The East African | In the Historic Footsteps of Explorer Sir Samuel Baker

Posted February 14, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Tourism ~ 5,490 views


Wow! What a heavenly sight!” Exclaimed David Baker at the sight of the Murchison Falls, one-and-a-half centuries after his great great grandfather Sir Samuel Baker named it after the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.

At Murchison, the River Nile flows through a 23-inch wide cleft in the rocks to plunge 148 feet below, roaring furiously. It’s a magnificent sight.In his diary, Sir Baker wrote of the falls as the “greatest waterfall of the Nile.” On a Saturday morning, as we sailed down the river to the falls, on a double deck boat, David was reading from Sir Baker’s diary written in 1864.

“As we proceeded, the river gradually narrowed to about 180 yards, and when the paddles ceased working, we could distinctly hear the roar of water,” David read to us. At this point our boat stopped too and we listened to the roaring waters.

From the upper deck, we could see a school of hippopotamus cooling off and hundreds of crocodiles basking in the sun by the river — what Sir Baker described as “an extraordinary show of crocodiles, like trunks of trees prepared for shipment.” David and his daughter, Melanie, were in Uganda to retrace their early explorer ancestor’s footsteps. They represent a new type of explorer, doing ethnographic research driven by an appetite for adventure.

Unlike the early explorers, who were documenting their findings in writing, the new breed of explorers use digital media — photography, film and sound recordings — to record their journeys. However, they borrow a lot from the early adventurers: Individual maps, biographies and notes from diaries they use to compare information documented from the 16th century to the present day.

According to Julian Fisher of the Royal Geographic Society, who organised the expedition, these new explorers are growing in numbers and keeping exploration alive. The early explorers were also mapping out local place names and geographic features, which in Sir Baker’s diary are phonetically written out like “Unyoro” for Bunyoro and “Kabba Rega” for Kabalega.

“Being here is an extremely proud experience for me, because I feel like how the explorers must have felt nearly 150 years ago,” said David of his journey to Uganda.

His family trust holds the diary and other expedition equipment now stored at the Royal Geographical Society in London. When he got an e-mail from Fisher asking about joining the expedition, he immediately jumped at the opportunity and invited his daughter too.

When David and Melanie arrived in Patiko, a small town in Masindi Northwest, a scene similar to the welcome their ancestor received played out.As they read in his diary, “The wall of granite, sloped like a huge whale, about three-quarters of a mile long and 100 feet high,” at Patiko stood before them. The locals were also still friendly.

The villagers gathered when they had about the duo’s arrival. Chief Jeremiah Mbongojane was at hand to welcome them and handed over a flute to David to take back to his 98-year-old mother, living in London. “I just thought how extraordinary, how the world had changed. I mean with Google maps you can zoom in and see any place around the world. But we still want to see the real thing,” said Melanie Baker, a secondary school teacher in Toronto.

Melanie said the notes her ancestor wrote in his diary are so exact to some places you immediately recognise them. One of the places, which was unearthed with the help of community members, descriptions in the diary, GPS readings and the warden-in-charge of Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve Wilson Katamigwa, was where Sir Baker stood on March 14, 1864 and viewed Lake Albert and named it so. The locals called it Muttanzige.

“For 150 years, this place was not known yet it existed. It is a great opportunity to explore ways of utilising it as a historical tourism attraction,” said Dr Andrew Seguya, executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

“We now have the true record of where Sir Samuel Baker stood, we are excited that an additional point, a new route has been added that will encourage tourists to come to Uganda,” said Fisher. While David enjoyed his journey, his ancestor didn’t: He wrote that they “lived upon boiled plantains and red peppers, together with various wild plants.”

And of scarce resources, he wrote, “Our small supply of salt was exhausted; therefore, we were obliged to burn grass and make potash from the ashes as a substitute. We had a small quantity of brandy, but we reserved this in case of illness or other necessity.”

David Baker’s visit is significant to tourism in Uganda, said Lillian Nsubuga, UWA public relations manager, “It brings greater prominence to the national parks that provide most of the country’s tourism attractions, but are under constant threat from local communities demanding their degazettement.”

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.



    I found this article while looking for details about Fort Patiko. It immediately brought back the memories of our amazing time in Uganda in Janary 2013. Thank you for such accurate and interesting reporting !
    Retracing the steps of my great great grandfather Sir Samuel Baker was a very special experience, and everywhere we were met by kindly hospitality and enthusiasm and interest.
    Next year, 2014, I am returning in early January to help to install the markers for the new Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Trail in Masindi, Gulu, Fort Patiko and the Murchison Falls; we hope this trail will benefit all those through which it passes as well as being a most exciting and memorable experience for those who travel it.
    Of course no Baker visit would be complete without a visit to the Sir Samuel Baker School and we plan to vist there too. I greatly look forward to being in Uganda again and meeting the many friends we made during our last visit.


      It really very good to not forget the tireless struggle of the great achievement of Sir Samuel Baker just wish you well to strengthen the friendship .I am an OB of sir Samuel baker from 2005-2010 and a residence of Patiko subcounty.Best wishes in your struggle and the family.
      Ocaya Bonnet

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