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Annan, Hugh Clapperton's Birthplace
Annan, Hugh Clapperton's Birthplace

Hugh Clapperton lived from 18 May 1788 to 13 April 1827. He is best remembered as an explorer of West and Central Africa. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Hugh Clapperton was born in Annan where his father worked as a doctor. He left school at the age of 13 to take up a training post on a ship trading between Liverpool and North America. After making a number of voyages he was seized by a press gang, and so involuntarily joined the Royal Navy. He soon established himself and was commissioned, seeing active service during the Napoleonic Wars. In November 1810 he led the attack on Port Louis on Mauritius and captured the French flag. By 1814 he was a lieutenant in command of a Royal Navy schooner on the Canadian lakes. This role was no longer needed from 1817 and Clapperton returned to Scotland on half pay.

In 1820 he moved to Edinburgh, where by chance he met Walter Oudney, who had been appointed by the British Government to establish a consulate in the West African Kingdom of Bornu. Clapperton volunteered to join Oudney's expedition and early in 1822 they headed south from Tripoli, becoming the first Europeans to see Lake Chad en route to a successful meeting in February 1823 with the Sultan of Bornu. They remained in Bornu for some months, before leaving with the English explorer Dixon Denham on 14 December, intending to trace the course of the River Niger. Oudney died the following month, and Clapperton and Denham made their way back to Tripoli, which they reached in January 1825. The following year they published their account of the trip, "Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the years 1822 - 1823 and 1824."

On the strength of his first expedition, Clapperton was promoted to the rank of commander and sent back to West Africa, where on 7 December 1825 he headed inland, intending to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Sultan Bello of Sokoto. In January 1826 he crossed the River Niger at Bussa, where Mungo Park had died twenty years before. He reached the Sokoto Caliphate in July, but died there of dysentery. His journals were later recovered and in 1829 published as "Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa, &c., by the late Clapperton".

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