George Francis Lyon (1795-1832) is the epitome of the intrepid English explorer and this work remains a classic narrative of a daring and historic journey. Yet his first expedition, from which this work derives, came about almost by accident when, in 1818, a fellow sea captain in the Royal Navy withdrew from a proposed journey into the little-known interior of the Libyan desert. Eager for adventure, Lyon agrees to accompany the expedition, led by a Mr Ritchie, ‘a gentleman of great science and ability’.
There follows a disastrous year-long journey into the desert province of Fezzan. Beset by illness and badly under-financed, the expedition comes to a standstill at the remote town of Morzouk, where Ritchie dies. Near to death himself, Lyon takes command and, not only returns the expedition safely to Tripoli, but on the journey back finds time to keep a detailed journal, from which the bulk of this work derives.
Brave and compassionate, his exciting narrative reads more like a work of fiction, with Lyon himself as the disarming hero who overcomes each hazard with aplomb: treacherous sheikhs, murderous slave hunters, disease and the appalling environment, are each taken in his stride, while not even the smallest detail escapes the notice of his pen. Native dress, speech and customs, archaeological, geological and meteorological data, are meticulously recorded. Even the dazzling colour-plates which illustrate the work are taken from the author’s own life drawings.
Less than two years after his return, Lyon joined Parry’s expedition in search of the North West Passage, returning again to the Arctic in 1824. He died at sea in 1832.