THIS Saturday in the little village of Penpont in Dumfriesshire, a group of people from all over the world will come together to launch a new organisation in the name of Joseph Thomson.

Two miles away, in the village of Thornhill, there is a statue of Thomson near the spot where he was carried shoulder high on his return from Africa.

In Africa itself, Thomson’s story is taught in schools and the Thomson Gazelle, the most common on the continent, is named after him. H Rider Haggard’s story of African adventure, King Solomon’s Mines, was also directly inspired by Thomson and at the height of his fame he was painted at the Glasgow Art Club with Lillie Langtry.

He was an extraordinary man and one of Britain’s greatest explorers and adventurers. And yet, there is a good chance that you may never have heard of him. When I met one of Thomson’s descendants, Maggie Green, who lives in Glasgow, she put it this way: you could stop 100 people in Scotland then 100 more and the chances are none of them would have heard of him.

The Joseph Thomson Maasai Trust is an attempt to put that right. Working in Africa and the UK, it will tell the story of how Thomson ended up becoming the first European to make it through Maasai Land.

The trust will also tell, with pride, how he did it without threatening and bullying his way through the region – he carried a gun, but only to defend himself against wild animals. He is remembered for winning friends rather than enemies and his motto was “he who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far”.

However, telling the story of Thomson will hopefully achieve something else as well by reminding us that the story of British exploration and imperialism is not necessarily negative or a source of shame.

Thomson himself was not interested in conquering – all he cared about was exploring – although, in the long term, his expedition to Maasai Land did lead to the construction of the Kenya to Uganda railway that opened up Kenya to the Western world and, arguably, the exploitation of the continent by colonial interests.

In Britain, we have learned to be rather ashamed of all of that but imperial exploration led to the building of schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, railways and an intelligent legal system. The shame has also rather blotted out men like Thomson who came in peace and left in peace.

With the launch of the trust this weekend, there is a chance to put some of that right. The supporters of the organisation also hope that it might address some of the cliches about the people of Maasai Land as well as help young people embrace and preserve their culture.

And in Scotland, the hope is that more people will start to recognise the name of Joseph Thomson. Ezekiel ole Katato is a businessman who lives in Maasai Land. He started a 65-mile trek in honour of the explorer and he is astonished by Thomson’s lack of fame in his homeland. “Scotland is his birthplace and I thought many people knew about him,” he says. His hope is that soon many will.