1902 Encyclopedia > John Hanning Speke

John Hanning Speke
British explorer
(1827-64)




JOHN HANNING SPEKE (1827-1864), an eminent African explorer, who was the first European to cross Central Africa from north to south and to determine the existence and position of the great water basin from which the Nile proper issues full formed. He was born on 4th May 1827 at Jordans near Ilchester, in Somersetshire. Entering the Indian army in 1844, he served in Sir Colin Campbell's division in the Punjab campaigns, and gradually acquired no small repute both as a military officer and as a sportsman and naturalist. When on furlough Captain Speke often advanced into unexplored portions of the Himalayas, and even crossed the frontier into Tibet; but his attention was at an early date turned to the great problems not of Asiatic but of African geography, and in 1854 he commenced his brief and brilliant African career by an expedition along with Captain Burton into Somali land, the incidents of which are narrated in What led to the Discovery of the Source of the Nile (London, 1864). It was along with the same explorer that the expedition of 1857-59 was undertaken, in the course of which Captain Speke, leaving Captain Burton, unfortunately invalided, at Kazé, struck northwards and reached the shores of Lake Victoria Nyassa in the neighbourhood of a nullah, which he named Jordans after his birthplace. Convinced though he was that this lake belonged to the Nile system, he had no absolute proof to offer to the scepticism of his fellow-traveller and many stay-at-home geographers, until in 1863 he returned from another expedition along with Captain James Augustus Grant, in which he struck the Nile at its exit from the lake, and proved its identity with the river of Egypt by following it most of the way down. Captain Speke was expected to hold a public discussion with Captain Burton as to certain disputed points in the history of his discoveries at the British Association in Bath (1864); but on the very morning (15th September) fixed for the tournament he was killed by the accidental discharge of his own gun as he was crossing a fence while out shooting.

See Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, 2 vols., 1863 ; J. A. Grant, A Walk across Africa, 1864.






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