Georg August Schweinfurth, 1836-1925

Im Herzen von Afrika: Reisen und Entdeckungen im centralen äquatorial-Afrika während der Jahre 1868  bis 1871. 2 vols. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhous, 1874. Acquired as part of the Rudolf-Ernst Brunnow Collection. [Rare Books Division]

Whoever knows the blameless avarice of a plant-hunter will understand how these studies [on his earlier travels] could only arouse in me a craving after fresh booty. I could not forget that the greater part of the Nile territory, with the mysterious flora of its most southern affluents, still remained a fresh field for botanical investigations; and no wonder that it presented itself as an object irresistibly attractive to my desires. But one who has himself, on the virgin soil of knowledge in unopened lands, been captivated by the charm of gathering fresh varieties, and has surrendered himself to the unreserved enjoyment of Nature's freedom, will be prompted to yet keener eagerness . . . he recalls as a vision of Paradise the land he has learnt to love . . .

—Schweinfurth (Vol. 1, p. 3 of the English edition, published the same year)

At the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich, Schweinfurth specialized in geology and botany. An 1862 specimen-collecting trip up the Nile River to Khartoum won him support from a Berlin scientific institute for more extensive exploration in the equatorial area of Africa, in what is now the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He sailed south from Suez in the late summer of 1868 and reached the Nile via an overland route from the coast. From Khartoum he continued south in January 1869, then joined a group of ivory traders heading west through regions inhabited by the Dyoor, Dinka, Bongo, and Niam-Niam tribes; later, he reached the unknown kingdom of the cannibalistic Monbuttoo. On 19 March 1870, Schweinfurth discovered the Uele River, which would prove to be an important tributary of the Congo. He arrived back in Khartoum on 21 July 1871. The record of his journey was published in an English translation in the same year it appeared in German.

As a trained botanist and accomplished artist, Schweinfurth expanded knowledge of the flora and fauna of central Africa as well as the ethnology of its inhabitants. He was the first European to encounter the Akka Pygmies of East Africa—settling the question raised by Homer and Herodotus of the existence of dwarf races in Africa—and the Mittoo and Loobah tribes between the White Nile and the upper Congo, among whom women practice lip enlargement to enhance their appearance. Schweinfurth accompanied countryman Gerhard Rohlfs (1831-1896) on an 1873-1874 expedition through the Libyan desert and afterward established a geographical society in Cairo. He devoted most of his remaining life to African studies.