The son of an impoverished Annan surgeon, Clapperton left home at the age of thirteen. He worked as a cabin boy on an Atlantic trader, but deserted and swam off to board a privateer. He later served with the Navy in the East Indies and Canada. Returning to Scotland in 1817, Clapperton joined Walter Oudney and Major Dixon Denham in 1822 on an expedition to central Africa to trace the river Niger. Oudney died during the journey but Clapperton returned to England in 1825. Convinced that the way to the Niger was via West Africa, he went back that year as commander of a new expedition, but he died in 1827 from diphtheria. A tall and attractive man, Clapperton looked quite the hero. He is said to have nearly married a Huron princess and, in Africa, been pursued by a rich widow on a white horse.