African Association
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The beginning of the age of African exploration can be dated to the day—June 9, 1788, a Monday—and almost to the hour. That evening, nine titled Londoners led by Sir Joseph Banks, the great naturalist and friend of Captain James Cook, met for dinner in an upstairs private room at St. Albans Tavern off Pall Mall. They were members of the Saturday’s Club. . . .

—Frank T. Kryza, The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa's City of Gold (New York: Ecco, 2006), p. 11

"Sketch of the Northern Part of Africa: Exhibiting the Geographical Information Collected by the African Association. Compiled by J. Rennell, 1790"


"A Map, shewing the Progress of Discovery & Improvement, in the Geography of North Africa: Compiled by J. Rennell, 1798"

Proceedings of the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa. London: T. Cadell, 1791. [Rare Books Division]

The Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa was born over a dinner meeting of the Saturday's Club at St. Alban's Tavern in London on 9 June 1788.

That as no species of information is more ardently desired, or more generally useful, than that which improves the science of Geography; and as the vast Continent of Africa, notwithstanding the efforts of the Antients, and the wishes of the Moderns, is still in a great measure unexplored, the Members of this Club do form themselves into an Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Inland Parts of that Quarter of the World . . . [p. 12]

Of the nine men present, the distinguished English botanist and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks would emerge as one of the principal forces behind the Association's exploring efforts in Africa.

Members paid an annual subscription of five guineas. John Ledyard, an American who had sailed with Captain James Cook in his third voyage around the world (1776-1780), was chosen by the Association to make its first "adventure" into Africa. Ledyard left London on 30 June 1788, arrived in Cairo, Egypt, on 19 August, and died there from an overdose of medication on 17 January 1789. He had been waiting months to join a caravan going across the Sahara, seeking to reach the Niger River.

From this inauspicious beginning, the Association sponsored a number of significant African expeditions, the most successful ones being led by Mungo Park [see PARK] and John Lewis Burckhardt.

In 1831, the African Association merged into the much larger Royal Geographical Society.