Progress of the East African Expedition;
 Mr. Thomson's Report on his journey from Lake Nyassa to Lake Tanganyika.

[Extracted from Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, Volume 2 (1880), pp. 209-12.]

The following letter from Mr. Thomson, commanding the Society's East African Expedition, was received, via Mozambique, on the 4th of March, and read at the Evening Meeting of the 8th:—

Pambete, Lake Tanganyika,
9th November, 1879.

I have much pleasure in announcing the safe arrival of the Society's edition at the above place on the 5th, having reached the Lake shore on the 4th.

We have met with no accidents and few difficulties, though since my arrival here I have been prostrated by fever which has rendered me incapable of any work, much to my disappointment, as I had hoped to take advantage of the arrival of Mr. Stewart of Livingstonia, to send back a sketch map and an account of my route. Mr. Stewart arrived in the afternoon of the 5th, and leaves to-morrow morning, and as I am still excessively weak from the effects of the fever, I can only offer a very few meagre remarks, which I am afraid will be far from satisfactory.

The country of Konde (misnamed Uchungu by Elton), from which we took our start, lies at the north-west comer of Lake Nyassa, and occupies a deep triangular indentation in the central plateau, the escarpment of which, rising to a height of from 6000 to 8000 feet, bounds it on all sides except the east. Near the lake extends a broad plain of wonderful fertility, with a large population. Proceeding north-west we leave the plain and cross a gently undulating ground covered with trees, and drained by the Jumbaka. When we get to the height of 3000 feet we enter an extremely broken and ridgy country, forming excellent grazing land, but having few trees, and not well suited for cultivation.

The country of Konde is drained by three considerable rivers—the Lufira, which drains through the Ukinga Mountains from near Mazote's [p.210] High Pass; 2nd, the Jumbaka, which runs nearly parallel with the Lufira, but in the lower grounds; and the Lukuviro, which enters Nyassa south of the Great Elephant Marsh. The number of feeders of this stream draining from Usafa in a small space is wonderful. In an hour we have crossed six streams, two of them being of considerable volume. The people of Konde are all Wakinga, having emigrated from that mountain region owing to internal dissensions. Uchungu, as Mr. Stewart will soon make appear, lies to the south of Konde. The most westerly limit of Konde I place in long. 33° 45' E., and in lat. 9' 22'. From this point the extremely steep face of the plateau commences, and we ascend from an altitude of 3300 to 6500 feet in the country of Nyika. The first two stages take us over highlands with an average height of about 7000 feet, forming good grazing ground, and well wooded in many parts. The highest point reached was on the Munboya Mountains, a range running about W.N.W. and E.S.E., on the top of which the barometer showed a height of 8180 feet.

From these mountains the ground descends through barren woodland with few fertile spots till long. 32° 45' is reached, where the altitude is only 3300 feet. The whole of that part of Nyika through which our route lay is extremely broken, sustaining a very scant population, which has a few goats and in some places cattle. There is very little cultivation. The people, however, are a most courageous race, and certainly the most arrogant. There is, however, no cohesion amongst them, and each little headman of a village has to fight his own battle with Merere's raiders who constantly harass the country. To the west Nyika is bounded by the Chingambo Mountains, which running north and south, rise from 3300 to 5000 feet with a steep easterly face, but sloping gradually away to the west. These mountains are in long. 32° 45' E., and the lat. is about 9° 5'. There was but one stream deserving the name crossed by the Expedition, the others being mere rivulets, one or two draining to the Lukuviro, a few south, and the others north-west to Lake Hikwa.

Crossing the Chingambo Mountains we enter the country of Inyamwanga, a small country reigned over by a chief called Mlila, who, though he possesses few subjects, yet showed more of the potentate than any of the chiefs I have yet seen. The whole country is covered with trees, having only a few grassy open spaces. The land slopes gradually west till we reach near the boundary stream Mkaliza, which flows south in about longitude 32° 20'. We here enter the country of Mambwe, which is one of alternate grassy plain and wooded ridge, rising in altitude to a height of 5000 feet at the chief Kitimba's capital, Mulichuchu. This height is generally maintained till we reach Tanganyika through the hilly country of Ulungu, which occupies a narrow strip of country round the lake.

The northern part of Mambwe forms a great watershed for streams [p.211] joining the Lofu, the Luguvu, and, if our guides are to be believed, a considerable stream called the Wawa flows to Lake Hikwa. The main interest, however, attaching to this region, is the existence of a huge spring situated in an angle of the Ulungu and Uwembe mountains, which gives rise to both the main tributaries of the Lofu and the Lugnvu. The latter we crossed a quarter of a mile east of the spring, and we found it to be about five feet deep and twelve feet broad. The stream is here called the Saisa.

From such information as I have been able to collect from the natives and my own observation, I cannot but conclude that the rising of the lake is periodical. On all hands I am informed that as a rule it rises from 18 inches to two feet during the rains, and according to the amount of rainfall so does the water rise. Four years ago there was an excessive rainfall which raised the level of the lake about 10 feet, flooding Pambete, and maintaining its height for a month, and to this day the marks on the dead trees, now out of reach of the water, attest the truth of the statement. Trees standing out in the water have been cited as an argument in favour of the theory of a "gradual rise." But an examination of them shows that they have attained their present position by the washing away of the soil during these periodical risings. Further observations along the shore will help to clear up the question.

The long barometer filled by the spiral cord method was set up with all the care which Mr. Stewart and myself could command, and we had the following readings:—

Pambete 7th  ...........27.27. Thermometer 83°
  8th, at 12.30 pm. 27-34. " 88°
    "      " 5 pm. 27-28. " 85°
  9th     " 9 am. 27-40. " 82°
    "       " 1 pm. 27-34. " 83°
     "      " 6 pm. 27-33. " 83°

Four boiling-point thermometers gave the following results:

  9th, 7 pm. No. 15007 gave 207° . 75
     "       "       "    15111 " 207°. 70
     "       "       "    17400 " 207° . 80
     "       "       "     8039 " 207° . 80
Thermometer     81°. 5

These observations are mainly Mr. Stewart's, my fever making me unfit for any work.

To-morrow I start along the western side of the lake northwards, till I reach a good place where I may camp my men, and, taking about thirty, push on for the Lukuga creek, passing down the river about 30 miles, then striking south through the still unexplored region in that quarter, get back to camp and march for Kilwa, which I hope to reach within six months.


I may add that my protractions have brought me almost right in latitude, but about ten miles too far west in longitude, taking Livingstone's map as correct.*


* We have received the following later news of Mr. Thomson, by telegram from Dr Kirk: "Zanzibar, March 1st. Thomson left Ujiji sixteenth January. returns by Uguha, Uhehe. Expected Kilwa, June. Lukuga now a torrent. Lake fallen eight feet."