London: John Murray, 1856. 8vo. xvi, 456 pp., plus 32 pages publisher’s advertisements. FIRST EDITION. Complete with half-title, frontispiece, small vignette of Prince Tshukuma on the title page, large folding plate of plans of the ship Pleiad, folding map of rivers. Half morocco over linen, gilt spine; a very nice copy with stamp of the Glasgow Philosophical Society on the title page. Item #15154
First edition of this exciting and lively narrative of Baikie’s successful government sponsored expedition up the Niger river and its tributary, the Benue. The expedition managed to journey an additional 250 miles further up the river than previous ones. It was on this trip that Baikie discovered the use of quinine to not simply cure malarial fever, but rather to prevent it, which he mentions once in the text and details further in the appendix. As a result, not a single crew member died from fever and everyone returned home in good health. Also notable is Baikie’s condemnation of the African slave trade, at the time not a popular opinion.
Covering a range of topics from natural history and medicine to commerce and geography, this account of the voyage of the Pleiad is not only entertaining, but it also served as an important anthropological study of the peoples, cultures, and animals of the Niger region in Africa. Most enjoyable are Baikie’s descriptions of native animals, such as crocodiles and insects, including the ever-pesky mosquito, which he describes in amusing detail: “Mosquitos—I need not remind those who have sadly experienced them—are insect nuisances of the first degree of intensity; the sleepless nights caused by their incessant tiny though ominous humming, and the irritating wounds, the results of their blood-thirsty voracity, are too much in the nightly experience of tropical travelers.”
Baikie (1825-1864) was a naturalist and physician. Appointed as the resident surgeon and naturalist on the Pleiad’s first journey to Niger, Baikie became captain of the ship when the original captain passed away just prior to the start of the voyage. His second expedition to Niger and its surrounding area was far less successful than his first; the Pleiad shipwrecked, and captain and crew were left for nearly a year. Given the option to return to England, Baikie choose to stay in Africa and continue the exploration alone. He eventually took up residence in the region of Lukoja and established a trade and commerce site.