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An early 20th Century female traveller to Africa

Samantha Harris
29th Jun 2017
By Samantha Harris

Olive MacLeod (later known as Mrs Olive Temple after her marriage to Charles Lindsay Temple, Commissioner of the Protectorate of Nigeria – now the northern part of Nigeria ) was an explorer and collector, a rarity for women in the early 20th century. Her family lived locally in Vinters, Maidstone, from 1905.

Her travels from 1910 were published in a series of articles entitled “A Romantic Quest, Incidents of a Woman’s Strange Journey. Specially Written for ‘The London Magazine’ by Olive MacLeod”. Objects from Northern Cameroon and Chad which she collected during this time were passed to the Museum in 1912. They are important in relation to the colonial history of the area around Lake Chad in the early 20th Century, as well as being significant in themselves. In 1915 she published a book on her life in Nigeria with her husband titled ‘Notes on the Tribes, Provinces, Emirates and States of the Northern Provinces of Nigeria’.


MacLeod first travelled to Africa following the murder of her fiancé, the explorer Lieutenant Boyd Alexander by inhabitants of French Sudan, West Africa in 1910 while he was completing a survey of the area. She went to Fort Lamy, the capital of the military territory of Chad, to learn from the French authorities what had happened to her fiancée. During her passage to the coast she passed through Northern Nigeria. She made a particularly detailed account of her adventures on the Logone River on the way to Fort Lamy which she described as “travels packed full of difficulty and incident”.

The photo shown is of a hair-shaped headdress made of vegetable fibre which she collected in Northern Cameroon, West Africa.