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THOMSON, Joseph.

To the Central African Lakes and Back:

The Narrative of the Royal Geographical Society's East Central African Expedition, 1878-80. With a Short Biographical Notice of the Late Mr. Keith Johnston.

London, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1881 Stock Code: 119308
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First edition of this classic account of one of the most successful British expeditions to Africa in the 19th century. Thomson, months after graduating from Edinburgh University, was in 1878 appointed geologist and naturalist to a Royal Geographical Society expedition under the command of Alexander Johnston, with the aim of opening up a route from Dar es Salaam to lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika. When Johnston died a month after setting out, Thomson found himself in charge together with James Chuma, a Presbyterian-trained Yao who had worked with Livingstone, and continued "across the Rufiji to Ifakara and on through the countries of the Hehe and the Bena into the Kipengere Mountains. Finally, his body racked with fever, Thomson plunged into the northern waters of Lake Nyasa on 22 September 1879. Thomson next examined the unexplored plateau separating lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika, becoming the first European to traverse its 250 miles of mountain and valley He could have returned home with honour. Instead he continued northward along the western shores of Lake Tanganyika On Christmas day 1879 Thomson finally reached the Lukuga River and found it unmistakably flowing swiftly west, and thus emptying, not filling, Lake Tanganyika. His epic journey continued across the lake to Ujiji, then back to the Lukuga River, and then westward towards the headwaters of the Zaïre River before diverting to Lake Rukwa, which he was the first European to see" (ODNB), reaching Bagamoyo the coast on 10 July. "Thomson had trekked 3000 miles in the unusually short period of fourteen months. There had been no major fights, no defections, and no unnecessary loss of life. He had collected nearly 200 new species of flora (including a tree fern named after him) and 15 new species of lacustrine conchology (one named after him), and had made some general observations on geology, terrain, and cartography" (ibid.)

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2 volumes, octavo. Original diagonal-ribbed brown cloth, spines lettered and decorated in gilt and black, titles and decoration to front covers in black, publisher's device and single rules to rear covers in black, green floral endpapers, edges untrimmed.


Mounted photographic frontispiece to each volume, 2 folding maps.


Monogrammed book label of travel collector Humphrey Winterton to front pastedowns. Library blind stamp to front free endpaper of vol. 1. Spines rolled and very slightly darkened, extremities lightly bumped and rubbed, small marking to top edge of vol. 1 front board, light foxing to page-edges, the very occasional marginal spot or mark, endpapers rather oxidised, a few small spots to margins of frontispieces and to title page, remains an excellent copy.


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