John Hanning Speke

Written by Dr. Gregory Bartha

Another prominent figure in the European exploration of Africa was John Hanning Speke. He was born in England and enlisted in the British Indian army at age 17. On furlough he did some explorations in the Himalayas and entered into Tibet. He joined another famous explore Richard Burton in an expedition into Somaliland. He rejoined Burton at a later time to explore the great African lakes and search for the source of the Nile. They had learned from Arab traders that there were three large lakes in the East African region.

In 1858 the explorers reached Lake Tanganyika. Speke then set out on his own to find the largest lake. He marched north for one month until he found a huge expanse of water extending to the horizon. He named this lake Victoria and felt certain that it was the source of the Nile. He soon got support from the Royal Geographic Society and set out on a expedition with J. A. Grant. The team started out at Zanzibar in October 1860. After reaching Lake Victoria the team followed its shoreline and entered the capital of Uganda early in 1862. They were detained by King Mtesa for several months.

They finally persuaded the king to give them guides, and on July 28, 1862 they stood where the Nile issued from the Lake. So in truth the Africans had really discovered the source of the Nile. Speke and Grant were just the first Europeans to find it. They proceeded to follow the course of the river for a time. They eventually found the third large body of water and named it Lake Albert.

In 1863 he published his Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile. Speke accidentally shot himself fatally while  partridge hunting in September 1864. He was only 37 years old.

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