Keith Johnston

Name ID 2298

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Extract Author: Dr Brendan Whyte
Extract Date: 2004

Review of book about Keith Johnston

Particularly fascinating is the information on the motivations (and pay rates) of expedition porters, the description of squalid Zanzibar (Livingstone referred to it as 'Stinkibar'), and the contrasts between the various other African explorers of this time, particularly Burton, Livingstone and the alternately feted and hated Stanley: "Damn public opinion--the fellow has done no geography!" (p.64 quoting Markham, Secretary of the R.G.S.). A couple of appendices add further life to the story of the expedition, giving the number and prices of the instruments carried, and a detailed list, again with prices, of Thompson's personal equipment, which included 3 pairs of pyjamas, 6 merino vests, 6 towels and 12 handkerchiefs! A typical entry from Keith's expedition diary is also given, showing his meticulous approach to the need for scientific data and measurement: he notes changes in direction of the 150-man expedition as often as every five minutes!

The book is illustrated with extracts from a few period maps of Africa and East Africa, along with a number of photographs, many taken by the author [James McCarthy] during his days as a surveyor in Tanzania in the 1960s or during his 2001 attempt to locate Keith's grave near Mt Hatambula. There are even some photographs taken by Keith Johnston himself in Africa.

Extract ID: 5546

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Internet Web Pages
Extract Author: Dr Brendan Whyte
Extract Date: 2004

Review of book about Keith Johnston

Undaunted by this [Paraguayan] misadventure, in 1878 Keith managed to secure the leadership of what would be the last R.G.S.-sponsored African expedition, an attempt to discover a viable route for a road from the East African coast inland to the great African lakes. Captain James Frederick Elton, the vice-consul at Zanzibar from 1873, had set out on a similar mission, but had died on the return leg of his expedition to Lake Nyasa in 1877. Keith was to be accompanied by the 21-year-old Joseph Thompson, but the two did not get on, Keith's quiet scientific intelligence exasperated by his companion's gung-ho attitude.

After spending time in Aden, and then several months in Zanzibar outfitting the expedition, Keith and Thompson set off from Dar Es Salaam on 19 May 1879. On 28 June, only 40 days later, and less than 150 km from Dar Es Salaam, Keith was dead from dysentery, leaving the 150-man expedition in the hands of the bewildered 21-year-old Thompson. Thompson, subsequently the first European to traverse Masailand, went on to become an African explorer to rank with Livingstone and Stanley, even though he also died young, at 37. Keith Johnston meanwhile has been almost forgotten.

Extract ID: 5545
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