The descriptions of its sports, and the tales of hairbreadth escapes from elephants, which I had read in various publications, were sources of attraction against which I strove in vain; and I at length determined upon the very wild idea of spending twelve months in Ceylon jungles.
It is said that the delights of pleasures in anticipation exceed the pleasures themselves: in this case doubtless some months of great enjoyment passed in making plans of every description, until I at length arrived in Colombo, Ceylon's seaport capital.
I never experienced greater disappointment in an expectation than on my first view of Colombo. I had spent some time at Mauritius and Bourbon previous to my arrival, and I soon perceived that the far-famed Ceylon was nearly a century behind either of those small islands.
Instead of the bustling activity of the Port Louis harbor in Mauritius, there were a few vessels rolling about in the roadstead, and some forty or fifty fishing canoes hauled up on the sandy beach. There was a peculiar dullness throughout the town—a sort of something which seemed to say, "Coffee does not pay." There was a want of spirit in everything. The ill-conditioned guns upon the fort looked as though not intended to defend it; the sentinels looked parboiled; the very natives sauntered rather than walked; the very bullocks crawled along in the midday sun, listlessly dragging the native carts. Everything and everybody seemed enervated, except those frightfully active people in all countries and climates, "the custom-house officers:" these necessary plagues to society gave their usual amount of annoyance.
What struck me the most forcibly in Colombo was the want of shops. In Port Louis the wide and well-paved streets were lined with excellent "magasins" of every description; here, on the contrary, it was difficult to find anything in the shape of a shop until I was introduced to a soi-disant store, where everything was to be purchased from a needle to a crowbar, and from satin to sail-cloth; the useful predominating over the ornamental in all cases. It was all on a poor scale and after several inquiries respecting the best hotel, I located myself at that termed the Royal or Seager's Hotel. This was airy, white and clean throughout; but there was a barn-like appearance, as there is throughout most private dwellings in Colombo, which banished all idea of comfort.
I could not conceive that anything in this world has power to resist a determined will, so long as health and life remain. The failure of every former attempt to reach the Nile source did not astonish me, as the expeditions had consisted of parties, which, when difficulties occur, generally end in difference of opinion and in retreat; I therefore determined to proceed alone, trusting in the guidance of a Divine Providence and the good fortune that sometimes attends a tenacity of purpose. I weighed carefully the chances of the undertaking. Before me, untrodden Africa; against me, the obstacles that had defeated the world since its creation; on my side, a somewhat tough constitution, perfect independence, a long experience in savage life, and both time and means, which I intended to devote to the object without limit.
England had never sent an expedition to the Nile sources previous to that under the command of Speke and Grant. Bruce, ninety years before, had succeeded in tracing the source of the Blue or Lesser Nile; thus the honor of that discovery belonged to Great Britain. Speke was on his road from the South, and I felt confident that my gallant friend would leave his bones upon the path rather than submit to failure. I trusted that England would not be beaten, and although I hardly dared to hope that I could succeed where others greater than I had failed, I determined to sacrifice all in the attempt.
I shall not repeat, beyond what may be absolutely necessary, that which has already been published in my former works on Africa, "The Albert N'yanza" and "The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia," but I shall adhere to the simple path taken by the expedition. This enterprise was the natural result of my original explorations, in which I had been an eye-witness to the horrors of the slave trade, which I determined, if possible, to suppress.
In my former journey I had traversed countries of extreme fertility in Central Africa, with a healthy climate favourable for the settlement of Europeans, at a mean altitude of 4,000 feet above the sea level. This large and almost boundless extent of country was well peopled by a race who only required the protection of a strong but paternal government to become of considerable importance, and to eventually develop the great resources of the soil.
I found lands varying in natural capabilities according to their position and altitudes—where sugar, cotton, coffee, rice, spices, and all tropical produce might be successfully cultivated; but those lands were without any civilized form of government, and "every man did what seemed right in his own eyes."
In this dislocated state of society, the slave trade prospered to the detriment of all improvement. Rich and well-populated countries were rendered desolate; the women and children were carried into captivity; villages were burnt, and crops were destroyed or pillaged; the population was driven out; a terrestrial paradise was converted into an infernal region; the natives who were originally friendly were rendered hostile to all strangers, and the general result of the slave trade could only be expressed in one word—"ruin."
The slave hunters and traders who had caused this desolation were for the most part Arabs, subjects of the Egyptian government.
These people had deserted their agricultural occupations in the Soudan and had formed companies of brigands in the pay of various merchants of Khartoum. The largest trader had about 2,500 Arabs in his pay, employed as pirates or brigands, in Central Africa. These men were organized after a rude military fashion, and armed with muskets; they were divided into companies, and were officered in many cases by soldiers who had deserted from their regiments in Egypt or the Soudan.
It is supposed that about 15,000 of the Khedive's subjects who should have been industriously working and paying their taxes in Egypt were engaged in the so-called ivory trade and slave-hunting of the White Nile.
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