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Explorer Sass Flóra – Florence Baker – part 6
Explorer Sass Flóra – Florence Baker – part 6

Top 4 pictures drawn by Sam Baker. Left:episodes during the expedition; right: a rhinoceros, and Murchison Falls. Bottom left: dedication of Sass Flóra memorial plaque; right: Hungarian and English text of plaque.

Mohammed the slave trader who had escorted Speke and Grant to Gondokoro agreed to recruit 50 porters for Sam who would accompany the expedition, together with Sam’s 45 armed escort, to Faloro, the nearest trading station a 15 days’ march South.  All were pleased to join Mohamed’s large party of 200 men.  Sam counted and weighed 54 containers, a hundred pounds each of goods to be transported, the heaviest being beads and copper for trading, and ammunition.  No expedition had been more carefully planned; the transport animals were in good condition and all were ready to leave on an agreed upon day. 

However, the men belonging to the various traders were determined to prevent the expedition from leaving and would not allow an Englishman to penetrate the country.  They were afraid the lucrative ivory and slave trade of the White Nile would no longer be a mystery and that the atrocities of the slave trade would be exposed and likely terminated by the European Powers.  They fraternized with Sam’s escort and convinced them that he was a Christian Dog, a spy, and it was a disgrace for a Mohammedan to serve, that they would starve in his service, and would not be allowed to steal cattle and could not have slaves.  They were demoralized and neglected all orders; donkeys and camels were allowed to stray; the luggage was overrun by white ants; men were absent without leave and spent their time in camps of other traders.

Sam learned that a mutiny was planned halfway to Faloro, and the rebels would kill him and Florence, take all their guns, ammunition and all their baggage.

Mohammed and his party deceived Sam by leaving Gondokoro two days before the agreed upon date.  Five of Sam’s men deserted to join them with their guns and ammunition.  They threatened that if Sam followed their party on their road, they would fire upon them.

Sam planned to follow another slave trader heading South, but at the last moment another mutiny took place which so seriously threatened Sam’s and Florence’s life that no other alternative remained but for Sam to discharge his men who had already been paid in advance for one year of service.

After leaving the bulk of supplies with a friendly native chief, Sam was able to secure a small party of Latooka natives and started his land journey for the Central Lake Basin.

Florence and Sam encountered innumerable hardships, suffered from diseases, malarial fevers, starvation, death and desertions, the loss of their animals, but they pushed forward with strong determination toward their goal.  Finding porters was a constant problem.  They sought the assistance of Kamrasi, King of Bonyoro, who with cunning, lies, empty promises to provide food and an escort delayed their progress for several months. 

While waiting near a village to meet Kamrasi, Sam and several of his men sat beneath a large shady tree, a beautiful Persian carpet in front of them.  A large crowd of 600 villagers came to gape at them.  Suddenly, the entire crowd jumped to their feet and ran yelling and screaming toward the hut where Florence was staying.  She had washed her long blond hair (a constant amazement to the Africans) that morning and stood by the doorway of the hut, brushing her shimmering curly hair in the strong sunlight as it dried.  She was a sensation.  The natives started to call hear Myadue, the Morning Star (Hajnalcsillag).  People came from far away villages to see Florence.  They watched her every move.  Some tried to touch her.  There was no escaping her audience; she had no privacy.  When Sam covered the doorway of the hut with a blanket, they pried spy holes in the thatch of the hut and dozens of brown eyes followed her every move.

Finally Kamrasi made himself available to meet Sam and his party and was given the Persian carpet as a gift.

His greed and demand for more gifts was endless, and when he finally promised Sam escorts to resume their journey, he demanded Florence in exchange for one of his wives!  Florence flew into a rage and gave Kamrasi such a dressing down in Arabic as he had not heard in his life!  She shrieked at him, denounced his morals, his character, intelligence, hospitality.  She called him a son of a dog, a lying savage, an impotent eunuch, criticized his people, his manner, personal hygiene and honesty, of which there was none.  A slave woman translated but could hardly keep up with this verbal assault.  When her anger was exhausted, she glared at Kamrasi with pure fury, who wanted no part of such a troublesome woman.  He explained his custom to give his visitors one of his pretty wives in exchange for theirs.  He ordered several of his people to accompany the expedition.  Florence and Sam mounted their oxen and rode off with the porters picking up their load.  In the next  village they were met with a savage farewell parade,  600 warriors came rushing, screaming and jumping, shaking their lances and shields, dressed like demons with antelope horns strapped to their heads and dressed in leopard and monkey skins.

They continued their quest South, exhausted and weak.  Florence suffered from sunstroke, dehydration, malnutrition and malarial fever and was unconscious for a number of days.  She had to be carried on a litter and Sam gave up all hope for her recovery when she fell into violent convulsions.  Sam fell upon a mat, exhausted, worn out with sorrow and fatigue; he hadn’t slept for seven days.  When he awoke the next morning, Florence’s eyes were open, calm and clear.  Two days’ rest and the party moved forward.  They were getting closer to the lake.

Finally, on May 14, 1864, the glorious prize suddenly burst upon them in the shape of a mighty sea.  In the distance, on the western shore, a range of blue mountains rose to a height of 7,000 feet above its level.  The lake, lying between modern Uganda and Congo, the discovery of which was the crowning achievement in the lives of Sir Samuel Baker and his wife, Sam named Albert Nyanza (Lake Albert) in honor of Queen Victoria’s Consort. 

Twenty miles East of Lake Albert is Murchison Falls, named by Sam for geologist Sir Roderick Murchinson.  There the Nile squeezes through a twenty-foot wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar, dropping 400 feet in a series of cascades, creating a rainbow.  In 1951, the movie “The African Queen” was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.  It is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 kinds of birds.

The return journey occupied almost a year; it was September, 1865, before they reached England.  Their marriage took place at St. James’s Church,  Piccadilly on November 4, 1865. That evening they had dinner with the Murchisons.  (Sir Roderick Murchison was the founder and president of the RGS – the Royal Geographical Society.)  At a later time, Sir Roderick wrote glowingly to a friend about “Baker’s little blue-eyed Hungarian wife who is still only 23 years of age, who we like very much.”  Sam was formally welcomed home at a meeting of RGS’s headquarters where he gave a brilliant talk about his African encounters.  His humorous anecdotal style won the listeners’ hearts.  He ended by introducing his wife to the audience as “one, though young and tender, has the heart of a lion, without whose devotion and courage he would not be alive.”  He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal in 1865.

London society lionized Sam and Florence; they were the celebrity couple of the season, and their fame grew rapidly.  In December they traveled to Paris where Sam was awarded the Gold Medal of the French Geographical Society.  He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1866 and Florence became Lady Baker.  But she was not invited to the ceremony.  The details of how they met were meant to be kept secret but the story circulated and the Queen excluded Florence from Court.

Samuel, as Governor General of the Equatorial Nile, returned with Florence to Africa in 1869 for the purpose of eliminating the slave trade.  Unfortunately, they were not able to accomplish this lofty goal.  The second expedition commenced on April 1, 1869 and lasted four years. 

Upon their return to England in 1873, Flóra and her husband spent the rest of their lives at their house, Sandford Orleigh, in Newton Abbot in Devon.  Florence was renowned for her kindness and welcoming home.  Sam wrote books, newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of political and sporting subjects.  They traveled extensively, visited many countries, among them Cyprus, India, Japan. 

Sir Samuel Baker died of a heart attack in December 1893, and Florence died 23 years later, on March 11, 1916.  They were both buried in the family crypt in Grimley near Worcester.

In her will, Flora requested that all her personal papers be destroyed, but a hundred years after her death her journal was discovered in an attic in an old wooden box in which she recorded the events and her observations of their Second Africa expedition. 

Sources:

Samuel Baker:  In the Heart of the Nile

J.W. Buel:  Heroes of the Dark Continent

Pat Shipman:  To the Heart of the Nile

Books by Samuel Baker, to name a few:  

“The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia” 1867;

“Ismalia”. 1874

“The Albert Nyanza, Great Basin of the Nile and Explorations of the Nile Sources”

Two books were published in Hungarian, based on the African Expeditions:

Anne Baker’s “Rabszolgák Földjén - Egy Magyar Nő Felfedezők és     

         Rabszolgák között 1870 – 1873”, based on Florence’s diary, and

Samuel Baker’s “A Nílus Rejtélye” describing their First Africa expedition.

Eva Wajda is a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board.

 

English Text of Bilingual Memorial Plaque

Dedicated in Uganda

In memory of

Flóra Sass

The first European woman

to reach the Murchison Falls

155 years ago.

 

Flóra Sass, locally called

Myadue (morning star) was a

Transylvanian-born Hungarian

explorer and Africa

researcher.

 

In memory of Flóra Sass’ and

her husband Samuel White

Baker’s journey in 1864, when

they gazed upon the Murchison

Falls and Lake Albert for the

first time.

 

Erected by

the Hungarian Africa Society –

African Hungarian Union

Inaugurated by

dr. László Kövér, Speaker of the

Hungarian National Assembly

March 2nd, 2019, on the 155th

anniversary of naming the

Murchison Falls.



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