Houghton, Daniel (1740–91), army officer and African explorer, was born in Ireland, son of William Houghton. He entered the army in October 1758 and was commissioned as an ensign in the 69th Foot. In July 1759 he was promoted to lieutenant and served with his regiment in Gibraltar 1770–75, spending some time (probably c.1772) attached to the British consulate in Morocco. Promoted to captain in July 1773, he retired from the army in 1778 with the rank of captain and left for India, where he intended to work as an engineer. The commander of the fleet in which he was travelling captured Goree off West Africa from the French, and Houghton remained on the island with the new British garrison. He held various posts in the administration, including town major, and also explored the Gambia river with the intention of founding a trading post. In 1781 he became involved in a dispute between two local officials and was dismissed, returning to England.
Houghton had experienced financial problems for a number of years and by this time his first wife (name unknown) had already died. In December 1783 he married Phillippa Evelyn, who brought a considerable fortune to the marriage. However, this was seized by his many creditors and Houghton, once again in financial difficulties, offered his services in 1790 to the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, more commonly known as the African Association, which had been founded in 1788. This association was not only interested in the exploration of Africa but also wished to explore trade possibilities there, and Houghton proposed an expedition to Timbuctoo (Timbuktu, Mali), estimating that this journey would cost just £260. In October 1790 he left England with the intention of travelling through Gambia (modern Senegal) to the Niger, and from there travelling to the city of Houssa and Timbuctoo. Arriving in the Gambia in November 1790 with a large quantity of trade goods, he used his local contacts to secure an interpreter, porters, and baggage animals and then struck out for Medina, capital of the Wolli (Wuli) territory. He soon learned, however, that local traders were planning to murder him as they feared that his activities would affect their business. Changing from his planned route he avoided danger and reached Medina, where some of his trade goods were consumed in a fire. Further misfortune befell him when his interpreter deserted him, taking some of his baggage animals. He was also injured in the face and arms when a trade gun he was using exploded.
Determined to complete his expedition, he left Medina in May 1791 and, later in that month, entered into the Bondou territory, passing the previous limit of European exploration. While he was there, the son of the local king made off with more of his trade goods. He then suffered from a delirious fever, which he later wrote he had caught from sleeping in a forest. In a state of ill health he reached Ferbanna, capital of the Bambouk territory, where he was received with great kindness by the local king. In the company of a local merchant, he left Ferbanna for Timbuctoo in July 1791 and was never seen again. Houghton's last dispatches did not arrive in London until 1792; in them he stated that he had travelled over 1,000 miles up the Senegambia and intended to visit Timbuctoo and Houssa, which had at that time a population equal in size to London or Paris. He also forwarded a diary containing much topographical information. The Scottish explorer Mungo Park (1771–1806) later pieced together his last movements and found that Houghton had passed through Simbing in Moorish territory and reached as far as Tarra. There he had been robbed once again and had been struck by illness. Park could not ascertain whether he had died of illness or starvation or had been murdered, but he was shown the place where the body had been discarded.
Despite the tragic end of his expedition, Houghton gathered valuable information, which was later used by explorers. By 1794 his widow and three children were destitute and were imprisoned for debt, until the African Association donated over £300 and successfully petitioned George III for a pension of £30 a year. The Royal Geographical Society in London holds a small collection of Houghton's papers.