A Self-declared Pasha and African Explorer Is Killed

Eduard Schnitzer was born to a middle-class Jewish family, baptized as a child and ended up a governor in what is today South Sudan.

David Green
David B. Green
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 Eduard Schnitzer aka  Emin Pasha.
Eduard Schnitzer aka Emin Pasha. Credit: Wikimedia
David Green
David B. Green

On October 23, 1892, Emin Pasha, a physician, naturalist, African explorer and colonial governor who started life as Eduard Schnitzer, was killed by two slave traders near Nyangwe, in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. Schnitzer was one of those 19th-century adventurers who reinvented himself several times, as he slipped from one culture into another, and through force of talent and personality, attained positions of great responsibility. The whole world learned about him in 1887, when an expedition led by Henry Morton Stanley journeyed into the heart of Africa to rescue him from his presumed captivity.

Eduard Schnitzer was born into a middle-class Jewish family on March 28, 1840, in the town of Oppeln, in Silesia (then part of Prussia, today Opole, Poland). When he was still a young child, his father, Ludwig, a merchant, died, and Eduard’s mother, Pauline, remarried. Her new husband was a Christian named Schweitzer, and she and her two children underwent baptism and entered the Lutheran church.

Schnitzer studied medicine, at the universities of Breslau, Konigsberg and finally Berlin, qualifying as a physician in 1864. But, when he failed to register in time to take the German licensing exam, he decided to seek work in other, less punctilious lands.

Schnitzer headed for Istanbul, hoping to find employment in service to the Ottoman empire. By the time he reached the port town of Antivari (today Bar, Montenegro) his money had run out, so it was there that he took a position as a medical quarantine officer, while at the same time learning to speak modern Greek, Turkish and Albanian.

In 1870, he joined the staff of the governor of the Ottoman province of Northern Albania, Ismail Hakki Pasha. He began to call himself Hayrullah Efendi, and had a love affair with his boss’ wife.

When the governor died, in 1873, Schnitzer took Madame Ismail, her children and her slave girls back to his hometown, and presented them as his family. When the burden of supporting a family and entourage became onerous, however, he took off for Cairo and then Khartoum, the capital of Egyptian Sudan.

Whether Schnitzer became a practicing Muslim is unclear, but from here on, he passed himself off as one, from Turkey, donning a fez and calling himself Mehmet Emin Pasha.

In Khartoum, he quickly rose from the position of medical officer to the governor of the southern province of Equitoria (today South Sudan), whose physical remoteness gave him the freedom to implement an ambitious program of development and to wage a successful battle against slavery in the region. And he still had time to collect plants and animals, samples of which he shared with museums in Europe.

In 1881, a Sudanese rebel calling himself the Mahdi (a messianic figure in Islam) led a devastating revolt against British-assisted Egyptian rule in Sudan. While it persisted Equatoria was completely cut off from the rest of the colony, and Emin Pasha’s fate was unknown. After the death of the British governor general, Charles George Gordon, in Khartoum, however, and the slaughter of some 10,000 Sudanese troops, Emin Pasha’s welfare became a subject of great concern in Europe, and the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley (of “Dr. Livingtone, I presume” fame) organized the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition to venture inland to rescue him.

The expedition set off in early 1887, and took nearly a year and a half to reach Emin at the southern end of Lake Albert, by which time nearly two-thirds of Stanley’s force was dead, either from disease or attack. As it happened, Emin was not especially interested in being rescued, but eventually was persuaded to follow Stanley.

Emin then joined the service of the German East Africa Company, which sent him to lay claim in its name to the territories between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert. Although a British-German treaty of July 1890 made his mission irrelevant, by then he was already on an expedition deep into the interior, and on October 23 (or 24) of that year, Emin Pasha was killed by two Arab slave traders at Kinena Station, near Nyangwe.

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