Lake Turkana: Documenting its history and drama

Almost 125 years ago, one of the most dramatic geographic discoveries took place in Africa. Somewhere in the vast arid lands of what is today northern Kenya. The Transylvanian sportsmen and explorer,  Sámuel Teleki von Szek together with his brave companion, lieutenant Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel made known to all humankind the beauty of the Jade Sea, and gave it the name Lake Rudolf. The story is too long to be posted on a blog. But I invite you to read the following books (I have them all…) on this topic:

1. Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie: a narrative of Count Samuel Teleki’s exploring & hunting expedition in eastern equatorial Africa in 1887 & 1888 (download pdf from

This is the original account written by von Höhnel. He published the first edition in German in 1892, and the English version in 1894. The book presents in detail the journey but also its preparation. A great lecture for those interested in history of exploration. As the Teleki expedition was among the firsts in Africa to have a photographic camera, the text is very rich in original photos. The story of the journey is told by Höhnel using its fine humor and in a much more enthusiastic was that would have been done by Teleki. Several editions of the book were subsequently published and they are available through many online booksellers.

2. Count Samuel Teleki’s Diaries

Teleki never published his version of the story. However, Teleki kept a regular dairy during the expedition. The dairy can be found in original (3 handwritten volumes in Hungarian) at the Library of Michigan State University (see entry). Its English translation is also available as a typewritten manuscript.

3. Quest for the Jade Sea: Colonial Competition Around An East African Lake

Pascal James Imperato wrote a magnificent and extremely well documented book on the history of exploration around the Jade Sea, as Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) is also known. All the drama for the priority on the discovery of the last Great African Lake, with huge political importance is depicted accurately. In full colonialist age, the quest was often deadly, as the Lake lays in one of the most inhospitable place on Earth.

4. Where Giants Trod: The Saga of Kenya’s Desert Lake

In a way this book has a similar concept with the previous. Nevertheless, the author, Monty Brown uses his personal experience around the lake and adds much more personality to his book. The story is accompanied by suggestive photos, including some imagery from Teleki’s expedition.

5. Over Land And Sea: Memoir of an Austrian Rear Admiral’s Life in Europe and Africa, 1857-1909

After returning from his first trip to Africa with Teleki, Höhnel gained fame. He continued his work as naval officer until he retired. He traveled around the world; he even went to a second expedition to Africa with Chanler, when he was severely injured by a rhino.  Höhnel’s memoirs include a new view, from the perspective of the “wise man” on the discovery of Lake Rudolf but also many other captivating stories.

6. Eyelids of Morning: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men

This is masterpiece. If the name Peter Beard sounds familiar, there is no need from me to say anything else…If not, anyway…buy the book.

7. Journey to the Jade Sea

The author, John Hillaby decides to take a trip, from Wamba to Lake Rudolf and back. He used 6 camels for traveling and a lot of humor to write the story.

8. Jua Kali’s Voyage on the Jade Sea

An easy reading, the book describes the boat-trip around the lake by Ian Parker and his wife Christine on “the world’s wildest inland water”.


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