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

Chapter 2: Leaving Korosko. Early Explorers of the Nile Valley.

The preparations for leaving Korosko required several days. Camels were to be hired, loads distributed, and drivers and servants engaged. A great many small details consumed the time of our friends, from the hour of their arrival until their departure. Twenty camels were engaged, sixteen for baggage and four for riding purposes, three of the latter being for the Doctor and the boys, and one for the dragoman. The boy Ali was assigned to a place on one of the baggage camels, as he was considered too young to have a saddle animal all to himself.
The Native at Home

Twenty camels make a respectable procession, and the boys were in high glee when they saw their beasts of burden drawn up in line, ready for departure. Fourteen of the baggage camels were sent away one evening, and our friends started early the following morning with the rest of the train. This included their saddle camels and the two animals that carried the things they would need on the journey from day to day.

A glance at the map of Nubia will show a great bend in the Nile between Korosko and Abu Hamed. Boats ascending the river and following this bend often consume three or four weeks, while the ride over the Desert can be made in from six to nine days. There are three cataracts in this part of the river. They are impassable except during the rise of the Nile, and even then, their ascent is a tedious and expensive affair. Consequently, the principal route of travel and commerce is through the Desert.

There was no trouble in keeping the road, as it is well known to the guides and camel drivers, and is annually traversed by great numbers of people. The dragoman, Abdul, had been over the route repeatedly, sometimes with small parties, and on two occasions with expeditions that the Egyptian Government had sent to the Upper Nile and the lake regions of Central Africa. Frank and Fred were greatly interested in the details of these expeditions, and listened eagerly to Abdul's account of them and the difficulties of transporting heavy articles over the Desert sands.

At their first halt on the journey from Korosko, Abdul told them of his experience with the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker, for the suppression of the slave trade in the Sudan country, some years ago, which was about as follows:

"In 1869-70 Sir Samuel Baker was sent by Ismail Pacha, Khedive of Egypt, to suppress the slave trade in the regions where we are now going. In order that he should do so effectively he was provided with a small army, and a suitable equipment of steamers for navigating the river, together with a large stock of goods for opening legitimate trade. Most of the slave traders were Arab subjects of the Khedive, and their center of business was at Khartoum."

Fred asked how many people were engaged in the business.

"As to that," said Abdul, "it is not easy to say. The merchants of Khartoum had organized a sort of military force for capturing the slaves and bringing them to market, and one of them was reported to have twenty-five hundred men in his pay. They were armed and drilled like soldiers, though not very thoroughly disciplined, and were divided into companies sufficiently strong to overpower any African village, and make prisoners of such of the inhabitants as they wished to carry to market. Altogether, it was thought that fifteen thousand subjects of the Khedive had left their honest occupations and were engaged, directly or indirectly, in the slave trade."
Arab Slave Traders

"They must have occupied a great deal of country," said Frank, "for so many of them to be engaged in the traffic."

"That is true," replied Abdul. "Every trader had a district to himself, and his men were divided into companies, with a chain of stations or military posts. They could thus hold sway over an immense area. One slave trader named Agad controlled a region containing ninety thousand square miles, and another had a territory nearly as large.

"There was an agreement among the traders that they would not disturb each other's territory; they sometimes got into trouble and fought among themselves, but this was not often, as they had quite enough to do to kill and capture the natives. Each man in his own region could do what he chose, and the business had all the horrible features that the slave trade has everywhere."

One of the boys asked how many slaves were taken from Central Africa every year, and where the slaves were carried.

"It was estimated by Sir Samuel Baker," replied Abdul, "that not less than fifty thousand slaves were carried every year from the interior to the seacoast, or kept in the camps of the slave traders. The capture of fifty or a hundred slaves means the destruction of one or more villages, and the death of fifty or a hundred innocent persons while the destruction is going on. The traders induce tribes that would otherwise be at peace to make war on each other, by agreeing to buy all the prisoners. Whole districts are depopulated, life and property are insecure, and for every slave that is brought away it is safe to say that three or four of his kindred have been killed or die of starvation. It was a noble impulse of the Khedive to put an end to this state of affairs and remove the stigma of slave-dealing from his country."
A Slave-Gang on the Road

"But they still have slavery in Egypt, do they not?" inquired one of the boys.

"Yes," was the reply, "slavery exists here, as Egypt is a Muslim country, and the Koran expressly allows it. But the form is growing milder every year, as the government does not protect it. Under Ismail Pacha a man might keep slaves, but if they ran away from him, he could not call the police to assist in their capture, as he formerly was able to do. If they chose to stay away, they could do so without fear of being taken back; the result was that every slave owner was obliged to treat his human property so kindly that there would be no inducement to leave him. Traffic in slaves is not permitted, and consequently the institution is not flourishing, and will soon disappear altogether.

"The efforts of Livingstone, Stanley, and other travelers in Central Africa have done much to throw light on the slave trade, and to persuade some of the African kings and chiefs to abandon it. The only Europeans who encourage it at all now are the Portuguese traders, who have their stations on the east coast of Africa, and even their support to it is generally given in an underhand way. The most extensive slave dealers are the Arabs, who are not troubled by any religious scruples on the subject, and find a market for their captives among people of similar belief with themselves.

"When we get fairly into Central Africa you will probably see something of the system of slavery, so we'll drop the subject now, and I'll tell you how Baker's expedition was fitted out.

"Baker received the rank of Pacha, with absolute authority for four years, from April 1, 1869, and was instructed to subdue the countries lying south of Gondokoro, suppress the slave trade, and introduce a system of regular commerce; open the great lakes near the equator to navigation, and establish military and commercial posts throughout the captured country.
Baker's Expedition Crossing the Desert

"Baker had already been in Central Africa and travelled in the region of the lakes, and consequently he knew something of the difficulties he would encounter. He made grand preparations, which consumed so much time, and were followed by so many delays, that nearly a year elapsed before he left Khartoum for the south."

Fred asked if the expedition went up the Nile by way of Korosko, or by another route.

"Part of it went that way," said Abdul, "and the rest by Suakim, on the Red Sea. From Suakim there is a road across the Desert to Berber, in Abyssinia. Berber is on the Nile, and from there the river is navigable to Khartoum. I was with the part of the expedition that ascended the Nile, so that I am familiar with Korosko and the route to Abu Hamed. Khartoom, at the junction of the Blue and White Nile, was selected as the point of departure, and all the supplies for the expedition were sent there.

"Everything had to be carried over the Desert, and it was an immense affair, I assure you. Six steamboats were sent from Cairo, and three others for navigating the lakes were brought from England, and carried in sections, so that they could be put together at the points where wanted. The boilers of the steamers were found too heavy to be transported on the backs of camels, and it was necessary to mount them on wheels, to which camels were harnessed.

"Hundreds of camels were required for carrying all this material, and when the train was on the march it covered the Desert for miles and miles. It was necessary to have many extra camels, to guard against the breaking down of any of the loaded ones, as the loss of a single piece of a boat or its machinery might render all the rest of little or no use.

"The military part of the expedition comprised about sixteen hundred soldiers, with two batteries of artillery; but so many of the soldiers were found unfit for duty, that half of them were sent back or left behind at Khartoum. Baker finally selected forty men to serve as a bodyguard, and they proved to be excellent soldiers, and of more use than all the rest that had been sent to serve him. This small force of picked men was known as 'The Forty.' They were not of the best character, and some of their performances when off duty caused them to be called 'The Forty Thieves' by the English-speaking members of the expedition.
The Forty Thieves

"It was expected that there would be much opposition among the merchants of Khartoum when they learned the object for which Baker Pacha had been sent to the Sudan. Of course, it would not do for them to declare open hostility, but they could hinder the enterprise in various ways. When Baker arrived at Khartoum, he found that the traders had sent away all the boatmen, as they knew the expedition could not move without boats. The police and military were employed to hunt them up, and of course much valuable time was lost in so doing.

"When they finally got away from Khartoum, they had two steamers and thirty-six sailing boats. The steamers had each a sailing boat in tow, and on one of these boats was the commander of the expedition, accompanied by his wife, Lady Baker, and the officers of his staff.

"I was with the officers on the other boat, and the two steamers pushed along, with their tows, leaving the sailing craft to follow as fast as they could. We went up what is called the White Nile. Khartoum is at the junction of the Blue and White Nile, the landing place being on the former stream. The Blue Nile was long supposed to be the principal branch of the river. It was explored by Bruce, who traced it to its source, and thought he had found the spot where the Nile takes its rise."

Frank remarked that one of his schoolbooks contained a picture of Bruce standing by the side of a spring not more than a yard across, from which a rivulet was flowing.

Fred said he had read something about Bruce, and was sorry he had forgotten exactly what it was.

"Perhaps I can help you," responded Doctor Bronson. "James Bruce was born at Kinnaird, in Scotland, in 1730, and died there in 1794. He was educated for a lawyer, but never practiced his profession. His tastes ran in the direction of Asian languages and literature, and after studying them for some years he was appointed Consul general for Algiers. He remained there for two years, and then travelled in Tunis, Tripoli, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, spending nearly five years in Egypt and Abyssinia in an effort to find the sources of the Nile. The Bahr-el-Azrek, or Blue Nile, was then supposed to be the main stream, and Bruce followed it to its source.
View on the Bahr-el-Azrek (Blue Nile)

"When this work was accomplished, he returned to England, to tell the story of his discovery. It was published in 1790, under the title, 'Travels to Discover the Sources of the Nile, in the Years 1768-73,' and was in five quarto volumes."

"He must have become famous as soon as the book appeared," one of the boys remarked.

"Unfortunately for him," replied Doctor Bronson, "his statements were questioned, and he received far more abuse than praise. Some of his accounts were set down as absolute falsehoods, and Bruce died four years later, before the imputation had been disproved. Subsequent travelers have confirmed the truth of his narrative, and given Bruce an honored place on the roll of African explorers."

"Was Bruce the first European who ever saw the head-springs of the Blue Nile?" Frank asked.

"No," was the reply; "they were visited by the Portuguese missionary, Paez, in the sixteenth century, but no detailed account of his journey was ever published in our language. He went to Abyssinia in 1603, where he founded a mission, and remained until his death, in 1622. He was in great favor with the King, whom he accompanied on his military expeditions, and it was on one of these journeys, in 1618, that he visited the springs of the Blue Nile. The account was published in Paris, in 1667, under the title, 'Dissertation touchant l'Origine du Nil,' and may be regarded as the earliest work of an explorer of the mysterious river."

"How about Herodotus and Strabo?" said Fred.

"They can hardly be called explorers of the Nile," the Doctor answered, "as they made no attempt to ascend the river. Neither of them went beyond the first cataract, or at any rate Strabo did not, and the accounts of both writers are largely composed of what they gathered from others rather than what they saw with their own eyes. Their works are the best that have come down to us from their time, and we learned at the site of Memphis how a passage in Strabo's writings gave Mariette Bey the clew which led to the discovery, in 1860, of the Apis Mausoleum.

"After Bruce," the Doctor continued, "the next traveler of note in the upper regions of the Nile was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss professor, who was educated at Leipzig and Göttingen, and devoted the best part of his life to the exploration of Africa. He is thought to have been the first European not a Muslim to visit Mecca, and at the time of his death, at Cairo, in 1817, he was planning an expedition to the sources of the Niger. He travelled in Nubia and portions of Abyssinia, but did not penetrate so far inland as Bruce had gone before him. Much of the time he went in the disguise of an Arab, sometimes as a merchant, and sometimes as a sheik, and he was enabled to do this by his perfect knowledge of Arabic. I think I told you something about his visit to Mecca while we were coming up the Red Sea, on our way from India to Egypt."

Both the youths recalled the brief account which the Doctor had given them of the perils of a journey to Mecca, and the names of those who had succeeded in reaching there. The mention of Mecca drew from Abdul an anecdote which illustrated the danger of attempting to travel among fanatical Muslims under the pretense of being of their religion.
Pilgrims on the Road to Mecca

"Several years ago," said he, "I was at Jeddah, the port of Mecca, at the time of the pilgrimage to the birthplace of Mohammed. A steamer from Suez brought a crowd of pilgrims, and I happened to be at the landing place when they came on shore.

"There was a tall man among them whom I took for a Syrian Muslim, and my belief was confirmed when he spoke to me in Arabic, with just the accent I had heard at Jerusalem and Damascus. We talked a few minutes, and he then walked away, and I never suspected him to be anything but a pious Muslim, on his way to Mecca.

"As soon as he left me another pilgrim spoke to me, and said the tall man was an impostor.

"'How do you know?' I asked.

"'Because,' said the other, 'I have watched him saying his prayers on the way from Suez, and he has twice missed the proper motions of his hands when he bows toward Mecca. Once he placed his prayer rug at least a quarter of the way round from where it should have been, and once he put his left foot down first when kneeling.'

"It was very certain the man was not a Muslim, as he would not make these mistakes if he had been brought up in the religion of the Prophet. I hastened after him, told what I had heard, and warned him of his danger. His character was already known; he would be sure to be pointed out, his deception known, and he would never return from Mecca, if, indeed, he succeeded in getting there.

"He looked astonished for a moment, and acknowledged that he was neither a Syrian nor a Muslim. He was a German traveler, who had spent several years in Muslim countries, spoke Arabic fluently, and had conceived the design of going to Mecca. With this object in view he had learned the Muslim forms of prayer, so as to pass himself off for one of 'the faithful,' but it seems he had not been sufficiently careful as to the details. He thanked me for my caution, abandoned his trip to Mecca, and concluded to go to Central Africa instead. What befell him subsequently I never knew."

From this point the conversation wandered to various subjects, until one of the party dropped asleep and another followed his example. This occurrence led to a postponement of the story of Abdul's adventures with Sir Samuel Baker, as it was advisable for all the members of the party to get all the sleep they could when the opportunity offered. They followed the native custom of traveling in the morning and afternoon, and resting during the hottest part of the day.

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

Chapter 2: Leaving Korosko. Early Explorers of the Nile Valley.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Slave Trade: The buying and selling people as property.
Arab: An inhabitant of Arabia (includes Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates) or the Arab world.
Blue Nile: One of the two main tributaries of the River Nile, which starts in Lake Tana and flows into the Nile at Khartoum.
White Nile: One of the two main tributaries of the River Nile, which starts in Lake No and flows into the Nile at Khartoum.
Battery: A coordinated group of artillery weapons.
Artillery: Large cannon-like weapons, transportable and usually operated by more than one person.
Sheik: The leader of an Arab village, family, or small tribe.
Mecca: A large city in Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam, location of the sacred Ka'ba (cubical stone building), and to which Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
Muslim: A person who is a follower and believer of Islam.
Islam: A monotheistic Abrahamic religion followed by Muslims that is based on the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur'an.


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 picture of the Nile River in modern-day Cairo.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the following on the map of the world:

  • The continents of Africa and Asia
  • The countries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Find the following on the map of the Middle East:

  • The country of Egypt and the Nile River
  • The Red Sea
  • The countries of Arabia (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)). Note: Yemen is not pictured, but may be found south of Saudi Arabia

Zoom into the map of the Nile River to find or answer the following:

  • The White Nile
  • What is the source of the White Nile?
  • The Blue Nile
  • What is the source of the Blue Nile?
  • At which city do the Blue and White Nile tributaries join?
  • Into which sea does the Nile River flow into?
  • Does the Nile River flow north or south?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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


  1. 'White Nile and Blue Nile Image by Hel-hama (CC BY-SA 3.0).' Wikipedia. n.p.