In the 1860s, a husband and wife team attempted to solve one of the most elusive geographical mysteries, the source of the Nile, the world’s longest river at 4,132 miles.
The waterway flowed north through Egypt, nourishing crops and providing the base for the Egyptian empire. Explorers both ancient and modern had speculated on and sought its source for thousands of years.
On December 18, 1862, an Englishman named Samuel Baker and his wife, Florence, embarked on a journey to solve the mystery. Beginning at the city of Khartoum, Sudan, they led an expedition of about 100 men, four horses, four camels, and 21 donkeys in three boats.
But after just two months of travel, the party met two half-starved English explorers named John Hanning Speke and James Grant, who had also been seeking the source of the Nile. Speke explained that he had returned to Lake Victoria, which he had found and named in 1858. (Lake Victoria, second-largest freshwater lake in the world, extends into present-day Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.)
This time, Speke was certain that the lake was the source of the Nile. Bitterly disappointed, Baker asked if there was anything left to discover. Speke replied that he had not been able to follow the river from Lake Victoria as it flowed downstream.
A large part of the Nile remained unexplored. Inspired again, the Bakers bid farewell to Speke and Grant and continued southward overland.