Friedrich Gerhard Rohlfs - Encyclopedia

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FRIEDRICH GERHARD ROHLFS (1831-1896), German explorer of the Sahara, son of a physician, was born at Vegesack, near Bremen, on the 14th of April 1831. After the ordinary course at the gymnasium of Osnabruck he entered the Bremen corps in 1848, and took part as a volunteer in the Schleswig-Holstein campaign, being made an officer 'after the battle of Idstedt (July 1850). He became a medical student at the universities of Heidelberg, Wiirzburg and then Göttingen; but his natural inclination was for travelling, and in 1855 he went to Algeria and enlisted in the Foreign Legion.

He took part in the conquest of Kabylia, and was decorated for bravery as Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Having made himself master of Arabic and gained a thorough knowledge of native customs, Rohlfs went to Morocco in 1861; presenting himself as a Mussulman, he gained the favour of the enlightened sherif of Wazzan, and was thus enabled to travel over the length and breadth of the country. He then entered the Sahara and traversed the entire extent of the Wad Draa, being the second European (the first being Rene Caillie) to visit Tafilet. On leaving Tafilet he was robbed by his guides and left for dead; but two marabouts charitably succoured him and he was able to reach Algeria. When scarcely recovered from his wounds he started once more for the Sahara (August 1862) by way of Algeria. Compelled by tribal disturbances to turn back, he went to Tangier and thence in March 1864 made a fresh start. Crossing the Atlas by an eastern route he again visited Tafilet, and thence made his way across the desert to the oasis of Tuat, which he was the first European to describe. Returning by Ghadames and Tripoli he spent three months in Germany, and then (March 1865) went back to Tripoli, intending to explore the highlands of the Ahaggar; being prevented, however, by a war among the Tuareg, he went from Ghadames to Murzuk, where he spent five months, and thence across the Sahara to Bornu, mapping en route the oasis of Kawar. Rohlfs passed through Mandara and its ancient capital Mora, and struck out for the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. He reached the Benue by way of the Bauchi highlands, and descended that river to its confluence with the Niger, which he ascended to Rabba. Thence he made his way on horseback to Lagos, reaching Liverpool on the 2nd of July 1867. In the following year he accompanied the British expedition against Theodore of Abyssinia, and on his return went once more to Tripoli, whence he traversed the Cyrenaica, reaching Egypt by way of the oasis of Siwa (1869). Returning home, he married and settled down in Weimar. He did not rest long, however, for in 1873-74 he took command of an expedition sent by the Khedive Ismail into the Libyan Desert, which made investigations of great value to science. In 1878 Rohlfs and Dr Stecker were commissioned by the German African Society to go to Wadai. They succeeded in reaching the oasis of Kufra, one of the chief centres of the Senussites, but being attacked by the Arabs, they were obliged to retreat, making their way to the coast at Benghazi, reached in October 1879. In 1880 Rohlfs accompanied Dr Stecker in an exploring expedition to Abyssinia; but after delivering a letter from the German emperor to the Negus, he returned to Europe. In 1885, when the rivalry between the British and Germans in East Africa was very keen, Prince Bismarck appointed Rohlfs consul at Zanzibar, which island Bismarck desired to secure for Germany. Rohlfs, untrained in diplomacy, was no match for Sir John Kirk, the British Agent, and he was soon recalled, and did not again visit Africa. He died at Rungsdorf, near Bonn, on the 2nd of June 1896. Rohlfs visited many regions not before traversed by Europeans, and the value of his work was recognized in 1868 by the Royal Geographical Society, which bestowed on him the Patron's Medal.

Accounts of each of his expeditions, and other works on Africa were published by Rohlfs, including Mein Erster Aufenthalt in Marokko (Bremen, 1873; English edition, Travels in Morocco, London, 1874); Reise durch Marokko (Bremen, 1868); Quer durch Afrika (Leipzig, 1874-75)- Von Tripolis nach Alexandrien (Bremen, 1871); Expedition zur Erforschung der Libyschen Wiiste (Cassel, 18 75-7 6); Kufra: Reise von Tripolis nach der Oase Kufra (Leipzig, 1881); Land and Volk in Afrika (Bremen, 1870); Quid novi Africa? (Cassel, 1886). See also a biographical notice by Dr W. Wolkenhauer in the Deutsche geo. Blatter for 1896.

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