>Speke was an English explorer and the first European to reach Lake Victoria in east Africa, which he correctly identified as the long-sought source of the Nile.
John Hanning Speke was born on 4 May 1827 in Bideford in Devon. He was commissioned into the British army in 1844 and posted to India where he served in the Punjab and travelled in the Himalayas and Tibet. In April 1855, as part of Richard Burton's expedition to explore Somaliland, Speke was severely wounded in an attack by the Somalis. Invalided home, he volunteered for the Crimea and served during the war with a regiment of Turks.
In December 1856, Speke accepted an invitation from Burton to join an expedition to search for the reported great lakes in east central Africa and, particularly, to try and find Lake Nyassa, said to be the origin of the Nile. They left Zanzibar in June 1857 and, after exploring the East African coast for six months to find the best route inland, became the first Europeans to reach Lake Tanganyika in February 1858. During the return trip, Speke left Burton, who was unwell, and struck out northward alone. In July he found a great lake which he named in honour of Queen Victoria.
Speke's theory that the lake was the source of Nile was rejected by Burton - beginning a bitter public dispute between the two men. However, the Royal Geographical Society, which had sponsored the expedition, honoured Speke for his exploits and commissioned a second expedition in 1860 to resolve the dispute. Speke and Captain James Grant mapped a portion of Lake Victoria. In July 1862, Speke, unaccompanied by Grant, found the Nile's exit from the lake and named it Ripon Falls. The party then tried to follow the river's course, but an outbreak of tribal warfare required them to change their route.
On his return to England, Speke was greeted with enthusiasm and published 'Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile' (1863). Yet Burton and others remained unconvinced. On 15 September 1864, shortly before Speke and Burton were to debate the subject publicly, Speke was killed by his own gun while hunting. It remains uncertain whether it was an accident or suicide.