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MUNGO PARK

1771-2017
Scottish

"I think it not unlikely but I shall be in England before you receive this – You may be sure that I feel happy at turning my face towards home. "

Mungo Park was born on 11 September 1771 in Selkirkshire, Scotland.  Park was educated at home before attending Selkirk Grammar School. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to a surgeon named Thomas Anderson in Selkirk. During his apprenticeship, he made friends with Anderson's son Alexander and became acquainted with his daughter Allison, who would later become his wife.

In October 1788, Park went to the University of Edinburgh, attending for four sessions studying medicine and botany. Notably, during his time at university, he spent a year in the natural history course of Professor John Walker. After completing his studies, he spent a summer in the Scottish Highlands, engaged in botanical fieldwork with his brother-in-law, James Dicks, after which, he worked as a gardener and seed merchant in Covent Garden.

In January 1793, Park completed his medical education by passing an oral examination at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Through a recommendation by Banks, he then obtained the post of assistant surgeon on board the East Indiaman, ‘Worcester’. In February 1793 the ‘Worcester’ sailed to Benkulen in Sumatra. In 1794 Park offered his services to the African Association, and began his travels.

On 21 June 1795, he reached the Gambia River and travelled along it, 200 miles to a British trading station named Pisania. On 02 December, accompanied by two local guides, he started for the unknown interior. The route that he chose crossed the upper Senegal basin and went through the semi-desert region of Kaarta. The journey was full of difficulties, and at Ludamar, he was imprisoned by a Moorish chief for four months. On 01 July 1796, he escaped, alone, and with nothing but his horse and a pocket compass. On the 21st,  he reached the long-sought, Niger River at Ségou, being the first European to do so.

Settling at Foulshiels on his return to Scotland, in August 1799 Park married Allison, daughter of his old master, Thomas Anderson. In the same year, Park published Travels in the Interior of Africa, an account of his expedition.

Two offers which persuaded him to go to New South Wales in some official capacity ultimatelycame to nothing, and in October 1801 Park moved to Peebles, where he practiced as a physician. In the autumn of 1803 Park was invited by the government to lead another expedition to the Niger. Park, who chafed at the hardness and monotony of life at Peebles, accepted the offer.

On 31 January 1805 he sailed from Portsmouth for Gambia, having been given a captain's commission as head of the government expedition. The spirit with which Park took on this enterprise is well illustrated by his letter to the head of the Colonial Office: "I shall", he wrote, "set sail for the east with the fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish in the attempt.” To his wife, Park wrote of his intention not to stop nor land anywhere until he reached the coast, where he expected to arrive about the end of January 1806.

These were the last communications received from Park, and nothing more was heard of the party until reports of disaster reached Gambia. At length, the British government engaged  another expedition to ascertain what had happened to Park. They reported that although Park’s party in their boat had come under attack from natives on the banks of the river, these attacks were all repulsed, Park and his party having plenty of firearms and ammunition and the natives having none. They also escaped the perils of many rapids. But at the Bussa rapids, sometime at the end of 1805 or the beginning of 1806, the boat struck on a rock and remained fast. On the bank were gathered hostile natives, who attacked the party with bows and arrows and throwing spears. Their position being untenable, Park, Martyn and the two remaining soldiers sprang into the river and were drowned.