Henry Salt, 1780-1827

A Voyage to Abyssinia, and Travels Into the Interior of That Country, Executed Under the Orders of the British Government, in the Years 1809 and 1810. . . . London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1814. [Rare Books Division]

Among the different avocations to which men have devoted their time, no pursuits can lay perhaps a fairer claim to the Public favour than those of the traveller, owing to his efforts being generally directed to establish a more intimate connection between distant countries; thereby enlarging the bounds of knowledge, promoting the interests of commerce, and tending in a high degree to ameliorate the general condition of mankind.

—Salt (from his dedication)

The son of an English physician, Salt trained as a portrait painter and became an accomplished artist and diplomat. He was sent by the British government on a mission to Ethiopia in 1809 to explore trade and diplomatic relations with the country’s warlord ruler. His voyage took him around the Cape of Good Hope, along the Mozambique coast, to Aden on the Arabian peninsula, and then across the Red Sea to the coast of Africa and the islands of today’s Eritrea, before he actually arrived in Ethiopia in January 1810. His treks in that country are marked in red on his map. His published account of the trip, illustrated with plates and charts, includes a description of the Portuguese settlements on the east coast of Africa, notes on aboriginal African tribes extending from Mozambique to Egypt, and vocabulary tables of the tribes’ respective languages. He collected and returned to England with specimens of the rarer birds found in Ethiopia. Hoping he had attracted “notice to the forlorn and distracted state” of Ethiopia, he urged his government “to promote the welfare of that country by the introduction of useful arts together with a judicious advancement of the true tenets of the Christian Religion among its inhabitants. . . .”

Salt was appointed British consul-general in Cairo in 1815. He co-financed an expedition to uncover the Abu Simbel site in 1817, having been tipped to its location by John Lewis Burckhardt (1784-1817), a Swiss-born explorer sponsored by London’s African Association. During his time in Egypt, Salt assembled three significant collections of antiquities: two went to the British Museum, and the other was purchased by Charles X of France for the Louvre. Salt died near Alexandria in 1827.