, on high ground, and as the river was now too low to proceed further, Baker’s army went into permanent quarters. Ground was planted in vegetables and corn, houses were built, boats were repaired, and an air of business pervaded the place. The Bari never fully reconciled themselves to Baker’s presence, preferring no government at all. They are a pastoral people, possessing large herds of cattle and living well. The men are tall and powerful, and the women not unprepossessing. But they have been so badly demoralized by the slave dealers as to be hostile to white men and to every form of restraint. They were clearly in with the brigands to starve Baker’s expedition out and force it to return to Khartoum.
Baker formally annexed all this country to Egypt, and promulgated a code of laws for its government. This brought him into actual war with all the Bari tribes and collisions were frequent, in which the natives were generally worsted. There were enemies in the water too, for the Nile at Gondokoro literally swarms with crocodiles. One of these animals tore an arm off a sailor, and another seized and devoured a washer woman who went into the water to do her washing. Many were killed by the men. Once the Colonel shot a very large one, measuring twelve feet six inches long. It was supposed to be dead and the men, having fastened a rope around its neck, began to pull it up the bank. It suddenly came to life and opened its huge jaws. The men ran off in fright, and could not be induced to return till another bullet was lodged in its skull.
The “Forty Thieves” were now a most efficient part of Colonel Baker’s forces. The Egyptians had been gradually eliminated, so that now nearly all were blacks from the Soudan. They had ceased to steal, and were models of bravery and soldierly drill and obedience. They became good shots and grew to know their superiority over the native spearmen. The entire force at Gondokoro numbered 1100 soldiers and 400 sailors. They were constantly menaced by the Bari, and never slept except under guard.
At length the various hostile tribes formed a coalition and, inflamed by the slave dealers, made a combined night attack. They were received so hotly that they soon dispersed, with the loss of many men. In this instance the fire of the “Forty Thieves” was most effective, and the natives declared they were more afraid of them than all the rest of the army. Watching from this time on was unceasing, and various offensive expeditions were fitted out whose business was to subdue the tribes by piece meal and make them acquainted with the new authorities and with the fact that dealing in slaves could no longer be tolerated on the White Nile nor in any country which might be annexed to Egypt.
Baker had found out to his regret that he could not establish monthly boat service between Gondokoro and Khartoum, as he had intended, owing to the formidable obstacles in the White Nile. Disease carried off his men and horses. A drought blighted the gardens and fields around his camp. By October, 1871, a conspiracy to desert and return to Khartoum cropped out, which involved all his troops except the “Forty Thieves.” To prevent this the vessels were run up the river on a prospecting tour. They made the discovery that corn in plenty existed in the Bari regions beyond. But it could not be bought. Whom these cunning natives could not drive out they were bound to starve out. The corn had therefore to be taken. It was a great relief to the garrison to know that they were not far from a land of abundance.
Still Colonel Baker thought it prudent to weed out his discontented forces and especially to get rid of the long list of women, children and sick who were now a burden. He therefore sent thirty vessels back to Khartoum in November. Besides a goodly supply of corn, they took along 1100 persons, leaving him with a force of about 550 soldiers and sailors. With this small force he was left to subdue hostile tribes, suppress the slave trade and annex the country. It seemed to him that the slave dealers had gained their point and defeated the object of the expedition.
Yet he persisted. Small land and river expeditions were sent out in all directions for the purpose of subjugating natives and crushing slave parties. It was on one of these that a herd of eleven bull elephants was seen from the deck of the vessel. Men were landed who surrounded them and drove them into the river. They swam to the opposite side, but the banks were high and the water deep. They were within rifle range from the vessel, and began tearing down the banks with their tusks in order to climb up. Fire was opened on them, which kept them in a state of confusion. At one time several mounted the bank, but it gave way and precipitated them all into the water. At last one got on firm ground and exposed his flank. A ball struck him behind the shoulder which sent him into the river. His struggles brought him within twenty yards of the vessel. Another bullet went crashing through his brain and despatched him. Another one was killed before the ammunition was exhausted. The carcasses of both became the prize of the men, and strange to say, many of the hostile natives, attracted to the spot by the firing, professed to be very friendly in order that they might share the rich elephant steaks. They preferred this meat to that of their own cattle, of which they had plenty.
I must say at this point in the expedition, I find it horrifying that they would kill elephants. This whole chapter of the expedition is rather unsavoury and is appalling to modern day sentiment. However, the expedition at this point were running low on rations and they were hungry. Furthermore, it is important to understand the true personality of Baker - he was one of those classic English explorers who took pride in shooting everything he came across. The only point of interest in it is knowing that in addition to hippo, buffalo and crocodile, Charles Jarvis also ate elephant. It’s hard to imagine today.
Anyway, back to the narrative:
On January 23, 1872, the expedition was off, a garrison having been left at Gondokoro. Its final destination was the Unyoro country, just north of Lake Victoria and east of Lake Albert. The expedition started under excellent auspices, except as to numbers. The “Forty Thieves” were staunch and brave, and all the Sudani soldiers were in good spirits. The Colonel’s light steamer led the way, followed by the heavier vessels. This gave him fine opportunity to prospect the country and enjoy occasional hunts. The mountains of Regiaf abut on the White Nile, about fifty or sixty miles above Gondokoro. In their midst is a fine cataract and much beautiful scenery. The geological formation is very peculiar. One curiosity was noted in the shape of an immense Syenite slab, forty-five feet long and as many wide, resting like a table on a hard clay pedestal. This stone is reverenced by the Baris, and they think that any person who sleeps under it will surely die.
Baker constantly found the Englishmen hard working and self-motivating:
My Englishmen had been, as usual, very industrious and having erected the iron magazines, they were now engaged in building a flat-bottomed barge to assist in transporting corn from the islands south of Regiaf. They had not been in the best health, but they nevertheless continued to work with an energy and spirit that were a delightful contrast to the sluggishness and apathy of the Egyptians.
The vessels could not go beyond the Regiaf cataract, and a journey overland to the Laboré country was projected. But all attempts to employ native carriers failed. The soldiers of Baker’s own force refused to draw the loaded carts. There was nothing left but to organize a small, light-armed and light-loaded force, and try the land journey in this way. This force started in February. The guide was old Lokko, a rainmaker of Laboré. Mrs. Baker went along, accompanied by a train of female carriers. They drove a herd of 1000 cows and 500 sheep. The country was thickly populated and teeming with plenty. The Laboré country was reached, after a sixty mile tramp, and they were in the midst of friends—the hated and hostile Baris having been left behind. Carriers could now be had in abundance and the journeys were rapid to the Asua, the largest tributary of the White Nile.
With the large steamers unable to navigate any further upriver, Baker had decided to continue southward using smaller boats, taking Charles and the other Englishmen with him. Florence Baker’s diary entry of January 2nd 1872 describes how close the fellow adventurers had become:
January 2nd 1872. We are going to give this evening to all the Englishmen a New Year’s dinner. We wanted to give them Christmas dinner, but we are not at home. Only I think they will enjoy their plum pudding and a beautiful salt tongue just as much on another day than they would have done on Christmas Day.
By January 20th, the party had reorganized the expedition equipment and Florence Baker’s diary entry read:
The Englishmen seem very much pleased that they go up with us.
One of Baker’s intentions at this point was to find the missing Dr. Henry Livingstone and return him to England. Florence Baker mentioned this in her diary as such:
January 22nd 1872. Sam [Baker] gave a written order to Mr. Marcopolo (the stores man) that if Dr. Livingstone should arrive at Ismailia, which would be a great and wonderful event, that every sort of supply must be given to him from the stores free of expense. But we hope that we shall meet him further south, as then we should be able to help him to his own country where everybody is very anxious to welcome him.
By January 29th, misfortune struck when Baker failed to negotiate with the local Sheikh to get enough porters to carry the expedition equipment further south. Florence Baker’s diary entry for January 29th reads::
January 29th. After all the beautiful things that Sam gave that miserable Sheikh he told Sam yesterday morning about 11 a.m. that his people would not carry the luggage. It is really quite dreadful to have anything to do with these wretched brutes of Baris!
That night, the local Sheikh’s men attacked the camp and stole the cattle. Baker’s hope of porters to carry the luggage was gone so he decided that Charles Jarvis and the other Englishmen needed to head back. Florence Baker’s diary explains it thus:
January 31st. It is very sad and heartbreaking after all Sam’s beautiful arrangements and trouble that we shall not be able to take a steamer on - of course nothing would be more delightful if we only had some transport animals, but we were now obliged to start from Khartoum without a single camel. Now we shall be worse off than we were during our former voyage because then Sam was his own master, and would not start from Khartoum without transport animals, but now we have neither natives nor animals. We shall push on with a few carts which the soldiers must drag, and the poor Englishmen must return to Ismailia, which distresses them very much indeed, and also us.
Charles and his shipwrights spent the next few days dismantling the steamer and helping to pack carts for the party that would continue south. He pleaded with Baker to continue south on foot with him, even offering to carry all his own luggage, but Baker was adamant that the Englishmen should return to Gondokoro and re-assemble the steamer ready for the return. He commented “I now had to quell the eagerness of my own good fellows, as I knew that if "the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak," and it would be impossible for Englishmen to carry loads through a journey in a tropical country.
Florence Baker’s journal entry of February 8th explains the drama:
February 8th. I have been so busy in packing and unpacking that I have not even time to write my journal up, and that is all on account of our soldiers. On the 5th February all the soldiers came in a body while we were at dinner to inform Sam that they refused to draw the carts. The “Forty Thieves” seem all right. My work has been for the last two months packing and unpacking; first I packed the boxes to be carried by natives who refused to have anything to do with us; then I had to pack the boxes again to be drawn by carts, and now I had to pack the boxes rather light as they have to be carried by sailors. The Englishmen left this morning for Ismailia. It was very sad to part - they seemed dreadfully sorry.
With Charles, his shipwrights and Mr. Higginbotham heading back north to reassemble the steamers, Baker and his wife and the contingent of soldiers continued south. Let’s get back to James P. Boyd’s narrative:
Here was a grand country. There were high mountains and fertile valleys, fine forests and plenty of game. The march now lay toward Fatiko, the capital of the Shooli. It lies at the base of the Shooa mountains, amid the most picturesque scenery, 85 miles from Laboré and 185 from Gondokoro. A grand entry into the town was made. The “Forty Thieves” and the rest of the troops were put into complete marching order. The band was ordered to play. There was a kind of dress parade and sham fight, mingled with drum and bugle sounds and the blare of the band. The manœuvres pleased the natives very much. They are fond of music, and as the troops reached a camping spot, the women of the village clustered around, assumed dancing attitudes, and in nature’s costume indulged in one of their characteristic fandanges, the old women proving even more inveterate dancers than the young.
Baker established a military station at Fatiko, leaving a detachment of 100 out of his 212 men. On March 18, 1872, he started for Unyoro. Though the intermediate country is rich in vegetation, it is uninhabited except by tropical animals, and is a common hunting ground for the tribes on either side. The Unyoros live east and north of Lake Victoria. They are a numerous people, but not so stalwart as the Laborés or Schooli. Their soil is rich, and tobacco grows to an immense size. Their town of Masindi, twenty miles east of lake Albert, whose waters can be seen from the summits of the mountains, was reached by the expedition on April 25. The country was placed under the protection of the Khedive, and the chief Kabba-Rega, son of Kamrasi, was made acquainted with the fact that hereafter slavery was prohibited. This tribe had been at times heavily raided by slave hunters, and their pens in different parts of the country were even then full of captives—probably 1000 in all. The natives themselves, as is usual with African tribes, only saw harm in this when the captives were of their own tribe. “Steal from everybody but from me,” seems to be their idea of the eighth commandment.
The expedition remained for some time in Masindi and attempted to establish a permanent military station. But the slave hunters seemed to have more power over the natives than Baker with his drilled forces and show of Egyptian authority. The chief and his subjects grew suspicious and finally hostile. They attacked Baker, and the result of the fight was their defeat and the destruction of their town by fire. Such an atmosphere was not congenial to peace and regular authority. Therefore a retreat was ordered toward Rionga on the Victoria Nile. But how to make it? Every surrounding was hostile. Porters could be had with difficulty. Worst of all, provisions were exhausted. At this critical moment Mrs. Baker came to the rescue with a woman’s wit and prudence. She had been laying up a reserve of flour when it was plenty, and now she brought forth what was deemed a supply for several days.
On June 14, 1872, the station at Masindi was destroyed, and the expedition started on its backward journey amid hostile demonstrations by the natives. The journey was almost like a running battle. Day attacks were frequent, and scarcely a night passed without an attempt at a surprise. The “Forty Thieves” became the main-stay of the expedition. They were ever on the alert, and proved very formidable with their trusty Snider rifles. They grew to know where ambuscades were to be expected, and were quick to dispose themselves so as to make defence complete or first attack formidable. They never fired without an object, and only when they had dead aim. And they knew the value of cover against the lances of the enemy. Their losses were therefore small, while they played havoc with the enemy, seldom failing to rout them, or to conduct an honorable retreat.
At length they struck the Victoria Nile at Foweera, fifteen miles below Rionga Islands. Here they built a stockade, and began to build canoes with which to cross the river which was 500 yards wide. Word was sent up to Rionga.
The chief came and proved friendly. He informed the Colonel of the plot between Kabba Rega and the Arab slave hunters to drive him out of the country, and declared that he would be faithful to the Khedive’s authority. Whereupon Baker declared him chief instead of Kabba, and endowed him with full authority over the natives, in the name of the Khedive. Unyoro thus had a new king. He was left with a complement of Baker’s small army as a guard and nucleus, and the Colonel started down the river in canoes for his post at Fatiko. His small garrison, left there, received him gladly, but scarcely was the reception over when an attack was made upon it by the slave hunters. They were well prepared and determined. From behind huts and other places of safety they began to pick off the soldiers, and a charge of the “Forty Thieves” was ordered. It was brilliantly executed, and resulted in the dislodgment of the enemy and their pursuit for many miles with great slaughter and the capture of many prisoners, among whom were some 135 of their slaves.
This battle resulted in the driving out of Abou Saood, the leader of the slave hunters, and the man who had rented the whole country from the authorities at Kartoum for the purpose of brigandage. He went to Cairo to complain of the treatment he had received at the hands of Baker and his party, and actually circulated the report that he and Mrs. Baker had been killed on the head-waters of the Nile.
A strong fortification was built at Fatiko, which was finished by December, and reinforcements were sent for from Gondokoro. It was the hunting season, and many expeditions were organized for the capture of game, in which the natives joined with a hearty good will. Besides the rifle in skilled hands, the net of the natives for the capture of antelope and smaller game was much relied on, and once all enjoyed the magnificent sight of a tropical prairie on fire, with its leaping game of royal proportions, to be brought down almost at will, provided the hunter was not demoralized with its number and size.
While at Fatiko, an embassy came from King Mtesa of the Uganda professing friendship and offering an army of 6000 men for,—he did not know what, but to punish any natives who might appear to be antagonistic, especially Kabba Rega.
By March, 1873, reinforcements from Gondokoro arrived in pitiable plight. Baker’s forces were now 620 strong. He reinforced his various military stations. Then he liberated the numerous slaves the upward troops had taken from the slave hunters. Most of these were women and back in their native country. They accepted liberty with demonstrations of joy, rushed to the officers and men on whom they lavished hugs and kisses, and danced away in a delirium of excitement.
A year had passed since Charles and his fellow Englishmen had bid Baker farewell and returned to Ismailia with the steamers. Their journey north had been slow and arduous and not without incident - at some point, Charles and Mr. Higginbotham contracted a virus and were laid low. Florence Baker describes their meeting up again in her diary as follows:
While we were waiting for the people to get ready we saw a number of people coming from the great town of Ismailia, among them were the Englishmen. We were very much pleased to see them again, and looking so well, except poor Mr. Jarvis who had been very ill indeed. We wondered why Mr. Higginbotham did not come with them, but we enquired after him, we received the distressing news, that he was dead!!! We are dreadfully sorry and grieved that we shall not see him again, whom we were looking forward to meet again. Poor man, he died on 28th February of rapid consumption. He is buried in the old lemon garden, the good work of missionaries.
Meanwhile back in England, friends and family of those on expedition hadn’t heard from their loved ones for many months. My great great grandfather's wife, Maria Jarvis must have been worried. Rumours abounded that Baker had died. In March 1873, a Mr. Fowler of Cairo wrote to The Times saying that news had come to the Khedive of Baker’s terrible plight at Masindi, of Sir Samuel’s “battle against fearful odds”, and of the few soldiers he had left. Apparently the Khedive was suggesting a relief expedition via Zanzibar to rescue them.
Unaware of the drama unfolding back in London, on April 2nd, Florence Baker visited the steamer that Charles and his men had reconstructed to prepare for the journey back to Khartoum:
April 2nd: I went yesterday afternoon to see the new steamer and I must compliment the Englishmen most heartily, as she is a grand success. They have done very well indeed to do such a great work in such a bad climate, as the heat is tremendous here.
Baker also visited the steamer and was effusive:
A beautiful new steamer of 108 tons, built of steel, with twin screws, was floating on the stream. This was the work of my Englishmen, who had taken a pride in turning out the best results that Messrs. Samuda Brothers and Messrs. Penn & Co. could produce.
James P, Boyd’s narrative continues:
Colonel Baker’s time would expire in April. Therefore he timed his return to Gondokoro so as to be there by the first of the month, 1873. The whole situation was changed. There was scarcely a vestige of the neat station he had left. The slave dealers had carried things with a high hand, and had demoralized the troops. Filth and disorder had taken the place of cleanliness and discipline. Things were put to rights by May, and on the 25 of that month Baker started down the Nile, leaving his “Forty Thieves” as part of the Gondokoro garrison.
News of the fate of Baker’s expedition finally reached London on June 5th, when telegrams arrived from Alexandria reporting both the safety and the success of the expedition. The telegrams were read in both Houses of Parliament.
Baker and his expedition finally arrived in hot and dusty Khartoum on June 29th. Florence Baker described the situation in her diary:
July 1st. Sam has now a large room in the new palace to write his letters, as the diahbeeah is too hot for work. I bought some shoes, and clothes for my boys and girls.
Poor Charles was sleeping on that ship. But competition focused his mind for he spied a large steamer in Khartoum that wasn’t built by Samuda and challenged the owner to a race against his Samuda boat. It didn’t turn out well, as Florence recounts:
July 5th. We are all busy writing letters as the post is going tomorrow. The twin screw steamer was tried this morning against another large steamer, which of course beat the little steamer. Some of the Englishmen were very much disappointed.
It was in Khartoum that Baker wrote a letter to the Prince of Wales on July 1st:
His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales
I have the honour to announce the arrival here on 29th June of the European party, and ourselves, from Ismailia, all well, after an easy voyage.
My labour expended in cutting canals during the first voyage through the Bahr Giraffe had had a grand result. The rush of water has cleared away the sandy shallows and the channels are permanent.
I left all officers and troops in good health and spirits, and no trace of original ill-feeling remains.
The troops prefer Central Africa to Khartoum.
I have met with a good reception in the Sudan, and the expedition that commenced with evil auspices has, thank God, closed satisfactorily in every branch.
I trust your Royal Highness will be satisfied that although I have been unable for the want of transport animals to convey a steamer to the Lake, I have at least paved the way to future success and the expedition has taken firm root in the soil.
We are now on our way home and I look forward with impatience to the first duty of waiting upon your Royal Highness on my arrival in England.
Lady Baker joins me in presenting our humble respects to her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales.
Your Royal Highness’s
After resting until July 10th, they boarded their twin screw steamer and set forth to Cairo. On the journey there was more peril, as described in Baker’s journal”
“We were nearly wrecked during the voyage from Souakim to Suez, as the engine of the sloop-of-war was out of repair. We then changed to another steamer, which carried away the cap of her rudder during a heavy sea and fresh northerly gale. Fortunately our English shipwrights were on board, and Lieutenant Baker, R.N., knew his work; thus we escaped drowning on a coral reef, which would assuredly have been our fate had we been left to the ignorance of the officers and crew.”
It wasn’t until August 24th 1873 that the expedition finally reached Cairo where a telegram from the Prince of Wales was waiting:
We both heartily congratulate you on your safe arrival in Cairo, after all the dangers you have been exposed to during your long and arduous journey.
Baker immediately visited the Khedive to report on the result of his expedition. The Khedive presented Samuel with the Imperial Order of the Osmenie, Second Class as a token of his approbation, and also honoured Charles Robert Owen Jarvis and the rest of the crew with the gratuity of a month’s pay. After the formalities, together they said goodbye to the steamers that had taken them on such a grand expedition up the Nile, and boarded the steamship back to London.
And finally back to James P. Boyd’s narrative::
Baker concludes his history thus:—“The first steps in establishing the authority of a new government among tribes hitherto savage and intractable were of necessity accompanied by military operations. War is inseparable from annexation, and the law of force, resorted to in self-defence, was absolutely indispensable to prove the superiority of the power that was eventually to govern. The end justified the means.”
The expedition had clearly tested Charles Robert Owen Jarvis yet it gave him a wealth of experience and adventure unlike anything he could have done by remaining in England. I am sure that when he looked back on it and reminisced about leaving his first job at John Lilley after describing it as “too confining”, he couldn’t complain. And let’s face it, how many great great grandfathers do you know to have eaten Hippopotamus, Buffalo, Crocodile and Elephant steaks?
News of the expedition was covered far and wide. Baker, a prolific writer, wrote a memoir about it entitled Ismailia which today is considered a classic in the annals of African expeditions. The December 12th 1874 edition of The Spectator featured it as its leading article and the Saturday Review of August 23rd 1873 described Baker as a “bold and able adventurer”. But the expedition was controversial and caused much discussion on his return. It was discussed and debated at length at the Royal Geographical Society, and evoked quite a few letters to The Times newspaper. The expedition is still hotly debated in Africa today. The debate continues, with some seeing the expedition as a folly of British Imperialism with grand plans to gain territory and impose the brutal will of the British on the people of Africa rather than as a bold campaign to end the brutality of slavery.
I am very proud of my great great grandfather's involvement in this expedition and wish I could trace his steps. If you have any further information that would help me build a better picture of my great great grandfather's involvement, let me know.