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Spicer Simson photographs of the Gambia River Survey 1911-1912

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y30447D

Scope and Contents

An album of photographs measuring, unless otherwise stated, 80 x 55 mm. Following the photographs are seven neatly handwritten pages containing some facts and figures about the Gambia and the note quoted below. All are captioned and short descriptive notes have been given where appropriate. A few details have been added from the Gambia Blue Books and Who's Who (1943).

The Survey of the Gambia River is described in the following extract from the album:

'Lieutenant G. Spicer Simson R.N. made plans of several shoals in the lower part of the River assisted by Mr R.F.M. Ryman C.E. [in 1911]. In 1912 further plans of bars and shoals were made, both in the upper and lower reaches of the river by Lieutenant G. Spicer Simson R.N. assisted by Mrs Spicer Simson, the latter being the first white lady who has resided in the Protectorate, also the first official of her sex in any West African Protectorate.

Shoals, rocks and other obstructions to navigation were charted to the number of 2 in 1911 and 5 in 1912. These are the more serious obstacles met by vessels up to a distance of 360 miles from the mouth, the shallows at Pirai being within 20 miles (by river) from the end of navigation. In 1913 and succeeding years it is proposed to properly survey the River from the mouth to Bananko at the head of navigation. For this purpose a new vessel has been purchased (also named 'Rose', the previous vessel of that name being sold) and Lieutenant J.C. Holmes R.N. has been engaged as 1st Lieut. of the ship and Assistant Surveyor. The three Surveyors will proceed to the Gambia in H.M.S.C. 'Rose' (the new one) in January 1913. Surveying can only be carried out from the middle of October to the middle of June, i.e. during the dry season'.

Although Simson’s wife is not listed in the Gambia Blue Book the map reproduced in the album is attributed to 'Lieutenant G.D. Spicer Simson Royal Navy assisted by A.E. Spicer Simson'. Also written inside the album is ‘E. Baynes-Reed Victoria B.C.’.


  • Creation: 1911 - 1912


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Geoffrey Basil Spicer Simson was born in Hobart, Tasmania, on 15 January 1876, and entered the Royal Navy in 1889. He served in the Mediterranean, Pacific and Home Fleets, was awarded the China Medal in 1900 and served in the North Borneo Boundary Commission in 1901. He made the first triangulated survey of the Yangtze River 1905-1908. From 1911-1914 he was the Director of a Survey of the Gambia River. It was probably as a result of his African experience that Spicer Simson was given command of an expedition to attack the German naval forces on Lake Tanganyika by transporting two motor-boats overland from Cape Town, a distance of 3,000 miles. This was successfully carried out, the two boats ‘Mimi’ and ‘Tou-Tou’ launched on the Lake, where they disabled the German ‘Kingani’, brought into British service as ‘Fifi’, and sank ‘Hedwig von Wissman’. Commander Spicer Simson was awarded the D.S.O., but the expedition ended in controversy. He was later Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence and Naval Delegate at the Peace Conference in 1919. In retirement he was involved in hydrographic work and his latter years were spent in British Columbia. His wife, whom he married in 1912, was Amy Elizabeth, daughter of Edmund and Phoebe Baynes-Reed of Victoria, British Columbia. He died on 29 January 1947.


1 album(s) (49 images in 1 album)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The binding of the album is loose and the back cover is detached and some pages are loose, but the photographs are in generally good condition.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Glenn Priestley, September 1986.


For biographical details on Spicer Simson see: 'Who's who' (1943), London: A. and C. Black; Creagh, Sir O'Moore and Humphris, E.M. (1978), 'The Distinguished Service Order, 1886-1923', London: J. B. Hayward. A fuller biography can be found at: Simpson, D (ed.) (1986), 'A sort of Hornblower and Queeg rolled into one ...', The Royal Commonwealth Society, Library Notes, New Series no. 275, p.4-6. For more information on the Lake Tanganyika expedition see: Shankland, Peter (1968), 'The phantom flotilla', London: Collins.


This collection level description was entered by SG using information from the original typescript catalogue.


Simson, Geoffrey Basil Spicer, 1876-1947

Includes index.
2004-08-23 15:26:45+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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