First published in 1847 and now the subject of a timely reprint, is Duncan's account of the journeyings and incredible adventures surrounding his ultimately futile quest. In it he recounts derring-do enough for several lifetimes: encounters with ferocious Amazons, wily slave-dealers, fetish priests, blood-drinkers, sword-wielding horsemen and even a monster python. He drank toasts to Queen Victoria out of goblets carved from skulls and was invited to act as executioner at a multiple decapitation. Duncan became the first European to explore a large tract of West Africa and brought back what was arguably the definitive account of the death on the Niger in 1806 of the indomitable Mungo Park. Duncan's return journey brought him close to death, as the fever dragged him down and he was almost forced to amputate his own suppurating leg. The doggedly resilient Duncan had been close to death before in West Africa, as master-at-arms aboard HMS Albert, flagship of the ill-fated Niger steamship expedition of 1841-42. Today John Duncan is all but forgotten, his courage and deeds consigned to an undeserved historical oblivion. The re-publication of this classic story of courage, fortitude and high adventure in uncharted lands should help to restore both the name and the reputation of this unjustly neglected Scottish hero of exploration.
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