WERNE'S VOYAGE ON THE WHITE NILE.*
FERDINAND WERNE seems to be a German adventurer. In 1822, he forsook his law studies to join the Greeks as one of the Philhellene. Some fifteen years afterwards, he turns up in Nubia, without any osten- sible character, though he appears as an important and confidential per- son among the officers of Mehemet All in that quarter; where his brother was practising as a physician. The Pasha having received reports of gold or gold-mines in the neighbourhood of the Mountains of the Moon, from the first expedition up the White or real Nile, (in opposition to the Blue river, whose source was discovered by Bruce,) determined to send another. After the usual delays when Turks and it would seem Euro- peans in the service of the Pasha are concerned, the expedition started from Kharttitn, a town at the confluence of the two rivers, in about 15i° North latitude and 31i. East longitude ; and Mr. Werne was permitted to accompany it, at his own expense. The vessels selected spoke well for the navigable properties of the river. They consisted of "four dahabiea from Kahira—vessels with two masts and cabins, about one hundred feet long and twelve to fifteen broad, each with two cannon ; three dahabies •from- Khartrim, one of
• Expedition to Discover the Sources of the White Nile, In the years 1840-1841. BY Ferdinand Werne. From the German. By Charles William O'Reilly. In two vO• lames. Published by Bentley.
which had also two cannon ; then two kaiass, ships of burden with one Est * >k * The crews were composed of two hundred and fifty soldiers, Negroes, Egyptians, and Syrians, and one hundred and twenty sailors and mariners, from Alexandria, Nubia, and the land of Sudan." The commander had experience of African warfare, and had served in the first expedition : properly handled, such numbers were quite suffi- cient to overpower any force that could have encountered them in Central Africa; but one thing was wanted—daring. Without any other diffi- culties than what arose from Oriental indifference and want of seaman- ship, the expedition penetrated within 3° of North latitude and about 30° of East longitude, in the kingdom of Barri, and within sight of the cele- brated Mountains of the Moon. A bed of rocks and the failing water of the river here opposed, as Mr. Werne admits, an insurmountable obstacle to the large vessels ; and none of the expedition, except Mr. Werne him- self, had any wish to wait for the rainy season and ascend higher with the full water. The Natives were numerous, well armed, powerful men ; and their king, though, like his subjects, seemingly friendly, could not be depended on. A brave force well led was quite sufficient to have over- powered King Lakono with all his subjects and allies ; but Mr. Werne intimates there was not too much of courage among the Turks. At the same time, weighty reasons existed for returning. The stores were get- ting exhausted, and the climate was telling more or less upon all except the Blacks. It is therefore probable that the commander decided rightly in returning, though he left undiscovered the gold-mines and the sources of the mysterious Nile, concerning which the world must be satisfied with this verbal report for the present.
"We gathered further intelligence about the country, and Lakono was com- plaisant enough to communicate to us some general information. With respect to the Nile sources, we learn that it requires a month, the signification of which was interpreted by thirty days, to come to the country of Anjan towards the South, where the Tubirih (Bid'''. el Abiad) separates into four shallow arms, and the water only reaches up to the ankles. Thirty days seems indeed a long time; but the chain of mountains itself may present great impediments, and hostile tribes and the hospice stations may cause circuitous routes. These latter appear necessary, for the Natives being already overladen with weapons and ornaments, it is impossible that they can carry provisions for so long a time, from the want of beasts of burden. There are said to be found very high mountains on this aide, in comparison with which the ones now before us are nothing at all.
"Laken° did not seem, according to my views, to understand rightly the ques- tion, whether snow was lying on these mountains. He answered, however, No. Now, when I consider the thing more closely, it is a great question to me whether be and his interpreter have a word for snow; for though the Arabic word telki or snow is known perhaps in the whole land of Sadie, yet that itself is unknown. Whether these four brooks forming the White Stream come from rocks or from the ground, Lakono could not say, for he had not gone further."
As the speaker was between the 3d and 4h degree of North latitude, his account carries the sources of the true Nile much nearer the Equa- tor than has been generally supposed : indeed, the expedition passed two degrees beyond the received position of the Mountains of the Moon, and only then sighted them in the far distance. From Lhkono's account of the branches and their shallowness, it is quite clear that the sources cannot be reached by navigation, but must be made by land ; which interposes almost insurmountable difficulties, except to a civilized Negro.
The river between Kharttim and the highest point reached by the ex- pedition has rather the interest of association than of reality. For six or eight degrees of latitude the country is poor and thinly inhabited, and too much subject to inundations to be fruitful in the hands of the miserable Negroes who dwell in it. The possession of cattle gives the people an advantage over the Australians, and fish is at their door : but in all that regards character, many of the Negro tribes encountered would seem to be below the Australian race. As the central part of Africa was ap- proached, things improved. The soil and natural drainage were better. More wood was met with; agriculture was carried on ; the natives were more robust, and of lofty stature in Barri, varying from six feet six inches to seven feet and upwards. They exhibited a more independent bearing and higher courage ; so much so as to daunt the expedition, though no hostility was shown. No government, in our sense, existed ; but the kingdom of Barri seems to have advanced from the tribe to the nation. The horse and camel were unknown; but the people had attained to some degree of art in the working of metals, including iron. From the articles in their possession, it is evident that an intercourse is car- ried on with traders who directly or indirectly communicate with the sea-coast ; Mr. Werne thinks, with the Atlantic, on the West.
The most extraordinary feature of the White Nile as described in Mr. Werne's narrative, is the immense body of water it must bring down. Measured by an air-line, the distance of the river-course traversed by the expedition was nearly a thousand miles ; but this was very considerably extended by the windings and the Westerly bearing of part of its coarse. Along the whole of that distance the body of water was considerable ; for a great part of it the White Nile rather resembled a shallow sea than'the branch of a river more than twenty degrees of latitude from its embou- chure. On either aide beyond its banks great lakes or arms of the river were visible, with signs, even at the close of the rainy season, of the whole adjacent country being under water ; much, in fact, as the Indus, or the Amazon on a larger scale, appears at their respective deltas. This singu- lar characteristic continued above the junction of two large tributaries, the Sobat and the river of the Gazelles ; and there were perhaps other tributaries could they have been explored : but the presence of feeding streams does not remove the wonder of the water, nor, on the Western banks, from what uplands such rivers could rise, or what sort of country they could flow through. The following passage will give an idea of the river in its lower stage, though it has a generic resemblance throughout.
"The channel today swarms with islands, so that we sailed by at least eight before nine o'clock ; when we had one on our left side three hours long; others were probably concealed from us. It is really fortunate that trees always indi- cate the presence of an island, else we might have many times splendidly run
rid, for the shallows are only slightly covered with water; and the grass,
'Doting above the surface, proves the frequent fluctuation of different channels. The voyage is very monotonous; though the numerous shallow islands are often grouped very picturesquely, and appear sometimes to bar the river, and to dam it up into a lake. Added to that, we have always the sight of a majestic stream, bor- dered by green osiers; but the:verdure itself offers no variety in the foliage and form of the trees, no blending of colours, since it presents to the sight only mimosas, which are here merely snot-trees. There is no rock, house, hill, or mountain here, whereon the eye, wearied of monotony, can rest, and which might serve as the halting-point of imagination: moreover, there is not a sound to be heard in nature. The gigantic American streams can alone produce a similar impression. Although the river in some places intrudes deeper than usual into the right shore, yet the limits of the inundation are always sharply cut off; whereas on the left side the water is seen continually between the dark shaded trunks of the trees, where even the lowest branches do not prevent it from running on in parallel gobra, or deserted beds of the stream, into other tracks of the river, glittering es- pecially at noon, when it is usually calm. Many of these, which now appear to us to be islands, will perhaps, when all the water returns, join on uninterruptedly to the mainland.'
The heat was of course everywhere great ; and, except in the higher land of Barri, the climate nearly as bad as on the Western coast of Africa. In the low marshy lands adjacent to the river, the Natives themselves seem permanently affected by it, as Mr. Werne infers from their appear- ance : with the exception of the Negroes, the expedition, acclimated as most of its members were, suffered considerably, though the deaths seem to have been few. Our traveller himself was grievously affected by fever ; whose approaches and effects he graphically describes.
" I have again that lethargy, threatening, like the day before yesterday, to tarn to fever,—a thing that makes me the more uneasy, because the febris tertiana is not only very tenacious, but is also here fatal. Last night I was delirious, fell asleep late, and awoke at the moment of departure; the bun,just getting up, fell like an enormous torch on my face, when I unwittingly threw back the cloak with which I had covered it on account of the gnats. At the noise of the sailors and soldiers, I fancied that all was on fire, and thought for a moment of the powder- room under me; without being able, however, to rise.
"At four o'clock we went East by South; and I saw that the river wound more Southerly before us, so that we did not advance, and heard that we must wait for the ships remaining behind, and lay-to at the left shore. I had the fever till about sunset, but not in a violent degree. From my window I perceived, close to me, a large lake, over which the setting can hung like a ball of blood. I raised myself up slowly on my legs, and really did not stand so weakly on them as I had imagined when lying ; but the perspiration was not by any means subdued. I hoped, however, to recover this afterwards, and had myself carried ashore. This setting foot upon land exercised a peculiar influence, as after a tedious voyage. The main point in these countries is not to lose courage, but to drag about one's sickly body so long as it can go ; to stumble, fall, rise up again, anything, only not to remain lying in bed in fearful despair."
It was perhaps this resolute determination not to give in that saved him ; for at a-later period he had more threatening symptoms, including delirium, which also affected the commander.
" I look at my journal, and thought I bad been so ill since yesterday at noon that I was not able to continue it to the evening. To my most supreme astonish- ment, however, I hear from Felzulla Capitan and my servants, that this yesterday dates from the 12th of January, and that they believed I was going to die. I remember very well, however, that I ones saw Thibaut sitting on Felzulla Capi- tan's bed, and conjured him solemnly to send the doctor to bleed me. I sent out also my men to look; for one of them told me that Thibaut had not gone on board the doctor's vessel, but on that of the Frenchmen. The doctor appeared,—a per- fectly black Shaigle, who had received the finishing-stroke, as an accomplished alipta, under Clot Bey. Arnaud came immediately afterwards, to try on me his sleight-of-hand in phlebotomy. As I had got -my-brother to mark the point where to lance, so that I might do it myself in case of necessity, and had touched up the same with ink every now and then, I allowed Arnaud more willingly to perform the operation, the black doctor having already worried me with his chattering. I trembled too much myself to undertake it with my own hand. I lay there at night, and a feeling came over me as if my whole body were pulsating, and I was myself moved up and down by the pulses. I did not dare to close my eyes, for fear of being tormented by those indescribable phantasies; I perceived only too well that Arnaud had not taken away sufficient blood. Willingly would I have had now a helping hand; but every one was asleep, and I could not call because I had lost my voice. I therefore undid the bandage, moved my arm vigorougly about, and let the blood flow out of window; I felt I was much better, but was afraid of falling in a swoon and bleeding to death, when all at once a bright thought struck me: I took one of the large ivory rings lying near me, drew it over the hand, and so tight over the compress, which 1 had again put on, that they were obliged in the morning to cut it to pieces on my arm."
Mr. Werne possesses considerable powers of description, and is by no means deficient in the faculty of observation. He has a kind of German naturalness, which adds character to his sketches and remarks. He has also the German minuteness ; which, if excusable anywhere, is certainly so in the centre of Africa and on the banks of the White Nile. But the minute daily account of trivial occurrences, or the repetition of the eternal variations of the compass, or the description of analogous scenery over and over again, becomes somewhat tedious. Mr. Werne moreover has rather encumbered his narrative by reviews of the policy and character of the Pasha and his officers, as well as by tales of scan- dal concerning the Europeans who have enlisted in his service. These matters, indeed, are not devoid of interest, especially the latter topic; but they interfere with the main object of the book, the White Nile. A little editing on the part of a friend, or for the English public on the part of the translator, would have removed much of the tediousness we are speaking of; for it is not essential, but accidental. When Mr,Werne lights upon a new scene, or encounters an incident of man, beast, or reptile, he tells it well ; and he holds his pen, as he bore the journey, with unflinching spirit.