This collection of Lake Rudolf explorer books brings together all the gritty men who were determined to reach the world's largest desert lake and largest alkaline lake. Rudolf is in the eastern arm of the East African Rift Valley, with the northern shore extending into Ethiopia. From the late 1800s onwards, Lake Rudolf was probably second only to the Nile in popularity as an destination for European explorers, most of whom wrote fascinating accounts of their journeys through the some of most inhospitable and hazardous terrain in Africa.
The early explorers were also very keen sportsmen and their books are chock-full of big game hunting, not only to keep their massive caravans of porters in food and collect specimens for museums but also to obtain trophies for themselves.
Over many years Lake Rudolf, occasionally spelt Lake Rudolph, was known by many different names. The Samburu natives, in the late 1800s, knew it as Basso Narok, meaning 'Black Lake' and nearby Lake Stefanie was Basso Naibor, meaning 'White Lake'. The Abyssinians referred to Rudolf as Gallop, Buzz or Chuwaha.
Rudolf, the name given to the lake by Teleki in honour of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, was retained until Kenya's independence. In 1975 President Kenyatta changed the name to Lake Turkana, after the local Turkana people. Lake Stefanie was also renamed Lake Chew Bahir, meaning 'salty lake'.
The lake is frequently referred to as the 'Jade Sea' due to its turquoise colour which contrasts vividly with the stark desert around it.
"An entirely new world was spread out before our astonished eyes. The void down in the depths became filled as if by magic with picturesque mountains and ragged slopes, with a medley of ravines and valleys, which appeared to be closing up from every side to form a fitting frame for the dark blue gleaming surface of the lake stretching beyond as far as the eye could reach...We gazed in speechless delight, spell-bound by the beauty of the scene before us..." Ludwig von Höhnel
Europeans first became aware of the existence of this large lake in East Africa when it was marked on a map in the published memoirs of the Germany missionary and explorer, Johann Ludwig Krapf in 1858. He had received information about a large lake in northern Kenya from traders and called it Lake Zamburu.
Please note, this page contains affiliate links, which means Shakari Connection receives a commission if you make a purchase using these links.
Johann Ludwig Krapf (1810 - 1881) was a German missionary in East Africa who played an important role in exploring East Africa with his colleague Johannes Rebmann (1820 - 1876), who was the first European to see Mount Kilimanjaro in 1848. Krapf and Rebmann were the first Europeans to set eyes on Mount Kenya in 1849. The accounts of snow-capped mountains in Africa were received with scepticism in Europe.
Travels, Researches, And Missionary Labors During An Eighteen Years' Residence In Eastern Africa: Together With Journeys To Jagga, Usambara, Ukambani, Shoa, Abessinia and Khartum, And A Coasting Voyage From Mombaz To Cape Delgado by Johann Ludwig Krapf (1860) is an important work of African exploration, both for its wealth of ethnographic detail and for the geographical discoveries made on the expedition, including the snow-capped Mount Kenya. Krapf's companion, Rebmann, had sighted Kilimanjaro the previous year. His original 2 volume memoir, 'Reisen In Ost-Afrika' was published in 1858. Free eBook
The mystery large lake was next mentioned by another missionary and explorer, Leon des Avanchers (1825 - 1879), who referred to it as Lake El Boo in a letter to 'Bulletin de la Societe Geographique' in 1859.
Further accounts of the lake were given by traders on caravan routes in the region and 'Lake Samburu' became a regular feature on maps at the time, but still no European had seen it.
In 1881 the Royal Geographical Society sponsored Joseph Thomson who in 1883, started an expedition to resolve the issue of the snow-capped mountains of Africa. Thomson joined up with the caravan of a trader called Jumbe Kimemeta who was instrumental in all the discoveries made by Thomson. Thomson and Kimemeta got to Lake Baringo which he mapped precisely. He also described the location of 'Lake Samburu' accurately based on local information which he wrote about in his book...
Through Masai Land: A Journey Of Exploration Among The Snowclad Volcanic Mountains And Strange Tribes Of Equatorial Africa by Joseph Thomson (1885) was written by a young man who, by his own admission, was more familiar with carrying a gun than wielding a pen. It provides a definitive narrative by someone who had fallen in love with Africa, it's people, wildlife and landscape. Free eBook
All books by Joseph Thomson
Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary came across Joseph Thomson's account of his expedition, and as a keen patron of his own geographic societies, saw the opportunity to gain prominence in African exploration. He then convinced his friend Count Samuel Teleki von Szek to mount an expedition to explore this so far, unknown area of East Africa.
Teleki met Ludwig von Höhnel and was persuaded to take him by Prince Rudolf. They arrived in Zanzibar in 1886 and hired Kimemeta and got together the huge entourage of over 600 men and nearly 500 loads. The expedition set off from Pangani in 1887 with a side trip for Teleki to attempt the summit of Mount Kenya. This he failed as he was not equipped to deal with the weather conditions at altitude. When they reached Lake Baringo, they were told of 2 large lakes to the north - Basso Narok (Black Lake) and Basso Ebor (White Lake). In March 1888, they sighted Basso Narok which Teleki named Lake Rudolf. In April 1888, Teleki and von Höhnel sighted Basso Ebor which was named Lake Stefanie after Prince Rudolf's wife. They reached the coast in Oct 1888 after almost 2 years in the interior, returning to Europe in 1889.
Samuel Teleki kept a meticulous diary of his expedition and this with his letters to Prince Rudolf, form 'East African Diaries' which are as yet unpublished.
Ludwig Von Höhnel (1857 - 1942) was an Austrian naval officer and explorer. He was part of the Count Teleki expedition to Northern Kenya in 1887-1888 and were the first Europeans to see Lake Turkana, which they named Lake Rudolf. Von Höhnel also explored the area around Mount Kilimanjaro in 1892 with American magnate William Astor Chanler. They also explored the north-eastern part of the Mount Kenya massif and the Guaso Nyiro river where he was gored by a rhinoceros.
Discovery Of Lakes Rudolph And Stefanie by Ludwig von Höhnel (1888). Adventures of this important expedition are interesting not only because Teleki discovered two new major African lakes but also to sportsmen because the purpose of this trip was also to hunt for African big game. His favourites were elephant and black rhinoceros. He endeavored to find new haunts for game in previously unexplored areas. An African classic. Volume 1 Free eBook Volume 2 Free eBook
After the Teleki and von Höhnel expedition, Lake Rudolf became the iconic 'in place' to go for expeditions of all kinds - exploration, hunting, ivory trading and colonial expansion (at the time Lake Rudolf could have been the source of the Nile).
In 1892, Ludwig von Höhnel with the American, William Astor Chanler set out for Lake Rudolf using a different route to Teleki. Due to a severe rhino goring, von Höhnel returned home early and because of a mutiny of his men, Chanler never reached Lake Rudolf. They did however make other important new discoveries such as the Guaso Nyiro River, Chanler Falls, the Lorian Swamp and Chanler's reedbuck, of course.
William Astor Chanler (1867 - 1934) was an American lawyer and US congressman for New York. In 1889 William Chanler travelled in the vicinity of Mount Kenya with Austrian Ludwig von Höhnel. Many of the African animals in the American Museum of Natural History were donated by him after being collected on this expedition.
He was the first westerner to explore the Guaso Nyiro River as it passes into the Lorian Swamp. On one expedition in 1893, von Höhnel was injured by a rhino and was sent back to the coast. Chanler's men deserted but he was fortunate to meet with Arthur Neumann going up river. Chanler's mountain reedbuck, Redunca fulvorfula chanleri was named after William Astor Chanler in 1895.
Through Jungle And Desert: Travels In Eastern Africa by William Astor Chanler (1896) is a scarce account of adventure and exploration in Kenya. Chanler, an American lawyer, was accompanied on these travels by Ludwig von Höhnel. Free eBook
Hot on the heels of Chanler, American physician, Arthur Donaldson Smith of Philadelphia, set out to reach Lake Rudolf from the north in 1894. He reached the north end of Lake Rudolf in July 1895.
Dr Arthur Donaldson-Smith (1866 - 1939) was an American explorer of Africa in addition to being a medical doctor, naturalist and diplomat. In the 1890s he made a geological expedition to Lake Rudolph, passing through southern Ethiopia and Kenya. The East African bird, Donaldson-Smith's sparrow-weaver, Plocepasser donaldsoni, was named after him.
Through Unknown African Countries: The First Expedition From Somaliland To Lake Lamu by Arthur Donaldson-Smith (1897) is an account of his explorations of the headwaters of the Shebelle river in Ethiopia to Lake Rudolf. Free eBook
Arthur Donaldson-Smith returned to Lake Rudolf in his 1898 to 1899 expedition between Lake Rudolf and the Nile. There is no book about this but an account of the journey can be downloaded here from the Geographic Journal 1900, Volume 16, Page 600
Meanwhile Arthur Neumann, the renowned elephant hunter, reached the southern end of Lake Rudolf in December 1895 after failing to get there the year before.
Arthur Henry Neumann (l850 - l907) was a British explorer, hunter, soldier, farmer and travel writer, famous for his exploits in Equatorial East Africa. He became a professional elephant hunter and ivory trader from 1893 to 1896 when he travelled from Mombasa, across Mount Kenya to Lake Rudolf.
In his time, Neumann was celebrated as the greatest elephant hunter that ever lived, once bagging 14 in one day. He began elephant hunting with a double 10 bore Holland & Holland and a .577 Express by Gibbs. Later he used a .303 very successfully, taking the largest bulls of his career with this rifle. Later still, Neuman used a double .450 Rigby nitro rifle.
His 1895 expedition to Lake Rudolph proved rather a disaster...the hunting was poor, his cook was killed by a crocodile, his asses were struck down as a result of the tsetse fly and he got severely injured by an enraged elephant. However he continued collecting specimens for the British Museum which included the horns and skin of a hitherto unknown hartebeest, which was named Bubalis neumanni.
Elephant Hunting In East Equatorial Africa by Arthur H Neumann (1898) is an account of three years ivory hunting under Mount Kenya and among the Ndorobo of the Lorogi Mountains, including a trip to the north end of Lake Rudolph. Free eBook
So far, nobody had explored the western side of Lake Rudolph - they all travelled up the eastern side to the north and returned the same way.
In June 1896 an Italian expedition led by Vittorio Bottego (1860 - 1897) reached the north end of Lake Rudolf, having journeyed south down the Omo river course. After reaching Lake Rudolf, he tried to return through Ethiopia, unaware that the country was at war with Italy. He was killed in an attack by an Oromo tribe. His body was never recovered, and the account of his demise was told years later by two of his companions, Vannutelli and Citerni, who survived but were kept in prison for two years by Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia.
L'Omo: Viaggio D'esplorazione Nell'Africa Orientale. Seconda spedizione Bottego by Lamberto Vannutelli & Carlo Citerni (1899) is the account of Bottego's ill-fated expedition to determine the complex course of the Omo River and solve the mystery of the river mouth. He tried to continue the exploration of the Ethiopian territory in the Galla region, but succumbed in an ambush. Italian language. Free eBook
Shortly after Bottego, 'gadabout' Henry Sheppard Hart Cavendish, 6th Baron Waterpark, (1876 - 1948) and his hired companion Lieutenant Harry Andrew reached the north end of Lake Rudolf in March 1897. They took a similar route to Donaldson-Smith, hoping to explore the still unknown western shore and do some elephant hunting. After finding themselves running out of food, Cavendish was so set on being the first to fill in the blanks of the western lake area, he divided the expedition - he went west, crossing the mouth of the Omo river, while Andrew went on down the eastern shore. After successfully mapping the western shore, Cavendish met up again with Andrew on the south edge of the lake.
Cavendish did not write a book but presented the account of his expedition in an illustrated lecture to the Royal Geographic Society and a journal article, apparently completely down-playing any of Andrew's involvement in the journey.
Through Somaliland and Around and South Of Lake Rudolph by Henry Sheppard Hart Cavendish (1898) is an extract from The Geographical Journal.
Though Harry Andrew was not 'Harry the Valet', there are interesting insights into the characters of Cavendish and Andrew in this book...
The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel Thief by Duncan Hamilton (2011) is the true story of Harry the Valet, the notorious crook who conned and stole his way into high society. Harry outwitted Scotland Yard by using dozens of pseudonyms, having no fixed address and a knowledge of London that allowed him to hide in its shadows.
In 1897, at the same time Cavendish was at Lake Rudolf, the Macdonald expedition led by Sir James Ronald Leslie Macdonald (1862 - 1927), was sent to review the northern borders of Uganda which was a British Protectorate. The British did not want the French or Italians to claim any unoccupied territory in the region. On arrival, the expedition was divided into 3 columns - Macdonald hot-footing it north-west towards the Nile where he was instructed to get to Fashoda, south of Khartoum, before Kitchener (who was advancing up the Nile), because a French column was coming in from the west. The second column of the Macdonald expedition, led by Herbert Henry Austin was to go to Lake Rudolf and establish the source of the Juba river which was thought to be connected to Rudolf. The third column was to supply the other two. These original plans were thrown into disarray when there was a mutiny of the Sudanese troops which took 7 months to contain. It was only in 1898 that Austin finally started out on his expedition to Lake Rudolf.
Major Herbert Henry Austin (1868 - 1937) wrote 2 books about his expeditions to Lake Rudolf which he reached in August 1898...
With Macdonald In Uganda: A Narrative Account Of The Uganda Mutiny And Macdonald Expedition In The Uganda Protectorate And The Territories To The North by Herbert Henry Austin (1903) covers the entire period that the Macdonald expedition was in the field even though Austin was detached from the Macdonald column commanding his own column to Lake Rudolf. Free eBook
Among Swamps And Giants: An Account Of Surveys And Adventures In The Southern Sudan And British East Africa by Herbert Henry Austin (1902). This book comes in 2 parts. Firstly, Austin's expedition to the Sobat river region of Sudan and secondly, the trek from Omdurman to Mombasa, via Lake Rudolf. Free eBook
With Herbert Henry Austin on both his expeditions, was Lieutenant R G T Bright, later, Major Bright. It was Bright who met Cavendish who was on his way back from Lake Rudolf. Cavendish shared his maps and information about the west shore of Rudolf with Bright but also revealed his rough treatment of the natives met on the journey. Most explorers tried to maintain friendly relations with the natives, if not only for their own safety while crossing their territories, but also for the benefit of travellers coming after them. Cavendish did not bother, so when Bright went through, he encountered hostile natives who had obviously had poor experiences at the hands of white men.
Major Richard George Tyndall Bright (1872 - 1944) of the Rifle Brigade later became the Chief British Commissioner of the Uganda-Congo Boundary Commission. The Grant's gazelle subspecies, Bright's gazelle was named after him when he sent the first example to the British Museum.
Expedition from Uganda to Abyssinia (1898): The Diary Of Lieutenant R G T Bright edited by Frederic A Sharf (2005) covers Bright's participation in African exploration expeditions from June 1897 to September 1908. He was a candid observer of places which were at the time largely unknown to the outside world. He was a meticulous record-keeper, with a keen eye for details. His diaries offer an unusual look at the evolution of British colonial policy, as well as providing a factual account of daily life on these expeditions.
In 1896, Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere (1870 - 1931), set out for Lake Rudolf with a retinue which included a doctor, taxidermist, photographer and 200 camels, on primarily a hunting expedition. From Berbera, he travelled south through Ogaden and then west through Abyssinia to reach the southern shore of Rudolf in mid 1897. The Lake Rudolf basin was fast becoming a mecca for elephant hunters - Delamere's companion, Dr Atkinson shot "twenty-one elephants in twenty-one days".
Delamere did not write a book about his Rudolf expedition but it features in his life story by Elspeth Huxley...
White Man's Country: Lord Delamere And The Making Of Kenya by Elspeth Huxley (1935). Two Volumes. Delamere was undoubtedly the most influential settler leader in the development of Kenya Colony.
Having circumnavigated the lake, the next blank to be filled was between Lake Rudolf and the Nile. In 1899, Montagu Sinclair Wellby reached the north shore of Rudolf, or 'Lake Gallop', as the local Abyssinians called it. He then made his way to Nasser on the Sobat river and onwards to the White Nile.
Captain Montagu Sinclair Wellby (1866 - 1900) was a British army officer who made expeditions to Abyssinia and Tibet before being killed in the Boer War.
'Twixt Sirdar And Menelik: An Account Of A Year's Expedition From Zeila To Cairo Through Unknown Abyssinia by Montagu S Wellby (1901). Wellby had permission from Emperor Menelik to 'travel through every part of his dominions'. He travelled 'through unknown parts of Abyssinia and through "the
devil-infested country of Walamo," to Lake Rudolf, whence he passed on to the Sobat, at Fort Nasser coming in touch with the Anglo-Egyptian forces after a hazardous journey of seven months. Free eBook
All books by Captain Montagu Sinclair Wellby
So the main 'firsts' were achieved - the great lake had been found, completely circled, established the Omo river flowed into it and routes from the lake to the Nile river explored. What further 'firsts' were to come?
Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs (1908 - 1999) was a British explorer and geologist best known for leading the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958.
In 1934 Sir Vivian Fuchs led a geological and survey expedition to Lake Rudolf. He was the first to visit South Island or Hohnel Island, as it was called, the largest of three islands in Lake Rudolf. No book was written but a full account of 'The Lake Rudolf Rift Valley Expedition, 1934' can be read online in The Geographical Journal 1935, Volume 86, Page 114.
This expedition became notorious for the deaths of two of it's members - Dr W S Dyson, the medical officer and zoologist and W R H Martin, a forester. The two were left alone on South Island to survey it from the end of July, being due to return to the mainland by August 13 1934. They were never seen again despite aerial searches of the island and surrounding mainland. Their complete disappearance gave rise to mystery and tales of evil spirits and other vanishing inhabitants associated with the island. As 2 oars, 2 tins and Dr Dyson's hat were washed up on the west mainland shore, 70 miles north, the reality could be they were on the lake in a boat and attacked by a crocodile or hippo.
In 1934, the same year of the Fuch's expedition and inspired by it, the American film-makers and adventurers, Martin and Osa Johnson decided to go to Lake Rudolf and make a film. The expedition was to be by air and they used the larger of their two new amphibian aircraft, 'Osa's Ark' for the trip. So this expedition was the first time Rudolf been explored from the air and the first time an amphibian aircraft had landed on the waters of Rudolf. The Johnson's intrepid pilot throughout was Vern Carstens. The Johnsons were based on the western shore and explored Central Island and southern shores.
Over African Jungles: The Record Of A Glorious Adventure Over The Big Game Country Of Africa 60,000 Miles By Airplane by Martin Johnson (1935) tells the story of the greatest adventure of the famous explorer and his wife - their flight over Africa's big game country in two specially equipped amphibian planes.
All books by Martin & Osa Johnson
John Hillaby (1917 - 1996) was a British travel writer and explorer who undertook a 1100 mile walk with a caravan of camels through northern Kenya to Lake Rudolf in the early 1960s.
Journey To The Jade Sea by John Hillaby (1964). The author decided to go on a three-month safari in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. With five natives, six camels, 1400 pounds of baggage, twelve pairs of gym shoes, a shot-gun, a Swahili phrase book and a floppy hat, he travelled from Wamba to Lake Rudolf and back.
Stephen Pern (b.1950) took 50 days to walk around Lake Rudolf in the late 1970s. He started in the southeast on a similar route as Teleki. Then he travelled down the western shore, retracing in part the routes taken by Cavendish, Bottego and Austin.
Another Land, Another Sea: Walking Around Lake Rudolph by Stephen Pern (1979) with a foreword by John Hillaby.
In 1975, President Kenyatta renamed Lake Rudolf. It became Lake Turkana, named after the Turkana people who lived in the area.
So far then, Rudolf had only been circumnavigated with the aid of human porters, camels and other beasts of burden that may have suvived the journey to see the water. In 1976 Mohamed Amin had the idea to do the first motorized expedition around the lake which he achieved in 1981 and in doing so collected scientific data and stimulated publicity for the area.
Mohamed Amin (1943 - 1996) was a renowned Kenyan photojournalist, film-maker and author, best known for his coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine with Michael Buerk. He died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 when it was hijacked and crashed into the ocean.
Cradle Of Mankind by Mohamed Amin (1981) contains stunning colour photography throughout of the landscapes surrounding Lake Turkana, its indigenous peoples and wildlife. The expedition vehicles carried 800 litres of gasoline, 20 spare tyres, 275 litres of drinking water, a quarter of a ton of photographic equipment and film plus a radio-telephone.
With most of the Lake Rudolf 'firsts' achieved, roads, tourist lodges installed, modern travellers are now left to follow in the footsteps of the great explorers...or to do fund-raising circuit walks such as done in 2016 for the preservation of the wild Bactrian camel.
In Teleki's Footsteps: A Walk Across East Africa by Tom Heaton (1989). The author set out, first on bicycle and then on foot, to retrace the 3,500 mile journey of the nineteenth-century explorer Count Teleki across previously unexplored East Africa. Heaton's expedition began farcically when he became lost in the outskirts of the Tanzanian port from which he began, and continued through mishaps, dangers, disasters and a variety of discomforts.
Where Giants Trod: The Saga Of Kenya's Desert Lake by Monty Brown (1989) is a beautifully produced and extremely well-researched account of early expeditions to Lake Rudolf and the nomadic tribes of the area.
All books by Monty Brown
Arthur Donaldson Smith And The Exploration Of Lake Rudolf by Pascal James Imperato (1987)
Over Land And Sea: Memoirs Of An Austrian Rear Admiral's Life In Europe And Africa, 1857-1909 by Pascal James Imperato (1998) is the story of Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel, an explorer of East Africa in the era of Livingstone and Stanley. Von Höhnel mapped vast areas of modern-day Kenya and Tanzania, and was among the first Europeans to see Lake Rudolf (today Lake Turkana). While in Africa, he was seriously injured by a charging rhinoceros and was transported back to Europe.
Quest For The Jade Sea: Colonial Competition Around an East African Lake by Pascal James Imperato (1998). Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) was the last of the major African lakes to be visited by European travelers in the late nineteenth century. It is a large saltwater body two hundred miles long and forty miles wide and because of the greenish colour of its waters, it has long been called the Jade Sea. This book examines the fascinating story of colonial competition around this remote lake which included the British, Italians, French, Russians and Ethiopians. The book also focuses on the expeditions that travelled there, such as those of Teleki, von Höhnel and Donaldson-Smith.
They Married Adventure: The Wandering Lives Of Martin And Osa Johnson by Pascal James and Eleanor Imperato (1999). Martin and Osa Johnson thrilled American audiences of the 1920s and '30s with their remarkable movies of far-away places, exotic peoples and the dramatic spectacle of Asian and African wildlife. Their own lives were as exciting as the movies they made, here revealed in this fascinating and intimate portrait of an intrepid couple.
All Pascal James Imperato books
Shakari Connection Home
Lake Rudolph Explorer Books
Back to Top