Yn y cofiant hwn i John Petherick, mae John Humphries yn ystyried y cwestiwn a oedd y fforiwr a'r peiriannydd Cymreig o'r bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg yn fasnachwr caethweision ai peidio, neu a ddylai dderbyn clod am ei gyfraniad at yr ymgyrch i ddarganfod tarddiad yr afon Nîl.
In this book, John Humphries questions whether John Petherick was a slave trader or a victim of conspiracy on the Nile. The source of the Nile had long eluded and tormented explorers, and John Hanning Speke's discovery of Lake Victoria in 1858 elevated him to the pantheon of heroes of African exploration, alongside Livingstone and Stanley.
Neither the Dictionary of Welsh Biography nor the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has an entry for John Petherick, though the latter does mention him in the article on the explorer John Speke. What this book amply shows is that Petherick deserves to be remembered both by his fellow Welshmen and more generally.
Petherick was born in Merthyr in 1813, the eldest son of the manager of the Penydarren Ironworks. His father, also John Petherick, was a talented landscape artist whose paintings evoke industrial Merthyr, and this same landscape left its mark on his son, making him a fearless and resilient character, yet not without tenderness. Petherick junior studied at the University of Breslau and worked in mining in Germany and Wales before leaving for Egypt in 1845 to search for coal in the desert, at the behest of Muhammad Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt and the Sudan. Much of the rest of his life was to be spent in Africa, not primarily in mining but in trade and exploration.
In 1849, Petherick was appointed British Vice-Consul in the Sudan, though he did not conform to the accepted model of a consular representative. His status allowed him a certain freedom and he began to trade in gum arabic and then in ivory, pushing into hitherto little-known regions of north-east Africa. He returned to Britain in 1859 and in the following year married a widow, Katherine Walshe, who proved as intrepid an explorer as her husband. Also in 1860 he was appointed British Consul in the Sudan and returned to Africa with a commission from the Royal Geographical Society to support an expedition led by John Speke and James A. Grant to find the source of the Nile, a challenge that greatly exercised mid-Victorian explorers.
It was his involvement with this expedition that cost Petherick his reputation. He was supposed to meet up with Speke at Gondokoro, but Speke was several months late and, when he finally arrived, he found supplies which Petherick had left him, while Petherick had gone elsewhere. Speke, who was a volatile character, unfairly accused Petherick of betrayal, and it was Speke’s version of events that was accepted when he returned to Britain. The Royal Geographical Society never exonerated Petherick for what was seen as a breach of contract, though he had fulfilled everything asked of him. He was also haunted by accusations by those with vested interests that he was a slave trader. Although, as Humphries shows, he may have turned a blind eye to the illicit doings of others in a society where slavery was institutionalised, there is no real evidence that Petherick himself traded in slaves, and he probably did much, under his wife’s influence, to draw attention to unacceptable practices. As an explorer he travelled huge distances, exploring the principal tributaries of the Nile and penetrating the swamplands of the Sudd, and recorded valuable information on the flora, fauna and people of the region. Yet he died largely forgotten in 1882, his reputation in ruins. This absorbing book – the stuff of TV drama – rescues the memory of a fascinating Welshman.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Chapter 1: From Merthyr to the Pyramids.
Chapter 2: Egypt and the search for coal.
Chapter 3: The Missing Years.
Chapter 4: Khartoum, Ivory and Slaves.
Chapter 5: Exploration and Trade.
Chapter 6: The Promise.
Chapter 7: The Journey.
Chapter 8: The Race.
Chapter 9: The Succour Dodge.
Chapter 10: A Very Public Quarrel.
Chapter 11: Unfinished Business.
John Humphries, a former newspaper editor and foreign correspondent, draws upon previously unavailable documents and sources to shed new light on moments in history ranging from the Chartist Uprising, the Mexican Revolution, Hitler’s ‘spies’, and Freedom Fighters of the 20th century. This is his fifth work of non-fiction.
This first biography of Petherick places him at the centre of one of the great discoveries in African exploration – and as the focus of a dispute that rocked the geographical establishment. Was this Welsh mining engineer a rogue, as portrayed by some, or the victim of a conspiracy that destroyed his reputation and denied him a share of the credit for his part in one of the greatest feats in African exploration? The part played by John Petherick in the discovery of the source of the Nile was ignored after he was branded a slave trader by Speke, and the controversy that followed ended with Petherick ruined and Speke dead.