The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

At the "Source of the Nile"


A map of Lake Tana and surrounding area, taken from James Bruce's Travels


A close-up at where Bruce located the source of the Nile on the map of Lake Tana

Come and triumph with your Don Quixote at that island of Barataria where we have wisely and fortunately brought ourselves; come and triumph with me over all the kings of the earth, all their armies, all their philosophers, and all their heroes.” – James Bruce (Mitsein, 11) 

On his way to the south, Bruce learned that the same rebel who had attacked Ras Michael earlier, Fasil, had surrendered and was made a governor. In a display of his strong ability to negotiate, Bruce convinced Fasil to provide him with protection and a guide for his journey to the source of the Nile (Hibbert, 41). Close to seven months after he left Gondar, Bruce arrived at what he believed was the source (Hibbert, 44). The caravan arrived at Ghish, south of Lake Tana, and Bruce’s guide, Woldo, pointed out a specific marsh where he believed the source lay (Hibbert, 43). Bruce met with the leaders of the pagan village, who confirmed Woldo’s beliefs, and Bruce stayed for five days to record details about the Nile and its surroundings (Hibbert, 45).

In reality, Bruce did not find the source of the Nile; the actual source is at the head of the White Nile in Lake Victoria. Moreover, some argue that Bruce did not even find the source of the Blue Nile because it was closer to Lake Tana than the place Bruce reached (Hibbert, 44). In addition, Pedro Paez reached Ghish in 1608, though Bruce again disputed and denied the claim (Hibbert, 44). Interestingly, although Bruce initially reacted with excitement and triumph, later passages reflect what could be described as a sense of disappointment at what he found.  This could be a result of the many myths and legends surrounding the Nile, giving Bruce unrealistic expectations. Or it could simply represent a feeling of exasperation at meeting a goal that he set, only to be left with nothing to do next. Ultimately, judging by the overall tone with which he writes about the success of his journey in Travels, Bruce most likely felt that he had accomplished his goal and did believe that he found the source of the Nile.

The Journey
At the "Source of the Nile"