Classic Travel Books
Home of the world's finest collection of Travel Classics
A division of The Long Riders' Guild Press



List of authors

Voices of Exploration

The Classic 'John Murray' Travel Collection

List of titles

Our Publishing Philosophy


Derek O'Connor



Derek O'Connor was born in London in 1937.  After a brief stint in journalism he joined the Royal Air Force.  He then served for thirteen years in the Kenya Police and was stationed in Nairobi and the Northern Frontier District.  Later, he served on attachment to the Royal Hong Kong Police for two years.  The last twenty years of Derek's working life were spent with the British Ministry of Defence, from which he retired in 1995.   In retirement he wrote aviation articles and two  novels which have yet to be published.  He also spent several years researching and writing The King's Stranger.

"Duncan was indeed the forgotten explorer and he did not deserve to be.  This splendid book by Derek O’Connor has resurrected him and not before time.  All those who think they know a thing or two about exploration should read and enjoy it.  It is an amazing story. "
Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Click here to read a strong positive review of The King’s Stranger which appeared in The Times’ Higher Education Supplement on 27th October 2006. The article  was written by Nick Smith, the historical exploration expert and former editor of Geographical, who first brought news of Derek’s remarkable literary struggle to our attention. It is thanks to the joint efforts of Derek and Nick that the amazing story of John Duncan’s mounted explorations across Africa will be available for generations to come.

The King's Stranger

Derek O'Connor

Foreword by Robin Hanbury-Tenison

ISBN 1590482417








“This is an extremely important and timely book for scholars of west African history and enthusiasts of the ‘Golden Age’ of exploration alike.”

Nick Smith, Times Higher Education Supplement


On a blisteringly hot day in June 1845, a tall Scot on a tiny horse rode into Abomey, capital of the infamous West African slave-trading nation of Dahomey. In bizarre defiance of the equatorial heat, he was dressed in the ceremonial uniform of Her Britannic Majesty’s Life Guards, with glistening cuirass, helmet, gauntlets and high boots. The Victorian trooper’s name was John Duncan, a common soldier of most uncommon initiative who travelled three times in West Africa in the 1840s, a time when this vast fever-ridden territory was grimly known as “The White Man’s Grave”.

Duncan first sailed to West Africa in 1841, as master-at-arms aboard HMS Albert, flagship of the Niger steamship expedition. Ravaged by disease, this anti-slavery mission soon turned into a debacle that nearly cost Duncan his life.

Undeterred, Duncan returned to West Africa again in 1844, supported by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), on a solo expedition to find the legendary Kong Mountains. Soon running out of funds, he turned to a notorious slave-dealer to sponsor his venture into the interior. Duncan’s chosen route took him into the militaristic state of Dahomey where, once more attired in his magnificent uniform, he struck up an unlikely friendship with the charismatic warrior King Gezo, a man whose very name was a byword for unbridled cruelty. Gezo honoured his new friend with the protective title of King’s Stranger and together they drank toasts to Queen Victoria from goblets carved out of human skulls.

Although Duncan never found the Kongs, he did become the first European to explore a vast tract of uncharted West Africa, marching through swamps and savannah while hostile tribesmen dogged his footsteps. After incredible hardships and adventures he came perilously close to death yet again.

Duncan’s last visit to West Africa was in 1849. Appointed British vice consul (unpaid) to Dahomey, tasked with securing Gezo’s assent to an anti-slavery treaty, the indomitable but ailing Scot made two further gruelling journeys into the interior before death finally claimed him. For all his courage, physical strength and amazing exploits, John Duncan was ultimately a tragic figure. Forgotten by history, disdained by the RGS and the British Government, his achievements were quickly overshadowed by the titans of African exploration who followed him, notably his fellow-Scot Dr. David Livingstone, Richard Burton and Henry Morton Stanley.

The publication of The King’s Stranger is the result of years of painstaking research by an author who believes fervently that the incredible ‘lost’ story of John Duncan, Victorian superhero, should be told. Illustrated with contemporary images and maps, this inspiring account of ultimate human endeavour in Africa many years before the European ‘Scramble for Africa’ began, warrants a place on the bookshelf of anyone with a genuine interest in exploration.

Go to for more information, or Barnes & Noble.


© 2011-2016

Visit our
collection of
Travel Classics!

Visit The Long Riders' Guild -
the world's first international
association of equestrian explorers!