There was a large audience assembled on the 14th of
January, 1862, at the session of the Royal Geographical
Society, No. 3 Waterloo Place, London. The president,
Sir Francis M----, made an important communication to
his colleagues, in an address that was frequently
interrupted by applause.
This rare specimen of eloquence terminated with the
following sonorous phrases bubbling over with patriotism:
"England has always marched at the head of nations"
(for, the reader will observe, the nations always march
at the head of each other), "by the intrepidity of her
explorers in the line of geographical discovery." (General
assent). "Dr. Samuel Ferguson, one of her most glorious
sons, will not reflect discredit on his origin." ("No,
indeed!" from all parts of the hall.)
"This attempt, should it succeed" ("It will succeed!"),
"will complete and link together the notions, as yet
disjointed, which the world entertains of African cartology"
(vehement applause); "and, should it fail, it will,
at least, remain on record as one of the most daring
conceptions of human genius!" (Tremendous cheering.)
"Huzza! huzza!" shouted the immense audience,
completely electrified by these inspiring words.
"Huzza for the intrepid Ferguson!" cried one of the
most excitable of the enthusiastic crowd.
The wildest cheering resounded on all sides; the name
of Ferguson was in every mouth, and we may safely believe
that it lost nothing in passing through English
throats. Indeed, the hall fairly shook with it.
And there were present, also, those fearless travellers
and explorers whose energetic temperaments had borne
them through every quarter of the globe, many of them
grown old and worn out in the service of science. All
had, in some degree, physically or morally, undergone the
sorest trials. They had escaped shipwreck; conflagration;
Indian tomahawks and war-clubs; the fagot and the
stake; nay, even the cannibal maws of the South Sea
Islanders. But still their hearts beat high during Sir
Francis M----'s address, which certainly was the finest
oratorical success that the Royal Geographical Society of
London had yet achieved.
But, in England, enthusiasm does not stop short with
mere words. It strikes off money faster than the dies of
the Royal Mint itself. So a subscription to encourage Dr.
Ferguson was voted there and then, and it at once attained
the handsome amount of two thousand five hundred
pounds. The sum was made commensurate with the
importance of the enterprise.
A member of the Society then inquired of the president
whether Dr. Ferguson was not to be officially introduced.
"The doctor is at the disposition of the meeting,"
replied Sir Francis.
"Let him come in, then! Bring him in!" shouted the
audience. "We'd like to see a man of such extraordinary
daring, face to face!"
"Perhaps this incredible proposition of his is only
intended to mystify us," growled an apoplectic old
"Suppose that there should turn out to be no such
person as Dr. Ferguson?" exclaimed another voice, with
a malicious twang.
"Why, then, we'd have to invent one!" replied a
facetious member of this grave Society.
"Ask Dr. Ferguson to come in," was the quiet remark
of Sir Francis M----.
And come in the doctor did, and stood there, quite
unmoved by the thunders of applause that greeted his
He was a man of about forty years of age, of medium
height and physique. His sanguine temperament was
disclosed in the deep color of his cheeks. His countenance
was coldly expressive, with regular features, and a large
nose--one of those noses that resemble the prow of a ship,
and stamp the faces of men predestined to accomplish
great discoveries. His eyes, which were gentle and
intelligent, rather than bold, lent a peculiar charm to
his physiognomy. His arms were long, and his feet were
planted with that solidity which indicates a great pedestrian.
A calm gravity seemed to surround the doctor's entire
person, and no one would dream that he could become the
agent of any mystification, however harmless.
Hence, the applause that greeted him at the outset
continued until he, with a friendly gesture, claimed silence
on his own behalf. He stepped toward the seat that had
been prepared for him on his presentation, and then,
standing erect and motionless, he, with a determined
glance, pointed his right forefinger upward, and
pronounced aloud the single word--
Never had one of Bright's or Cobden's sudden onslaughts,
never had one of Palmerston's abrupt demands
for funds to plate the rocks of the English coast with iron,
made such a sensation. Sir Francis M----'s address was
completely overshadowed. The doctor had shown himself
moderate, sublime, and self-contained, in one; he had
uttered the word of the situation--
The gouty old admiral who had been finding fault, was
completely won over by the singular man before him, and
immediately moved the insertion of Dr. Ferguson's speech
in "The Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society
Who, then, was this person, and what was the enterprise
that he proposed?
Ferguson's father, a brave and worthy captain in the
English Navy, had associated his son with him, from the
young man's earliest years, in the perils and adventures of
his profession. The fine little fellow, who seemed to have
never known the meaning of fear, early revealed a keen
and active mind, an investigating intelligence, and a
remarkable turn for scientific study; moreover, he disclosed
uncommon address in extricating himself from difficulty;
he was never perplexed, not even in handling his fork for
the first time--an exercise in which children generally
have so little success.
His fancy kindled early at the recitals he read of daring
enterprise and maritime adventure, and he followed
with enthusiasm the discoveries that signalized the first part
of the nineteenth century. He mused over the glory of the
Mungo Parks, the Bruces, the Caillies, the Levaillants,
and to some extent, I verily believe, of Selkirk (Robinson
Crusoe), whom he considered in no wise inferior to the
rest. How many a well-employed hour he passed with
that hero on his isle of Juan Fernandez! Often he criticised
the ideas of the shipwrecked sailor, and sometimes
discussed his plans and projects. He would have done
differently, in such and such a case, or quite as well at
least--of that he felt assured. But of one thing he was
satisfied, that he never should have left that pleasant island,
where he was as happy as a king without subjects--
no, not if the inducement held out had been promotion to
the first lordship in the admiralty!
It may readily be conjectured whether these tendencies
were developed during a youth of adventure, spent in
every nook and corner of the Globe. Moreover, his father,
who was a man of thorough instruction, omitted no opportunity
to consolidate this keen intelligence by serious
studies in hydrography, physics, and mechanics, along
with a slight tincture of botany, medicine, and astronomy.
Upon the death of the estimable captain, Samuel Ferguson,
then twenty-two years of age, had already made
his voyage around the world. He had enlisted in the
Bengalese Corps of Engineers, and distinguished himself
in several affairs; but this soldier's life had not exactly
suited him; caring but little for command, he had not been
fond of obeying. He, therefore, sent in his resignation,
and half botanizing, half playing the hunter, he made his
way toward the north of the Indian Peninsula, and crossed
it from Calcutta to Surat--a mere amateur trip for him.
From Surat we see him going over to Australia, and
in 1845 participating in Captain Sturt's expedition, which
had been sent out to explore the new Caspian Sea, supposed
to exist in the centre of New Holland.
Samuel Ferguson returned to England about 1850,
and, more than ever possessed by the demon of discovery,
he spent the intervening time, until 1853, in accompanying
Captain McClure on the expedition that went around
the American Continent from Behring's Straits to Cape
Notwithstanding fatigues of every description, and in
all climates, Ferguson's constitution continued marvellously
sound. He felt at ease in the midst of the most complete
privations; in fine, he was the very type of the
thoroughly accomplished explorer whose stomach expands
or contracts at will; whose limbs grow longer or shorter
according to the resting-place that each stage of a journey
may bring; who can fall asleep at any hour of the day or
awake at any hour of the night.
Nothing, then, was less surprising, after that, than to
find our traveller, in the period from 1855 to 1857, visiting
the whole region west of the Thibet, in company with the
brothers Schlagintweit, and bringing back some curious
ethnographic observations from that expedition.
During these different journeys, Ferguson had been
the most active and interesting correspondent of the
Daily Telegraph, the penny newspaper whose circulation
amounts to 140,000 copies, and yet scarcely suffices for its
many legions of readers. Thus, the doctor had become
well known to the public, although he could not claim
membership in either of the Royal Geographical Societies
of London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, or St. Petersburg, or
yet with the Travellers' Club, or even the Royal Polytechnic
Institute, where his friend the statistician Cockburn
ruled in state.
The latter savant had, one day, gone so far as to propose
to him the following problem: Given the number of
miles travelled by the doctor in making the circuit of the
Globe, how many more had his head described than his
feet, by reason of the different lengths of the radii?--or,
the number of miles traversed by the doctor's head and
feet respectively being given, required the exact height
of that gentleman?
This was done with the idea of complimenting him,
but the doctor had held himself aloof from all the learned
bodies--belonging, as he did, to the church militant and
not to the church polemical. He found his time better
employed in seeking than in discussing, in discovering
rather than discoursing.
There is a story told of an Englishman who came one
day to Geneva, intending to visit the lake. He was placed
in one of those odd vehicles in which the passengers sit
side by side, as they do in an omnibus. Well, it so happened
that the Englishman got a seat that left him with
his back turned toward the lake. The vehicle completed
its circular trip without his thinking to turn around once,
and he went back to London delighted with the Lake of Geneva.
Doctor Ferguson, however, had turned around to look
about him on his journeyings, and turned to such good
purpose that he had seen a great deal. In doing so, he
had simply obeyed the laws of his nature, and we have
good reason to believe that he was, to some extent, a fatalist,
but of an orthodox school of fatalism withal, that led
him to rely upon himself and even upon Providence. He
claimed that he was impelled, rather than drawn by his
own volition, to journey as he did, and that he traversed
the world like the locomotive, which does not direct itself,
but is guided and directed by the track it runs on.
"I do not follow my route;" he often said, "it is my
route that follows me."
The reader will not be surprised, then, at the calmness
with which the doctor received the applause that welcomed
him in the Royal Society. He was above all such
trifles, having no pride, and less vanity. He looked upon
the proposition addressed to him by Sir Francis M---- as
the simplest thing in the world, and scarcely noticed the
immense effect that it produced.
When the session closed, the doctor was escorted to
the rooms of the Travellers' Club, in Pall Mall. A superb
entertainment had been prepared there in his honor. The
dimensions of the dishes served were made to correspond
with the importance of the personage entertained, and the
boiled sturgeon that figured at this magnificent repast was
not an inch shorter than Dr. Ferguson himself.
Numerous toasts were offered and quaffed, in the wines
of France, to the celebrated travellers who had made their
names illustrious by their explorations of African territory.
The guests drank to their health or to their memory,
in alphabetical order, a good old English way of doing the
thing. Among those remembered thus, were: Abbadie,
Adams, Adamson, Anderson, Arnaud, Baikie, Baldwin,
Barth, Batouda, Beke, Beltram, Du Berba, Bimbachi,
Bolognesi, Bolwik, Belzoni, Bonnemain, Brisson, Browne,
Bruce, Brun-Rollet, Burchell, Burckhardt, Burton, Cailland,
Caillie, Campbell, Chapman, Clapperton, Clot-Bey,
Colomieu, Courval, Cumming, Cuny, Debono, Decken,
Denham, Desavanchers, Dicksen, Dickson, Dochard, Du
Chaillu, Duncan, Durand, Duroule, Duveyrier, D'Escayrac,
De Lauture, Erhardt, Ferret, Fresnel, Galinier, Galton,
Geoffroy, Golberry, Hahn, Halm, Harnier, Hecquart,
Heuglin, Hornemann, Houghton, Imbert, Kauffmann,
Knoblecher, Krapf, Kummer, Lafargue, Laing, Lafaille,
Lambert, Lamiral, Lampriere, John Lander, Richard
Lander, Lefebvre, Lejean, Levaillant, Livingstone, MacCarthy,
Maggiar, Maizan, Malzac, Moffat, Mollien, Monteiro, Morrison,
Mungo Park, Neimans, Overweg, Panet, Partarrieau,
Pascal, Pearse, Peddie, Penney, Petherick, Poncet, Prax,
Raffenel, Rabh, Rebmann, Richardson, Riley, Ritchey,
Rochet d'Hericourt, Rongawi, Roscher, Ruppel, Saugnier,
Speke, Steidner, Thibaud, Thompson, Thornton, Toole,
Tousny, Trotter, Tuckey, Tyrwhitt, Vaudey, Veyssiere,
Vincent, Vinco, Vogel, Wahlberg, Warrington, Washington,
Werne, Wild, and last, but not least, Dr. Ferguson,
who, by his incredible attempt, was to link together the
achievements of all these explorers, and complete the series
of African discovery.