Name: Alexandrine Tinné [al-ex-ann-drine] [tin; also tin-a]
Dates: October 17, 1835-August 1, 1869
Place of Birth: The Hague, Netherlands
Alexandrine Tinné was a Dutch explorer who, on two occasions, explored the Nile River in search of the source of the White Nile. She was killed by local natives while attempting to be the first European woman to cross the Sahara.
Alexandrine (or Alexine [a-lex-een], as she preferred to be called]) was born October 17, 18351 at The Hague, Netherlands to Philip F. Tinné, a wealthy merchant, and Baroness Henriette van Steengracht-Capellan a court-lady of the queen. She was tutored at home and excelled in piano and early photography…a skill that would be used extensively in her later travels. Alexandrine’s interests in traveling were developed at an early age. As a young girl, she accompanied her father through France, Switzerland, and Italy. Her parents allowed her to travel extensively on her own which allowed her to spend many summers with friends in England and France where she became fluent in both languages. Her father, who was 63 when she was born, passed away while she was a child (some sources say at age 5 others at age 10) leaving his entire fortune to her making her the wealthiest young heiress in the Netherlands.2 After his death she and her mother spent the next couple of years traveling to France, Spain, Sweden, and Norway, returning to The Hague in 1854 where they remained until 1848.3
Being one of the wealthiest ladies of her time, Alexandrine had many suitors and, at age 19, she was engaged to a young baron who, unbeknownst to her, was deeply in debt. Once she learned that he planned to use her money to pay off his debts, she broke off the engagement.4 At her mother’s suggestion, they decided to take an extended tour of Europe and the Middle East. While touring the Middle East, they opted to go to Egypt, arriving at Alexandria in late December 1855. From there they went to Cairo, arriving in early January 1856. While staying there, Alexandrine taught herself to speak and write Arabic. They rented a large, luxuriously furnished boat and sailed up the Nile to Aswan, visiting ancient Egyptian monuments along the way. They returned to Cairo where they spent the Christmas of 1856. In early 1857, Alexandrina and Henriette attempted to sail up the Nile to Khartoum (Sudan) but only made it to the Second Cataract of the Nile before being forced to return to Cairo. Shortly thereafter, they departed Egypt and spent the rest of the year traveling throughout Europe before returning to the Netherlands.5
The pleasure of coming home after traveling for more than a year and a half was short lived. Between 1857 and the summer of 1860 Alexandrine and Henriette traveled all over Europe, including journeys to Moscow, England, and France. These travels ignited a desire in the Tinné ladies to return to Africa. These travels also provided Alexandrine the opportunity to enhance her photography skills.6
Preparations for the return to Egypt began is July 1860 and were finalized by the spring of 1861. Henriette invited her sister, Adriana van Capellen, to join them. The purpose of this expedition was to explore the mysterious Sudan region and to map the White Nile and its western tributaries. Because of the dangerous, often rushing waters, no European, and especially no European woman, had explored any further than Gondokoro (Sudan), the last navigable spot on the Nile.7
The three Dutch ladies arrived in Cairo on August 22, 1861. Alexandrine rented a large house and furnished it with luxury items from Europe to include a grand piano. On January 14, 1861, the entire household including servants and pets, set off in three boats and reached Korosko eight days later. Here, they disembarked in order to cross the Nubian desert by camel arriving at Berber (located on the Nile in northern Sudan) on March 23. They remained there for about two weeks before boarding the boats on April 11 and sailing to Khartoum (located near the confluence of the White and Blue Niles).8 While resting in Khartoum, Alexandrine learned John Hanning Speke, another explorer, was due to arrive via the White Nile from Central Africa. She decided not to travel up the Blue Nile to Ethiopia but head south on the White Nile. She hired a steamboat to take her further up the river and to tow the odd assortment of boats she had acquired. They departed Khartoum on May 12, 1862, and traveled to Jebel Dinka, a slave trading post, located on the White Nile in South Sudan. Shocked by what she saw, she bought a family of six and freed them. Further up the river, she encountered a tangled mess of swamps and streams. It took three weeks to travel 150 miles. When she reached Gondokoro (a slave depot), she learned that Speke had not arrived. She became ill and decided to end the expedition; on October 22 she boarded the steamboat and set sail for Khartoum, arriving on November 20, 1862.9
While recovering in Khartoum, Alexandrine began planning a second expedition. If the first one could be regarded as a grand pleasure excursion, albeit with a scientific undercurrent, the second was conceived as a means of making a positive/useful contribution to the world. To assist in this endeavor she was aided by two German scientists recently back from an extensive tour through Abyssinia (Ethiopian Empire): Theodor von Heuglin (March 20, 1824-November 5, 1876), an ornithologist, and Hermann Steudner (September 1, 1832-April 10, 1863), a botanist; the latter also served as Alexandrine’s private physician as well as expedition doctor.10 In addition, Alexandrine was able to gain the services of the Dutch explorer Baron Daniel Van Arkel d’Ablaing.11
After much preparation, on 25 January 1963, Heuglin and Steudner, serving as an advanced party, departed Khartoum for Meshra-el-Rek, a port in South Sudan located on the Rek River, to be used as a forward base camp.12 Alexandrine, her mother, d’Ablaing, maids, servants, an interpreter – totaling more than 200 people, 30 mules, 4 camels, riding horses, ammunition, dishes, eating utensils, trade goods, and provisions for 10 months, two freight boats and two passenger boats departed Khartoum on February 5. Her aunt Adriana opted to remain in Khartoum.13 Alexandrine and her party sailed south on the White Nile and entered the Bahr-el-Ghazal River (South Sudan) hoping to see how far west the Nile basin extended and to see if there was, in fact, a large lake in Central Africa, as was rumored. They continued on the Bahr-el Ghazal River to the mouth of the Bahr-al-Hamr. From there they traveled overland to the Jur River (western South Sudan) where they once again traveled by boat and finally arrived at Meshra-el-Rek on March 10.14
The journey was not an easy one for any of the travelers; they were all bitten by mosquitoes; the rainy season was in full effect and the group was constantly cold and wet. Meshra-el-Rek was a filthy, swampy, unhealthy place and many of the members of the expedition suffered fever (blackwater). To make matters worse, the expedition had lost a lot of equipment and provisions and the locals did not trust them and treated them harshly forcing Alexandrine to send Baron d’Ablaing back to Khartoum for supplies.15 On May 15, additional supplies arrived and Alexandrine was finally able to continue the expedition on May 25. Heuglin, still ill, remained behind and hoped to catch up with Alexandrine once he recovered; Steudner had already died of fever on April 10 when he and Heuglin became ill while on a side trip to explore the area around Wau (western bank of the Jur River).16
On June 4, d’Ablaing, placed the ailing Heuglin in a sedan chair that he had constructed for him, and set off through the marshes after Alexandrine. In the afternoon of June 11, they finally reached her encampment. Upon arriving they learned that Alexandrine had just put down a mutiny of both her porters and her soldiers.17 She was also terribly ill with the fever. It would be a month before she was able to resume her journey, reaching the Jur River on June 19. On June 21, they arrived at the zariba–a fenced place–of the slave trader Biselli near Wau. Because of the rainy season, they were forced to stay at Biselli’s zariba. Biselli overcharged them for everything they needed to survive.18 As a result, a couple of months later, Alexandrine established her own zariba about one hour’s distance from Biselli. Almost all their burden and riding animals died of diseases and malnutrition. Because of the trying conditions, Alexandrine and members of her party became terribly ill with fever. Her mother Henriette died on July 20 and was buried the next day. Many others died including Henriette’s maid, Flora, on August 20. At this point, Alexandrine opted to terminate the expedition and return to Khartoum.19
Because the expedition had been gone for eight months, Alexandrine’s aunt Adriana van Cappellen, in Khartoum, organized a rescue mission of 75. The rescue party departed on November 23, 1863, and arrived at Meshra on January 10, 1864. From there it went overland to Wau to join Alexandrine who had relocated there during the first week of January. The rescue party arrived on January 14. Alexandrine, not wishing to leave the bodies of Henriette and Flora buried in the wilds of Sudan, exhumed their bodies and took them with her. On January 22, Anna, Henriette’s maid for many years and the last of the two maids from the Hague died.20
On February 1, 1864, Alexandrine and her party set off for Khartoum by boat. The return trip was very difficult. Almost everybody suffered from fever at one time or another. The boats barely advanced because of the many water plants that choked the river. They had to either push the plants aside with poles or cut them. They were constantly attacked by clouds of mosquitoes. They had to contend with hostile locals, many of whom were forced by their leaders to serve as porters. Supplies were in short demand and thefts were very common. Alexandrine finally reaches the outskirts of Khartoum at the end of March where she opted to stay outside the city on the island of Tuti while Heuglin and the others entered the city.21
Shortly after her arrival, Musha Pasha Hamdi, Governor General of Sudan, officially accused her of slavery on account of the actions of the native soldiers, merchants, shipowners, and traders she had hired. She responded by accusing him of incompetence and corruption. Heuglin, thanks to the excellent relations he had with Musha Pasha, was able to intervene and the matter was dropped.22 Although no official action was taken against Alexandrine, she was never able to fully clear herself. She remained not only in poor health but was also depressed. And, if that were not bad enough, on May 19, her aunt Adriana died unexpectedly after a brief illness. She buried her aunt and Anna in Khartoum. Depressed and isolated, Alexandrine decided to relocate to Cairo. Taking the bodies of Henrietta and Flora she departed Khartoum in July. She sailed to Berber in northern Sudan; traveled by camel to Suakim, located on the Red Sea; sailed to Suez; from there she traveled to Cairo, arriving in late December/early January 1865 and took up residence in the Old Quarter.23
John Tinné, her half-brother from Liverpool, arrived in Cairo on January 14, 1865, with the intention of talking her into returning to The Hague. Riddled with guilt and sorrow over the death of her mother, aunt, and maids, Alexine vowed not to return home. After settling many of Alexandrine’s affairs, John (who for health reasons had relocated to Alexandria on February 8) departed Egypt for home on February 24. John left with the bodies of Henrietta and Flora and a large part of Alexandrine’s ethnographic collection. Alexine’s ethnographic collection which included materials and knowledge on the geology, foliage animal life, and climate of the region was donated by John to the Public Museum (now the Liverpool World Museum).24
Alexandrine remained in Egypt for about a year. She spent the summer of 1865 crisscrossing the Mediterranean on a yacht and finally settling in Algiers on October 11, 1865. While in Algiers she learned about the Touareg people who inhabited the Sahara in a vast area stretching from southwestern Libya to southern Algeria, Nigark Mali, and Burkina Fasco. She decided to become the first European woman to cross the Sahara into Touareg territory.25
Prior to embarking on this new expedition, Alexandrine learned the Touareg language. Given the size of the expedition…the caravan was over sixty camel and three horses…it took time to put together. Finally, in November 1867 Alexandrine departed Algiers. The expedition, however, encountered problems from the onset and after six months of little progress, Alexandrine terminated it.26
Alexandrine spent several months in Malta before returning to North Africa and settling in Tripoli in October 1868. While in Tripoli she met several German explorers, including Gerhard Rohlfs (April 14, 1841-June 2, 1896) and Gustav Nachtigal (February 23, 1834-April 19, 1885), whose descriptions of their travels throughout Africa convinced herself to make another attempt at reaching Touareg country from Tripoli. Wanting to make the expedition as secure as possible, Alexandrine asks the Dutch consul in Tunis for protection. He refuses to help because he disliked the fact she dressed like an Arab woman. She tried to hire Rohlfs as scientific guide and assistant but the Prussian king ordered him to accompany the British in their pending war with Abyssinia.27
Ignoring Rohlfs’ warnings about the physical and tribal dangers inherent in attempting to cross the Sahara as well as personal dangers due to her wealth, Alexandrine organized a very large expedition. She succeeded in hiring two Dutch sailors to provide protection. Her caravan, consisted of 70 camels, a large amount of luggage, including several large drums of water, and a train of over 50 people. It departed Tripoli on January 28, 1869. Given the size of the caravan, it took over a month to reach Marzuq, the capital of Fezzan in southern Libya, where she became ill.28 She remained there until the middle of July. Upon getting better, she hired a Touareg chief to guide her across the desert. The Touareg chief, however, informed her that he was currently unable to depart immediately and therefore turned her over to one of his followers who would serve as her guide. While preparing to depart eight Touaregs arrived and claimed they were sent by their chief to help. When the caravan departed Marzuq the eight Touaregs followed from a distance to the oasis of Berdjong where Alexandrine became ill and remained in her tent. On August 1, 1869, a staged fight broke out between Alexandrine’s Arab camel drivers and the eight Touaregs. The two Dutchmen were killed immediately. When Alexandrine attempted to intervene she was struck from behind by a sword in the neck and shoulder, then her right hand was severed and she was shot in the chest. Her body was dragged into the sun and left to die. Surviving native witnesses said it took almost seven hours for her to die. The Touaregs ransacked her baggage and emptied the drums of water in search of money and jewels and found none; most of the servants were released.29 News of Alexandrine’s death did not reach Tripoli until September 20. The Turkish governor organized an expedition which tracked down some of her killers and put them on trial. Part of her possessions were recovered but her body was never recovered.30
Although she was only thirty-three years old at the time of her death, she had amassed a vast amount of information about a part of Africa that was little known to the outside world. In the course of her exploration of the tributaries of the White Nile and its environs, she discovered the Senna River which was broader than the White Nile. She and her colleagues not only documented and took photographs of plants and animals, at that time unknown to the European world, they also collected specimens of their discoveries and sent them back to Europe. Alexandrine collected a great deal of important information regarding the manners and customs of various unknown tribes in the Sudan. She also collected many native artifacts illustrating the manners and customs of Central Africans included weapons, stuffed birds, antelope antlers, rhinoceros horns, household utensils, and articles of clothing of various Sudanese tribes. Her diaries and letters to relatives have also supplied a great deal of information about her travels.31
The collections of Alexandrine and Heuglin were eventually incorporated into the collections of many European museums. Alexandrine’s ethnographic collection from the 1863-64 expedition of the Bahr-el-Ghazal region was sent to the World Museum in Liverpool, England; Heuglin gave his collection from the same expedition to the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.32 Botanical specimens collected at this time were sent to the Imperial Herbarium in Vienna where they were put on display and then published by John Tinné in 1867 as Plantes Tinnéennes.33 It was believed that the collections of ethnographic specimens which she and her party had collected in their travels, along with a collection of detailed letters she wrote while on her journey, were destroyed during World War II bombing raids, and all that survived of their travels was her mother’s diary. Fortunately, this is not the case. Surviving papers, photographs, and artifacts are to be found at the Royal Archives and Library in The Hague as well as the Tinné Family Archives in England, the Von Heuglin Archive, Linden Museum, Stuttgart, and the Collection Archives, Liverpool World Museum.34
“Alexandrine Tinné.” Myhero.com. Revised January 5, 2017. Accessed May 7, 2019. https:// myhero.com/Alexandrine_Tinne_2006.
“Alexandrine Tinné, The Female African Explorer.” Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Art, Vol. 3, Issue 52, April 2, 1870. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/ m/moajrnl/acw8433.1-03.053/422?node=acw8433.1-03.053:5&view=image&size=125.
Baker, Daniel B., editor. “Alexine Tinné (1835-1869). Explorers and Discoverers of the World. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc, 1993.
Johnston, Harry Hamilton, The Nile Quest: A Record of the Nile and its Basin. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1903.
McVicker, Mary F. Women Adventurers, 1750-1900: A Biographical Dictionary With Excerpts From Selected Travel Writings. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers, 2008.
Wells, William. The Heroine of the White Nile or, What a Woman Did and Dared: A Sketch of the Remarkable Travels and Experience of Miss Alexandrine Tinné. New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1871
Willink, Robert Joost. The Fateful Journey: The Expedition of Alexine Tinne and Theodor von Heuglin in Sudan (1863-1864) – A Study of Their Travel Accounts and Ethnographic Collections. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.