Alexandrine “Alexine” Tinne (1835-1869)

In speaking of Africa, Alexine Tinne once said, “I have been to that unknown region and I shall return to it again, perhaps out of instinct, like a fly drawn to a flame.”

Alexine, as she preferred to be called, was a Dutch photographer, ethnographer, and explorer who traveled extensively in the Mediterranean and Africa. Born to a wealthy family in the Netherlands, she came into a significant inheritance at the age of ten when her father passed away. Alexine and her mother began traveling across Europe, particularly through Italy and Norway, but their travels eventually brought them to the Middle East and Egypt, as well.

In 1861, Alexine left Europe with her mother and aunt, journeying to Cairo where in 1862, they decided to attempt the difficult journey of navigating the White Nile to the Gondokoro island—a trading station located on the east bank of the White Nile in Southern Sudan, approximately 750 miles from Khartoum. On their first attempt Alexine fell ill and they were forced to return to Khartoum. They tried again however in January of 1863, leaving with the expedition of German explorers Hermann Steudner and Theodor Von Heuglin that planned to journey up the Bahr-el-Ghazal—a tributary of the White Nile. The expidition hoped to reach Azande, at that time a country known as Niam-Niam. Unfortunately, during their journey, most of the travelers suffered from fever and illness and Alexine’s mother and Heuglin died several months before the expedition party returned to Khartoum at the end of March 1864. Her aunt passed away in Khartoum and a year later when Alexine was back in Cairo her brother came to visit, hoping to persuade her to return home. Despite the tragedies that she had suffered, she wasn’t swayed and chose to stay in Cairo. She sent her brother home with a large portion of her ethnographic collection, which included descriptions and samples of 24 new species of plants.

For the next four years Alexine lived in Cairo, visiting Tunisia, Algeria, and other parts of the Mediterranean. She became the first European woman to attempt to cross the Sahara, making multiple attempts to cross it in the hopes of meeting the Tuaregs—the nomadic Berber inhabitants of the Sahara Desert. Sadly, in August of 1869 at less than 34 years of age, she was killed during her last attempt to cross the Sahara.

Her research and contributions to science, as well as her historical records, are now considered invaluable—many of them surviving air raids from World War II that destroyed the museum where they were kept. Near Juba (Sudan) there is a small marker commemorating the 19th century’s great Nile explorers which includes her name. Many of her remaining photographs, papers, and documents—including most of her letters from Africa—are now kept at the National Archive in The Hague.