showing the house where Caillié stayed in Timbuktu as it appeared in 1905–06
Auguste René Caillié
[ʁə.ne ka.je]; 19 November 1799 – 17 May 1838)
 was a
French explorer and the first European to return alive from the town of
Caillié was born in western France in a village near the port of
Rochefort. His parents were poor and died while he was still young. At the age of 16 he left home and signed up as a member of the crew on a French naval vessel sailing to
Saint-Louis on the coast of modern Senegal in western Africa. He stayed there for several months and then crossed the Atlantic to
Guadeloupe on a merchantman. He made a second visit to West Africa two years later when he accompanied a British expedition across the
Ferlo Desert to
Bakel on the
Caillié returned to Saint-Louis in 1824 with a strong desire to become an explorer and visit Timbuktu. In order to avoid some of the difficulties experienced by the earlier expeditions, he planned to travel alone disguised as a Muslim. He persuaded the French governor in Saint-Louis to help finance a stay of 8 months with the nomadic people in the
Brakna region of southern Mauritania where he learned Arabic and the customs of Islam. He failed to obtain further funding from either the French or the British governments, but encouraged by the prize of 10,000 francs offered by the
Société de Géographie in Paris for the first person to return with a description of Timbuktu, he decided to fund the journey himself. He worked for a few months in the British colony of
Sierra Leone to save some money, then travelled by ship to
Boké on the
Rio Nuñez in modern Guinea. From there in April 1827 he set off across West Africa. He arrived in Timbuktu a year later and stayed there for two weeks before heading across the
Sahara Desert to
Tangier in Morocco.
On his return to France, he was awarded the prize of 10,000 francs by the Société de Géographie and helped by the scholar
Edme-François Jomard, published an account of his journey. In 1830 he was awarded the
Gold Medal by the Société de Géographie.
Caillié married and settled near his birthplace. He suffered from poor health and died of tuberculosis aged 38.