THE FIRST MAP OF THE CONGO
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THE FIRST MAP OF THE CONGO

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THE FIRST MAP OF THE CONGO

JAMES WYLD (1812-1887) [MAP OF CENTRAL AFRICA]. Folding engraved map, [c.1874], hand-coloured in outline, in 13 sections only (cut down from a larger map), approximately 380 x 750mm., mounted on linen (separated at folds, original soiling, tears and damp-staining), annotated in pencil in the hand of Sir Henry Morton Stanley during his navigation of the Congo, 24 December 1876 - 12 March 1877, including THE FIRST SKETCH OF THE FULL COURSE OF THE RIVER CONGO, together with place names, dates of passage, compass points, and calculations of dead-reckonings; verso with further lists of place names and dead-reckonings, together with the note: 'Allowing Lualaba to run 25m N of Equator At the rate of 8 Geo miles per day from Waruru to the Falls of Yellala [cancelled] If Lualaba reaches 2° N, 45 days to Falls of Yellala from Uniya Njara. If Lualaba turns Wester at Equator, 37 days to Falls of Yellala. Thus if we start from Uniya Njara Dec 29 by former Feb 10th 1877 By latter Feb 2nd 1877 This is a mere estimate of time made at Vinya Njara Christmas Eve 1876'; another calculation is annotated 'See on Arrival at Ujiji if Time agrees if not then change all accordingly'.

THE FIRST MAP OF THE CONGO, PLOTTED BY STANLEY FROM NOON POSITIONAL READING DURING HIS FIRST NAVIGATION OF THE RIVER

At the beginning of Stanley's expedition, it was unknown to which river system the Lualaba (as the upper Congo was known) belonged: 'There now remained the grandest task of all, in attempting to settle which Livingstone had sacrificed himself. Is the Lualaba, which he had traced along a course of nearly thirteen hundred miles, the Nile, the Niger, or the Congo? He himself believed it to be the Nile, though a suspicion would sometimes intrude itself that it was the Congo.' (Henry Morton Stanley, Autobiography, 1909, p.319). The series of protractor holes, and pencil dots, with the snaking line that joins them, represent the working out of that problem: 'below Stanley Falls, the Lualaba, nearly a mile wide, curved northwest. "Ha! it is the Niger, or the Congo", I said' (Autobiography, p.326). The calculations on the verso of the map, with their optimistic prognosis of an arrival at Yellala in February 1877 (Stanley eventually arrived, half-dead, at the beginning of August), give some indication of the immense uncertainties of the journey when Stanley started out from Uniya Njara, the furthest point on the Lualaba to which Tippoo Tib's men would accompany him. But the simple markings, inching over a bare expanse of map, scarcely hint at the extraordinary struggles of Stanley's party, involved, at the early stages, in daily battles with flotillas of hostile tribesmen of the upper Congo. One extraordinary aspect of the map is its indication of the speed with which the expedition covered the middle section of the River Congo, from the confluence of the Loika river to Stanley Pool: this took 34 days. Before this point in the Upper Congo section no dates are recorded, indeed fewer sightings were made due to the constant tribal activity. There is evidence of some alterations and the upper section is overwritten in black ink. Interestingly, Stanley had also attempted to complete Lake Albert and added two seasonal lakes to the north of Lake Tanganyika.

The form of the printed Wyld map used by Stanley is itself a measure of his achievement in 1874-77. It shows the coastal Africa known to geographers before Stanley's great trans-African expedition, as well as those inland features sketchily deduced from the explorations of Livingstone, Burton, Speke and others: the large and misplaced Albert Nyanza, the uncertainties of the outline of Lake Victoria; Lake Tanganyika a mere surmise in its lower stretches; Lake Bangweolo a grossly distended mass (an error famously caused by Livingstone dropping his theodolite). Between Lake Tanganyika in the East and Concobella on the lower Congo in the West, a distance of almost a thousand miles, it is blank: this is the blank that Stanley fills in. (3)
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