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

Chapter 5: Life in Khartoum. Departure for Gondokoro.

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Arrival at Khartoum

From Shendy to Khartoum there was little change of landscape. The country increased in fertility, and Abdul informed the travelers that they were every hour getting farther into the region of periodical rains. The grasses grew without irrigation, and, only the strip of land near the river, where beans and other garden products were raised, required artificial watering. The people keep large flocks of sheep and goats, and our friends had practical knowledge of this fact in the ease with which they could purchase mutton at the landing places. Mountains appeared in the distance, and were a great relief to the eye after the flat and wearisome plains.

Frank and Fred were watching for the junction of the Blue and White Nile. Before coming in sight of the point where the rivers unite, they became aware of its proximity by the appearance of the water. The White Nile was of a grayish color, while the other stream was several degrees darker in hue. Doctor Bronson said he was reminded of the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi, or of the latter river with the Missouri. There is an island just below the point of land where Khartoum is built, and boats may pass from one river to the other above this island. There is usually very little current through the channel, so that the actual junction is considerably farther down.

The man at the helm directed the steamer up the Blue Nile, and turned her prow toward a stone embankment in front of several large buildings. There were two or three groups of these buildings, and as the boat steamed onward Abdul described them to the strangers. "On the left," said he, "is the Governor's palace, and close by it are the residences of the principal officials; to the right are other government buildings, and then farther away are the habitations of the foreign consuls and other persons of distinction. The front of Khartoum is more attractive than the interior, and if you want to retain the best impression of the place you would do well not to go on shore at all."

This did not suit the desires of our young friends, and they declined asking the captain of the boat to pass Khartoum without stopping. Probably he would have laughed at the request, or gravely referred it to the commanding officer on shore.

The steamer stopped at the foot of the stone embankment, and as soon as the plank was out the three travelers mounted the steps to the top of the low bluff. Abdul and Ali remained to look after the baggage and arrange for its storage, while Doctor Bronson went to call upon Mr. Jenquel, a German merchant, to whom he had letters of introduction. Mr. Jenquel was out at the time; but his partner received the strangers kindly, and speedily arranged for their being comfortably lodged during their stay. There is no hotel at Khartoum, and travelers are obliged to hire lodgings or accept the hospitality of the few Europeans living in the place.
Elephants at Home - Shaking a Fruit Tree

They took a stroll through Khartoum in company with their newfound friend, and saw many things to attract their attention. The street near the river was well shaded with palm and other trees, and they passed several gardens of citron and orange trees, whose fruit seemed to invite immediate plucking and devouring. They found the older part of the town made up of narrow and crooked streets, and had several narrow escapes from being knocked down by camels that moved along the way as if it belonged to no one but themselves. After dodging several times to avoid the ponderous beasts, Frank asked where they came from, and what they were carrying.

"They are mostly from the Atmoor, or desert of Korosko," was the reply, "and their burdens consist of European goods intended for the African market."

"These goods are about the same as we are carrying for paying our way in Africa," said the Doctor. "Cotton cloths, beads, knives, small tools, and a lot of toys and gewgaws constitute the staple of African supplies. The merchants in Khartoum fit out the wandering traders, and send them into the interior for ivory, gum, ostrich feathers, and the other products of the country that will bear a high rate of transportation. The chief article is ivory, and the trade of Khartoum sometimes amounts to a million dollars a year in ivory alone. Latterly it is said to have declined, owing to the diminished number of elephants and the difficulty of capturing them.

"From present indications," the Doctor continued, "the elephant seems destined to follow the fate of the buffalo in America and disappear before many years. Formerly he was pursued only by the natives, who were unprovided with firearms and relied upon their spears and arrows, and also on pitfalls and other contrivances. His sagacity enables him to elude the latter, except in rare instances, and his great strength was in favor of his safety from their original weapons. But since the European has entered the field, and especially since the invention of rifles that kill at long distances, and carry explosive bullets, the days of the elephant are numbered. Strength and sagacity are of little avail against modern weapons and their murderous accessories, and if the elephant survives the American bison, it is only because the African continent has been settled more slowly than our own.

"If you look on the map you will see that Khartoum is at the end of the caravan route from Kordofan and Darfur. Consequently, some of the camels you have been dodging may have come from those countries as well as from the desert of Korosko. Then there is the route by the river, both south and north, and also along the Blue Nile. It is the intention of the Egyptian government to bring the Sudan railway to Khartoum, and it is not impossible that a decade or so hence we may travel in a Pullman car from Cairo to the spot where we are now standing."

"Just think of it!" exclaimed Fred; "riding by railway to Central Africa, only fifteen degrees north of the equator, and in the land of elephants and crocodiles!"

His meditations were brought suddenly to an end by an encounter with another string of camels, followed by several Africans, who were closely watched by a swarthy Arab, armed with a large whip.

"Those men are slaves," whispered their guide; "though the Arab in charge of them would declare he knew nothing about them if you should ask him. They come from the southern country, and are of the tribe of Dinkas. The Dinkas are greatly liked as slaves, and bring a higher price than those from other tribes.

"You see they are not tied together, or in any way restrained. If they should try to run away, they would get some sharp blows of the whip, and the Arabs that are loitering about would hinder their escape. The police would not interfere to assist either party. The slave has few friends, while all the Arabs are interested in keeping up the commerce, and are therefore the natural enemies of the captive.

"When the slave caravans are on the road the men and women are tied together, and frequently have wooden yokes around their necks, to keep them from running away. Carrying these heavy burdens, they move with difficulty, and their strength is so much exhausted that they are completely under the control of their captors."

A couple of hours among the narrow streets of the old part of Khartoum, where their nostrils were constantly assailed by vile smells from the wretched drains, were quite enough for our friends, and they returned to the river bank. Their guide told them that the city was notoriously unhealthy, owing to its bad drainage. It had been fatal to a great many Europeans, and of late years the government had endeavored to remedy the evil, but had not succeeded altogether. The population is a mixed lot of Arabs, Turks, Jews, Berbers, Africans, and Europeans. The latter are principally Greeks and Italians, engaged in selling European products to the native merchants, and some of them keep small shops for vending spirits and canned edibles.

Altogether, Khartoum has a population of about thirty thousand, and is said to be steadily increasing with the growth of trade in Central Africa. Before the destruction of Shendy it was a place of little importance; but when the capital of the Sudan was transferred to Khartoum, in 1822, it rose rapidly in importance, and has been greatly helped by its geographical position.
Trees Near the River

Returning to the establishment of Mr. Jenquel, they found that gentleman, who received them cordially, and said they must dine at his house, which was a short distance from his place of business. Dinner would be ready in an hour, and meanwhile he would show them how he lived in Khartoum.

They went to the house at once, and their host said they might take his dwelling for a fair specimen of the best class of houses in Khartoum. It stood in a yard or garden about five hundred feet square, and surrounded by a mud wall eight or nine feet high, and nearly half as thick. The house was nearly two hundred feet square, with a courtyard in the center; the part of the building nearest the entrance was two stories high, but the remainder was only one story. Stairways are objectionable in hot countries, as the exertion of climbing is too much for human endurance, and elevators have not yet penetrated into Africa. The upper story was occupied by Mr. Jenquel and his amiable wife, while the ground floor contained the dining room and two or three apartments for visitors, together with the kitchen and the quarters of the servants. All the rooms were large and airy, and were fitted partly in European and partly in Arab style. There was a wide balcony surrounding the upper story, and it formed an agreeable lounging place in the coolest hours of the day.

Mrs. Jenquel proved to be a most charming lady, who spoke German and English with equal fluency. She had been only a short time in Khartoum, and was evidently not over-charmed with the place. She said there were only two European ladies besides herself in the city. There were no theatres, balls, parties, or other amusements, and altogether there was a great deal of monotony in the life she led. It was a relief to her when strangers came to visit them, and she welcomed with delight the presence of Doctor Bronson and the youths who accompanied him.

Dinner was served in European style, the principal dish being roast mutton, preceded by soup and fish—the latter a species of salmon from the Blue Nile—and followed by a liberal supply of fruits. Among the latter were delicious oranges from the garden of the host, together with tamarinds, dates, custard apples, and grapes. Our friends had made the acquaintance of the custard apple in India, and found the product of Khartoum in no way inferior to that of Asia.
View Near the Edge of Town

Abdul came to announce that their lodgings were ready, and the baggage had been carefully landed and stored as previously arranged. When the proper time arrived, they said "goodnight" to their kind entertainers, and followed the dragoman to the house that had been secured for them.

It was not unlike the residence of Mr. Jenquel, though considerably smaller, and belonged to a merchant, who had gone to Cairo on business, and was not averse to the occupation of his house by suitable tenants during his absence. Half a dozen servants remained in charge, so that Doctor Bronson and the boys found themselves comfortably lodged, and as much at home as though the place was their own. Abdul was installed as chief manager, and the promise of a liberal baksheesh made everything right with the regular servants of the house.
Preparing Dinner

The party remained nearly two weeks at Khartoum, as the preparations for departure could not be made in a hurry. They were now at the last outpost of civilization, and their next move would carry them into the wilderness. The boys readily fell into their new life, and were very soon as familiar with Khartoum as though they had resided there a decade or two.

They rose early every morning, and were generally off by sunrise for a ride in the country around Khartoum. Sometimes they were mounted on horses which Abdul had hired from a merchant who kept a large stable close to their residence, and sometimes on camels, that were readily procured from one of the encampments of the caravans. They found the horses less fatiguing than the "ships of the desert;" but occasionally they were treated to half-wild steeds, exceedingly hard on the bit, and having a strong tendency to run away with their young riders. One morning they had a lively run of nearly two hours on the broad plain south of Khartoum, their horses going at full gallop, and evidently in the mood for exercise. When they came to pull up their restive beasts they were nearly thrown from the saddles; and Frank said he could see no indications that his horse was wearied from the long race. Abdul said the horses came from Darfur, and were anxious to get back again. They were fine animals, and worthy of all the praise bestowed by the Arabs on their favorite steeds. Fred afterward read the account which Bayard Taylor gives of his ride over this very plain, when he left his attendants far behind, though they were mounted on swift dromedaries, and made every exertion to keep close at his heels. The youth was decidedly of opinion that the animal he rode in the race with his cousin was in every respect the equal of the famous red stallion of the Austrian consul.

The middle of the day was generally passed within doors, on account of the heat; the afternoon was devoted to business and visits, if any were to be made, and to walks in the town or along the banks of the two rivers which have their place of meeting just below the city. Then there were letters and journals to be written, maps to be studied, books to be read, and in various ways the time slipped pleasantly away.

Fortunately for our friends, it happened that a government steamer was about to leave Khartoum with dispatches for the Governor of the post at Gondokoro. By means of a telegram from the authorities at Cairo, and the judicious use of baksheesh in certain quarters, it was arranged that Doctor Bronson's party could take passage on this steamer. There was some difficulty about the baggage, as the captain of the boat (an Egyptian Arab) said it was impossible to carry it in addition to what was already ordered on government account.
Baker's Expedition Leaving Khartoum

Abdul invited the captain to dine with him, and the dinner was the best that could be prepared. It lasted until a late hour. Before it was over the whole matter was arranged, and the captain said he would carry the baggage of the party, even if he was obliged to stow it in his own room. The conversation was in Arabic, and we are therefore unable to say how the business was settled; but as Abdul excused himself once during the dinner, and asked the Doctor for five hundred francs in gold, it is fair to suppose that the negotiations were not unconnected with baksheesh.

As they steamed away from Khartoum, Abdul said their solitary boat was quite a contrast to the fleet of Baker Pacha when he started from the same point for his famous expedition to suppress the slave trade.

"Baker's expedition, as I before told you," said Abdul, "had two steamers and thirty-six sailing boats; and each of the steamers had a couple of dahabiehs, or sailing boats, in tow. It was a grand sight as we swept past the town, the steamers leading, with their tows, and the sailing craft driving ahead with the strong north wind. Salutes were fired from the batteries in front of the palace, and the decks of our boats were crowded with men watching until the single minaret of Khartoum was lost in the distance.

"The steamers pushed on with their tows, leaving the rest of the fleet to follow, and made the best of their way to Fashoda, the government post in the Shilluk country, six hundred and eighteen miles by the river from Khartoum. Fashoda is the first place where we shall stop, except to take in wood for our engines, unless we meet with an accident that is not down in our program."
The Heart of Africa

Frank and Fred watched the example of the soldiers of Baker's expedition and kept their eyes on the minaret of Khartoum until it faded and was blended with the horizon. Then they turned to look at the country around them.

Their prow was pointed to the south, save where the windings of the river caused a temporary change of their course. The shores on either side were low, and generally flat, with here and there clumps of trees and little patches of grass. They were still in the region of the desert, but it was not altogether barren, like the great Atmoor of Korosko. Flocks of ducks and geese flew in the air or settled in the nooks along the shore; and now and then the ibis, the sacred bird of the Egyptians, showed his tall form on the sandbanks. Occasionally a crocodile lay basking in the sun, or the snort of a startled hippopotamus would be heard close to the boat.

In the night the clear sky was studded with stars, and the youths lingered long on deck, studying the various constellations. The north star was nearly sunk to the horizon behind them, while in front the Southern Cross sparkled in all its glory, and recalled memories of their voyage from Singapore into the Java Sea. Once more they were approaching the equator, but with far greater difficulties before them.

The steamboat held her course during the night, and in the morning our friends opened their eyes on a change of scene.

The monotonous plain had been left behind, and they were in a region of hills. More than this, the region was no longer a desert. The hills were studded with trees, and on the banks of the river there was a succession of forests and cultivated fields, quite unlike the picture presented below Khartoum. Droves of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats were numerous, and the conical huts of the natives had no resemblance to the flat-roofed dwellings of Lower Egypt.

Occasionally a train of camels was visible, wending its stately way along, and making a sharp contrast to the droves of diminutive donkeys peculiar to this part of the Nile. Where the boat went close to the banks the boys several times discovered monkeys playing among the branches of the trees, and Frank would have made no objection if they had halted long enough to capture one of the amusing beasts. A mountain range appeared in the distance; the vegetation steadily increased in luxuriance; and the boys became fully aware that they were nearing the Heart of Africa.

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

Chapter 5: Life in Khartoum. Departure for Gondokoro.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Mutton: The flesh of sheep used as food.
Gewgaw: A showy trifle, a toy; a showy trinket, ornament or decoration.
Ivory: The hard white form of dentin which forms the tusks of elephants, walruses, and other animals.
Tamarind: The tropical fruit of the tamarind tree; the pulp is used as spice in Asian cooking and in Worcestershire sauce.
Custard Apple: A greenish tropical fruit with a sweet yellow pulp.
Baksheesh: A bribe or a tip.


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: the capital city of Sudan, Khartoum.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the country of Sudan on the map of the world.

Find the following on the map of Sudan:

  • The convergence of the Blue and White Nile tributaries.
  • The city of Khartoum.
  • Trace the boys' path from Khartoum south along the White Nile tributary and into South Sudan.
  • Which countries border Sudan?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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