In 1791 Carsten Niebuhr published a review of the first two volumes of Bruce’s Reisen zur Entdeckung der Quellen des Nils (1790). Niebuhr’s strongest criticism of Bruce was that he seemed to have plagiarized some of Niebuhr’s astronomical observations (“adopted them without examination”) and that he had invented conversation long after it had taken place and thereby made serious mistakes. Privately, Niebuhr held more stern and critical opinions of Bruce’s work: two of the described voyages on the Red Sea were fictitious. George Annesley, in 1809, and Henry Salt, in 1814, published even stronger critical views of these parts of Bruce’s Travels, but in 1831-1832 James Augustus St. John championed Bruce’s veracity and criticised Niebuhr. James R. Wellsted, in 1835, defended Bruce’s disputed observations on the Red Sea. In newer literature on Bruce’s Travels the descriptions of the controversial voyages on the Red Sea are mostly briefly mentioned and shown on maps as facts. George Annesley suggested that the descriptions of the contended voyages, published in 1790, might have been based on a British chart of the Red Sea from 1781, with sources of information ranging from the Portuguese naval officer João de Castro’s voyage on the Red Sea in 1540-1541 to Niebuhr’s chart and travel accounts. This suggestion is re-examined here: there is striking agreements between the British chart from 1781 and Bruce’s accounts and maps, even with regard to factual errors in the former. A letter dated as written by Bruce in 1770 at Gondar, Abyssinia, contains information about latitudes identical with some of Niebuhr’s observations which were unpublished in 1770; possible explanations for this are proposed. In summary, it seems that Niebuhr is right; it is almost certain that Bruce plagiarized some of Niebuhr’s observations, and it seems unlikely that he sailed south of Qusayr and Luhayyah.
Universitet Kul'tury: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Occasion of the 250th Anniversary of the the Royal Danish Expedition To Arabia Felix, 2013, p. 222-250