Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rescuing the Emin Pasha

Arthur Jephson, a young adventurer and African explorer, died one hundred years ago today. He’s not well remembered, but he would be even less so if it were not for a diary he wrote while accompanying Henry Stanley on one of his expeditions in Africa. Unfortunately, the text of the diary does not appear to be available on the internet, although copies printed in the 1960s are available, at a price.

One of twelve children, Jephson was born in 1858 to the vicar of Childerditch in Essex, and Ellen, the daughter of the recorder of Norwich. He trained for the merchant navy, but then spent time in the Antrim regiment of the Royal Irish Rifles, before resigning his commission and living under the patronage of Helene, comtesse de Noailles. In 1886, a donation by the comtesse secured Jephson’s place on an expedition along the Congo, being undertaken by Henry Morton Stanley. On Jephson’s return from Africa, he published an account of the journey which was translated into French and German, and also lectured on the subject. Despite wanting to return to the continent, he never did due to ill-health. He was appointed Queen’s Messenger (one who carries important documents for the sovereign) in 1895; in 1904 he married and had one son. Four years later he died, while still relatively young, on 22 October 1908.

But it is the expedition to Africa for which Jephson is most remembered. It was organised to rescue a man invariably called Emin Pasha. A physician and explorer from Silesia, he was originally named Eduard Schnitzer, but after becoming a medical officer in the Turkish army, he adopted a Turkish mode of living with the name Mehmet Emin. He later served under General Charles Gordon in Equatoria (an Egyptian province in the upper Nile at the time, now Sudan) as a district medical officer, and then succeeded Gordon as governor. However, an Arab revolt, that started in the early 1880s, increasingly isolated him and his few troops. Nevertheless, he managed to keep lines of communication open, and his communiques to Europe eventually attracted considerable sympathy, especially after Gordon’s death in 1885.

Thus, in 1887, the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, led by Henry Morton Stanley, undertook to rescue the man by going up the Congo River and then through the Ituri Forest. Two-thirds of those who undertook the journey died. A Wikipedia article on Emin explains that Stanley did find Emin, in April 1888, but then spent a year arguing with him and his troops to leave for safer parts. During this time, both Emin and Jephson were imprisoned for some months by rebel officers, and only then was Emin finally persuaded to leave for the coast.

Jephson kept a diary during the expedition, but it wasn’t published until more than 50 years after his death, in 1969 (for the Hakluyt Society by Cambridge University Press). Its full title is The Diary of A J Mounteney Jephson: Emin Pasha Relief Expedition 1887-1889. It was edited by Dorothy Middleton, and has a preface, prologue and epilogue compiled by the editor in collaboration with Maurice Denham Jephson. As far I can tell there are no extracts available on the internet, but Abebooks has some copies for sale, starting at about £30. Wikipedia calls Jephson’s diary ‘frank, sensitive and open-hearted’.

A few more interesting details about Jephson and his diary are available at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website (for which one needs a subscription, but UK public library membership allows for free access). The diary, it says, confirms ‘in graphic detail the extent of the violence and suffering’ that accompanied the expedition. It also argues that since Jephson had had no previous experience of either tropical travel or warfare, his very survival was considered something of an accomplishment. According to the AIM25 website (which provides information on archives in the greater London area), photocopies of the original diary is held at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

1 comment:

David L said...

Dear Paul
Thank you for your notes about Jephson. He was a school friend of a man I am researching: CM Woodford. Woodford became the first Resident Commissioner of the Solomon Islands in 1897. I am trying to obtain more details about Jephson in 1888. The expedition was still going at that time but did Jephson live for any time in South Africa? Cheers David