Imperial Madness & Soap
Two of the expedition members had close links to Belgium although neither of them were Belgian.
It was Johan Millen who went to England to raise the funds for the expedition. At the time he worked in a soap manufacturer in Antwerp.
Axel Werner Hoppenrath
Axel Werner Hoppenrath was a Swedish captain who worked in the Belgian Congo for decades. His service in the Congo was only broken by his time on the expedition. He was a critical member of the Parker expedition. He negotiated the purchase of land and signed a contract with the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem.
The official biography of service in the Congo records that Hoppenrath worked hard and with ‘a rare competence’. His passengers also appreciated Hoppenrath’s qualities as a steamer captain. In 1894, when he was the ‘Stanley’ steamer’s captain, he carried a party of Catholic missionaries and nuns. One of these was Constant Pierre-Joseph De Deken. He was a Belgian missionary, anthropologist and explorer who later wrote an account of his time in the Congo. De Deken thanked the Swede for his tact and good manners, which lessened their long voyage’s monotony. He wrote that even if you travelled slowly with Hoppenrath, you could be sure of arriving.
The most famous depiction of the madness of the Belgian Congo is arguably in Joseph Conrad’s work Heart of Darkness. Hoppenrath played a part in inspiring its most famous scene:
“I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids,—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.”
Hoppenrath was married to a Belgian woman named Jeanne-Marie Charlier. He married her on his return to Europe shortly before the expedition. She later joined him for part of the expedition to Jerusalem.
In addition to Hoppenrath and Millen’s connections to Belgium there was also one Belgian shareholder in J. M. P. F. W. Ltd.
FCW Stachow a Civil Engineer of 146 rue des Palais, Brussels was a shareholder.