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“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

File:David Livingstone.jpg  The famous explorer of Africa and national hero of Victorian Britain: David Livingstone (19th March 1813 – 1st May 1873).

He was a Protestant missionary martyr, a scientific investigator and explorer, an imperial reformer, anti-slavery campaigner and advocate of a commercial empire.

His meeting with H M Stanley towards the end of his life gave way to the famous quotation,

‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’

(although this lacks historical veracity). It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, published in Stanley’s newspaper the New York Herald (as Livingstone would have been the only white man for hundreds of miles).

His father was committed to his beliefs and he extensively read books on theology, travel and missionary enterprises, key factors which were to influence Livingstone during his travels into the African interior.

But Livingstone’s interest in his studies went further and he embraced nature and science which led him to investigate the tangible link between science and religion.

Livingstone in Africa

Livingstone set sail for South Africa, arriving in July 1841.

He travelled north and began to explore the African interior between 1852-56 and he was the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”), which he renamed after the monarch, Victoria Falls.

He was also one of the first westerners to make the transcontinental journey across Africa from Luanda on the Atlantic coast to the Quelimane on the Indian Ocean.

He successes came from his ability to travel light, and barter for goods along the way. He also travelled with only a few porters and servants, carrying only a few guns for protection (whereas others travelled with large parties, often with a large number of soldiers carrying rifles and they were seen as part of a military incursion or a slave-raiding party by local chiefs). What’s more, whilst he preached a Christian message, he did not force it upon unwilling ears and he understood the ways of the local chiefs, as a result he was able to negotiate his way across Africa, often receiving help along the way.

His motto, which is inscribed at the base of his statue, at Victoria Falls, was ‘Christianity, Commerce, Civilisation.’ He believed the key to these goals were the navigation and opening up of the Zambezi River as a Christian highway into the interior. Unfortunately for Livingstone, the ‘highway’ was completely impassable.

Livingstone returned to Africa, this time to Zanzibar, from where he set out in search of the source of the Nile. The previous explorers, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke had, albeit still a serious debate, found what they suspected to be the source of the River Nile, Lake Victoria. But Livingstone believed that the source was to be found further south. But the expedition was a disaster. His expedition members deserted him, his supplies were stolen, and he fell ill.

Coming down with cholera and with tropical ulcers on his feet, he relied on slave traders (whom, humiliating for Livingstone, he had fought to put out of business) to get him as far as Bambara. His timing upon his arrival was dreadful as he was met with the wet season. With no supplies he was forced to eat food in a roped enclosure at the entertainment of the natives, in return for food.

Following the wet season he travelled – seriously ill most of the way – to Ujiji, an Arab settlement on the shore of the Lake Tanganyika on 23rd Oct 1871.

With little contact with the outside world, H M Stanley was sent by the New York Herald to go and find him, and find him he did. But despite Stanley’s urgings, Livingstone was determined not to leave Africa, until his mission was complete. But he was left confused and his judgement was impaired due to ill-health.

His Death 

On 1st May 1873, David Livingstone died of malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. When the British authorities asked for Livingstone’s body to be returned to Britain, the chiefs at first refused, but they relented after cutting out his heart and sending the body back with a note,

“You can have his body, but his heart belongs in Africa.”

His heart was buried at the site which is now the Livingstone memorial.

He went down in history as the famous explorer who made key geographical discoveries for European maps, (where the area had previous been blank). He also inspired abolitionists, explorers and missionaries.

His legacy inspired the colonisation and then the independence of Africa.

As Livingstone had paved the way in opening up the interior to trade and colonisation, within fifty years after his death, colonial rule was established and white settlement encouraged further into the interior.

His legacy also inspired independence, without excessive bloodshed. Evangelicalism and the non-conformist movement at home changed the national mindset from the ‘divine right’ to rule, to ethical ideas in foreign policy. Within Africa itself, it was mainly the Africans educated in mission schools, set up by Livingstone, which formed the forefront of the national independent movement.


From Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:David_Livingstone.jpg

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