Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure by Tim Jeal - review by Alexander Maitland

Alexander Maitland

Into Africa

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure


Faber & Faber 592pp £25 order from our bookshop

Published in 1960, Alan Moorehead’s bestseller The White Nile has never been surpassed. Even so, over the course of ensuing decades more information has been discovered about the Nile and those incredibly brave Victorians – men and women – who devoted themselves to discovering the source of the world’s longest river. In Explorers of the Nile Tim Jeal, the author of acclaimed biographies of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, has used this information to redraw the accepted portraits of many of the Nile’s explorers. For this reason alone his research has been worthwhile. His panoramic overview of the quest for the Nile’s source, a location shrouded in mystique and speculation, and his cast of extraordinary people, each determined to be first to discover the river’s origins, make compelling reading. Jeal’s diligent investigations and his skill as a writer have produced a vivid tale of adventure, which is convincing and occasionally provocative. This is no mean feat, considering the large number of books written on the subject since Moorehead’s book was published, including at least eight biographies of Burton. 

Nero’s centurions, attempting to reach the Nile’s headwaters in AD 66, were defeated by the Sudd, a vast swamp of papyrus and aquatic plants. For the next 1,800 years little progress was made – until the mid-nineteenth century, when exploration to locate the source of the White Nile

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