European contact with Timbuktu is maybe the most convincing part of the Mali story, highlighted by strong and unsafe excursions by Englishmen in the 1820s through an Africa then basically obscure to Europe, a different universe as remote as the Americas had been two hundred years before.
Timbuktu had its first extraordinary effect on European cognizance when a couple of pioneers, Alexander Gordon Laing and Hugh Clapperton, competed with each other to locate the mythical city, which in 1820 had much same notoriety in London and Paris as that of El Dorado had before in the New World – as a place where avenues were cleared with gold and diamonds were set in each doorknob.
The most engaging contender for winning the race to Timbuktu was Major Laing, a 30-something armed force officer who had quickly served in Sierra Leone. Good looking and self-partner, Laing was persuaded that rediscovery of Timbuktu was his predetermination and in addition his own ticket to notoriety.
In July 1825, after a hurricane sentiment with Emma Warrington, little girl of the British representative at Tripoli, Laing left the Mediterranean drift to cross the Sahara by walking. His 2,000-mile travel went up against an additional direness when Hugh Clapperton, a more experienced adventurer, set out to beat him. Advised of each other’s main goal by administrators in London who trusted the two would coordinate, Clapperton rather turned into Laing’s adversary, prodding him on over a threatening wild.