First published in 1799, Travels in the Interior of Africa is the Scottish explorer Mungo Park’s account of his journey through Senegal and Mali to the central portion of the Niger River, the first time a Westerner is known to have reached such central regions. Park was employed to journey solo though unknown lands to seek out the legendary city of “Tambuctoo” and try and ascertain the course of, and if possible, termination point of the river Niger. 100 miles up the Gambia river, at an English outpost, Park spent 5 months preparing for the journey – which included learning the local language of Mandingo, and succumbing to a month-long bout of malarial fever (which probably ended up saving him later on).
On 2nd December 1795, when the time came to eventually set out on his journey proper, he refused to travel with a local slave caravan – a decision thought to be symbolic – instead, setting out with just two servants and mule. The journey took him two years in total, including a four month stint imprisoned at the hands of a Moorish chief, and seven months in living the simple hut of a man who’d taken him in when he’d fallen ill. Park eventually returned to Scotland by way of Antigua on 22 December 1797. He had been thought dead, and his return home with news of the discovery of the Niger River evoked great public enthusiasm. An account of his journey was drawn up for the African Association by Bryan Edwards, and his own remarkably detailed, honest and compelling narrative appeared in 1799, instantly becoming a best-seller.