Documents relating to the Lander Brothers’ Niger expedition of 1830



By Jamie Bruce Lockhart

This collection of material presents previously unpublished journals kept by Richard and John Lander on their 1830 Niger expedition.


An accompanying essay introduces the journals with emphasis on that of John Lander, in the John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland, transcribed and published here for the fist time. The essay describes the loss and subsequent retrieval of the Landers’ Niger journals, and compares the two diaries – which are very different in style and approach, partly because Richard Lander had received only a modest education whereas John had been earning his living as a newspaper compositor. The article goes on to discuss factors surrounding the composition of the brothers’ jointly authored Journal of an Expedition to explore the course and termination of the Niger; with a narrative of a voyage down that river to its termination which was published to popular acclaim in three duodecimo volumes in John Murray’s Family Library Series in 1832.


The supporting documentation includes a transcription (in Appendix I) of the text of John Lander’s diary from 8th October to 3rd November 1830. Appendix II presents a transcription of Richard Lander’s diary (from the Wellcome Library, London) for the same dates, together with another short section of Richard’s diary to give a fuller idea of the spontaneous nature of his journal-keeping. Appendix III presents letters (in the John Murray Archive) received by John Murray relating to the publication of the Journal of an Expedition from various correspondents, among them John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, Robert Hay, MP, Under-Secretary at the Department of War and the Colonies and Lieutenant A.B. Becher, RN, the editor of a naval journal of the day who had been engaged by John Murray to assist in the preparation of the Landers’ book for publication. Appendix IV provides an extract from Journal of an Expedition… covering the last days of October 1830 in order to allow comparison of the brothers’ working journals with the final published product.


Permission to reproduce these transcripts and images of the Lander material from the John Murray Archive has been kindly granted by the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.


The second part of this collection presents in full Richard Lander’s 240-page diary covering the period from 31st March to 30th October 1830 together with a draft transcription. Unfortunately the diary was badly damaged by immersion in the River Niger, with the result that approximately one quarter of the text, in particular in the centre pages of the journal and closest to the gutter margins where water was retained longest, is essentially irretrievable.

These Lander papers are part of a wider study of the opening up of European, in particular British, contact with the interior of West Africa. The Lander brothers’ travels form a transition between the attempts of Captain Clapperton to build contacts and map the ground on the one hand and the initiatives by Macgregor Laird and his successors to open communication and trade with the interior by means of the Niger water highway.


Captain Clapperton’s efforts to explore the geography of the interior including the final course of the River Niger and the steps he took to open diplomatic and commercial relations with the empires of the central Sudan reflect objectives of the period of the European enlightenment. His travels were thus the last in a series of expeditions of enquiry first launched by the Africa Association in the 1788. On the other hand the expeditions mounted by Macgregor Laird and his successors between 1834 and 1855 to penetrate the interior of today’s Nigeria were driven by goals of politico-economic outreach and imperial and evangelist ambitions of a quite different kind.


Transcription of the text of the Richard Lander journal needs to be worked on and improved and completed, and the raw journals of both Richard and John would benefit from annotation by a scholar familiar with the background of the region and the period. In addition a close comparison might usefully be made of the reports and comments of the Lander brothers in their respective original diaries with the substance of their joint Journal of an Expedition… as published.


This material is intended as a small contribution to wider continuing efforts to study pre-colonial interface between Europeans and the countries of West Africa through the raw material of contemporary documents. The author hopes it also might encourage further investigation of the work of other as yet less fully documented participants in this important process – such as, on the British side in the first half of the nineteenth century, the indefatigable John Beecroft, Consul in the Bights of Benin and Biafra, who made the whole of the South-eastern region his home from 1829 to 1854 or Dr William Baikie who from 1857 to 1864 persevered in his single-handed attempt to replace slaving by trading and agriculture at his own ‘model farm’ at the Niger-Benue confluence.


  1. The 1830 Niger journals of Richard and John Lander
    An analysis and comparison of the journals of Richard and John Lander written on their 1830 Niger expedition, with contemporary material in four appendices.

    1. Essay: Journals or Journalism: the Landers' Niger Journal (1832)
    2. Appendix I. Transcription of John Lander's Journal Book No 2. 1830, John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, MS.42326
            Frontspiece Right      Frontspiece Left      f. 367      f. 368
    3. Appendix II. Transcription of extracts from Richard Lander's 1830 Journal, Wellcome Library, London
    4. Appendix III. Correspondence in John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland relating to the preparation and publication of the Lander's Journal of an Expedition... 1832
    5. Appendix IV. Extract from published text of Richard and John Lander, Journal of an Expedition to explore the course and termination of the Niger, London, John Murray, 1832, Vol. III, Chapter XVII, pp. 64-100 (24 to 27 October 1830)
  2. The text of Richard Lander’s Niger Journal, 31 March to 30 October 1830
    1. Holograph of Richard Lander’s 1830 diary, Wellcome Library, London, 240 pp., 8vo., Accession No 56076 MS 3159. For convenience of access this 50MB document has been divided  into five sections:
    2. Transcription of Richard Lander's 1830 diary