Born John Rowlands, Henry Morton Stanley was his own worst enemy. He lied about his name, his Welsh origins, his age, his military career, and details of his explorations in Africa. He married the wrong woman. His greatest achievements were not believed. The King of the Belgians used him but he naively trusted his imperial betters. All to simply be accepted into a society he was far superior to.
Author Tim Jeal has done a great justice to Stanley, who make no mistake, loved Africa and Africans.
Everybody remembers Dr. Livingstone, lost in the heart of Africa, but found by Stanley, an ambitious journalist for the New York Herald. Livingstone, the great hero of east Africa, was an utter failure as an explorer, and a failure as a missionary. His discovery made headlines around the world. But Livingstone chose to not return to England, where the truth would have been learned and died thirteen months later, a saint to his family and his nation.
Stanley's two other expeditions are largely forgotten, but the Trans-Africa Journey and the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition were far greater achievements. What Stanley did was almost impossible to believe: he traveled, for the first time, from one side of Africa to the other. And then back. The continent was "opened up" by him and his African men. And Stanley, in order to boast in his dispatches of how important his Trans-Africa Expedition was, lied about the number of members. He actually had far less men, which makes his accomplishments even more astounding. The white English officers on the Emin Pasha Relief were for the most part wretched leaders who had no respect for their porters and bearers. After massive hardships, they made it back to "civilization", their health ruined, their crimes buried. Half the Africans died en route. Yet Stanley, aside from some diseases, did not suffer a single injury. In fact, the only injury he ever suffered was a silly fall in a hotel in Switzerland.
After King Leopold's betrayal, Stanley remained in England, pushed by his society wife to stand for Parliament, a career he loathed. He missed Africa, and would have made an excellent governor. But the appointment never came and his wife would not have let him go anyway. The only consolation in later life, on his estate, was his adopted son Denzil, who was actually his nephew. Another lie, like his own adoption by a Mr Stanley in America.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the Stanley saga is that in a fit of spite against the British government, Denzil, and his son, Richard turned over all Stanley's papers and artifacts to the Belgians. The monstrous King Leopold, whose atrocities in the Congo were hidden for years, controlled Stanley to the end. For access by historians to these papers, and the truth, was sealed until 2002 in the Stanley Pavilion of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, where the author was finally able to do his research. One can only hope that previous biographies of Stanley will be forgotten.