Monday, April 10, 2017

Alexandrine Tinne': African Explorer

Annamaria on Monday

This comes under the heading of books I am tempted to but will never write.  The thing about this heroine is that I admire a lot of what she did, but so many different possibilities emerge from her story that I have trouble imagining her as a person.  I think you will see why.

Born in 17 October 1835 in The Hague to a Dutch aristocratic family, Alexine (as she called herself) was educated at home--next door to the Dutch Royal Library.  She spent a lot of time there, pouring over charts and journals of explorers and developing an obsession for the "blank spaces" on the maps.  Her father died when she was only ten, leaving her the richest girl in the Netherlands.


As she matured, she remained uninterested in a life in high society.  Instead, she decided to spend her daddy's fortune on exploration.  Like (ahem) many other little girls, she fell in love with geography at an early age, in her case inspired by souvenirs of her father's travels.  Wanderlust overtook her and her mother in 1862.  They and her aunt, the went to Khartoum and on up the White Nile, where no European women had ever gone.  There, they began to experience the illnesses that plagued their travels ever after.  Over the next three years of Africa exploration, a male geographer accompanying them, her mother, and two Dutch maids died of various maladies.  Alexis, herself plagued by eye infections and gout, returned to Khartoum to find that her aunt and a third maid--who had stayed behind--had also died.

In 1865, her brother John traveled from Liverpool to convince her to go home.  She would have none of it.  She sent him back to Liverpool with much of her ethnological collection of materials and plant specimens.  John took Mamma's corpse back to Europe to be buried in The Hague.  He donated Alexandrine's collected materials to the Liverpool Public Museum.

Alexine, meanwhile, moved to Cairo, living in Oriental fashion and taking side trips to Algeria and Tunisia.  Her next destination was a fateful one: to cross the Sahara and explore the Touareg  territory.

She set out on her own, made it as far as Murzuq, but on her way to Ghat, fate caught up with her.  She and two Dutch sailors traveling with her met their deaths on the first of August 1869.  They were murdered, some say by Touareg tribesmen.

A trial four or five months later revealed that she was cut with a sword in her neck and on one of the her hands and that she was then left to die.  They never found her body.  The most plausible rationale for her murder was intra-tribal strife rampant in the area.  Testimony said that one side sought to discredit the other making their territory look dangerous.

Some of the invaluable materials Alexine collected were destroyed during World War II bombing raids, incredibly both in Liverpool and in The Hague.  Many survive--some of them in a Museum in Stuttgart.

So if you were going to make Alexandrine Tinne' a fictional heroine, what kind a person would she be?


  1. A fascinating story, Annamaria.
    I would make it a docudrama. Then they'll make it into a movie. You'll need to put in a love theme of course. And change the ending, and maybe...

    1. Ah, Michael, if I anticipated a screen play, you are right, I would have to hollywood-ize the story. No doubt they would want to cast Gwyneth Paltrow.

  2. It was all a ruse. She never died, but lived out her days anonymously, deep within the continent. Her journey inspired a hit song..."As Tinne goes by."

    1. Oh, my brother. You and Hollywood deserve one another. Only you could have come up with just the right change of ending that Michael had in mind. I think I'll make the trial lawyer a guy from Pittsburgh. He can fall in love with Gwyneth Paltrow in the last scene.

  3. Actually, I have it on good authority (who's identity I'm pledged to keep secret), that she DID make it to Ghat, from whence she set sail for South America, where she still lives a private life today in a menage-a-quatre with Adolph Hitler, John F. Kennedy, and Elvis.

    (Great story, AmA, thanks for bringing it to us.)

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