Mungo Park was the seventh of 12 children born to a family in Scotland. He studied medicine and accompanied an expedition to Africa as the surgeon in 1792.
In 1795, the African Association appointed Park to look for a giant waterway that supposedly ran westward through Africa and emptied out of the western coast into the Atlantic Ocean. In December 1795, Park left Bathurst, a city on Africa’s west coast, with two servants and traveled into the interior, through parts of present-day Gambia, Guinea, and Mali.
Almost immediately, Park was forced to pay tribute to the local king, which cost him most of his tobacco. In the Medina kingdom, Park was greeted warmly by King Jatta. Jatta warned him of the dangers ahead, but Park was persistent, and Jatta agreed to furnish him with a guide.
Park continued on. Some kings robbed him of his possessions and supplies. Park was able to impress others with his surgical skills.
In February 1796, Park crossed into Ludamar, where he was imprisoned by the Islamic ruler. The king accused Park and his companions of being spies. He threatened to cut off their hands and poke out their eyes. After five months in captivity, Park stole a horse and escaped.
Without food or water, Park struggled on alone. Exhausted and starving, he stumbled into a Fulani village, where a woman fed him and his horse. Park joined two African travelers, who led him to his goal, the Niger River. Park was the first European to see this great river and describe its eastward flow. On July 30, he began the long trek back to the coast, finally arriving in mid-June 1797.
After returning to Scotland, Park planned to settle down as a country doctor. But in 1803, the African Association asked him to return and chart the Niger River.
Park’s medical practice was not doing as well as he had hoped, so he agreed. In May’1804, Park led 45 men on the same path he had used earlier. But he soon faced disaster. The rainy season began, soaking the men and bogging them down in mud. The local kings demanded tribute.
After three months, 33 men and all the animals were dead. The survivors continued on in a rigged boat but were mistaken for slave traders. They were attacked, and Park is believed to have drowned.