The area around the Congo River was strongly connected to slaving and, as elswhere after we had changed from a nation strongly connected with slaving to one opposing it, the anti-slaving patrols of our navy’s West Africa squadron carried out a number of operations in the vicinity of the Congo in the first half of the nineteenth century.
In 1875 we dispatched two Royal Navy expeditions aimed at tackling Congo pirates. And in December 1875, Commander Hewett and three gunboats made it 73 miles inland from the mouth of the Congo River as far as the port of Boma.
The same year we also came close to having a Congo empire of our own, but passed up the opportunity. A certain Lieutenant Cameron had been assiduously following in the footsteps of the explorer David Livingstone and in the process he had also been just as assiduously signing treaties along the way with assorted local chiefs, so much so that by 1875 he could proudly declare that the lands of the Congo Basin were now British. Much to Cameron’s chagrin, however, our government decided that they weren’t British, and that it wasn’t an area the government would be choosing to focus on. So the explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had also failed to interest us in the area, helped the Belgians take it over instead.
In 1887, however, Stanley and assorted Brits formed part of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition which came up the Congo and through what is now Kinshasa on its way to what is now South Sudan. During the process, Stanley attacked the village at Yambuya in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and took it over as a base.
In the First World War, although we weren’t invading the then Belgian Congo (since the Belgians were our allies it would have been both impolite and pointless), the Royal Navy did find itself having to trek through large parts of it to get the gunboats HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou onto Lake Tanganyika to face German ships there. They went as far as they could on the railway from South Africa and disembarked on 6 August 1915. It then took them until 26 October to reach the lake.