Portrait of Mungo Park’s mother is discovered

Mungo Park.
Mungo Park.
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A previously unknown portrait of the mother of Borders-born Africa explorer Mungo Park has turned up in western Scotland.

The oil painting of Elspeth Hislop has been in the family of Chris Odling, who lives on the Seil Island, near Oban, for generations.

Mungo Park's mother.

Mungo Park's mother.

Selkirk historian Walter Elliot brought the painting to the attention of TheSouthern after being contacted by Denholm resident Jimmy Steel – a friend of Mr Odling and fellow vintage motorcycle enthusiast.

Mr Elliot told us the painting’s discovery is exciting because it is the only one known to exist of Elspeth Hislop, who is buried in Gala Aisle cemetery, Galashiels.

“We never knew what Mungo Park’s mother looked like – nobody knew this portrait existed – so it’s fascinating from that point of view,” he said.

Mr Elliot said the portrait is by William Yellowlees, known to his contemporaries as “the Little Raeburn”, after the great Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn.

This was an acknowledgment of the quality of Yellowlees’ portraits as well as referring to their size.

Born at Mellerstain in 1796, Yellowlees worked in Edinburgh as a portrait painter for 15 years before moving to London, where his patrons included Prince Albert.

Mungo Park, born in the family home at Foulshiels in the Yarrow Valley in 1771, found fame after discovering the course of the Niger river in West Africa. He later returned to the African continent and died in 1806 at Bussa Rapids, now part of the Kainji Reservoir in Nigeria.

Mr Odling said he is a very distant relation of Mungo Park.

“I am related to him in a very tenuous way. I don’t really know much more about the painting other than what is written on the reverse, which states that it was given ‘to our mother’ by Miss Jane Park Thomson, whose father was a cousin of the explorer.

“I am not sure what it means by ‘our mother’, but the portrait has been in my mother’s side of my family for a very long time.”

Selkirk resident Nichol Park is the great-great-great-nephew of Mungo Park. Nichol, who by quirky coincidence lives at Mungo Park Court in the town, had never seen the 
portrait.

“It was very interesting to see what Mungo’s mother looked like – I never knew any painting of her existed,” he said.