A glimpse of Henry Morton Stanley

While I’m researching my next post, I would like to share this extract that I came across yesterday in the archives of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.   It is a press report from June 1890 about Henry Morton Stanley, freshly arrived in Britain after his explorations in Africa.   He was travelling from London to Edinburgh by rail – a journey which would have taken between eight and nine hours – in order to address the Society and receive their first ever Gold Medal.

I love the detail and the quality of observations from this era.   Interestingly, the report also mentions the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge which had taken place just a few months earlier, on 4th March.

‘Scotsman’, Edinburgh, Tuesday June 10, 1890

Mr Stanley’s Visit to Edinburgh – Departure of the Explorer from London

H M Stanley (Wellcome Images, via Wikimedia)
H M Stanley (Wellcome Images, via Wikimedia)

“Mr H M Stanley and his companions left London yesterday morning for Edinburgh by the Great Northern Railway ten o’clock express from King’s Cross.  As on the occasion when the Prince of Wales went north by the same route to open the Forth Bridge, the train was sent off in two sections.  In the portion which started first, a special saloon carriage was reserved for the explorer and his friends.  The party consisted of Mr Stanley, Captain Nelson, Dr Parke, Mr Jepheon, and Mr Bonny.  Sir William and Lady Mackinnon travelled by the same train, but in a separate carriage.

“The appearance of Mr Stanley at the railway station, about ten minutes before the train was timed to start, soon attracted a considerable crowd to the down platform.  The greatest eagerness was displayed to catch a glimpse of the explorer.  A railway engine happened to be stationary on the off side of Mr Stanley’s carriage, and in a few minutes it was simply swarming with engine-drivers, stokers, and railway porters.  Of all this demonstrative curiosity Mr Stanley took no notice whatever, but when a young lady glanced timidly inside as she passed the door of the carriage, he bowed with a pleasant smile.  A couple of clergymen, travelling by the same train, were brought along and introduced to the explorer.

Great Northern Railway locomotive at King's Cross, 1910 (G F Bird via Wikimedia)
Great Northern Railway locomotive at King’s Cross, 1910 (G F Bird via Wikimedia)

“When Mr Stanley took his seat in the carriage, the first thing he did was to stick his railway ticket in the front of his hat – an act which gave rise to considerable amusement among the crowd, and led one Cockney spectator to describe the traveller as “a free and easy old chap.”  As the train steamed out of the station, Mr Stanley put on his gold spectacles and settled down in a corner to read a newspaper.”

‘Scotsman’, 10th June 1890, from archives held by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

Writing about history and landscape at The Hazel Tree (www.thehazeltree.co.uk) Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

2 thoughts on “A glimpse of Henry Morton Stanley

    • Yes, you are so right, Lorna. There’s such a grace and eloquence about the descriptions, as well, and of course they had to paint a detailed picture because there were no paparazzi! I just love reading the press reports from this time.


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