The British In Africa

“To begin from the top: I have five sabre cuts on the crown of the head and three on the left temple, all fractures from which much bone has come away; one on my left cheek which fractured the jaw bone and has divided the ear, forming a very unsightly wound; one over the right temple and a dreadful gash on the back of the neck, which slightly grazed the windpipe; a musket ball in the hip, which made its way through my back, slightly grazing the backbone; five sabre cuts on my right arm and hand, three of the fingers broken, the hand cut three-fourths across, and the wrist bones cut through; three cuts on the left arm, the bone of which has been broken but is again uniting; one slight wound on the right leg and two with one dreadful gash on the left, to say nothing of a cut across the fingers of my left hand, now healed up.”

Almost as an afterthought he added that on arrival at Sidi el Muktar he had caught the plague – “a dreadful malady somewhat similar to yellow fever in its symptoms” – and had spent nine days “so ill with fever that it was presumed, expected and hoped that I should die”. While he was sick most of his possessions, including his gun, had been stolen and sent to be sold in the Timbuctoo market. “I am nevertheless doing well,” he concluded, writing with only the thumb and middle finger of his left hand, “and hope yet to return to England with much important geographical information.”

… “My father used often to accuse me of a want of common sense,” he once confided to his sister, “‘Tis true, I never possessed any, nor ever shall.”

Gordon Laing in Africa in 1825, from Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (1998)

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