Penpont Heritage Centre

Joseph Thomson and the Exploration of Africa

“He who goes gently goes safely; he who goes safely goes far.”

Joseph Thomson led six expeditions into uncharted areas of Africa. He opened up new routes to Lake Nyasa and Victoria Nyanza, was the first white man to enter the Rift Valley, mapped huge expanses of what are now Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria, made important scientific discoveries about Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya and discovered Thomson’s Falls (named after his father) as well as new species of plants and animals, including Thomson’s Gazelle.

Gifted with phenomenal stamina and fitness, Thomson is also famous for his reliance on friendly words and persuasion, rather than threats of violence, when faced with difficult situations on his travels. In all his expeditions, none of his travelling companions met a violent end.

“…my fondest boast is, not that I have travelled over hundreds of miles hitherto untrodden by the foot of a white man, but that I have been able to do so as a Christian and a Scotchman, carrying everywhere goodwill and friendship, finding that a gentle word was more potent than gunpowder, and that it was not necessary, even in Central Africa, to sacrifice the lives of men in order to throw light upon its dark corners.” 
‘Dumfries & Galloway Standard’ 15 Sep 1880

It is tragic that Thomson died – in 1895, at the age of only 37 – from illnesses acquired during his expeditions.

Routes - click to enlarge

1879-80 – Thomson’s first expedition:  Dar Es Salaam to Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika

1881 – Thomson’s second expedition:  along the River Rovuma in search of coal deposits

1883-84 – Thomson’s third and most famous expedition: Mombasa to Lake Victoria, known as ‘The Masai Journey’

1885 – Thomson’s fourth journey: following the course of the River Niger

1888 – Thomson’s fifth journey: into the Atlas Mountains

1890 – Thomson’s sixth and final expedition: the Zambia Journey

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At this year's AGM, the decision was taken to  only open the Centre on Saturdays (2.00pm - 4.00pm) during July and August until further notice. For entry outwith these times, please  click here to contact us. 

Please see our events page for further information.




You can find the Post Office in the Joseph Thomson Room within the Centre on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons between 2.00 - 4.00pm.





We are pleased to have the Joseph Thomson Maasai Trust and the Olakira Le Maa Trust join our website. These new pages are: 

JT Maasai Trust

The Walk

The Olakira Le Maa Trust



 If you are looking for any heritage information please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.



We are planning to show some of the local films made by our Chairperson, Sophia Harkness during March 2018 and are also planning a talk by Hugh Buck, our secretary on his time in Kenya in the 60s. this will be introduced by Sophia.  Please check out the Forthcoming Events page for further information by clicking here.

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We welcome individuals, groups and school parties. Please contact us to arrange your booking.

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