150 years ago, Africa south of the Sahara desert remained an unexplored wilderness. It also held a secret that obsessed Victorian geographers: the source of the White Nile river – the greatest geographical prize since the ‘discovery’ of America.
In 1856, two Englishmen set out for the centre of Africa -the celebrated explorer, scholar and linguist Richard Francis Burton and an Indian Army officer, John Hanning Speke.
The present-day explorer and writer Michael Asher follows in the footsteps of these two men. For Asher, one central mystery lies at the heart of Burton’s turbulent life: why, after this groundbreaking expedition to Africa, which should have guaranteed his place in history, did Burton become an outcast, finally buried in an extraordinary tomb in an obscure west London cemetery?
Asher has searched for clues to explain how, in the space of two years, Burton and Speke, once close friends, became mortal enemies. Why was it that Speke claimed that he, not Burton, was the discoverer of the true source of the White Nile? And why, on the day before Speke’s claim was to be publicly evaluated, did he meet a violent and mysterious end?