From Francis Galton Memories of My Life (London: Methuen, 1908), pp. 138 - 151.
Size of caravan - Horrors of savagedom - Ovambonde - To the Ovampo on ride - oxen - Back to Damara land - Journey in Namaqua land - Bushmen - Large game - Back to Walfish Bay - Home - Medal of Royal Geographical Society, and election to Athenaum Club under Rule II.
My first objective was Ovambonde, a place which proved to be of exaggerated interest. It is marked B on the map. It was the only definite spot, generally known to the Damaras, that I could hear of in a northerly direction. Without some definite goal it would have been necessary to travel unguided through a country so choked with bushes bearing cruel thorns that we might have found ourselves in impassable blind issues time after time.
The plateau on which we were to travel was some 6000 feet above the level of the sea, as calculated by the usual method from the temperature of boiling water. It had a crisp sandy surface good for travel, but the thorn - bushes were a serious obstacle. Water was a daily cause for anxiety, and was usually to be procured only at places where the natives had recently dug for it with success. The country is deluged at the time of the rainy season, and pools remain for a while at many places, but they soon disappear, partly through evaporation, but principally from percolation through the sandy soil. Here and there a thin layer of less porous earth holds the water longer. The pool may then become sanded over, but water can be reached without trouble by digging and scraping. During a large part of the journey this looking out for signs of water and digging wells, after the first four hours' journey had been accomplished, was the almost daily occupation. The giving of drink to the oxen, three at a time out of an improvised trench covered with canvas, into which the water was ladled, was a common feature at each encampment.
The digging for water was laborious. Sometimes the well was already dug by natives, but dry, and had to be so much deepened as to require a chain of three men to utilise it. One raised the water - vessel to another who stood a stage higher, and he to a third who stood breast high above the surface of the ground and poured its contents into the trough. On one of these occasions we had fallen fast asleep, dogs and all, utterly wearied, and found in the morning, to our astonishment, the tracks of elephants all about us. They had drunk at the well, disturbed nobody, and disappeared into the not distant bush, whither I followed them in vain.
The caravan at starting consisted of ten Europeans and about eighteen natives, or twenty - eight in all. The two wagons were both laden. The large one had a solid deck over its cargo, and the space above deck was curtained into two compartments, in which Andersson and I slept when the ground was wet; as a rule we bivouacked in the open. The available space above the deck of the wagon was too low to read or write in with comfort. The small wagon held the clothes of the men in addition to its regular freight, and nobody slept in it except during the heavy rains. At first the natives of my party were constantly changing, and in addition to my own party there were occasional hangers - on.
As regards commissariat, my biscuit and every kind of vegetable food had been eaten up. I had plenty of tea, coffee, and some sugar, and a few trifles besides, but no wine or spirits except for medicine. Our sustenance was henceforth to be the flesh of the oxen and sheep driven with us, eked out by occasional game. The charge of the cattle was our constant anxiety and care; if lost or stolen, we should be starved. The estimate was that one sheep - they were very lean - afforded twenty meals, and I found that men on full work required two meals daily. An ox was reckoned equal to seven sheep, and would therefore feed twenty - four people for three days. The gross total of oxen, cows, and calves in the caravan was ninety - four; that of sheep was twenty - four. Seventy five of the oxen were broken in; nine of these as ride oxen and a few others as pack - oxen, the remainder only for draught. I considered myself to be provided for ten weeks, exclusive of game, while still preserving a sufficiency of trained oxen.
I had many things for barter, but could not foresee whether, or how far, they would be accepted in exchange for cattle. It afterwards appeared that two sticks of cavendish tobacco was a usual equivalent for one sheep, and a rod of iron or a gun for perhaps eight oxen.
I soon saw some of the horrors of savagedom. My dogs found a wretched native whose muscles along the back of his neck had been severed to the bone, but whose throat was uninjured. He had crawled under thorn - bushes to die, whence we extricated him. His head rolled horribly, but he could speak a little. I did what I could in the way of splints and bandages, but he soon died. Then, while staying with a most gentlemanly chief, Kahichene, who was himself killed soon afterwards, and his followers dispersed, two of my fore - oxen were stolen. They are by far the most important animals in a team. The chief sent trackers after them. They and the thief were brought back; I begged for the man's life, for ox - stealing is a capital offence. He was spared while I was there, but clubbed, as I understood, after I had left. But enough of these gruesome stories. I had to hold a little court of justice on most days, usually followed by corporal punishment, deftly administered. At a signal from me the culprit's legs were seized from behind, he was thrown face forward on the ground and held, while Hans applied the awarded number of whip strokes. This rough - and - ready justice became popular. Women, as usual, were the most common causes of quarrel.
The Damaras were for the most part thieving and murderous, dirty, and of a low type; but their chiefs were more or less highly bred. These people seldom die natural deaths; many are killed when fighting, many are murdered, and sick persons are as a rule smothered by their relatives. It was fortunate for me that there was at that time no paramount chief in Damara land, unless it were a man like Kahichene. The smaller ones feared our weapons and the mystery attached to white men coming from afar, who might be in friendly relations with their dreaded enemies, so I was able to slip through their lawless country with comparative ease.
Ovambonde proved to be of no importance. It was nothing more than a long reach in a then dry river - bed, which would, however, assume a very different aspect after heavy rains. By the time we had arrived there, the tales concerning a different race called the Ovampo, who lived to the northwards beyond the Damaras, had become more and more consistent and exciting, and gave a fresh impetus to proceed. The Damara limit is marked on the map; the axle of one of my wagons broke just before reaching it. Consequently I made a camp near a friendly Damara chief, and left the wagons, with Hans and the drivers, to be repaired in the way familiar to Boers, and started for Ovampo land with Andersson and three men on ride - oxen. I also took three laden pack - oxen and a few loose ones in reserve, to furnish food if needed.
A caravan travels every six months from Ovampo land to buy Damara cattle, stopping at the very place where we had been. Another caravan similarly travels along the Kaoko (see map) between Damara land and the sea. We met one of the former of these caravans a little after we had started, so we returned for a while to our old camp, and finally went back to Ovampo land with it. These Ovampo were under strict discipline, secret and very resolute. I could not do what I liked in their company, but had to depend on their plans. The will of their king Nangoro was supreme. I could not enter the country, trade in it, or leave it, except with his permission.
The border - land between the Damaras and the Ovampo seemed to be a natural frontier unsuitable for occupation. We passed bleak plains and then a wide belt of thorn - bushes which after a day's journey ceased suddenly and disclosed a broad stretch of fields of maize, a strange and welcome sight~ After a day's march through these, we reached the place where Nangoro lived.
I did much to make myself agreeable, investing Nangoro with a big theatrical crown that I had bought in Drury Lane for some such purpose. But I have reason to believe that I deeply wounded his pride by the non - acceptance of his niece as, I presume, a temporary wife. I found her installed in my tent in negress finery, raddled with red ochre and butter, and as capable of leaving a mark on anything she touched as a well - inked printer's roller. I was dressed in my one well - preserved suit of white linen, so I had her ejected with scant ceremony. The Damaras are very hospitable in this way, and consider the missionaries to be actuated by pride in not reciprocating.
We were treated with strict courtesy, but, except at the very first, without friendliness; a sense of growing constraint was everywhere, and there were ugly signs of an intention to allow our oxen to die of hunger, and then to make an easy end of us afterwards. The Ovampo carry on a trade with the Portuguese half - castes to the north, and knew and despised the guns used by them; but ours were shown, by their bullet marks after firing at a distant tree, to be of a much higher order and to be feared. Probably that new view of their value helped us considerably. We were quite at the mercy of Nangoro; our cattle grew thinner daily on the very scant pasturage to which they were restricted, and Nangoro would not give me permission to go farther. It was as much as our oxen could do to take us back at all, and having at length received permission or orders (I know not which), to return, I did so with mixed feelings - regret at having to turn back, relief at getting away safely. The Ovampo were suspicious of us, but seemed particularly happy and social among themselves, and to be a people well worthy of friendly study. But the spirit of what is elsewhere known as '4 taboo " reigned everywhere, and simple inquiries were too frequently met with the rejoinder of " You must not ask." I had very good interpreters between the Damara and Ovampo languages.
My fears of ill - usage were shown not to be fanciful, by the fact that a party who followed me some years later were attacked as they departed, and had to fire in self - defence~ According to one of many rumours, a stray bullet killed Nangoro himself, at a considerable distance, while he was sitting within his own stockade. The party got safely away, but were in great danger.
The return journey to the wagons was indeed difficult. One bitterly cold encampment in a hollow on the bleak plain, where we were comparatively safe from a night attack, seriously tried the constitution of some of my best ride - oxen, who never afterwards became as serviceable as they were before. The wagon was however mended, all had gone well with the men left behind, and we started homewards.
Ultimately the whole party was brought safely back to Station No. 3 on August 3, 1851, where we were most heartily welcomed and congratulated by Mr. Hahn after our long absence of five months, during which no news whatever of us had reached him. In the meantime I had spent ninety days in actual travel, independently of such excursions as were needed from time to time to look out for practicable routes. Of these ninety days, fifty were occupied in travel to Nangoro and forty in returning. The return distance in time was 168 . hours, equal to 462 miles. Our road had passed through a dangerous and difficult country; it traversed the whole breadth of Damara land, and had reached the capital of the country beyond it to the north.
Some little news had reached Mr. Hahn from Europe through the hands of a cattle - trader. It included an English newspaper, but no letters for myself; it was now one year and four months since I had heard a single word from my home. Peace had been kept during my absence between the Hottentots and Damaras.
A ship was expected for the missionaries not earlier than December, so I should have a clear four months for further travel and yet be able to catch that ship. I determined on a quick journey to the eastwards of the Namaqua country, and dispatched messengers at once with letters to the Cape, in doing which the Namaqua chief Swartboy assisted me
thereby made arrangements to confirm those partly made by the missionaries about the time of departure of their ship, that it might not arrive too soon. I then divided my party and settled matters relating to the future of the wagons and their contents, also in regard to my three remaining mules, the rest of which had died or been killed by lions long since. Then I started afresh on August I3, taking one wagon with me, Andersson, three of my best servants, and five or six of my most active Damaras, and went in the first instance to Jonker.
He received me kindly and I had the good fortune to find in this place a fairly educated man, Erhardt, imported by the missionaries as a schoolmaster, who spoke Dutch and English perfectly, and Hottentot fairly well. I engaged his services, especially as he undertook to guide me as far as Elephant Fountain (E.F. on the map), which had been the ultima Thule of the missionaries. I was also asked to settle some disputes between the other Namaqua chiefs, who were all very friendly to me now. I proposed to push farther forward from Elephant Fountain as far as time, the exceptional drought of the year, and the weakened stamina of my oxen permitted.
We left Jonker August 30, and arrived at Elephant Fountain September II, where I found myself at last in a country of big game. There was a copious spring, and herds of all kinds of animals came to drink. It received its name from the large number of tusks found in the water at this place when the Namaquas first reached it, as though it had been a spot to which elephants travelled to die, according to a well - known legend. It was then overgrown with reeds, and formed a notable covert for wild beasts. It lies in a corner of the district then claimed by the chief Amiral. Farther to the south of it the country becomes desert. Amiral joined me, by arrangement, at Elephant Fountain for a shooting expedition. He and his people seemed much more civilised than the other Namaquas, and nearer in character to the Dutch Boers.
I left my wagon with two men, together with those of Amiral and some of his own men whom he left behind to guard them, and starting on ride - oxen with Andersson we reached Twas the farthest point yet visited by Amiral, on about the 28th. In front of us lay an arid plain, especially arid in this very dry year, which had to be crossed in order to reach the next watering place, well known to the Bushmen, but not to Amiral, and called Tounobis.
My oxen were tired and footsore, but we went. It proved to be a journey of 201 hours actual desert travel, and led us suddenly into an ideal country of big game. The ground, adjacent to a broad river - bed, was trodden with the tracks of all sorts of animals, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, and a vast variety of smaller game. Crowds of Bushmen were encamped near to the water, busy with their pitfalls and with securing an elephant that had fallen into one of them during the previous night. We became great friends with the Bushmen, and sat late into the night hearing their stories about themselves and the recent doings of a body of strange Namaquas coming from the south, who in the preceding year had swept past them and onwards to Lake Ngami, leaving unmistakable signs of their expedition, and marauding as usual as they went. This much, therefore, was established, that a feasible road existed from Walfish Bay to the interior, of which I had myself travelled as far as Tounobis, and the remaining few days' journey had been travelled during the preceding year by marauding Namaquas.
After staying a week at Tounobis, Amiral wished to return home, and I was not in a position to travel farther afield, because the next stage towards Lake Ngami was described by all as being more severe than the last one, and with my tired oxen it was as much as we could do to get back at all. So I returned, and, ultimately, found myself back on the shores of Walfish Bay on December 5. The wished for schooner arrived on January 16, 1852. I finally parted with Andersson, Hans, and most of the men, and retaining only three with me for the possibility of a short travel in Portuguese territory, which came to nothing, I sailed to St. Helena, whence I returned straight to England.
This, in a few words, is an outline of my journey. The distances were (as carefully calculated), Walfish Bay to Station No. 3 (Barmen) 207 miles, Barmen to Nangoro 512 miles, Barmen to Tounobis 311 miles, - total 1030 miles, and nearly as many back; besides other side expeditions, especially that to Erongo, and another of little interest that has not been alluded to above.
This bald outline of a very eventful journey has taken little notice of the risks and adventures which characterised it and are recorded in my book. They must be imagined by the reader, otherwise the following paragraph will seem overcharged, which it is not.
I had little conception of the severity of the anxiety under which I had been living until I found myself on board the little vessel that took me away, and I felt at last able to sleep in complete security. I had indeed to be thankful that all ended so well. I did not lose one of my many men either through violence or sickness during the long and harassing journey. It was undertaken with servants who at starting were found to be anything but qualified for their work, who grumbled, held back, and even mutinied, and over whom I had none other than a moral control. The very cattle that were to carry me had to be broken in, and I had to call into service an indolent and cruel set of natives speaking an unknown tongue. The country was suffering the atrocities of savage warfare when I arrived - tribe against tribe and race against race - which had to be stopped before I could proceed. I had no food to depend on except the cattle I drove with me, which might any night decamp or be swept off by a raid. That all this was vone through successfully I am indebted in the highest degree both to Andersson and Hans, to whom I have had to make too scant reference here for want of space.
Andersson remained behind to investigate the natural history of the countries we had opened out, and wrote histories of his journeys and observations He ultimately died in Damara land. Hans found his way to the gold diggings of Australia, but with the exception of one letter that he sent me before starting I lost all communication with him, to my very great regret. He must have met with mischance I reached England exactly two years after leaving it, that is on April 5, I852, more than fifty - six years ago.
I began this chapter by showing how largely the Geographical Society aided me in preparing for the ]journey. I conclude it by showing how still more deeply I became indebted to it for its approbation The Society awarded to me one of their two annual gold medals in 1854, "for having at his [my] own cost and in furtherance of the expressed desire of the Society, fitted out an expedition to explore the centre of South Africa, and for having so successfully conducted it through the countries of the Namaquas, the Damaras, and the Ovampo (a journey of about 1700 miles), as to enable this Society to publish a valuable memoir and map in the last volume of the Journal, relating to a country hitherto unknown; the astronomical observations determining the latitude and longitude of places having been most accurately made by himself."
The President, Sir Roderick Murchison, in presenting the medal to me at the Anniversary Meeting (I quote from the 7simes), having read the above paragraph in the Report, said that Mr. Galton had a distinct claim on the Society before all other African travellers, because he had fitted out the expedition at his own expense in furtherance of their expressed wishes, and had zealously accomplished that which he had so disinterestedly undertaken. Then, turning to Mr. Galton, he added: " It is now my pleasing duty to place in your hands this testimony of the approbation of the Royal Geographical Society. I am sure you will receive it, as we intend it, as the highest honour which we can possibly confer. You left a happy home to visit a country never before penetrated by a civilised being. You have accomplished that which every geographer in this room must feel is of eminent advantage to the science in which we take so deep an interest. Accept, with these expressions, my belief that, so long as England possesses travellers with the resolution you have displayed, and so long as private gentlemen will devote themselves to accomplish what you have achieved, we shall always be able to boast that this country produces the best geographers of the day."
The Geographical Medal gave me an established position in the scientific world. In connection with subsequent work, it caused rme to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1856, and to receive in the same year the very high honour of election to the Athenaeum Club under Rule I I., which provides that the Council may elect not more than nine persons in each year on the ground of distinction in Science, Literature, Art, or Public Service, being at the average rate of a little more than two elections annually, under each of these four broad heads. The recipient is thereby saved many, sometimes sixteen or more, years of waiting, before his turn would arrive to be balloted for in the ordinary course of election. So I have much to be grateful for to the Royal Geographical Society, and I loyally did my best to promote its interests during the many years that I served on its Council in various capacities.