On July 20th 1811 James Bruce, the 8th Lord Elgin, Scottish Liberal statesman and diplomat, was born.
James Bruce was, at six feet four inches tall, an impressive figure. He was an explorer, archeologist and a brilliant linguist. In 1762 he spent six months in Italy where Batoni painted this glowing portrait. Bruce’s travels subsequently took him to North Africa, Crete, Syria, Egypt and Abyssinia. He is best known for his exploration of the sources of the Nile, reaching the headstream of the Blue Nile in 1770.
Due to a self-confidence bordering on arrogance he made many enemies, notably Samuel Johnson, who criticised his writings and cast doubt on their veracity. Very little was known about Africa at the time, and this lent credence to the claims that Bruce had embellished his account. Although he turned out to be mistaken about the source of the Nile, the descriptions of his travels in Africa have since proven largely accurate.