Explorer set sail for ill-fated African adventure

HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth for the last time
Picture: Shaun Roster

RETRO: Watch the last voyage of HMS Illustrious from Portsmouth

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On this day in 1805, pioneering explorer of the African continent, Mungo Park, sailed from Portsmouth for Gambia aboard the frigate Eugenia.

The full expedition that set off into the African interior comprised three officers and 40 other Europeans, mostly British soldiers, plus local guides and slaves.

The expedition reached the River Niger eight months later by which time only 11 Europeans were still alive, the rest having died of fever.

In November 1805 Park set sail downstream into the unknown reaches of the river in a large canoe with what remained of his expedition, one British officer and three soldiers (one by now was mad), a guide and three slaves.

Park is believed to have sailed downstream for a further 1,000 miles, past Timbuktu, through Niger and into north-west Nigeria.

Attacks by local tribes were successfully fought off with the available guns, but, in Nigeria, the canoe became stranded and the party again came under attack from native tribesmen.

It is believed that Park and the remaining three other Europeans were drowned trying to escape.

In 1811, the Hampshire Telegraph reported that ‘all hope of the safety of Mungo Park has been entirely abandoned’ – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.