“The Nile is settled.” So read the telegram from John Hanning Speke to the Royal Geographical Society in 1863 when Speke claimed to have ‘settled’ the source of the Nile as being Lake Victoria. In 1858 Speke, whose home was at Jordans, near Ashill, and Richard Burton became the first Europeans to reach Lake Tanganyika. Burton claimed the discovery as his own as Speke, who suffered with eye problems, was almost blind at this time and could not see the lake! During the return trip, Speke left Burton, who was unwell, and struck out alone, which was when he found Lake Victoria. Speke’s theory that Lake Victoria was the source of Nile was rejected by Burton, thus beginning the bitter public dispute between the two men. After escaping death several times during his explorations, Speke was killed by his own gun whilst hunting in Wiltshire in 1864. He is buried in Dowlish Wake, near Ilminster, where his brother was the incumbent.
In his fascinating talk to The Friends of the Museum of Somerset, Tom Mayberry not only related the history of the search for the source of the Nile, but vividly brought to life the feuding and ill-feeling between the two main Victorian protagonists seeking to claim the kudos of the discovery as their own.