The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 16: Lake Albert. Account of its Discovery.

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Lake Scene in Central Africa

The Khedive was headed for the western shore of the lake, or rather she turned her prow in a westerly direction, as she steamed away from the head of the Bahr-el-Abiad, or White Nile. Doctor Bronson said that the village Magungo, at the mouth of the Victoria Nile, was not more than twenty-five miles away in the opposite direction. Frank looked with his glass, and easily made out the indentation in the shores of the lake that marked the point where the river flows into Lake Albert.

As they sat on the deck, sheltered by the double awning above them, Doctor Bronson told his nephew the history of the discovery of Lake Albert.

"It is very strange," said he, "that only in very recent times has anyone known of the existence of this lake. Some of the Africans had told the Arab traders who used to come to Gondokoro for ivory that there was a great body of water a long distance to the south, but their accounts of it were very much confused; and farthermore, as there was no prospect that a lake would yield ivory, the traders paid little heed to the story.

"When Speke and Grant explored Lake Victoria, in 1862, they heard of this lake, but were not permitted to visit it. Their information was not altogether clear, but it was sufficient to convince them that there was a body of water between Lake Victoria and the lakeless Nile. They left the Somerset River, or Victoria Nile, at Kuruma Falls, a few miles below the present station of Foueira, and did not see the river again until they were between the third and fourth parallels of north latitude. They were then nearly a hundred miles below the point where we now are, and, of course, there was no place on their route where a single glimpse of the lake could be obtained.

"On February 15, 1863, they reached Gondokoro, and met Mr. Baker—the same Sir Samuel or Baker Pacha whom we have occasion to mention so often—and told him about the undiscovered lake. Baker determined to reach it if possible; and after a good deal of difficulty he succeeded in overcoming the scruples of the natives, and persuaded them to guide him to the mysterious water."
Scene on the Shores of Lake Tanganyika

Fred asked if Mr. Baker ascended the main stream of the Nile to its head, as they had done.

"Not by any means," was the reply. "In the first place, transportation by water was out of the question, on account of the falls in the river, and also owing to the absence of suitable boats even for smooth sailing. Baker pushed southward, by land, over much the same route that Frank has now taken. He passed the Victoria Nile into the country of Bunyoro, having a long and tedious journey, and finally reached the lake at a small fishing village on the eastern shore. This village is marked on the maps as Vacovia. It is of little practical consequence, but will always be an important spot to geographers.

"It was on March 14, 1864," continued the Doctor, "that Mr. Baker, who was accompanied by his wife, reached the shore of the new lake at the village I have mentioned. He gave the name of Lake Albert, in honor of Prince Albert, to this body of water, and the name has been accepted by all geographers, and will probably be permanent. You may therefore record in your notebook that Sir Samuel Baker was the first European to see the lake, and that the honor of the discovery was shared by Lady Baker.

"From the point where he saw it the lake appeared to stretch out to a vast extent to the south and southwest. On the west, or opposite shore to where he stood, there was a range of mountains whose tallest peaks were about seven thousand feet in height.

"Baker was unable to explore the lake as he desired. He only made a voyage by canoes along the coast as far as the mouth of the Victoria Nile, which he ascended to Murchison Falls. From there he continued his journey by land, and did not again see the lake. He found the coast between Vacovia and Magungo bounded by high cliffs, most of them covered with trees, but frequently so steep that it would have been difficult or impossible to climb them. In some places they were almost perpendicular. If you look with your glass you can possibly make out some of these rocky headlands in the neighborhood of Magungo."

Fred turned his glass in the direction indicated, and could distinctly see several bold cliffs that seemed to overhang the lake. They extended to within a few miles of the point where the Nile emerges from the lake, when they fell off, and gave place to low and at times swampy ground.
A Lake Village

"So much for the early history of Lake Albert, which is known to the natives as the Luta N'zige. It is a hard word to pronounce, but if you throw 'n' and 'z' into one sound you can possibly manage it. In default of doing that you may call it 'Ziggee,' or fall back upon 'Nyanza,' which is much easier, and will do just as well; and if you are very old-fashioned you may drop 'Nyanza,' the African name for lake, and say you are steaming on Lake Albert, in Central Africa."

Fred asked what was the relation between the Albert Lake and Lake Tanganyika. He had a general idea of Lake Victoria and its geographical position, but wanted more information about the other.

"We will get to that by-and-by," said the Doctor, in reply. "Tanganyika is still a mystery, as its outlet has not been fully determined, though it is pretty definitely settled that it discharges into the Congo, or Livingstone, and has no connection with the Nile. In fact, the surveys show that it is at a lower level than Lake Albert, and consequently cannot flow into it; and as the Nile does not have any effluent of consequence north of here, it is impossible that roundabout stream from Tanganyika comes to it. We will talk more about that when we reach the scenes of the exploits of Livingstone and Stanley."

As they had an abundance of time for circumnavigating the lake and reaching Magungo on the day appointed for meeting Frank, the Doctor concluded not to hurry the steamer, but make an early halt. So he told the captain to land at the first convenient spot, and they would remain there through the night.

It was at least an hour before sundown when the steamer was anchored near the shore, where a headland pushed out into the lake and afforded abundant water for safety. The small boat took Doctor Bronson and Fred to a little village close to the water. It consisted of several huts in front of a dense growth of papyrus plants, and with a few palms rising from the firm ground beyond. The natives were alarmed at the visit of the strangers, and started to run away. They naturally took the party for a slave stealing expedition, and concluded that their only safety was in flight.
Lake Fishes of Central Africa

Our friends were accompanied by two soldiers who had been detailed to remain with them during their voyage, and return with the steamer to its point of departure. As a matter of precaution, these soldiers went wherever our friends did; and as they had seen a good deal of service, and were familiar with many of the African tribes, they were useful in numerous ways besides serving as escort.

One of them shouted to the people not to run away, as no harm was intended, and to indicate that their intentions were not hostile, both the soldiers placed their guns on the ground and held up their empty hands. This caused the fugitives to pause; and, after some parleying, they were convinced of the pacific intentions of their visitors, and signified their willingness to return, provided they received a certain number of beads and hatchets as a token of friendship.

A few beads and other trinkets had been brought along from the steamer, but no hatchets. This circumstance was explained, and led to farther parleying, and finally to the establishment of friendly relations all round. The people came back to their village, the presents were delivered, and in a little while everything was harmonious.

Then the natives offered presents in return. They had very little to give, as they live entirely by fishing, and their gifts were limited to the products of the lake. Several fishes were brought forward, one of them an enormous fellow, weighing little if anything less than two hundred pounds, and having quite a resemblance to the sturgeon of American waters. One fish was evidently of the perch family, and another was a near relation of the bullhead, or catfish, of the United States. The natives said it lived in the mud at the bottom of the lake, and was caught with a long line baited with a piece of another fish, or with a large worm that abounded in the soil back of their village.
A Fisherman Ready for Work

One of the fishes was said to live entirely on vegetable food, and his jaws were equipped with teeth not unlike those of a sheep. The abundance of vegetable matter in the lake evidently gave these specimens of the finny tribe an easy life of it, as they could never be at a loss for their dinners. As a result they were large and fat, and their shape did not indicate either speed or power.

"They don't have everything their own way," said the Doctor as Fred was examining the specimen. "Everything in nature has its uses, and these vegetable eating fishes probably furnish the bulk of the food for their more voracious companions. If it were not so they would soon fill the lake, as they would have no kind of struggle for existence. But the other fishes pursue and devour them, so that their numbers are kept within proper limits.

"Probably the crocodiles find them good eating, and when they fail to secure any prey on land the water furnishes them with a support."

Fred noticed that the fishermen were equipped with spears and nets, and some of them carried bows and arrows. Their modes of fishing were various, and according to the particular variety of game of which they were in pursuit. For some kinds they watched at a good place, and either speared their prey or pierced it with arrows when it came within reach. Other kinds were taken in nets, others by lines, as we have already mentioned, and others were caught by being driven into traps. One kind of fish that always goes in large schools is secured by driving a school into a trap made of a line of nets fastened to posts, in the same manner as the nets which were seen by Frank on his way to Foueira.

A strong wind blew from the southward, so that there was quite a sea of waves breaking on the exposed points of the coast. Doctor Bronson said it would be inconvenient for them to make their excursion in a canoe, as Baker had done, since the waves have little respect for the low sides of the craft, and they would be constantly liable to a drenching. But the steamer would not be inconvenienced in the least, as she was proof against any storm that was likely to arise on the lake.

Fred wanted to stay on shore during the night, but the Doctor said there were several reasons why they should not do so. It would be quite a task to bring their tents and set up the camp, as everything would need to be landed with the small boat; besides, it would be safer on board, since they could never tell what plots the natives might make against them if they slept on land. "We should need," he continued, "our soldiers to watch through the night, while on the steamer the ordinary lookout is quite sufficient for all purposes. So we will return as soon as the sun touches the horizon, and if we want to land again in the morning we can easily do so."
A Fish Basket

When the sun threw its long shadows over the lake our friends returned to the landing place, and were soon on board the steamer. After dinner the watch was set for the night; one man was to be on duty at a time, and he would be relieved every two hours. The natives were told that none of their boats must approach the steamer during the night, and for greater security she was hauled a few hundred yards farther out from land.

Fred asked if there was any danger.

"No danger whatever, I presume," said the Doctor; "but we never know, as I before told you, what schemes may be formed for assailing us. We must always be watchful; and if we take care in advance we may escape a great deal of trouble. If the natives see that we are always on guard, they will not be likely to undertake anything in the way of a surprise; but if they find that we are careless, they are quite likely to take advantage of our negligence. Bear in mind that the natives of Africa have no reason to be especially friendly to the foreigners; beyond the suppression of the slave trade, the visits of the stranger have generally been to the disadvantage of the African, and the latter knows it. As he has a good deal of wickedness to the credit of our race, we need not be surprised if he seeks revenge when the opportunity is afforded for it.
A Village Chief

"In our voyage on the lake we will treat all the people kindly whenever we meet them, but at the same time we must avoid giving them a chance to injure us. When we go on shore Ramen and Bash, the two soldiers of our escort, will always go with us, and will have their guns loaded and ready for instant use. We will never allow more than four natives on board the steamer at any one time, no matter what the occasion, and in this way we will be on the safe side."

Of course, Fred readily acquiesced in the Doctor's arrangements for their safety. He recalled the accounts of previous travelers in Africa, and found that the rule was by no means a new one. It is the same that every careful explorer adopts when traveling among foreign people, no matter who they are nor what their reputation is. "Never allow yourself to be surprised, and then you won't be," is the way in which one traveler has clothed the maxim. It sounds a trifle trite, but it contains a vast amount of solid common sense.

Our friends slept undisturbed through the night. The captain reported in the morning that two boats came near the steamer about midnight; but as they did not stop or show the least sign of hostility, it was not deemed worth while to hail them. Soon after daylight several canoes came off from the village and surrounded the steamer; each canoe carried from four to eight or ten persons, among them several women and a few children. The presence of the women and children was indicative of peace, but the rule of allowing only four natives on board at once was not relaxed.

After a while the sound of a drum was heard, and a boat larger than the rest made its appearance. Ramen said it was the head man of the village coming to pay his respects; and in order to prepare for his reception the natives then on board were sent to their canoes, and no others were allowed to take their places.

The boat with the village chief came alongside, and the stairs were let down, so that he could easily reach the deck. He desired to bring a dozen or more of his followers, and they were equally desirous of coming; but the chief was informed that the steamer was small, and there was no room for more than three besides himself. He knew the actual reason for the refusal, but accepted at once the explanation that had been given, and ascended the steps.

He was about forty years of age, wearing only a strip of cloth about the waist, and carrying a slender bow, which he used for killing fish. He kept the bow in his hand as he came on board the steamer, but was polite enough to leave his arrows behind. His hair was less curly than is usual with the African; it was liberally oiled, and a small part of it was gathered in a knot or club at the back of his head. A similar knot was formed under his chin by the scanty beard that grew there, and his mouth was shaded by a short mustache; altogether, his features had quite a refined cast, and Fred pronounced him a man of intelligence, who evidently had a good deal of ferocity when occasion required or permitted.
On the Shore of the Lake

The chief was shown around the boat; and, as he had never seen anything of the kind before, he evinced much appreciation. He regarded the compass with considerable interest, and pointed to the charms which hung upon his breast. The engines intrigued him greatly, and he was quite curious as to how they could be moved by hot water. He looked over the stern at the propeller, and, after studying it for some time, the idea dawned upon him.

Making a waving motion with his hand, he pronounced the native word for "fish."

Fred nodded, and the African grinned with delight at the propeller.

He was invited to sit on a chair, but preferred the deck, as a more comfortable resting place. He sat there for several minutes while coffee was brought; he drank eagerly several cups in succession, and ate some of the English biscuits that were offered. The cups hit his fancy, and he asked for one of them; but as the supply was limited he was not accommodated. The Doctor brought out his rifle, and fired two or three shots in rapid succession, to show how quickly the weapon could be operated; the result was that the chief shook his head, as if in doubt whether the gun was of human or diabolic workmanship.

The final sensation was created with an explosive shell. For a few beads the Doctor bought a large fish that had been brought alongside, and instructed the natives, through the interpreter, to place it on a raft of reeds, and tow it about a hundred yards from the steamer and there leave it.

When they had done as he directed, and retired to a safe distance, he fired an explosive shell into the body of the fish.

The shell burst as it struck and tore the fish into a shapeless mass. The chief didn't wish to see anything more of the travelers' works, but retired hastily to his boat. He would hardly wait for the presents which had been brought out for him, and he took them with a good deal of reluctance, as though afraid they would blow up and destroy him.

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 16: Lake Albert. Account of its Discovery.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Prow: The front part of a vessel.
Circumnavigate: To travel completely around somewhere or something, especially by sail.
Headland: Coastal land that juts into the sea.
Pacific: Calm, peaceful.
Harmonious: Showing accord or agreement in feeling or action.
Acquiesce: To agree or accept without opposition and discontent.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Nyanza (Lake) Victoria in Uganda.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find Lake Victoria on the map of Uganda.
  • Name the countries bordering Lake Victoria.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.