Geographical Heroes: Hugh Clapperton

Hugh Clapperton, famous for identifying the final course and termination of the River Niger. He was the first European to chart every degree of latitude between the Mediterranean and and the Gulf of Guinea, and his discoveries led directly to the opening of sustained European contact with an important region of sub-Saharan Africa.

Hugh, a Scottish naval officer, made two major expeditions into the West African interior, in search of a trade passage down the Niger river. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed on a trading ship and embarked on the first of several journeys between Liverpool and America. He joined he navy, and served in both the West Indies and in Canada.

In 1820 the British government selected him to be part of the three-man expedition to Lake Chad and its surrounding kingdom, Bornu, with Walter Oudrey and Dixo Denham. The expedition (1824-1825) was the fourth British attempt since the end of the Napoleonic Wars to penetrate the West African interior, and trace the course of the Niger. They were prevented form reaching the river, but a second expedition (1825-27) with his servant Richard Lander (and five other, including 2 doctors) approached from the south, crossing Nigeria from the Bight of Benin to the Niger. Only Clapperton and Lander did not fall prey to the climate, and on reaching Sokoto Clapperton himself succumbed to dysentry. The only survivor, Lander returned to England with his master’s journals.

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