The Ants of Africa
Chapter 2 - History - The Exploration of Africa by Europeans and Colonial Development - up to ca 1907

A European view of Africa ca. 1850

In my possesssion I have a copy of the Eton Compendium of Geography, edition published around January 1856, by C.G.N. of King's College, London; the first edition, by Rev. Aaron Arrowsmith, having been published in 1831. I have reproduced the relevant pages as pdfs which can be read by using the links: Soudan or Nigritia {original description}; Nubia and Abyssinia {original description}; Eastern Africa (Somalia to Mozambique) {original description}; Southern Africa {original description}; Lower Guinea (Angola and Congo Basin south of the Equator) {original description}; Upper Guinea (Western Africa {original description}.
Note that almost nothing was known of any inland areas.

Map of colonial Africa, post-1918

Those whose names are associated with ant collection are designated by *

This article appears in Volume V01, Page 358 of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica - Main :: SCY-SHA [edited from


Independent Africa - 43,000 Liberia; Morocco 220,000; Abyssinia 350,000; Total 613,000

Ownership of the African islands. Thus, collecting the totals, the result of the " scramble " has been to divide Africa among the powers as follows:- Sq. m. British Africa . 2,101,411; Egyptian Africa 1,600,000; French Africa . 3,866,950; German Africa 910,150; Italian Africa . 200,000; Portuguese Africa 787,500; Spanish Africa 99,800; Belgian Africa 900,000; Turkish Africa 400,000; Independent Africa 613,000; Total 11,458,811 (J. S. K.)


In giving the history of the partition of the continent, the later work of exploration, except where, as in the case of de Brazza's * expeditions, it had direct political consequences, has of necessity not been told. The results achieved during and after the period of partition may now be indicated. Stanley's great journey down the Congo in 1875-1876 initiated a new era in African exploration. The numbers of travellers soon became so great that the once marvellous feat of crossing the continent from sea to sea became common. With increased knowledge and much ampler means of communication trans-African travel now presents few difficulties. While d'Anville and other cartographers of the 18th century, by omitting all that was uncertain, had left a great blank on the map, the work accomplished since 1875 has filled it with authentic topographical details. Moreover surveys of high accuracy have been made at several points. As the work of exploration and survey progressed journeys of startling novelty became impossible save in the. eastern Sahara, where the absence of water and boundless wastes of sand render exploration more difficult, perhaps, than in any other region of the globe. Within their respective spheres of influence each power undertook detailed surveys, and the most solid of the latest accessions to knowledge have resulted from the labours of hard-working colonial officials toiling individually in obscurity. Here, their work is impossible to recognize adequately; the following lines record only the more obvious achievements.

The relations of the Congo basin to the neighbouring river systems was brought out by the journeys of many travellers. In 1877 an important expedition was sent out by the Portugese government under Serpa Pinto, Brito Capello and Roberto Ivens for the exploration of the interior of Angola. Work The first named made his way by the head-streams of the Congo Basinn, the Kubango to the upper Zambezi, which he descended to the Victoria Falls, proceeding thence to Pretoria and Durban. Capello and Ivens confined their attention to the south-west Congo basin, where they disproved the existence of Lake Aquilunda, which had figured on the maps of that region since the 16th century. In a later journey (1884-1885) Capello and Ivens crossed the continent from Mossamedes to the mouth of the Zambezi, adding considerably to the knowledge of the border-lands between the upper Congo and the upper Zambezi. More important results were obtained by the German travellers Paul Pogge and Hermann von Wissmann *, who (1880-1882) passed through previously unknown regions beyond Muata Yanvo's kingdom, and reached the upper Congo at Nyangwe, whence Wissmann made his way to the east coast.

In 1884-1885 a German expedition under Wissmann solved the most important geographical problem relating to the southern Congo basin by descending the Kasai, the largest southern tributary, which, contrary to expectation, proved to unite with the Kwango and other streams before joining the main river. Further additions to the knowledge of the Congo tributaries were made at the same time by the Rev. George Grenfell, a Baptist missionary, who (accompanied in 1885 by K. von Francois) made several voyages in the steamer " Peace," especially up the great Ubangi, ultimately proved to be the lower course of the Welle, discovered in 1870 by Schweinfurth.

In East as in West Africa operations were started by agents of the Belgian committee, but with less success than on the Congo. The first new journey of importance on this side was made (1878-1880) on behalf of the British African Exploration Committee by Joseph Thomson, who after the death of his leader, Keith Johnston, made his way from the coast to the north end of Nyasa, thence to Tanganyika, on both sides of which he broke new ground, sighting the north end of Lake Rukwa on the east. In 1882-1884 the French naval lieutenant Victor Giraud proceeded by the north of Nyasa to Lake Bangweulu, of which he made the first fairly correct map.

North of the Zanzibar-Tanganyika route a large area of new ground was opened in 1883-1884 by Joseph Thomson, who traversed the whole length of the Masai country to Lake Baringo and Victoria Nyanza, shedding the first clear light on the great East African rift-valley and neighbouring highlands, including Mounts Kenya and Elgon. A great advance in the region between Victoria Nyanza and Abyssinia was made in 1887-1889 by the Austrians, Count Samuel Teleki and Lieut. Ludwig von Hohnel, who discovered the large Basso Norok, now known as Lake Rudolf, till then only vaguely indicated on the map as Samburu.

At this time Somaliland was being opened up by English and Italian travellers. In 1883 the brothers F. L. and W. D. James penetrated from Berbera to the Webi Shebeli; in 1892 Vittorio Bottego * (afterwards murdered in the Abyssinian highlands) started from Berbera and reached the upper Juba, which he explored to its source. The first person, however, to cross from the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean was an American, A. Donaldson Smith, who in 1894-1895 explored the head-streams of the Webi Shebeli and also explored the Omo, the feeder of Lake Rudolf.

In the region north-west of Victoria Nyanza the greatest additions to geographical knowledge were made by H. M. Stanley in his last expedition, undertaken for the relief of Emin Pasha. The expedition set out in 1887 by way of the Congo to carry supplies to the governor of the old Egyptian Equatorial province. The route lay up the Aruwimi, the principal tributary of the Congo from the north-east, by which the expedition made its way, encountering immense difficulties, through the great equatorial forest, the character and extent of which were thus for the first time brought to light. The return was made to the east coast, and resulted in the discovery of the great snowy range of Ruwenzori or Runsoro, and the confirmation of the existence of a third Nile lake discharging its waters into the Albert Nyanza by the Semliki river. A further discovery was that of a large bay, hitherto unsuspected, forming the south-west corner of the Victoria Nyanza.

Great activity was also displayed in completing the work of earlier explorers in North and West Africa. Morocco was in 1883-1884 the scene of important explorations by Expedi de Foucauld, a Frenchman who, disguised as a Jew, crossed and re-crossed the Atlas and supplied the North and first trustworthy information as to the topography of many parts of the chain. In 1887-1889 Louis Gustave Binger, a French officer, made a great journey through the countries enclosed in the Niger bend, and in 1890-1892 Col. P. F. Monteil went from St Louis to Say, on the Niger, thence through Sokoto to Bomu and Lake Chad, whence he crossed the Sahara to Tripoli.

Meantime explorers had been busy in the region between Lake Chad, the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo. The Sanga, one of. the principal northern tributaries of the Congo, was reached from the north by Lieut. Louis Mizon, a French naval officer, who drew the first line of communication between the Benue and the Congo (1890-1892).

In 1890 Paul Crampel *, who in the previous year had explored north of the Ogowe, undertook a great expedition from the Ubangi to the Shari, but was attacked and killed, with several of his companions, on the borders of the Bagirmi. Several other expeditions followed, and in 1896 Emile Gentil reached the Shari, launched a steamer on its waters and pushed on to Lake Chad. Early in 1900 Lake Chad was also reached by F. Foureau, a French traveller, who had already devoted twelve years to the exploration of the [area and] ascended the Ruwenzori range to a height of over 13,000 ft.

In the same year [1900] Dr O. Baumann, who had already done good work in Usambara, near the coast, started on a more extended journey through the region of steppes between Kilimanjaro and Victoria Nyanza, afterwards exploring the head-streams of the Kagera, the ultimate sources of the Nile. In the steppe region referred to he discovered two new lakes, Manyara and Eiassi, occupying parts of the East African valley system. This region was again traversed in 1893-1894 by Count von Gotzen, who continued his route westwards to Lake Kivu, north of Tanganyika, which, though heard of by Speke.over thirty years before, had never yet been visited. He also reached for the first time the line of volcanic peaks north of Kivu, one of which he ascended, afterwards crossing the great equatorial forest by a new route to the Congo and the west coast.

Valuable scientific work was done in 1893 by Dr J. W. Gregory * , who ascended Mount Kenya to a height of 16,000 ft. In 1893-1894, Scott Elliot reached Ruwenzori by way of Uganda, returning by Tanganyika and Nyasa, and in 1896 C. W. Hobley made the. circuit of the great mountain Elgon, north-east of Victoria Nyanza. In 1899 Mount Kenya was ascended to its summit by a party under H. J. Mackinder. The exploration of Mount Kilimanjaro has been the special work of Dr Hans Meyer, who first directed his attention to it in 1887.

The region south of Abyssinia proper and north of Lake Rudolf, being largely the basin of the Sobat tributary of the Nile, was traversed by several explorers, among whom may be mentioned Capt. M. S. Wellby, who in 1898-1899 explored the chain of small lakes in south-east Abyssinia, pushed on to Lake Rudolf, and thence traversed hitherto unknown country to the lower Sobat. Donaldson Smith crossed from Berbera to the Nile by Lake Rudolf in 1899-1900, and Major H. H. Austin commanded two survey parties between the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Lake Rudolf during 1899-1901.

Meantime in south Central Africa the Barotse country had been partly made known by the missionary F. Coillard, who settled there in 1884, while the middle and upper Zambezi basin were scientifically explored and mapped by Major A. St H. Gibbons and his assistants in 1895-1896 and 1898-1900. In the same period the Congo-Zambezi watershed was traced by a Belgian officer, Capt. C. Lemaire *, who had ascended one of the upper tributaries of the Kasai. In the early years of the 19th century [20th ?] the first recorded crossing of Africa took place. That crossing and all subsequent crossings had been made either from west to east or east to west.

The first journey through the whole length of the continent was accomplished in the two last years of the century when a young Englishman, E. S. Grogan, starting from Cape Town reached the Mediterranean by way of the Zambezi, the central line of lakes and the Nile. Other travellers followed in Grogan's footsteps, among the first, Major Gibbons. Additions to topographical knowledge were made from about 1890 onwards by the international commissions which traced the frontiers of the protectorates of the European powers. On several occasions the labours of the commissions disclosed errors of importance in the maps upon which international agreements had been based. Among those which yielded valuable results were the Anglo-French commission which in 1903 traced the Nigerian frontier from the Niger to Lake Chad, and the Anglo-German commission which in 1903-1904 fixed the Cameroon boundary between Yola, on the Benue, and Lake Chad. These expeditions and French surveys in the same region during 1902-1903 resulted in the discovery that Lake Chad had greatly decreased in area since the middle of the 19th century. In 1903 a French officer, Capt. E. Lenfant *, succeeded in establishing the fact of a connexion between the Niger and Chad basins. Subsequently Lenfant explored the western basin of the Shari, determining (1907) the true upper branch of that river.

In East Africa a German-Congolese commission surveyed (1901-1902) Lake Kivu and the volcanic region north of the lake, R Kandt making a special study of Kivu and the Kagera sources, while the Anglo-German boundary commission of 1902-1904 surveyed the valley of the lower Kagera, and fixed the exact position of Albert Edward Nyanza. Much new information concerning the border-lands of British East Africa and Abyssinia between Lake Rudolf and the lower Juba was obtained by the survey executed in 1902-1903 by a British officer, Captain P. Maud. While political requirements led to : the exact determination of frontiers, administrative needs forced the governments concerned to take in hand the survey of the countries under their protection. Before the close of the first decade of the 20th century tolerably accurate maps had been made of the German colonies, of a considerable part of West Africa, the Algerian Sahara and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, mainly by military officers. A British naval officer, Commander B. Whitehouse, mapped the entire coastline of Victoria Nyanza.

Government and railway surveys apart; the chief points of interest for explorers during 1904-1906 were the Ruwenzori range and the connexion of the basin of Lake Chad with the Niger and Congo systems. Lieut. Boyd Alexander was the leader of a party which during the years named surveyed Lake Chad and a considerable part of eastern Nigeria, returning to England via the Shari, the Ubangi and the Nile. Two members of the party, Capt. Claud Alexander and Capt. G. B. Gosling, died during the expedition. The Ruwenzori Mountains proved a great source of attraction. Sir H. H. Johnston had in 1900 ascended beyond the snow-line to 14,809 ft; in 1903 Dr. J. J. David had reached from the west to a height he believed to exceed 16,000 ft.; and in the same year Capt. T. T. Behrens, of the Anglo-German Uganda boundary commission, fixed the highest summit at 16,619 ft. During 1904-1906 some half-dozen expeditions were at work in the region. That of the Duke of the Abruzzi * was the most successful. In the summer of 1906 the Duke or members of his party climbed all the highest peaks, none of which reaches 17,000 ft., and determined the main lines of the watershed. Major Powell-Cotton, a British officer who had previously done good work in Abyssinia and British East Africa, spent 1905-1906 in a detailed examination of the Lado enclave and the country west of Ruwenzori and Albert and Albert Edward lakes. This expedition was specially fruitful in additions to zoological knowledge.

The last ten years of the 19th century also witnessed many interesting expeditions in east Central Africa. In 1891 Emin Lakes and Pasha, accompanied by Dr F. Stuhlmann *, made his mountains way south of Victoria Nyanza to the western Nile Lakes, visiting for the first time the southern and western shores of Albert Edward. Stuhlmann also ...?


No continent has in the past been so lacking in means of communication as Africa, and it was only in the last decade of the 19th century that decided steps were taken to remedy these defects. The African rivers, with the means of exception of the middle Congo and its affluents, and the middle course of the three other chief rivers, are generally unfavourable to navigation, and throughout the tropical region almost the sole routes have been native footpaths, admitting the passage of a single file of porters, on whose heads all goods have been carried from place to place. Certain of these native trade routes are, however, much frequented, and lead for hundreds of miles from the coast to the interior. In the desert regions of the north transport is by caravans of camels, and in the south ox-wagons, before the advent of railways, supplied the general means of locomotion. The native trade routes led generally from the centres of greatest population or production to the seaports by the nearest route, but to this rule:there was a striking exception. The dense forests of Upper Guinea and the upper Congo proved a barrier which kept the peoples of the Sudan from direct access to the sea, and from Timbuktu to Darfur the great trade routes were either west to east or south to north across the Sahara. The principal caravan routes across the desert lead from different points in Morocco and Algeria to Timbuktu; from Tripoli to Timbuktu, Kano and other great marts of the western and central Sudan; from Bengazi to Wadai; and from Assiut on the Nile through the Great Oasis and the Libyan desert to Darfur.

South of the equator the principal long-established routes are those from Loanda to the Lunda and Baluba countries; from Benguela via Bihe to Urua and the upper Zambezi; from Mossamedes across the Kunene to the upper Zambezi; and from Bagamoyo, opposite Zanzibar, to Tanganyika. Many of the native routes have been superseded by the improved communications introduced by Europeans in the utilization of waterways and the construction of roads and railways. Steamers have been conveyed overland in sections and launched on the interior waterways above the obstructions to navigation. On the upper Nile and Albert Nyanza their introduction was due to Sir S. Baker and General C. G. Gordon (1871-1876); on the middle Congo and its affiuents to Sir H. M. Stanley and the officials of the Congo Free State, as well as to the Baptist missionaries on the river; and on Lake Nyasa to the supporters of the Scottish mission. A small vessel was launched on Victoria Nyanza in 1896 by a British mercantile firm, and a British government steamer made its first trip in November 1900. On the other great lakes and on most of the navigable rivers steamers were plying regularly before the close of the 19th century. However, the shallowness of the water in the Niger and Zambezi renders their navigation possible only to light-draught steamers. Roads suitable for wheeled traffic are few. The first attempt at road-making in Central Africa on a large scale was that of Sir T. Fowell Buxton and Mr (after-wards Sir W.) Mackinnon, who completed the first section of a track leading into the interior from Dar-es-Salaam (1879). A still more important undertaking was the " Stevenson road," begun in 1881 from the head of Lake Nyasa to the south end of Tanganyika, and constructed mainly at the expense of Mr James Stevenson, a director of the African Lakes Company, a company which helped materially in the opening up of Nyasaland. The Stevenson road forms a link in the "Lakes route" into the heart of the continent. In British East Africa a road connecting Mombasa with Victoria Nyanza was completed in 1897, but has since been in great measure superseded by the railway.Good roads have also been made in German East Africa and Cameroon and in Madagascar.

Railways, the chief means of affording easy access to the interior of the continent, were for many years after their first introduction to Africa almost entirely confined to the extreme north and south (Egypt, Algeria, Cape Colony and Natal). Apart from short lines in Senegal, Angola and at Lourenco Marques, the rest of the continent in 1890 was without a railway system. In Egypt the Alexandria and Cairo railway dates from 1855, while in 1877 the lines open reached about 1500 miles, and in 1890, in addition to the lines traversing the delta, the Nile had been ascended to Assiut. In Algeria the construction of an inter-provincial railway was decreed in 1857, but was still incomplete twenty years later, when the total length of the lines open hardly exceeded 300 miles. Before 1890 an extension to Tunis had been opened, while the plateau had been crossed by the lines to Ain Sefra in the west and Biskra in the east. In Senegal the railway from Dakar to St Louis had been commenced and completed during the 'eighties, while the first section of the Senegal-Niger railway, that from Kayes to Bafulabe, was also constructed during the same decade. In Cape Colony, where in about 1880 the railways were limited to the neighbourhood of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London, the next decade saw the completion of the trunk-line from Cape Town to Kimberley, with a junction at De Aar with that from Port Elizabeth. The northern frontier had, however, nowhere been crossed. In Natal, also, the main line had not advanced beyond Ladysmith.

The settlement, c. 1890, of the main lines of the partition of the continent was followed by many projects for the opening up of the possessions and spheres of influence of the various powers by the building of railways; several of these schemes being carried through in a comparatively short time. The building of railways was undertaken by the governments concerned, nearly all the African lines being state-owned. In the Congo Free State a railway, which took some ten years to build, connecting the navigable waters of the lower and middle Congo, was completed in 1898, while in 1906 the middle and upper courses of the river were linked by the opening of a line past Stanley Falls. Thus the vast basin of the Congo was rendered easily accessible to commercial enterprise. In North Africa the Algerian and Tunisian railways were largely extended, and proposals were made for a great trunk-line from Tangier to Alexandria. The railway from Ain Sefra was continued south-ward towards Tuat, the project of a trans-Saharan line having occupied the attention of French engineers since 1880. In French West Africa railway communication between the upper Senegal and the upper Niger was completed in 1904; from the Guinea coast at Konakry another line runs north-east to the upper Niger, while from Dahomey a third line goes to the Niger at Garu. In the British colonies on the same coast the building of railways was begun in 1896. A line to Kumasi was completed in 1903, and the line from Lagos to the lower Niger had reached Illorin in 1908. Thence the railway was continued to the Niger at Jebba. From Baro, a port on the lower Niger which can be reached by steamers all the year round, another railway, begun in 1907, goes via Bida, Zungeru and Zaria to Kano, a total distance of 400 miles. A line from Jebba to Zungeru affords connexion with the Lagos railway. But the greatest development of the railway systems was in the south and east of the continent. In British East Africa a survey for a railway from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza was made in 1892. The first rails were laid in 1896 and the line reached the lake in December 1904. Meanwhile, there had been a great extension of railways in South Africa. Lines from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Delagoa Bay all converged on the newly risen city of Johannesburg, the centre of the Rand gold mines. A more ambitious project was that identified with the name of Cecil Rhodes, namely, the extension northward of the railway from Kimberley with the object of effecting a continuous railway connexion from Cape Town to Cairo. The line from Kimberley reached Bulawayo in 1897. (Bulawayo is also reached from Beira on the east coast by another line, completed in 1902, which goes through Portuguese territory and Mashonaland.) The extension of the line north-ward from Bulawayo was begun in 1899, the Zambezi being bridged, immediately below the Victoria Falls, in 1905. From this point the railway goes north to the Katanga district of the Congo State.

In the north of the continent a step towards the completion of the Cape to Cairo route was taken in the opening in 1899 of the railway from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum. A line of greater economic importance than the last named is the railway (completed in 1905) from Port Sudan on the Red Sea to the Nile a little south of Berber, thus placing the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan within easy reach of the markets of the world. A west to east connexion across the continent by rail and steamer, from the mouth of the Congo to Port Sudan, was arranged in 1906 when an agreement was entered into by the Congo and Sudan governments for the building of a railway from Lado, on the Nile, to the Congo frontier, there to meet a railway starting from the river Congo near Stanley Falls. A railway of consider-able importance is that from Jibuti in the Gulf of Aden to Harrar, giving access to the markets of southern Abyssinia. Besides the railways mentioned there are several others of less importance. Lines run from Loanda and other ports of Angola towards the Congo State frontier, and from Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam on the coast of German East Africa towards the great lakes. In British Central Africa a railway connects Lake Nyasa with the navigable waters of the Shire, and various lines have been built by the French in Madagascar. All the main railways in South Africa, the lines in British West Africa, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and in Egypt south of Luxor are of 3 ft 6 in gauge. The main lines in Lower Egypt and in Algeria and Tunisia are of 4 ft 8 in gauge. Elsewhere as in French West and British East Africa the lines are of metre (3.28 ft) gauge.

The telegraphic system of Africa is on the whole older than that of the railways, the newer European possessions having in most cases been provided with telegraph lines before railway projects had been set on foot. In Algeria, Egypt and Cape Colony the systems date back to the middle of the 19th century, before the end of which the lines had in each country reached some thousands of miles. In tropical Africa the systems of French West Africa, where the line from Dakar to St Louis was begun in 1862, were the first to be fully developed, lines having been carried from different points on the coast of Senegal and Guinea towards the Niger, the main line being prolonged north-west to Timbuktu, and west and south to the coast of Dahomey. The route for a telegraph line to connect Timbuktu with Algeria was surveyed in 1905. The Congo region is furnished with several telegraphic systems, the longest going from the mouth of the river to Lake Tanganyika. From Ujiji on the east coast of that lake there is telegraphic communication via Tabora with Dar-es-Salaam and via Nyasa and Rhodesia with Cape Town. The last-named line is the longest link in the trans-continental line first suggested in 1876 by Sir (then Mr) Edwin Arnold and afterwards taken up by Cecil Rhodes. The northern link from Egypt to Khartoum has been continued southward to Uganda, while another line connects Uganda with Mombasa. At the principal seaports the inland systems are connected with sub-marine cables which place Africa in telegraphic communication with the rest of the world.

Numerous steamship lines run from Great Britain, Germany, France and other countries to the African seaports, the journey from any place in western Europe to any port on the African coast occupying, by the shortest route, not more than three weeks. (E. HE., F. R. C.)

2006, 2009, 2012 - Brian Taylor CBiol FSB FRES
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