The surprise lot was an 1864 first of What led to the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, John Hanning Speke’s account of his 1857-58 expedition in company with Richard Burton.
Speke’s claim to have made the discovery after illness forced his companion to turn back was disputed by Burton and the two men were never reconciled. A debate between them was eventually arranged but then Speke died of an accidental gunshot wound – though some believed at the time that he had committed suicide.
Valued at £1500-2000, the Bonham copy made £7500, because only after the catalogue had been printed was it realised that this was one of the dozen copies the publisher specially printed for family members only. It had passed by descent through the family of Speke’s sister, Matilda.
These special copies contain an extra eight pages in which Speke gives his account of certain events and his disputes with Burton – pages that William Blackwood declined to include in the published edition.
In 2010 this special copy, its real significance seemingly unrecognised, had sold for £850 at Bonhams.
Just a month before he died, Speke had sent a heavily annotated and corrected copy to his publisher, along with a letter proposing a second, revised edition.
That copy, which made £14,500 in the 2004 Christie’s sale of the Quentin Keynes library, was also one of those dozen special copies, but though the extra pages were noted in the catalogue, their significant content was not highlighted.
Sold for £1900, Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo of 1876 recounts Burton’s 1862-63 attempt to see animals whose existence had been revealed to English lecture audiences only a couple of years earlier. In the event, the only gorilla he encountered was already a captive and during his travels he almost drowned and was struck by lightning.
Sold for a record £3500 was an inscribed presentation first of John Forrest’s 1875, illustrated first report of the progress of the Western Australian Exploring Expedition, which travelled some 2000 miles through the central Australian desert.
Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana… of 1841 were coloured litho plates made by Charles Bentley to accompany the descriptive text of Robert H Schomburgk, leader of an 1831-35, Royal Geographical Society expedition. An Ackermann folio, it sold at £5500.
One of 200 signed, limited edition copies of Count Joseph Potocki’s Sport in Somaliland… of 1900, a big-game rarity, made £22,000 – more than trebling the previous auction record.
Two photographically illustrated works by CI Blackburne-Maze, printed for private circulation by Thorpe of Maidstone, brought strong bids. A presentation first of Journals of my African Travels (1913) made £3500 but taken to a record £4500 was an even rarer work of the following year, From Oriental to Occidental Africa.
One of 250 copies of The Recollections of William Finaughty, Elephant Hunter printed in 1916 for distribution among “noteworthy African sportsmen and other luminaries” made a record £3200.
Showing the brig Jane and the cutter Beaufoy, the watercolour by James Weddell shown above, is one of a pair, sold for £5500, that in 1825 provided the basis for illustrations in Voyage towards the South Pole, Weddell’s account of exploration on the fringes of Antarctica.
Bid to £3800 was a rare 8pp prospectus for the ill-fated 1910-13 expedition on which Scott, Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Edgar Evans all perished after reaching the South Pole – only to find they had been beaten to the prize by Amundsen.
In creased but original wrappers, Prospectus for the Antarctic Expedition of 1909 was accompanied by a typed letter, signed and with an autograph postscript by Scott, thanking a Miss Ward for her £5 subscription.