The Exploration Treasury
Beau Riffenburgh (André Deutsch, £30)
FOR THOSE of us who are explorers at heart, this book is not so much a treasury as a feast. The author summarises the achievements of some 30 distinguished explorers and illustrates, both literally and metaphorically, their most memorable journeys with diary entries, correspondence, maps, paintings and photographs from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS).
The RGS, based in London, absorbed other sponsors of exploration in the early 19th century—the African Association and the Raleigh Club, for example—and potential explorers from all over the world turned to it for moral, practical and financial support from then onwards. The subjects of this book are therefore an international cast.
Many are already well-known to enthusiasts of exploration— the stories of Humboldt, Darwin, Livingstone, Gertrude Bell, Scott of Antarctica, Younghusband of Tibet and Philby of Arabia—but many others much less widely known are included, such as Benjamin Simpson, whose striking photographs illustrated the 1878 Second Afghan War. A particular interest in the polar regions is hardly surprising as the author was head of the polar history group at the Scott Polar Research Institute and has written extensively elsewhere about Shackleton and others.
My own favourite among the explorers is probably Isabella Bird, whom I had first encountered when writing about nomads. She travelled across Persia with the Bakhtiari tribe on its annual migration, dispensing medical potions and advice—mostly requested to enhance the tribesmen’s love lives. When she was robbed at night, losing her money, sun helmet and revolver case, she lamented only the loss of her embroidery; when she requested milk, she was given a cow. Beau Riffenburgh focuses on her other Far Eastern experiences and explains how well she deserved to be the first woman to be elected a fellow of the RGS.
The book comes in a box with 40 separate ‘frameable’ prints illustrating the sights, as well as the flora and fauna described. All in all, it would make a splendid—and inspirational—present for any young person with an inclination towards exploring some of the most remote and beautiful quarters of the globe. John Ure
Above right: The Parroquia de Santa Prisca y San Sebastían in Taxco, Mexico. Right: The Treasury complete with frameable prints