AKA René-Auguste Caillé
Birthplace: Mauzé, Poitou, France
Location of death: La Badère, Charente-Maritime, France
Cause of death: Illness
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: First European to return from Timbuktu
French explorer, was born at Mauz, Poitou, in 1799, the son of a baker. The reading of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe kindled in him a love of travel and adventure, and at the age of sixteen he made a voyage to Senegal whence he went to Guadeloupe. Returning to Senegal in 1818 he made a journey to Bondu to carry supplies to a British expedition then in that country. Struck ill with fever, he was obliged to go back to France, but in 1824 he was again in Senegal with the fixed idea of penetrating to Timbuktu.
He spent eight months with the Brakna Moors living north of Senegal river, learning Arabic and being taught, as a convert, the laws and customs of Islam. He laid his project of reaching Timbuktu before the governor of Senegal, but receiving no encouragement went to Sierra Leone where the British authorities made him superintendent of an indigo plantation. Having saved some money he joined a Mandingo caravan going inland. He was dressed as a Muslim, and gave out that he was an Arab from Egypt who had been carried off by the French to Senegal and was desirous of regaining his own country. Starting from Kakundi near Bok on the Rio Nunez on 19 April 1827, he travelled east along the hills of Futa Jallon, passing the head streams of the Senegal and crossing the Upper Niger at Kurussa. Still going east he came to the Kong highlands, where at a place called Timé he was detained five months by illness. Resuming his journey in January 1828 he went north-east and gained the city of Jenné, whence he continued his journey to Timbuktu by water. After spending a fortnight (20 April-4 May) in Timbuktu he joined a caravan crossing the Sahara to Morocco, reaching Fez on the 12th of August. From Tangier he returned to France.
He had been preceded at Timbuktu by a British officer, Major Alexander Gordon Laing, but Laing had been murdered (1826) on leaving the city and Caillié was the first to accomplish the journey in safety. He was awarded the prize offered by the Geographical Society of Paris to the first traveller who should gain exact information of Timbuktu, to be compared with that given by Mungo Park. He also received the order of the Legion of Honor, a pension, and other distinctions, and it was at the public expense that his Journal of his travels was published in 1830. Caillié died at La Badère in 1838 of a malady contracted during his African travels.
For the greater part of his life he spelt his name Caillié, later omitting the second i.
French Legion of Honor
Author of books:
Journal d'un voyage a Tembocicu et Jenno dans l'Afrique Centrale, etc. (1830, travel journal, ed. E.F. Jomard)
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