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'NO PROOF EXPLORER WAS IN SLAVE TRADE' New book's theory on 'shamed' Welshman.

Byline: JAMES MCCARTHY james.mccarthy@walesonline.co.uk

FORGOTTEN Welsh explorer John Petherick had his reputation ruined when he was branded a slave trader by rival Victorian explorer John Hanning Speke.

But a new book by journalist John Humphries shows there was no evidence Petherick was involved in human trafficking - although his boats may have been used for the depraved business.

Speke accused the mining engineer of stealing PS1,000 from the Royal Geographical Society and spending it on dealing in people and ivory, instead of on boats and supplies to meet him and James Grant at the White Nile trading post of Gondokoro.

Former Western Mail editor Mr Humphries claims Petherick was portrayed as "a man who dipped into the public purse to assist Speke and Grant discover the Holy Grail of African exploration - the source of the Nile - but then left them in the lurch".

"Worse still, the Welshman was accused of being a slave trader on the White Nile two decades after Britain banned it," he said.

But Petherick, born in Merthyr Tydfil behind the Penydarren ironworks in 1813, had not abandoned Speke and Grant. In fact he and his wife, Katherine, nearly died trying to meet the men.

On May 19, 1862, the couple thought they had made contact. From their vessel, the Lady of the Nile, they could see three boats they had sent for Speke and Grant flying Union Jacks "We felt sure the travellers, Captains Speke and Grant, were on board," Katherine wrote.

"Up went the flags, and Petherick, forgetting his precept to the men never to waste powder, commenced the firing, those on board the approaching boats returning the salute, and though still some distance off, they were recognised as ours."

Wine was opened, and toasts drunk as they waited for the explorers to emerge.

But the men were not on board and Pethe-rick was furious.

Instead they found Abd il Majid, an Arab agent entrusted to deliver boats and supplies to Speke and Grant.

"This was to prove a pivotal moment for John Petherick, ruining his reputation and casting a cloud over the remainder of his life," Mr Humphries said.

Things were about to get ugly. As Petherick quizzed Majid about the explorers, Katherine said: "This man has brought down slaves and they are in his boat."

"Impossible!" Petherick said.

"Are you sure?" She was. In the hold were 17 people. Majid was unconcerned, he wanted to show off two cheetahs he had caught.

Petherick turned pale with anger when he looked in the hold. "'Take down your flag," he said before rolling the Union Jack into a ball and hurling it onto the Lady of the Nile. "Never more shall it be disgraced by floating over this boat again."

Majid was clapped in irons and the slaves released.

"With outstretched arms I received them," wrote Katherine. "Young girls and little children - I had only tears."

There was worse to come. Slaver Amabile de Bono had passed the Lady of the Nile in the night.

Told he was trafficking people, Petherick gave chase in a felucca - a wooden sailing boat.

None were found. But in a boat owned by a Maltese man captured with Majid there were more than a hundred.

Another barge had dozens shackled together. On a fourth, more slaves were crammed beneath the hatches.

"At a stroke - and possibly against his better judgement - Petherick, by arresting Majid and Amabile de Bono and shipping them back to Cairo for trial, antagonised most traders on the White Nile," Humphries said.

"No-one had before broken the unwritten code that protected the illicit traffic."

Petherick was outraged his boats had been used for trafficking.

He wrote to the British consul-general in Alexandria urging de Bono be detained in Cairo.

"I need hardly mention how necessary it is to be severe," he said. But the tables were turned when the arrested traders accused Petherick of trafficking. De Bono's lawyer claimed that Petherick was not of "the upright character generally expected of one of Her Majesty's functionaries...

not a trustworthy man."

The charges against de Bono and the others were dropped for lack of evidence, and Petherick had to defend himself against their allegations.

On August 8, 1862, Supreme Consular Court judge Sir Edmund Hornby said de Bono's behaviour was suspicious, but Petherick had not gathered reliable evidence. All he could do was warn there would be dire consequences for those caught slave trading.

Katherine thought there was stronger evidence against Majid the court had not seen. She wrote in her diary he had been involved in a raid that led to the enslavement of 351 Africans.

"The conspiracy against Petherick gathered momentum," Humphries said.

Petherick's rivals were thirsting for revenge after his arrests. The Foreign Office, influenced by Speke, wouldn't listen to him.

And Mr Humphries admitted: "It would be astonishing if Petherick the pragmatist did not have something to hide, that he at least dabbled in slavery, maybe not on his own account but indirectly by permitting his boats to be used to traffic slaves in lieu of paying his mercenaries.

"But there's not a scrap of credible evidence to put before a jury. No one will ever know for sure. Slave traders didn't give receipts."

THE SEARCH FOR THE NILE'S SOURCE, BY JOHN HUMPHRIES, IS PUBLISHED BY UNIVERSITY OF WALES PRESS, PRICED PS19.99

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John Petherick was ruined by rival John Hanning Speke, inset
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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