ESSAY John Barnie

NWR Issue 102

Stand Up, John Rowlands


In 1887, HM Stanley led his third and last expedition across Central Africa. Its mission was to relieve Emin Pasha, Governor of the Egyptian province of Equatoria, who had been cut off from contact with Egypt by the Mahdist revolt in Sudan which now threatened Equatoria itself. To this end, Stanley led a large force transporting arms and ammunition from the mouth of the Congo with the aim of reaching Equatoria through an unexplored stretch of the Ituri Forest. From the start, things went wrong and Stanley made the fateful decision to leave half his force as a rearguard in a temporary camp at Yambuya while he pressed on to make contact with Emin. Disease, poor diet and lack of medicines took a terrible toll on the rearguard under Stanley’s second in command, Major Barttelot. Barttelot himself was murdered, while another of his officers, James Jameson, died of fever and John Rose Troup was invalided out with serious injuries. Stanley’s advance party fared little better. Nearly three years later in 1889 Stanley re-emerged with a reluctant Emin and part of the latter’s retinue on the East Coast at Zanzibar. The expedition had failed dismally and recriminations soon followed. Stanley’s officers were all drawn from the English upper middle class or gentry; they kept journals of the expedition, and these were published in what became a battle of the books about who was to blame for the destruction of the rearguard.

‘God damn son of a sea-cook... God damned impudent puppy.’ That’s John Rowlands speaking, better known as Henry Morton Stanley. He’s giving two of his officers, AJ Mounteney Jephson and William Stairs, a tongue-lashing, and he’s only just begun. ‘You damned ass, you’re tired of me, of the Expedition, and of my men. Go into the bush, get, I’ve done with you.’ (This to Jephson.) ‘And you too, Lieutenant Stairs, you and I will part today; you’re tired of me, Sir, I can see. Get; away into the bush.’

Rowlands/Stanley is ‘in a frantic state, stamping up and down the deck’ of a steamboat ironically named Peace, as witnessed by another officer, James S Jameson, who wrote up the incident in his journal. Turning to the Zanzibari porters who are watching from the riverbank, Stanley tells them in Kiswahilinot to obey them anymore, adding that ‘if Lieutenant Stairs or Jephson issued any orders to them, or dared to lift a hand, they were to tie them up to trees.’

But he’s not finished yet. As if noticing Jephson again, Stanley offers to fight him: ‘If you want a fight, God damn you, I’ll give you a bellyful. If I were only where you are [on shore], I’d go for you. It’s lucky for you I’m where I am.’

This incident took place at Lukulela on 20 May 1887 near the start of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition..

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previous essay: Dark Mermaids
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