First Footsteps in East Africa is a seminal work of Africana recording Burton’s first expedition into Somaliland. His purpose was to explore the forbidden Moslem city of Harar, “a city whose walls no European had ever penetrated,” as well as to gather information about the headwaters of the Nile. He traveled in the same disguise that took him to Mecca, as Haji Mirza Abdullah, an Arab merchant.

It was on this expedition that Burton was first joined by John Speke, at the suggestion of James Outram. Speke originally abetted Burton’s plans in Somaliland, but differences quickly arose between the two, and Speke over the years became Burton’s great nemesis, taking credit for discovering the Nile and deprecating Burton’s efforts in every sphere.

On this journey, despite the success of the primary objective, Lieut. Stroyan died and Burton received the famous spear wound to his face during an attack by Somalis while encamped on the beach at Berbera.

Burton’s intellectual influence is far-reaching. His amazing grasp of languages and culture anticipates the globalism of the future. His geographical discoveries not only made him an interesting historical figure but also allowed for future exploration. The detail with which he wrote and his willingness to examine intimate aspects of daily life were precursors to modern ethnography.

And his understanding and willingness to immerse himself in cultures that are still little understood by those in Western nation-states is enlightening on many levels. He was the first European to enter Mecca, first to explore Somaliland, and first to discover the great lakes of Central Africa.

A prolific writer, he published 43 volumes on exploration and travel, two volumes of poetry, over a hundred articles, and 143 pages of autobiography. He translated sixteen volumes of The Arabian Nights, six volumes of Portuguese literature, two volumes of Latin poetry, and four volumes of folklore (Neapolitan, African, and Hindu). His occupations included; soldier, writer, explorer, foreign emissary, translator and linguist, sword fighter, ethnographer, and archaeologist.

AN IMPORTANT BURTON PRINTING and a very important edition of this primary text, created by Isabel Burton in honor of her husband’s expansive work and extended oeuvre. Ms Burton had hoped to continue on with the project, publishing many more of Burton’s writings, but the seven volumes which she did publish were the only ones ever printed.

This is a fine set of the scarce Memorial issue of one of Burton’s most important books. Not only did the printing include the full text of the original, but also the original illustrations.

First Footsteps In East Africa

Or, An Exploration Of Harar

By Richard Burton

The First Footsteps In East Africa Or, An Exploration Of Harar.
Harar from the Coffe Stream.

First edition of 1856 in one volume.
Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, London.
The First Footsteps In East Africa Or, An Exploration Of Harar.


CHAPTER I  Departure from Aden
CHAPTER II  Life in Zeila
CHAPTER III  Excursions near Zeila
CHAPTER IV The Somal, their Origin and Peculiarities
CHAPTER V  From Zeila to the Hills
CHAPTER VI  From the Zeila Hills to the Marar Prairie
CHAPTER VII  From the Marar Prairie to Harar
CHAPTER VIII  Ten Days at Harar
CHAPTER IX  A Ride to Berberah
CHAPTER X  Berberah and its Environs
POSTSCRIPT  [The Attack on Berberah]


I have ventured, my dear Lumsden, to address you in, and inscribe to you, these pages. Within your hospitable walls, my project of African travel was matured, in the fond hope of submitting, in return, to your friendly criticism, the record of adventures in which you took so warm an interest. Dis aliter visum! Still, I would prove that my thoughts are with you, and thus request you to accept with your wonted bonhomie this feeble token of sincere goodwill.

The First Footsteps In East Africa Or, An Exploration Of Harar.PREFACE

Averse to writing, as well as to reading, diffuse Prolegomena, the author finds himself compelled to relate, at some length, the circumstances which led to the subject of these pages.


In May 1849, the late Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm, formerly Superintendent of the Indian Navy, in conjunction with Mr. William John Hamilton, then President of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, solicited the permission of the Court of Directors of the Honorable East India Company to ascertain the productive resources of the unknown Somali Country in East Africa.1 The answer returned, was to the following effect:—

“If a fit and proper person volunteers to travel in the Somali Country, he goes as a private traveler, the Government giving no more protection to him than they would to an individual totally unconnected with the service. They will allow the officer who obtains permission to go, during his absence on the expedition to retain all the pay and allowances he may be enjoying when leave was granted: they will supply him with all the instruments required, afford him a passage going and returning, and pay the actual expenses of the journey.”

The project lay dormant until March 1850, when Sir Charles Malcolm and Captain Smyth, President of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, waited upon the chairman of the Court of Directors of the Honorable East India Company. He informed them that if they would draw up a statement of what was required, and specify how it could be carried into effect, the document should be forwarded to the Governor-General of India, with a recommendation that, should no objection arise, either from expense or other causes, a fit person should be permitted to explore the Somali Country.

Sir Charles Malcolm then offered the charge of the expedition to Dr. Carter of Bombay, an officer favorably known to the Indian world by his services on board the “Palinurus” brig whilst employed upon the maritime survey of Eastern Arabia. Dr. Carter at once acceded to the terms proposed by those from whom the project emanated; but his principal object being to compare the geology and botany of the Somali Country with the results of his Arabian travels, he volunteered to traverse only that part of Eastern Africa which lies north of a line drawn from Berberah to Ras Hafun,—in fact, the maritime mountains of the Somal. His health not permitting him to be left on shore, he required a cruizer to convey him from place to place, and to preserve his store of presents and provisions. By this means he hoped to land at the most interesting points and to penetrate here and there from sixty to eighty miles inland, across the region which he undertook to explore.

On the 17th of August, 1850, Sir Charles Malcolm wrote to Dr. Carter in these terms:—“I have communicated with the President of the Royal Geographical Society and others: the feeling is, that though much valuable information could no doubt be gained by skirting the coast (as you propose) both in geology and botany, yet that it does not fulfill the primary and great object of the London Geographical Society, which was, and still is, to have the interior explored.” The Vice-Admiral, however, proceeded to say that, under the circumstances of the case, Dr. Carter’s plans were approved of, and asked him to confer immediately with Commodore Lushington; then Commander in Chief of the Indian Navy.

In May 1851, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm died: geographers and travelers lost in him an influential and energetic friend. During the ten years of his superintendence over the Indian Navy, that service rose, despite the incubus of profound peace, to the highest distinction. He freely permitted the officers under his command to undertake the task of geographical discovery, retaining their rank, pay, and batta, whilst the actual expenses of their journeys were defrayed by contingent bills. All papers and reports submitted to the local government were favorably received, and the successful traveler looked forward to distinction and advancement.

During the decade which elapsed between 1828 and 1838, “officers of the Indian Navy journeyed, as the phrase is, with their lives in their hands, through the wildest districts of the East. Of these, we name the late Commander J. A. Young, Lieutenants Wellsted, Wyburd, Wood, and Christopher, retired Commander Ormsby, the present Capt. H. B. Lynch C.B., Commanders Felix Jones and W. C. Barker, Lieutenants Cruttenden and Whitelock. Their researches extended from the banks of the Bosphorus to the shores of India. Of the vast, the immeasurable value of such services,” to quote the words of the Quarterly Review (No. cxxix. Dec. 1839), “which able officers thus employed, are in the meantime rendering to science, to commerce, to their country, and to the whole civilized world, we need to say nothing:—nothing we could say would be too much.”

“In five years, the admirable maps of that coral-bound gulf—the Red Sea— were complete: the terrors of the navigation had given place to the confidence inspired by excellent surveys. In 1829 the Thetis of Ten Guns, under Commander Robert Moresby, convoyed the first coal ship up the Red Sea, of the coasts of which this skillful and enterprising seaman made a cursory survey, from which emanated the subsequent trigonometrical operations which form our present maps. Two ships were employed, the ‘Benares’ and ‘Palinurus,’ the former under Commander Elwon, the latter under Commander Moresby. It remained, however, for the latter officer to complete the work. Some idea may be formed of the perils these officers and men went through when we state the ‘Benares’ was forty-two times aground.

“Robert Moresby, the genius of the Red Sea, conducted also the survey of the Maldive Islands and groups known as the Chagos Archipelago. He narrowly escaped being a victim to the deleterious climate of his station and only left it when no longer capable of working. A host of young and ardent officers,—Christopher, Young, Powell, Campbell, Jones, Barker, and others,—ably seconded him: death was busy amongst them for months and so paralyzed by disease were the living, that the anchors could scarcely be raised for a retreat to the coast of India. Renovated by a three months’ stay, occasionally in port, where they were strengthened by additional numbers, the undaunted remnants from time to time returned to their task; and in 1837, gave to the world a knowledge of those singular groups which heretofore—though within 150 miles of our coasts—had been a mystery hidden within the dangers that environed them. The beautiful maps of the Red Sea, drafted by the late Commodore Carless2, then a lieutenant, will ever remain permanent monuments of Indian Naval Science, and the daring of its officers and men. Those of the Maldive and Chagos groups, executed by Commander then Acting Lieutenant Felix Jones, were, we hear, of such a high order, that they were deemed worthy of special inspection by the Queen.”

“While these enlightening operations were in progress, there were others of this profession, no less distinguished, employed on similar discoveries. The coast of Mekran westward from Scinde was little known, but it soon found a place in the hydrographical offices of India, under Captain, then Lieutenant, Stafford Haines, and his staff, who were engaged on it. The journey to the Oxus, made by Lieut. Wood, Sir. A. Burnes’s companion in his Lahore and Afghan missions, is a page of history which may not be opened to us again in our own times; while in Lieut. Carless’s drafts of the channels of the Indus, we trace those designs, that the sword of Sir Charles Napier only was destined to reveal.”

“The ten years prior to that of 1839 were those of fitful repose, such as generally precedes some great outbreak. The repose afforded ample leisure for research, and the shores of the island of Socotra, with the south coast of Arabia, were carefully delineated. Besides the excellent maps of these regions, we are indebted to the survey for that unique work on Oman, by the late Lieut. Wellsted of this service, and for valuable notices from the pen of Lieut. Cruttenden.3

“Besides the works we have enumerated, there were others of the same nature, but on a smaller scale, in operation at the same period around our own coasts. The Gulf of Cambay, and the dangerous sands known as the Molucca Banks, were explored and faithfully mapped by Captain Richard Ethersey, assisted by Lieutenant (now Commander) Fell. Bombay Harbor was delineated again on a grand scale by Capt. R. Cogan, assisted by Lieut. Peters, now both dead; and the ink of the Maldive charts had scarcely dried, when the labors of those employed were demanded of the Indian Government by Her Majesty’s authorities at Ceylon, to undertake trigonometrical surveys of that Island, and the dangerous and shallow gulfs on either side of the neck of sand connecting it with India. They were the present Captains F. F. Powell, and Richard Ethersey, in the Schooner ‘Royal Tiger’ and ‘Shannon,’ assisted by Lieut. (now Commander) Felix Jones, and the late Lieut. Wilmot Christopher, who fell in action before Mooltan. The first of these officers had charge of one of the tenders under Lieut. Powell, and the latter another under Lieut. Ethersey. The maps of the Pamban Pass and the Straits of Manaar were by the hand of Lieut. Felix Jones, who was the draftsman also on this survey: they speak for themselves.”4

In 1838 Sir Charles Malcolm was succeeded by Sir Robert Oliver, an “old officer of the old school”—a strict disciplinarian, a faithful and honest servant of Government, but a violent, limited, and prejudiced man. He wanted “sailors,” individuals conversant with ropes and rigging, and steeped in knowledge of shot and shakings, he loved the “rule of thumb,” he hated “literary razors,” and he viewed science with the profoundest contempt. About twenty surveys were ordered to be discontinued as an inauguratory measure, causing the loss of many thousand pounds, independent of such contingencies as the “Memnon.”5 Batta was withheld from the few officers who obtained leave, and the life of weary labor on board ship was systematically made monotonous and uncomfortable:—in a local phrase, it was described as “many stripes and no stars.” Few measures were omitted to heighten the shock of contrast. No notice was taken of papers forwarded to the Government, and the man who attempted to distinguish himself by higher views than quarter-deck duties, found himself marked out for the angry Commodore’s red-hot displeasure. No place was allowed for charts and plans: valuable original surveys, of which no duplicates existed, lay tossed amongst the brick-and-mortar with which the Marine Office was being rebuilt. No instruments were provided for ships, even a barometer was not supplied in one case, although duly indented for during five years. Whilst Sir Charles Malcolm ruled the Bombay dockyards, the British name rose high in the Indian, African, and Arabian seas. Each vessel had its presents— guns, pistols, and powder, Abbas, crimson cloth and shawls, watches, telescopes, and similar articles—with a suitable stock of which every officer visiting the interior on leave was supplied. An order from Sir Robert Oliver withdrew presents as well as instruments: with them disappeared the just idea of our faith and greatness as a nation entertained by the maritime races, who formerly looked forward to the arrival of our cruizers. Thus the Indian navy was crushed by neglect and routine into a mere transport service, remarkable for little beyond constant quarrels between sea-lieutenants and land-lieutenants, sailor-officers and soldier-officers, their “passengers.” And thus resulted that dearth of enterprise—alluded to ex-cathedra by a late President of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain—which now characterizes Western India erst so celebrated for ardor in adventure.

To return to the subject of East African discovery. Commodore Lushington and Dr. Carter met in order to concert some measures for forwarding the plans of a Somali Expedition. It was resolved to associate three persons, Drs. Carter and Stocks, and an officer of the Indian navy: a vessel was also warned for service on the coast of Africa. This took place in the beginning of 1851: presently Commodore Lushington resigned his command, and the project fell to the ground.

The author of these pages, after his return from El Hajaz to Bombay, conceived the idea of reviving the Somali Expedition: he proposed to start in the spring of 1854, and accompanied by two officers, to penetrate via Harar and Gananah to Zanzibar. His plans were favorably received by the Right Hon. Lord Elphinstone, the enlightened governor of the colony, and by the local authorities, amongst whom the name of James Grant Lumsden, then Member of Council, will ever suggest the liveliest feelings of gratitude and affection. But it being judged necessary to refer once more for permission to the Court of Directors, an official letter bearing the date the 28th of April 1854 was forwarded from Bombay with a warm recommendation. Lieut. Herne of the 1st Bombay European Regiment of Fusileers, an officer skillful in surveying, photography, and mechanics, together with the writer, obtained leave, pending the reference, and a free passage to Aden in Arabia. On the 23rd of August, a favorable reply was despatched by the Court of Directors.

Meanwhile the most painful of events had modified the original plan. The third member of the Expedition, Assistant Surgeon J. Ellerton Stocks, whose brilliant attainments as a botanist, whose long and enterprising journeys, and whose eminently practical bent of mind had twice recommended him for the honors and trials of African exploration, died suddenly in the prime of life. Deeply did his friends lament him for many reasons: a universal favorite, he left in the social circle a void never to be filled up, and they mourned the more that Fate had not granted him the time, as it had given him the will and the power, to trace a deeper and more enduring mark upon the iron tablets of Fame.

No longer hoping to carry out his first project, the writer determined to make the geography and commerce of the Somali country his principal objects. He therefore applied to the Bombay Government for the assistance of Lieut. William Stroyan, I. N., an officer distinguished by his surveys on the coast of Western India, in Sindh, and on the Panjab Rivers. It was not without difficulty that such valuable services were spared for the deadly purpose of penetrating into Eastern Africa. All obstacles, however, were removed by their ceaseless and energetic efforts, who had fostered the author’s plans, and early in the autumn of 1854, Lieut. Stroyan received leave to join the Expedition. At the same time, Lieut. J. H. Speke, of the 46th Regiment Bengal N. I., who had spent many years collecting the Fauna of Thibet and the Himalayan mountains, volunteered to share the hardships of African exploration.

In October 1854, the writer and his companions received at Aden in Arabia the sanction of the Court of Directors. It was his intention to march in a body, using Berberah as a base of operations, westwards to Harar, and thence in a south-easterly direction towards Zanzibar.

But the voice of society at Aden was loud against the expedition. The rough manners, the fierce looks, and the insolent threats of the Somal— the effects of our too-peaceful rule—had pre-possessed the timid colony at the “Eye of Yemen” with an idea of extreme danger. The Anglo-Saxon spirit suffers, it has been observed, from confinement within any but wooden walls, and the European degenerates rapidly, as do his bull-dogs, his game-cocks, and other pugnacious animals, in the hot, enervating, and unhealthy climates of the East. The writer and his comrades were represented to be men deliberately going to their deaths, and the Somals at Aden were not slow in imitating the example of their rulers. The savages had heard of the costly Shoa Mission, its 300 camels and 50 mules, and they longed for another rehearsal of the drama: according to them a vast outlay was absolutely necessary, every village must be feasted, every chief propitiated with magnificent presents, and dollars must be dealt out by handfuls. The Political Resident refused to countenance the scheme proposed, and his objection necessitated a further change of plans.

Accordingly, Lieut. Herne was directed to proceed, after the opening of the annual fair-season, to Berberah, where no danger was apprehended. It was judged that the residence of this officer upon the coast would produce a friendly feeling on the part of the Somal, and, as indeed afterwards proved to be the case, would facilitate the writer’s egress from Harar, by terrifying the ruler for the fate of his caravans.6 Lieut. Herne, who on the 1st of January 1855, was joined by Lieut. Stroyan resided on the African coast from November to April; he inquired into the commerce, the caravan lines, and the state of the slave trade, visited the maritime mountains, sketched all the places of interest, and made a variety of meteorological and other observations as a prelude to extensive research.

Lieut. Speke was directed to land at Bunder Guray, a small harbor in the “Arz el Aman,” or “Land of Safety,” as the windward Somal style their country. His aim was to trace the celebrated Wady Nogal, noting its watershed and other peculiarities, to purchase horses and camels for the future use of the Expedition, and to collect specimens of the reddish earth which, according to the older African travelers, denotes the presence of gold dust.7 Lieut. Speke started on the 23rd of October 1854, and returned, after about three months, to Aden. He had failed, through the rapacity and treachery of his guide, to reach the Wady Nogal. But he had penetrated beyond the maritime chain of hills, and his journal (condensed in the Appendix) proves that he had collected some novel and important information.

Meanwhile, the author, assuming the disguise of an Arab merchant, prepared to visit the forbidden city of Harar. He left Aden on the 29th of October 1854, arrived at the capital of the ancient Hadiyah Empire on the 3rd of January 1855, and on the 9th of the ensuing February returned in safety to Arabia, with the view of purchasing stores and provisions for a second and a longer journey.8 What unforeseen circumstance cut short the career of the proposed Expedition, the Postscript of the present volume will show.

The following pages contain the writer’s diary, kept daring his march to and from Harar. It must be borne in mind that the region traversed on this occasion was previously known only by the vague reports of native travelers. All the Abyssinian discoverers had traversed the Dankali and other northern tribes: the land of the Somal was still a terra incognita. Harar, moreover, had never been visited, and few are the cities of the world which in the present age, when men hurry about the earth, have not opened their gates to European adventure. The ancient metropolis of a once mighty race, the only permanent settlement in Eastern Africa, the reported seat of Moslem learning, a walled city of stone houses, possessing its independent chief, its peculiar population, its unknown language, and its own coinage, the emporium of the coffee trade, the head-quarters of slavery, the birth-place of the Kat plant,9 and the great manufactory of cotton-cloths, amply, it appeared, deserved the trouble of exploration. That the writer was successful in his attempt, the following pages will prove. Unfortunately, it was found impossible to use any instruments except a pocket compass, a watch, and a portable thermometer more remarkable for convenience than correctness. But the way was thus paved for scientific observation: shortly after the author’s departure from Harar, the Amir or chief wrote to the Acting Political Resident at Aden, earnestly begging to be supplied with a “Frank physician,” and offering protection to any European who might be persuaded to visit his dominions.

The Appendix contains the following papers connected with the movements of the expedition in the winter of 1854.

  1. The diary and observations made by Lieut. Speke, when attempting to reach the Wady Nogal.
  2. A sketch of the grammar, and a vocabulary of the Harari tongue. This dialect is little known to European linguists: the only notices of it hitherto published are in Salt’s Abyssinia, Appendix I. p. 6-10.; by Balbi Atlas Ethnogr. Tab. xxxix. No. 297.; Kielmaier, Ausland, 1840, No. 76.; and Dr. Beke (Philological Journal, April 25. 1845.)
  3. Meteorological observations in the cold season of 1854-55 by Lieuts. Herne, Stroyan, and the Author.
  4. A brief description of certain peculiar customs, noticed in Nubia, by Brown and Werne under the name of fibulation.
  5. The conclusion is a condensed account of an attempt to reach Harar from Ankobar.10 On the 14th of October 1841, Major Sir William Cornwallis Harris (then Captain in the Bombay Engineers), Chief of the Mission sent from India to the King of Shoa, advised Lieut. W. Barker, I. N., whose services were imperatively required by Sir Robert Oliver, to return from Abyssinia via Harar, “over a road hitherto untrodden by Europeans.” As His Majesty Sahalah Selassie had offered friendly letters to the Moslem Amir, Capt. Harris had “no doubt of the success of the enterprise.” Although the adventurous explorer was prevented by the idle fears of the Bedouin Somal and the rapacity of his guides from visiting the city, his pages, as a narrative of travel, will amply reward perusal. They have been introduced into this volume mainly with the view of putting the reader in possession of all that has hitherto been written and not published, upon the subject of Harar.11 For the same reason the author has not hesitated to enrich his pages with observations drawn from Lieutenants Cruttenden and Rigby. The former printed in the Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society two excellent papers: one headed a “Report on the Mijjertheyn Tribe of Somallies inhabiting the district forming the North East Point of Africa;” secondly, a “Memoir on the Western or Edoor Tribes, inhabiting the Somali coast of North East Africa; with the Southern Branches of the family of Darood, resident on the banks of the Webbe Shebayli, commonly called the River Webbe.” Lieut. C. P. Rigby, 16th Regiment Bombay N. I., published, also in the Transactions of the Geographical Society of Bombay, an “Outline of the Somali Language, with Vocabulary,” which supplied a great lacuna in the dialects of Eastern Africa.

A perusal of the following pages will convince the reader that the extensive country of the Somals is by no means destitute of capabilities. Though partially desert, and thinly populated, it possesses valuable articles of traffic, and its harbors export the produce of the Gurague, Abyssinian, Galla, and other inland races. The natives of the country are essentially commercial: they have lapsed into barbarism by reason of their political condition—the rude equality of the Hottentots,—but they appear to contain material for a moral regeneration. As subjects, they offer a favorable contrast to their kindred, the Arabs of El Yemen, a race untameable as the wolf, and which, subjugated in turn by Abyssinian, Persian, Egyptian, and Turk, has ever preserved an indomitable spirit of freedom, and eventually succeeded in skaking off the yoke of foreign dominion. For half a generation we have been masters of Aden, filling Southern Arabia with our calicos and rupees—what is the present state of affairs there? We are dared by the Bedouins to come forth from behind our stone walls and fight like men in the plain,—British proteges are slaughtered within the range of our guns,—our allies’ villages have been burned in sight of Aden,—our deserters are welcomed and our fugitive felons protected,—our supplies are cut off, and the garrison is reduced to extreme distress, at the word of a half-naked bandit,—the miscreant Bhagi who murdered Capt. Mylne in cold blood still roams the hills unpunished,—gross insults are the sole acknowledgments of our peaceful overtures,—the British flag has been fired upon without return, our cruizers being ordered to act only on the defensive,—and our forbearance to attack is universally asserted and believed to arise from mere cowardice. Such is, and such will be, the character of the Arab!

The Sublime Porte still preserves her possessions in the Tahamah, and the regions conterminous to Yemen, by the stringent measures with which Mohammed Ali of Egypt opened the robber-haunted Suez road. Whenever a Turk or a traveler is murdered, a few squadrons of Irregular Cavalry are ordered out; they are not too nice upon the subject of retaliation and rarely refuse to burn a village or two or to lay waste the crops near the scene of outrage.

A civilized people, like ourselves, objects to such measures for many reasons, of which none is more feeble than the fear of perpetuating a blood feud with the Arabs. Our present relations with them are a “very pretty quarrel,” and moreover one which time must strengthen, cannot efface. By a just, wholesome, and unsparing severity we may inspire the Bedouin with fear instead of contempt: the veriest visionary would deride the attempt to animate him with a higher sentiment.

“Peace,” observes a modern sage, “is the dream of the wise, war is the history of man.” To indulge in such dreams is but questionable wisdom. It was not a “peace-policy” which gave the Portuguese a seaboard extending from Cape Non to Macao. By no peace policy, the Osmanlis of a past age pushed their victorious arms from the deserts of Tartary to Aden, to Delhi, to Algiers, and to the gates of Vienna. It was no peace policy which made the Russians seat themselves upon the shores of the Black, the Baltic, and the Caspian seas: gaining in the space of 150 years, and, despite war, retaining, a territory greater than England and France united. No peace policy enabled the French to absorb region after region in Northern Africa, till the Mediterranean appears doomed to sink into a Gallic lake. The English of a former generation were celebrated for gaining ground in both hemispheres: their broad lands were not won by a peace policy, which, however, in this, our day, has on two distinct occasions well nigh lost for them the “gem of the British Empire”—India. The philanthropist and the political economist may fondly hope, by the outcry against “territorial aggrandizement,” by advocating a compact frontier, by abandoning colonies, and by cultivating “equilibrium,” to retain our rank amongst the great nations of the world. Never! The facts of history prove nothing more conclusively than this: a race either progresses or retrogrades, either increases or diminishes: the children of Time, like their sire, cannot stand still.

The occupation of the port of Berberah has been advised for many reasons.

In the first place, Berberah is the true key of the Red Sea, the center of East African traffic, and the only safe place for shipping upon the western Erythroean shore, from Suez to Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbor has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it as it were into our arms, and, if we refuse the chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind.

Secondly, we are bound to protect the lives of British subjects upon this coast. In A.D. 1825 the crew of the “Mary Ann” brig was treacherously murdered by the Somal. The consequence of a summary and exemplary punishment12 was that in August 1843, when the H.E.I.C.‘s war-steamer “Memnon” was stranded at Ras Assayr near Cape Guardafui, no outrage was attempted by the barbarians, upon whose barren shores our seamen remained for months laboring at the wreck. In A.D. 1855 the Somal, having forgotten the old lesson, renewed their practices of pillaging and murdering strangers. It is then evident that this people cannot be trusted without supervision, and equally certain that vessels are ever liable to be cast ashore in this part of the Red Sea. But a year ago the French steam corvette, “Le Caiman,” was lost within sight of Zayla; the Bedouin Somal, principally Eesa, assembled a fanatic host, which was, however, dispersed before blood had been drawn, by the exertion of the governor and his guards. It remains for us, therefore, to provide against such contingencies. Were one of the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s vessels cast by any accident upon this inhospitable shore, in the present state of affairs the lives of the passengers, and the cargo, would be placed in imminent peril.

In advocating the establishment of an armed post at Berberah no stress is laid upon the subject of slavery. To cut off that traffic the possession of the great export harbour is by no means necessary. Whenever a British Cruizer shall receive positive and bona fide orders to search native craft and to sell as prizes all that have slaves on board, the trade will receive a death-blow.

Certain measures have been taken during the last annual fair to punish the outrage perpetrated by the Somal at Berberah in A.D. 1855. The writer on his return to Aden proposed that the several clans implicated in the offence should at once be expelled from British dominions. This preliminary was carried out by the Acting Political Resident at Aden. Moreover, it was judged advisable to blockade the Somali coast, from Siyaro to Zayla, not concluded, until, in the first place, Lieut. Stroyan’s murderer, and the ruffian who attempted to spear Lieut. Speke in cold blood, should be given up13; and secondly, that due compensation for all losses should be made by the plunderers. The former condition was approved by the Right Honorable the Governor-General of India, who, however, objected, it is said, to the money-demand.14 At present the H.E. I.C.‘s cruizers “Mahi,” and “Elphinstone,” are blockading the harbor of Berberah, the Somal have offered 15,000 dollars’ indemnity, and they pretend, as usual, that the murderer has been slain by his tribe.

To conclude. The writer has had the satisfaction of receiving from his comrades assurances that they are willing to accompany him once more in task of African Exploration. The plans of the Frank are now publicly known to the Somali. Should the loss of life, however valuable, be an obstacle to prosecuting them, he must fall in the esteem of the races around him. On the contrary, should he, after duly chastising the offenders, carry out the original plan, he will command the respect of the people, and wipe out the memory of a temporary reverse. At no distant period the project will, it is hoped, be revived. Nothing is required but permission to renew the attempt—an indulgence which will not be refused by a Government raised by energy, enterprise, and perseverance from the ranks of merchant society to national wealth and imperial grandeur.

14. St. James’s Square, 10th February, 1856.


1 It occupies the whole of the Eastern Horn, extending from the north of Bab el Mandeb to several degrees south of Cape Guardafui. In the former direction it is bounded by the Dankali and the Ittoo Gallas; in the latter by the Sawahil or Negrotic regions; the Red Sea is its eastern limit, and westward it stretches to within a few miles of Harar.

2 In A.D. 1838, Lieut. Carless surveyed the seaboard of the Somali country, from Ras Hafun to Burnt Island; unfortunately, his labors were allowed by Sir Charles Malcolm’s successor to lie five years in the obscurity of MS. Meanwhile the steam frigate “Memnon,” Capt. Powell commanding was lost at Ras Assayr; a Norie’s chart, an antiquated document, with an error of from fifteen to twenty miles, being the only map of reference on board. Thus the Indian Government, by the dilatoriness and prejudices of its Superintendent of Marine, sustained an unjustifiable loss of at least 50,000l.

3 In A.D. 1836-38, Lieut. Cruttenden published descriptions of travel, which will be alluded to in a subsequent part of this preface.

4 This “hasty sketch of the scientific labors of the Indian navy,” is extracted from an able anonymous pamphlet, unpromisingly headed “Grievances and Present Condition of our Indian Officers.”

5 In A.D. 1848, the late Mr. Joseph Hume called in the House of Commons for a return of all Indian surveys carried on during the ten previous years. The result proved that no less than a score had been suddenly “broken up,” by order of Sir Robert Oliver.

6 This plan was successfully adopted by Messrs. Antoine and Arnauld d’Abbadie, when traveling in dangerous parts of Abyssinia and the adjacent countries.

7 In A.D. 1660, Vermuyden found gold at Gambia always on naked and barren hills embedded in a reddish earth.

8 The writer has not infrequently been blamed by the critics of Indian papers, for venturing into such dangerous lands with an outfit nearly 1500l. in value. In Somali, as in other countries of Eastern Africa, travelers must carry not only the means of purchasing passage but also the very necessities of life. Money being unknown, such bulky articles as cotton-cloth, tobacco, and beads are necessary to provide meat and milk, and he who would eat bread must load his camels with grain. The Somal of course exaggerate the cost of travelling; every chief, however, may demand a small present, and every pauper, as will be seen in the following pages, expects to be fed.

9 It is described at length in Chap. III.

10 The author hoped to insert Lieut. Herne’s journal kept at Berberah, and the different places of note in its vicinity; as yet, however, the paper has not been received.

11 Harar has frequently been described by hearsay; the following are the principal authorities:—

Rochet (Second Voyage Dans le Pays des Adels, &c. Paris, 1846.), page 263.

Sir. W. Cornwallis Harris (Highlands of Aethiopia, vol. i. ch. 43. et passim).

Cruttenden (Transactions of the Bombay Geological Society A.D. 1848).

Barker (Report of the probable Position of Harar. Vol. xii. Royal Geographical Society).

M’Queen (Geographical Memoirs of Abyssinia, prefixed to Journals of Rev. Messrs. Isenberg and Krapf).

Christopher (Journal whilst commanding the H. C.‘s brig “Tigris,” on the East Coast of Africa).

Of these, by far the most correct account is that of Lieut. Cruttenden.

12 In A.D. 1825, the Government of Bombay received intelligence that a brig from Mauritius had been seized, plundered, and broken up near Berberah, and that part of her crew had been barbarously murdered by the Somali. The “Elphinstone” sloop of war (Capt. Greer commanding) was sent to blockade the coast; when her guns opened fire, the people fled with their wives and children, and the spot where a horseman was killed by a cannon ball is still shown on the plain near the town. Through the intervention of El Hajj Sharmarkay, the survivors were recovered; the Somal bound themselves to abstain from future attacks upon English vessels and also to refund by annual installments the full amount of plundered property. For the purpose of enforcing the latter stipulation, it was resolved that a vessel of war should remain upon the coast until the whole was liquidated. When attempts at evasion occurred, the traffic was stopped by sending all craft outside the guard-ship and forbidding intercourse with the shore. The “Coote” (Capt. Pepper commanding), the “Palinurus” and the “Tigris,” in turn with the “Elphinstone,” maintained the blockade through the trading seasons till 1833. About 6000l. were recovered, and the people were strongly impressed with the fact that we had both the will and the means to keep their plundering propensities within bounds.

13 The writer advised that these men should be hung upon the spot where the outrage was committed, that the bodies should be burned and the ashes cast into the sea, lest by any means the murderers might become martyrs. This precaution should invariably be adopted when Muslims assassinate Infidels.

14 The reason of the objection is not apparent. A savage people is imperfectly punished by a few deaths: the fine is the only true way to produce a lasting impression upon their heads and hearts. Moreover, it is the custom of India and the East generally, and is, in reality, the only safeguard of a traveler’s property.

[Map to illustrate LIEUT. BURTON’S Route to HARAR from a Sketch by the late Lieut. W. Stroyan, Indian Navy.]

The First Footsteps In East Africa Or, An Exploration Of Harar.The First Footsteps In East Africa Or, An Exploration Of Harar.

Chapter I

About Richard Francis Burton 

Sir Richard Francis BurtonSir Richard Francis Burton (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was a British explorer, writer, orientalist scholar, and soldier. He was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke twenty-nine languages.
Burton’s best-known achievements include a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when non-Muslims were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; a translation of The Perfumed Garden, the “Arab Kama Sutra”; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.
His works and letters extensively criticized the colonial policies of the British Empire, even to the detriment of his career. Although he aborted his university studies, he became a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behavior, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices, and ethnography. A characteristic feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information. William Henry Wilkins wrote: “So far as I can gather from all I have learned, the chief value of Burton’s version of The Scented Garden lay not so much in his translation of the text, though that, of course, was admirably done, as in the copious notes and explanations which he had gathered together for the purpose of annotating the book. He had made this subject a study of years. For the notes of the book alone, he had been collecting material for thirty years, though his actual translation of it only took him eighteen months.”
Burton was a captain in the army of the East India Company, serving in India, and later briefly in the Crimean War. Following this, he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa, where he led an expedition guided by locals and was the first European known to have seen Lake Tanganyika. In later life, he served as British consul in Fernando Pó (now Bioko, Equatorial Guinea), Santos in Brazil, Damascus (now Syria), and finally in Trieste (now Italy). He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood in 1886.
Somaliland Expedition
In May 1854, Burton traveled to Aden in preparation for his Somaliland Expedition, supported by the Royal Geographical Society. Other members included G.E. Herne, William Stroyan, and John Hanning Speke. Burton undertook the expedition to Harar, Speke investigated the Wady Nogal, while Herne and Stroyan stayed on at Berbera. According to Burton, “A tradition exists that with the entrance of the first [white] Christian Harar will fall.” With Burton’s entry, the “Guardian Spell” was broken. 
This Somaliland Expedition lasted from 29 October 1854 to 9 February 1855, with much of the time spent in the port of Zeila, where Burton was a guest of the town’s Governor al-Haji Sharmakay bin Ali Salih. Burton, “assuming the disguise of an Arab merchant” called Hajji Mirza Abdullah, awaited word that the road to Harar was safe. On 29 December, Burton met with Gerard Adan in the village of Sagharrah, when Burton openly proclaimed himself an English officer with a letter for the Amīr of Harar. On 3 January 1855, Burton made it to Harar and was graciously met by the Amir. Burton stayed in the city for ten days, officially a guest of the Amir but in reality his prisoner. The journey back was plagued by lack of supplies, and Burton wrote that he would have died of thirst had he not seen desert birds and realized they would be near water. Burton made it back to Berbera on 31 January 1855.  
Following this adventure, Burton prepared to set out in search of the source of the Nile, accompanied by Lieutenant Speke, Lieutenant G. E. Herne, and Lieutenant William Stroyan, and a number of Africans employed as bearers and expedition guides. The schooner HCS Mahi delivered them to Berbera on 7 April 1855. While the expedition was camped near Berbera, his party was attacked by a group of Somali waranle (“warriors”) belonging to the Isaaq clan. The officers estimated the number of attackers at 200. In the ensuing fight, Stroyan was killed and Speke was captured and wounded in eleven places before he managed to escape. Burton was impaled with a javelin, the point entering one cheek and exiting the other. This wound left a notable scar that can be easily seen in portraits and photographs. He was forced to make his escape with the weapon still transfixing his head. It was no surprise then that he found the Somalis to be a “fierce and turbulent race”. However, the failure of this expedition was viewed harshly by the authorities, and a two-year investigation was set up to determine to what extent Burton was culpable for this disaster. While he was largely cleared of any blame, this did not help his career. He describes the harrowing attack in this edition of First Footsteps in East Africa (1856).  
After recovering from his wounds in London, Burton traveled to Constantinople during the Crimean War, seeking a commission. He received one from General W.F. Beatson, as the chief of staff for “Beatson’s Horse”, popularly called the Bashi-bazouks, and based in Gallipoli. Burton returned after an incident which disgraced Beatson, and implicated Burton as the instigator of a “mutiny”, damaging his reputation. More

Chapter One will follow 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.