The End of a much-applauded Speech.—The
Presentation of Dr. Samuel Ferguson.—Excelsior.—Full-length
Portrait of the Doctor.—A Fatalist convinced.—A Dinner at the
Travellers' Club.—Several Toasts for the Occasion.
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
"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 admiral.
"Suppose that there should turn out to be no such
person as Dr. Ferguson?" exclaimed another voice, with a malicious
"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 of London."
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,
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 Farewell.
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
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
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
Numerous toasts were offered and quaffed, in the
wines of France, to the celebrated travellers who had made
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.