Lieutenant Colonel James Augustus Grant CB CSI FRS FRGS (11 April 1827 – 11 February 1892) was a Scottish explorer of eastern equatorial Africa. He made contributions to the journals of various learned societies, the most notable being the "Botany of the Speke and Grant Expedition" in vol. xxix of the Transactions of the Linnaean Society. He married in 1865 and settled down at Nairn, where he died in 1892. He was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral. Grant's gazelle, one of the largest and handsomest of that family in Africa, was named in his honor.
Grant was born at Nairn in the Scottish Highlands, where his father was the parish minister, and educated at Nairn Academy, Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College, Aberdeen. In 1846 he joined the Indian army. He saw active service in the Sikh War (1848–49), served throughout the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and was wounded in the operations for the relief of Lucknow.
He returned to England in 1858, and in 1860 joined John Hanning Speke in the memorable expedition which solved the problem of the Nile sources. The expedition left Zanzibar in October 1860 and reached Gondokoro, where the travellers were again in touch with what they regarded as civilization, in February 1863. Speke was the leader, but Grant carried out several investigations independently and made valuable botanical collections. He acted throughout in absolute loyalty to his comrade.
In 1864 he published, as supplementary to Speke's account of their journey, A Walk across Africa, in which he dealt particularly with "the ordinary life and pursuits, the habits and feelings of the natives" and the economic value of the countries traversed. In 1864 he was awarded the patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 1866 given the Companionship of the Bath in recognition of his services in the expedition.
Grant served in the intelligence department of the Abyssinian expedition of 1868; for this he was made C.S.I. and received the Abyssinian medal. At the close of the war he retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Grant's illness in Africa
In his book, A Walk across Africa, Grant gives the following description of his illness, which broke out when they reached the native kingdom of Karague, on the western side of Lake Victoria in December 1861.
Grant's illness prevented him from being with Speke when Speke became the first white man to see the outpouring of the White Nile from Lake Victoria. However, as small compensation, his may be the first recorded case and first description of Mycobacterium ulcerans infection (Buruli ulcer). The print in his book shows Grant being carried on a wicker stretcher, leaving Karague. Reasons for regarding the illness as M. ulcerans infection are:-
- The explorers passed through an area where the disease is known to occur.
- They passed through this area at a time just after the present maximal seasonal incidence of the disease.
- The history of the lesion, with a prodromal fever, swelling, followed by ulceration and a copious discharge would seem typical of the oedematous form of the disease, as occurs in the Congo.
- The disease was recognized by the local inhabitants who had a treatment for it, similar to the traditional remedies which may still be in use
- The history of the disease, with gradual healing after 6 months leaving residual scarring and contractures is characteristic of the more severe form of the illness.