Alexander Gordon Laing

1794 - 1826

African explorer. Born in Edinburgh, Laing was the son of a teacher of classics who provided his early schooling. He completed his education at the University of Edinburgh and left for Barbados in 1811. Here he was able to secure a commission in the army. In 1822, he was posted to West Africa in an attempt to suppress the slave trade and promote commerce. He was able to approximately identify the source of the Niger although was unable to reach it due to native attacks. After returning to Britain in 1824, where he prepared the journal of his explorations for publication, but he set sail for Tripoli in North Africa (1825) intent on crossing the Sahara and heading south to continue his exploration of the Niger basin. The French had offered a prize for the first European to reach Timbuktu and Laing competed with Hugh Clapperton (1788 - 1827), amongst others, to win. Laing succeeded in August 1826, but was murdered as he left the city a month later and was unable to claim his prize. However, he was posthumously honoured by the French Société de Géographie, and the French Government later placed a plaque on the house he used in Timbuktu, which remains today.

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