Joseph Thomson (explorer)

Joseph Thomson (explorer)

Infobox Person
name = Joseph Thomson

image_size =
caption =
birth_date = birth date|1858|2|14|mf=y
death_date = death date and age|1895|8|2|1858|2|14
birth_place = Penpont, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
death_place = London, England
occupation = Geologist and Explorer
spouse =
parents =
children =

Joseph Thomson (February 14, 1858 - August 2, 1895) was a Scottish geologist and explorer who played an important part in the Scramble for Africa. Thomson's Gazelle is named for him. Excelling as an explorer rather than an exact scientist, he avoided confrontations among his porters or with indigenous peoples. His motto was "He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far."

Early life

Born in Penpont, Dumfriesshire, he was apprenticed into his father's stone-masonry and quarrying business. He developed a keen amateur interest in geology and botany which eventually led to his formal education at the University of Edinburgh, studying under Archibald Geikie and Thomas Henry Huxley.

Royal Geographical Society

On graduating in 1878, he was appointed geologist and naturalist to Alexander Keith Johnston's Royal Geographical Society expedition to establish a route from Dar es Salaam to Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika. Johnston perished during the trip and it was left to Thomson to take over the leadership. Thomson successfully led the expedition over 3000 miles in 14 months, collecting many specimens and making sundry observations.

In 1883, he embarked on a further Royal Geological Society expedition to explore a route from the eastern coast of Africa to the northern shores of Lake Victoria. British Empire traders were demanding a route that would avoid the fearsome Maasai and the hostile Germans who were competing for trade in the area. The expedition set out a few months behind the rival German expedition of Gustav A. Fischer. The expedition was again a success demonstrating the feasibility of the route and making many important biological, geological and ethnographic observations, though Thomson's attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in a day failed. However, on the return journey, Thomson was gored by a buffalo and subsequently suffered from malaria and dysentery.


In 1885 Thomson was employed by the National African Company to forestall German influence in the vicinity of the Niger River, but returned the following year to the UK to lecture, disillusioned that there were no further opportunities for large-scale exploration in the continent. He was discontented with his life in the UK and struggled to identify new opportunities for exploration. A modest expedition to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco was marred by trouble with porters and local political difficulties. He spent a month in 1889 traveling in central Europe with budding author J. M. Barrie.

British South Africa Company

In 1890, Cecil Rhodes employed Thomson to explore north of the Zambezi and gain treaties and mining concessions from chiefs on behalf of his British South Africa Company which had been chartered by the British Government to claim the territory known as Zambezia (later Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe and Zambia) as far north as the African Great Lakes. Though he made a sequence of important treaties on the trip, he was blocked by a smallpox epidemic in the intervening country from reaching the ultimate goal, which was to meet Alfred Sharpe at the court of Msiri, King of Katanga, and to assist Sharpe in incorporating the mineral-rich country by treaty into Zambezia. Thomson's role was to bring supplies of cloth, gunpowder, and other gifts with which to impress Msiri. Without them, Sharpe was rebuffed, and a year later the Stairs Expedition, believing itself to be in race with another attempt by Thomson to reach Katanga, killed Msiri and took Katanga for King Leopold II of Belgium. Unknown to the Stairs Expedition, by this time Thomson had been instructed by the British government not to go. [Moloney, Joseph Augustus (1893). "With Captain Stairs to Katanga". London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company (ISBN 0955393655).]


Thomson's health deteriorated from cystitis, schistosomiasis, and pyelo-nephritis. In 1892, he contracted pneumonia and, seeking the right climate in which to recuperate, spent time in England, South Africa, Italy, and France. He died in London.


Further reading

Works by Thomson

*"To the Central African Lakes and Back" (2 vols., 1881)
*"Through Masai Land" (1885)
* [ "Through Masai Land - A Journey of Exploration Among the Snowclad Volcanic Mountains and Strange Tribes of Eastern Equatorial Africa"]
*with E. Harris Smith "Ulu" (2 vols., 1888)
*"Travels in the Atlas and Southern Morocco" (1889)
*"Mungo Park and the Niger" (1890)

Works about Thomson

*Rotberg, R.I. (1971) "Joseph Thomson and the exploration of Africa"
*Thomson, J.B. (1896) "Joseph Thomson: African explorer"

See also

* Nena people

External links

* [ Penpont's Joseph Thomson Project]
* [ Google translation of article]

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  • Joseph Thomson — is the name of:*J. J. Thomson, physicist *Joseph Thomson (explorer), African exploreree alsoJoseph Thompson …   Wikipedia

  • Joseph Thomson (explorateur) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Joseph Thomson. Joseph Thomson Joseph Thomson (1854 1895) est un géologue et explorateur écossais qui joua un rôle important dans le partage de l Afrique. Excellent comme explorateur plutôt que comme scientifiq …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Joseph Thomson (Entdecker) — Joseph Thomson Joseph Thomson (* 14. Februar 1858 in Penpont, Dumfriesshire, Schottland; † 2. August 1895 in London) war ein schottischer Entdecker und Afrikareisender. Sein offizielles botanisches Autorenkürzel lautet „J.Thomson“ …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Thomson's Gazelle — Taxobox name = Thomson s Gazelle status = lr/cd status system = iucn2.3 image caption = Male Thomson s gazelle. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Mammalia ordo = Artiodactyla familia = Bovidae subfamilia …   Wikipedia

  • Thomson's gazelle — noun Etymology: Joseph Thomson died 1895 Scottish explorer Date: 1897 a small gazelle (Gazella thomsonii) of eastern Africa that is tan above and white below with a broad black stripe on each side …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Thomson'sgazelle — Thom·son s gazelle (tŏmʹsənz) n. A small gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) of eastern Africa, having a broad black stripe on each side of the body.   [After Joseph Thomson (1858 1895), Scottish geologist and explorer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • Thomson's gazelle — a medium sized antelope, Gazella thomsoni, abundant on the grassy steppes and dry bush of the East African plains. [1910 15; named after Joseph Thomson (1858 95), British explorer, who collected the type specimen] * * * …   Universalium

  • Thomson's gazelle — noun a light brown gazelle with a dark band along the flanks, living in herds on the open plains of East Africa. [Gazella thomsonii.] Origin C19: named after the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson (1858–94) …   English new terms dictionary

  • Thomson's gazelle — Thom′son s gazelle′ n. zool. mam an E African gazelle Gazella thomsoni[/ex] • Etymology: 1910–15; after Joseph Thomson (1858–95), British explorer, who collected the type specimen …   From formal English to slang

  • Thomson [2] — Thomson, 1) James, englischer didaktischer Dichter, geb. 11. Sept. 1700 zu Ednam in Schottland, gest. 27. Aug. 1748 in London, studierte in Edinburg Theologie, kam aber bald als Hofmeister nach London, wohin er bereits seine beschreibende… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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