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About Mungo Park
African Explorer and Surgeon Dr. Apprentice to Dr Thomas Anderson Selkirk. Father also Mungo and was one of 13 children
Died Trying to find source of Niger. Travelled with Alexander Anderson (brother-in-law) who also died in Africa.
Mungo Park (1771–1806)
Mungo Park was born on 10th September 1771 at Fowlshiels on the Yarrow near Selkirk, where his parents farmed on the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch. He was the seventh child in a family of thirteen and, like his brothers and sisters, was
initially educated at home by his mother. Later he went to Selkirk Grammar School and then, at fifteen,he was apprenticed to a local surgeon.Later, with his new medical knowledge he entered Edinburgh University and gained his LRCP in 1790. He then left Edinburgh for London where he stayed with his brother-in-law, James Dickson,who was an eminent gardener and botanist*. This proved propitious because James was a friend of Sir Joseph Banks, who by this time was the most influential man of science in Britain. Banks suggested to Mungo Park that he take up a position as ship’s medical officer and then secured him a place on an East India Company boat, the Worcester bound for Sumatra.
Back in 1770 Banks and Solander had spent some time collecting on Java, around Batavia, which they had reached after HMS Endeavour has passed through the Sunda Sound separating Java from Sumatra. Realising that Park would have to spend over two months in the area around Bencoolen, Banks entreated him to make a thorough collection of the local flora. This Park did, but he also spent time fishing in the nearby rivers and lakes. On his return he gratefully presented Banks with over a hundred plants new to science while the fish were described in the Transactions of the Linnean Society 1794, 3: 35–38. The seven new species of fishes (preserved in alcohol) he then donated to the Society, which by this time was housed in Paton Square; our Society Museum, to which donations of botanical and zoological specimens could be made, had started some six years previously in 1789.
- James Dickson had originally been a gardener in the Selkirk area but was presently a Covent Garden nurseryman. It was he who proposed Park for the Linnean Society, and he was seconded by John Fairburn.
Park was elected ALS 15 January 1793.
16 THE LINNEAN 2004 VOLUME 20
Later in 1794 Banks, using his influence on the board of the African Association,suggested that Park would be an ideal person to ascertain the course of the river Niger since Houghton, a previous explorer sent out to do this in 1790, had disappeared without trace. Thus, in 1795, Mungo Park embarked on the Endeavour bound for the Gambia.
After learning the Mandingo language he set out with a negro servant and a boy whose duty it was to prepare the food. After many tribulations, including robbery and imprisonment by an Arab chieftain, he arrived at Sego with his horse, the clothes he stood up in and a compass. He then fell ill and was brought back to Senegal some five months later. Then, making his way to Pisania, he caught a boat which eventually arrived in Falmouth in December 1797.
Park had quite a literary talent and the publication of his travels in Africa proved an instant success, going through three editions and making him famous overnight. With the monies from his book he returned to Scotland and married the daughter of his old schoolmaster from Selkirk Grammar School, setting up home in Fowlshiels. During this period he practised medicine at Peebles.
In 1804 he was invited by the Colonial Office to lead an expedition of discovery to Africa. In a memo to that office he laid down the object of the expedition as “the extension of British commerce and the enlargement of our geographical knowledge”. The Colonial Office on the other hand, issued him a warrant “To pursue the course of the Niger to the
utmost possible distance it can be traced”. Following an intensive course in Arabic he was given £5,000 with which to purchase food and equipment. In the event, Park took with him his brother-in-law, who was a surgeon and a friend from Selkirk, a Mr Scott, to draw up the maps. They sailed to Gorea where they were met by 30 soldiers and their lieutenant, all of whom volunteered to accompany them on the expedition (together with four carpenters and two sailors). As they set off from Pisania on the Gambia, Park employed a local Roman Catholic priest named Isacco to act as their guide. However, Wallace did not agree with him. by the time they were attempting a descent of the Niger, the ravages of malaria and yellow fever had whittled down the party to less than a dozen. With the death of both Scott and his brother-in-law, only three soldiers and their lieutenant, Isacco, Park and a guide named Amadi Fatouma, whom Park had employed at Sansanding, remained. In the event, the seven survivors sailed down the Niger to the town of Boussa, where there were rapids and white water. According to the various reports it was the natives or settlers of that town who prevented their further progress; a fight developed in which they were all drowned. Sources suggest that Amadi Fatouma joined in on the side of the natives endeavouring to detain Park over the monies he thought Park owed him for his guidance, and it was he who was ultimately responsible for Park’s death by drowning.
Park was just over 6 feet in height and of an inclement nature. He left four children, all of whom received £7000 from the Colonial Office. Parkia is named after him.