Search for the Nile’s Source

The Ruined Reputation of John Petherick, Nineteenth-Century Welsh Explorer

John Humphries

Search for the Nile’s Source

John Humphries

Distributed for University of Wales Press

192 pages | 20 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780708326732 Published February 2014 For sale in North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand only
John Hanning Speke’s discovery of Lake Victoria in 1858 while on a quest to find the source of the Nile elevated him to the pantheon of heroes of African exploration, alongside David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. But historians have ignored the part played by the Welsh mining engineer John Petherick in the discovery, largely because Speke branded him a slave trader. In this first biography of Petherick, John Humphries explores whether Petherick was truly a rogue, as he is often portrayed, or the victim of a conspiracy that destroyed his reputation and denied him credit for one of the greatest feats in African exploration.

List of Illustrations

Index to Persons in Narrative



1. From Merthyr to the Pyramids

2. Egypt and the Search for Coal

3. The Missing Years

4. Khartoum, Ivory and Slaves

5. Exploration and Trade

6. The Promise

7. The Journey

8. The Race

9. The Succour Dodge

10. A Very Public Quarrel

11. Unfinished Business




Select Bibliography


Review Quotes
Terry Breverton, author of The Welsh: The Biography
“The marvelous John Humphries has unearthed another great character ignored by historians. The celebrated missionary-explorer Livingstone shares the bicentenary of his birth with the forgotten man of central African exploration—the Welsh mining engineer John Petherick, who went to Africa to look for coal. While Livingstone was idolized, the achievements of his contemporary from Merthyr Tydfil were buried beneath a mountain of acrimony and accusation. Was Petherick an ivory trader or slave trader on the White Nile? Did he abandon John Hanning Speke to his fate after Speke became the first European to set eyes on Lake Victoria? Whatever the verdict, in time served and distance covered, Petherick is worthy of a place in the realm of nineteenth-century heroic exploration. Humphries has pieced together the remarkable and riveting story of the man and his courageous wife Katherine, their incredible struggle against the wilderness, and Petherick’s tremendous fight to salvage his ruined reputation.”
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