In a previous article we have sketched the life of John Lewis Burckhardt. He was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1784 of a prominent family. At the age of 16 his father moved the family to Leipzig; and four years after this they moved again to Göttingen. His family was staunchly opposed to the new Napoleonic government that had taken power in France, so he moved to London in July 1806 to seek employment prospects there. At some point, and possibly influenced by the daring men he had contact with there, he decided on a career in exploration.
We have previously described in these pages the exploits of Heinrich Barth, one of the titans of African exploration. Before him was Dixon Denham, a British explorer whose name is also hardly known today. He covered some of the same ground as did Barth, but he had a different style; where Barth was a scientist and ethnographer at heart, Denham was a soldier with an eye for people, relationships, terrain, and–it must be said–trouble.
The name Heinrich Barth is almost unknown today. But he is without doubt the greatest explorer that Germany produced in the nineteenth century, and probably even in the twentieth. Not only did he penetrate completely unknown regions of Africa, but he kept a meticulous record of his travels, to such an extent that his published works are still useful to scholars today. Even in his own day he did not receive the recognition that he deserved; central Africa was then so unknown even to educated Europeans that a balanced appraisal of his work was not possible at the time. Yet a review of his life and travels leaves little doubt that he must be ranked among the bravest and most resourceful of all explorers of the African continent.