New Book tells the story of the 19th Century explorer who discovered 'Bongo Bongo Land'

Posted on 2 September 2013
Search for the Nile's Source

With the controversy caused by UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom recently thrusting Bongo Land into the spotlight, a new book published next month by the University of Wales Press centres on the Welshmen who actually discovered the Bongo in the mid nineteenth century.

Bloom found himself at the centre of a furore after he was filmed calling for an end to foreign aid going to "bongo bongo land" which sparked a strong reaction from the foreign aid community as well as other British politicians with accusations that the phrase had racist connotations and that his views were biggoted and a broad generalisation of African Countries.

Two thousand or so surviving members of the Bongo tribe still live in the Bahr al Ghazal , a huge area of swampland in south western Sudan originally discovered by the adventurer  and ivory trader John Petherick who explored the region between 1853 and 1863.

Search for the Nile’s Source: The ruined reputation of John Petherick, nineteenth-century Welsh Explorer by author John Humphries tells the remarkable story of the Welshman, a mining engineer from Merthyr Tydfil who went to Africa to look for coal but became embroiled in the great 19th century controversy over the Nile's Source. 

Explorers were tormented for centuries by the Nile until John Hanning Speke discovered Lake Victoria in 1858 and claimed it was the source of the world’s longest river. Speke was elevated to the pantheon of heroes of African exploration, alongside Livingstone and Stanley but the part played by Petherick was ignored after he was branded a slave trader. The controversy that followed ended with Petherick ruined and Speke dead.

This first ever biography of Petherick places the Welshman at the centre of one of the great discoveries in African exploration – and as the focus of a dispute that rocked the geographical establishment. Was Petherick a rogue, as portrayed by some, or the victim of a conspiracy that destroyed his reputation and denied him a share of the credit for his part in one of the greatest feats in African exploration?

Whatever the verdict, John Humphries’ book pieces together the remarkable and riveting story of Petherick and his courageous wife Katherine, their incredible struggle against the wilderness, and his fight to salvage his ruined reputation.


John Humphries is a former newspaper editor and foreign correspondent, whose work draws upon previously unavailable documents and sources to shed new light on moments in history – ranging from the Chartist Uprising (The Man from the Alamo), the Mexican Revolution (Gringo Revolutionary), Hitler’s alleged spies (Spying for Hitler), and the Welsh terror campaign of the twentieth century (Freedom Fighters). This is his fifth book of non-fiction.

Search for the Nile’s Source: The ruined reputation of John Petherick, nineteenth-century Welsh Explorer (September 2013, University of Wales Press)
By John Humphries
£19.99 PB • 9780708326732 • 216x138mm • 224pp
20 black and white images


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