Zanzibar; City, Island, and Coast

by Richard Francis Burton

First edition of 1872 in two volumes.
Tinsley, London.

Volume 1 PDF Page Images.
Volume 2 PDF Page Images.

In the preface, Burton attempts to explain why he has taken so long to publish this material, which dates back for the most part to 1858, and had been rediscovered and returned to him in 1865, but was only appeared in 1872.  The reasons he gives do not include what seems most likely, the renewed interest in the Nile and the East African region sparked by the Livingstone Relief expedition.


I FEEL that the reader will expect some allusion to the circumstances which have delayed, till 1871, the publication of a journal ready to appear in 1860. The following letter will explain the recovery of a long report, forwarded by me in 1857, under an address, very legibly written in ink, upon its cover, to the late Dr Norton Shaw, then Secretary Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain.

'No. 9, of 1865.

'General Department,
Bombay Castle, 2811 February, 1865.

The Under Secretary of State for India,


'With reference to the packet addressed, as per margin, which was sent to you via Southampton from the Separate Department, by the Overland Mail of the 14th instant,  I have the honour to subjoin for your information copy of a note on the subject from the Hon. W. E. Frere, dated the 5th idem.

'When searching the strong box belonging to the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society yesterday I found the accompanying parcel, directed to the Secretary Royal Geographical Society, with a pencil note upon it, requesting that it might be sent to the Secretary of State, Foreign Office. From the signature in the corner, R. F. B., I conclude that it must be the manuscript he sent to Colonel Rigby at Zanzibar, and which, from some statements of Mr. Burton (to which I cannot at present refer, but of which I have a clear recollection), never reached its destination.'[1]

'I have not been able to discover when or how the parcel was received, nor how the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society was to send it to the Foreign Office, except through Government. I therefore send it to you, and perhaps you would send it to the Under Secretary at the India House, with the above explanation, and request that it be sent to its direction.'

'I have, &c.,
Acting Chief Secretary to Government.'

It is not a little curious that, as my first report upon the subject of Zanzibar was diverted from its destination, so the ' Letts' containing my excursions to Sa'adani and to Kilwa also came to temporary grief. Annexed by a skipper on the West African coast, appropriated by his widow, and exposed at a London bookseller's stall (labelled outside, `Burton Original MS. Diary in Africa'), it was accidentally left by the buyer, an English Artillery officer, in the hall of one of H. M. 's Ministers of State. Here being recognized, it was kindly and courteously returned to me. The meteorological observations made by me on the East African seaboard and at other places during the discovery of the Lakes were also, I would remark, mislaid for years, deep hidden in certain pigeonholes at Whitehall Place. May these three accidents be typical of the fate of my East African Expedition, which, so long the victim of uncontrollable circumstance, appears now, after many weary years, likely to emerge from the shadow which overcast it, and to occupy the position which I ever desired to see it conquer.

The two old documents are published with the less compunction as Zanzibar, though increasing in importance and now the head-quarters of an Admiralty Court and of two Mission-Schools, with a printing-press and other civilized appliances, has not of late been worked out. The best authorities are still those who appeared about a quarter of a century ago, always excepting, however, the four magnificent volumes, Baron Carl Clare von der Decken's Reisen in Ost-Afrika, in den Jahren 1859 bis 1861, which I first saw at Jerusalem: there too I had the pleasure of making acquaintance with Dr Otto Kersten, who accompanied the unfortunate traveller during the earlier portion of his peregrinations, and who has so ably and efficiently performed his part as editor. Had a certain publisher carried out his expressed intention of introducing a resume of this fine work in English dress to the British public, I should have saved myself the trouble of writing these volumes: the Reisen, however, in the original form are hardly likely to become popular. Moreover, the long interval of a decade has borne fruit : it has given me time to work out the subject, and, better still, to write with calmness and temper upon a theme of the most temper-trying nature, - chap. xii. vol. II. will explain what is meant. Finally, I have something important to say upon the subject of  the so-called Victoria Nyanza Lake.

I had proposed to enrich the Appendix with extracts from Arab and other mediaeval authors, who have treated of Zanzibar, Island and Coast. Such an addition, however, would destroy all proportion between the book and its subject: I have therefore confined myself to notes on commerce and tariffs of prices in 1857 to 1859, to meteorological observations, and to Capt. Smee's coasting voyage, which dates from January, 1811. The latter will supply an excellent birds-eye view of those parts of the Zanzibar mainland which were not visited by the East African Expedition.

London, Oct. 15, 1871.

[1].  Mr. Frere's memory is unusually short. I intrusted the MS. to the Eurasian apothecary of the Zanzibar Consulate, and I suspected (Lake Regions of Central Africa, vol. i. chap. i.) that it bad come to an untimely end. The white population at Zanzibar had in those days a great horror of publication, and thus is easily explained how a parcel legibly addressed to the Royal Geographical Society had the honour of passing eight years in the strong box of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.