Hiu Klapperton

Hiu Klapperton

Scottish explorer of Africa.
Country: Great Britain

  1. Biography of Hugh Clapperton
  2. Early Life and Career
  3. Exploration of Africa
  4. Second Expedition and Legacy

Biography of Hugh Clapperton

Hugh Clapperton was a Scottish explorer of Africa. In 1822-1823, together with English explorers Walter Oudney and Dixon Denham, he crossed the Sahara from north to south and proved that the Niger River is not connected to Lake Chad.

Early Life and Career

Hugh Clapperton began his career as a cabin boy on a Liverpool ship and then briefly worked as a pirate. In 1808, he enlisted in the royal navy and served during the naval war with France. He rose through the ranks and eventually became a captain. After returning to Scotland in 1820, Clapperton met Scottish physician and naturalist Walter Oudney. Oudney was appointed consul to the Empire of Bornu, a region that had never been visited by any British person. Major Dixon Denham, another distinguished officer, joined the expedition to explore the depths of Africa.

Exploration of Africa

In 1822, representatives from the African Association, including Oudney and Clapperton (Denham joined them a year later), began their journey to the Niger River from Tripoli, crossing the central Sahara through the oasis of Murzuk. The explorers successfully reached Lake Chad in early February 1823, after traveling more than 2000 kilometers. They observed that the lake's appearance was disappointing, with shallow waters and a surface surrounded by thick vegetation. They also confirmed that the major river on the western shores of Lake Chad, Komadugu-Yobe, was too small to be the lower course of the Niger River.

The English explorers continued along the western shores of Lake Chad and reached Kuka, the capital of the Bornu Empire. They were the first Europeans to visit the "trading" city and its "residence." The expedition then split up, with Denham continuing to explore Lake Chad and discovering the Shari River, a major southern tributary.

Clapperton and Oudney set off on December 14, 1823, to Kano, a large city of the Fulani people located west of Lake Chad. They visited several cities, including Old Birni and Vera, before entering the territory of the Hausa people. They traveled through Dogamu and Bekidarfi, cities primarily located in the Hausa region, which was densely populated before the Fulani invasion. The caravan then turned south and entered the Katagum region.

Katagum was the center of an area that was part of the Bornu Empire before its conquest by the Fulani. The main trading commodities, along with slaves, were grains and large horned cattle. Clapperton and Oudney saw cowries for the first time, which replaced traditional currency. Previously, locally produced fabrics or other goods served as exchange currencies. After Oudney's sudden death from a cold, Clapperton continued the journey alone.

In Kano, also known as Hana, Clapperton arrived on January 20, 1824. It was a major meeting point in the Hausa states, located in present-day northern Nigeria. Kano was the capital of the same-named region and one of the main cities in the Sudan region. The city was home to around thirty to forty thousand people, more than half of whom were enslaved.

Clapperton then traveled to Sokoto, the most populous city he had seen in Africa. It had well-built houses forming regular streets, unlike other Hausa cities. Sokoto was surrounded by a wall about twenty to thirty feet high, with twelve gates that were regularly closed at sunset. The city had two large mosques, a vast market, and a spacious square in front of the sultan's residence. Its inhabitants, mostly Fulani people, owned many slaves.

On May 3, Clapperton set off back south, following the same route, and arrived in Kuka, where Major Denham was already present. Denham brought an Arabic manuscript containing historical and geographical descriptions of the Takrur state, ruled by Muhammad Bello, a Hausa author. Clapperton not only collected valuable information about the flora and fauna of Bornu and Hausa, but also compiled a dictionary of the languages spoken by the people of Bagirmi, Mandara, Bornu, Hausa, and Timbuktu.

The travelers crossed the Sahara again, this time from south to north, and returned to England via Tripoli, bringing back accurate information about the Muslim states of Bornu, Bagirmi, and Sokoto, as well as their peoples and bustling trading cities. They were the first to provide detailed accounts of the Fulani people and their empire, confirming their identity as the Fula people. They also discovered that these tribes did not belong to the Negroid race. The study of their language and its connections to non-African dialects shed light on the history of migration. The diaries of the English explorers, edited by geographer John Barrow, were published in London in 1826 under the title "Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in 1822, 1823, and 1824."

Second Expedition and Legacy

Upon his return to England, Clapperton presented his plan for a second expedition to Lord Bathurst. He proposed reaching Kuka from the Gulf of Guinea, traveling up the Niger River from its mouth to Timbuktu, a route that no previous explorer had taken. This would finally settle the long-standing debate about whether the river was connected to the Nile.

Richard Lander, who later became a renowned explorer, joined Clapperton in the expedition. On November 26, 1825, the expedition landed on the Slave Coast of the Gulf of Guinea near Lagos. They reached the Benin River and arrived in Badagry. From there, they traveled along the Lagos River and then the Gaci River, passing through Dahomey's territory, before heading inland.

In Chowu, the caravan was greeted by an envoy from the Yoruba Sultan, accompanied by a large entourage. The explorers then entered Katunga, where Clapperton stayed from January 24 to March 7, 1826. They continued to Doumé, then to Bekwoi, cities predominantly located in the Hausa region. The population in this area was highly numerous before the Fulani invasion. The caravan then diverted from the Iyeu River (or Gambaru) and entered the Katagum region.

In Katagum, Clapperton learned that the last imam, a Felatah by birth, possessed some books and papers belonging to Mungo Park. Unfortunately, the imam had recently left Bussa. In Kurfah, the traveler finally obtained information that confirmed Park's death.

On September 19, Clapperton arrived in Kano and then proceeded to Sokoto. By doing so, he connected his new route, starting from the Gulf of Guinea, with the previous one from the Mediterranean.

Clapperton met with Sultan Bello, and the obstacles he encountered during his departure suggested that Bello was eager to appropriate the gifts intended for the Sultan of Bornu. Clapperton spent over six months in Sokoto without being able to conduct explorations or negotiate, which had been the main purpose of his arrival from the coast.

On March 12, 1828, Clapperton fell ill with dysentery. It was during Ramadan, and his 21-year-old servant Richard Lander could not obtain any assistance, not even from other servants. Clapperton passed away on April 11, 1827, in Lander's arms.

Hugh Clapperton, along with Oudney and Denham, achieved fame as the first Europeans of the modern era to cross the Sahara and see Lake Chad with their own eyes. They confirmed the existence of a large lake south of the great desert and determined its location through astronomical observations. This accomplishment held significant importance for the cartography of the time.