Another big story I have read recently was the tale of H.M Stanley and Emin Pasha in Equatoria. What a story!! After the fall of Khartoum it was decided to leave the Southern province of the Egyptian Sudan to wither on the vine. Since the Madhi held the north of the Sudan there was nothing to be done for the South since access was via the Nile. The province, called Equatoria in that Oxbridge classics colonial service manner, was under the authority of the governor, Emin Pasha (Pasha being the rank in the Ottoman public service that equated with Governor). Emin was cut off, under threat from the Madhi to the north and unsupported from the south which was still evading colonial occupation and geographic finality.
So that great journalist and wannbe Henry Morton Stanley was engaged with about 1100 to go to Equatoria and rescue Emin Pasha. So Stanley gathered the expedition and set off via the Congo to reach Lake Victoria. During this journey some 600 hundred or so of his porters died before they’d even got off the river. So he recruited a few more, who also died mostly after leaving the river and attempting to cross the jungles to get to Lake Victoria. So he hired/purchased some more and made it to the lake, whereupon he found that Emin Pasha was a rather diffident German orthinologist who really wasn’t that fussed about being Pasha and didn’t think once his subjects realised that Khartoum really had fallen and Gordon was really dead that they’d stick with him.
He was right. But almost as soon as Stanley and his malarial crew arrived so did the Madhi from the north. Stanley was better armed but had minimal food and little chance of installing Emin Pasha as a long term leader. There was then a long year where Stanley and Emin Pasha danced around central Africa to no particular outcome, then sensibly they gave up. Upon finally coming to terms with not being able to make Emin Pasha secure as governor of Equatoria Stanley and what remained of his expedition set off to Mombassa, during which all but eighty eight of his staff and porters died.
The whole thing took about forty months and all the officers including Stanley were so broken by the expedition that none lived much beyond the opening of the new century (about six years). The central outcome of the whole shebang was that routes to Uganda and the Kenyan highlands were opened by the expedition on its return journey and pretty quick smart these territories were added to the commercial side of the British Empire, where they remained until the Mau Mau rebellion in the late fifties. Extraordinary tale. But again Stanley renders the unknown into language and it is over.
But what happens when there is no indigeneity? What occurs when language cannot render the land subject? What happens to Antartica? What happens to the temporary sandbar in the Pacific? What happens to the 8000m mountains. Sometimes it can be true, that no one has stepped on those lands before. Does that mean the mountaineer is a closet imperialist? Does that mean the yachtie cruising the South Pacific is colonising? Is it possible to explore without engaging in the same practices as Lewis and Clark or Henry Morton Stanley?