I have a recent interest in 19th century people who were important in their day but are now either somewhat forgotten or unfairly criticized. This began when I read a biography of U.S. Grant and exploded when I blogged about Lew Wallace and was stunned by the interest in him. Well, I’ve found another. Richard Lander. His name came up in a book about Cornwall, where Ruth & I will be next month.
Richard Lander was an explorer from Cornwall. His dad was an innkeeper. Richard realized when he was a child that he wanted to explore the world and became a dedicated traveler. When he was only 9, he WALKED to London from Truro and boarded a ship going to the West Indies. That’s a 284 mile hike! Before he was 20 he had sailed around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. He joined Scottish explorer Hugh Clapperton’s expedition to Africa 6 years later. He became its only survivor.
He went back to Great Britain in 1828. Two years later he and his brother John returned to West Africa, and a lifelong interest in the River Niger developed. Richard returned to England in 1831, but a mere year later he went back to Africa as head of his own expedition. Many of his cohorts died of fever and Lander was attacked. With a cannon ball wound in his thigh, he made it to the coast but died from his injuries. He was only 29. His early death is surely part of the reason why he isn’t better known today.
I learned in Kirsty Fergusson’s excellent book about Cornwall that Richard Lander grew up in the Fighting Cocks Inn where he heard seafaring tales that piqued his curiosity. Before he was 20 Richard had lived in the West Indies for 3 years and seen some of Europe. As a result of his first visit to the Niger, he decided to find its source and float this river to the sea. Like Lew Wallace wrote Ben Hur, Richard Lander wrote vivid accounts of his adventures in 2 published works: Journal of Richard Lander from Kano to the Sea Coast and Records of Captain Clapperton’s Last Expedition to Africa.... I will look for them in Cornwall. I also learned that the expedition that resulted in Lander’s death was his 3rd journey to Nigeria.
I learned from the Encyclopedia Britannica that he and his brother were held for ransom in the Niger River’s delta. He didn’t get to write the book about his final adventure, but one was published in 1832. The picture of him above is from the Richard Lander School’s website. The others were taken in England but not in Cornwall.