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David Livingstone, Scottish Missionary and Explorer to Africa

David LivingstoneDavid Livingstone (1813-1873), Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa, was born on the 19th of March 1813, at the village of Blantyre Works, in Lanarkshire, Scotland. David was the second child of his parents, Neil Livingston (for so he spelled his name; as did his son for many years) and Agnes Hunter. His parents were typical examples of all that is best among the humbler families of Scotland. At the age of ten years David left the village school for the neighbouring cotton-mill, and by strenuous efforts qualified himself at the age of twenty-three to undertake a college curriculum. He attended for two sessions the medical and the Greek classes in Anderson’s College, Glasgow, and also a theological class. In September 1838 he went up to London, and was accepted by the London Missionary Society as a candidate. He took his medical degree in the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow in November 1840. Livingstone had set his heart on China, and it was a great disappointment to him that the society finally decided to send him to Africa. To an exterior in these early years somewhat heavy and uncouth, he united a manner which, by universal testimony, was irresistibly winning, with a fund of genuine but simple humour and fun that would break out on the most unlikely occasions, and in after years enabled him to overcome difficulties and mellow refractory chiefs when all other methods failed.

Livingstone sailed from England on the 8th of December 1840. From Algoa Bay he made direct for Kuruman, Bechuanaland, the mission station, 700 m. north, established by Robert Moffat twenty years before, and there he arrived on the 31st of July 1841. The next two years Livingstone spent in travelling about the country to the northwards, in search of a suitable outpost for settlement. During these two years he became convinced that the success of the white missionary in a field like Africa was not to be reckoned by the tale of doubtful conversions he could send home each year—that the proper work for such men was that of pioneering, opening up and starting new ground, leaving native agents to work it out in detail. The whole of his subsequent career was a development of this idea. He selected the valley of Mabotsa, on one of the sources of the Limpopo river, 200 m. northeast of Kuruman, as his first station. Shortly after his settlement here he was attacked by a lion which crushed his left arm. The arm was imperfectly set, and it was a source of trouble to him at times throughout his life, and was the means of identifying his body after his death. To a house, mainly built by himself at Mabotsa, Livingstone in 1844 [1845] brought home his wife, Mary Moffat, the daughter of Moffat of Kuruman. Here he laboured till 1846, when he removed to Chonuane, 40 m. farther north, the chief place of the Bakwain or Bakwena tribe under Sechele. In 1847 he again removed to Kolobeng, about 40 m. westwards, the whole tribe following their missionary. With the aid and in the company of two English sportsmen, William C. Oswell and Mungo Murray, he was able to undertake a journey to Lake Ngami, which had never yet been seen by a white man. Crossing the Kalahari Desert, of which Livingstone gave the first detailed account, they reached the lake on the 1st of August 1849. In April next year he made an attempt to reach Sebituane, who lived 200 m. beyond the lake, this time in company with his wife and children, but again got no farther than the lake, as the children were seized with fever. A year later, April 1851, Livingstone, again accompanied by his family and Oswell, set out, this time with the intention of settling among the Makololo for a period. At last he succeeded, and reached the Chobe (Kwando), a southern tributary of the Zambezi, and in the end of June reached the Zambezi itself at the town of Sesheke. Leaving the Chobe on the 13th of August the party reached Cape Town in April 1852. Livingstone may now be said to have completed the first period of his career in Africa, the period in which the work of the missionary had the greatest prominence. Henceforth he appears more in the character of an explorer, but it must be remembered that he regarded himself to the last as a pioneer missionary, whose work was to open up the country to others.

Having seen his family off to England, Livingstone left Cape Town on the 8th of June 1852, and turning north again reached Linyante, the capital of the Makololo, on the Chobe, on the 23rd of May 1853, being cordially received by Sekeletu and his people. His first object was to seek for some healthy high land in which to plant a station. Ascending the Zambezi, he, however, found no place free from the tsetse fly, and therefore resolved to discover a route to the interior from either the west or east coast. To accompany Livingstone twenty-seven men were selected from the various tribes under Sekeletu, partly with a view to open up a trade route between their own country and the coast. The start was made from Linyante on the 11th of November 1853, and, by ascending the Liba, Lake Dilolo was reached on. the 20th of February 1854. On the 4th of April the Kwango was crossed, and on the 31st of May the town of Loanda was entered, Livingstone, however, being all but dead from fever, semi-starvation and dysentery. From Loanda Livingstone sent his astronomical observations to Sir Thomas Maclear at the Cape, and an account of his journey to the Royal Geographical Society, which in May 1855 awarded him its patron’s medal. Loanda was left on the 20th of September 1854, but Livingstone lingered long about the Portuguese settlements. Making a slight detour to the north to Kabango, the party reached Lake Dilolo on the 13th of June 1855. Here Livingstone made a careful study of the hydrography of the country. He “now for the first time apprehended the true form of the river systems and the continent,” and the conclusions he came to have been essentially confirmed by subsequent observations. The return journey from Lake Dilolo was by the same route as that by which the party came, Linyante being reached in the beginning of September.

For Livingstone’s purposes the route to the west was unavailable, and he decided to follow the Zambezi to its mouth. With a numerous following, he left Linyante on the 8th of November 1855. A fortnight afterwards he discovered the famous “Victoria” falls of the Zambezi. He had already formed a true idea of the configuration of the continent as a great hollow or basin-shaped plateau, surrounded by a ring of mountains. Livingstone reached the Portuguese settlement of Tete on the 2nd of March 1856, in a very emaciated condition. Here he left his men and proceeded to Quilimane, where he arrived on the 20th of May, thus having completed in two years and six months one of the most remarkable and fruitful journeys on record. The results in geography and in natural science in all its departments were abundant and accurate; his observations necessitated a reconstruction of the map of Central Africa. When Livingstone began his work in Africa the map was virtually a blank from Kuruman to Timbuktu, and nothing but envy or ignorance can throw any doubt on the originality of his discoveries.

On the 12th of December he arrived in England, after an absence of sixteen years, and met everywhere the welcome of a hero. He told his story in his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857) with straightforward simplicity, and with no effort after literary style, and no apparent consciousness that he had done anything extraordinary. Its publication brought what he would have considered a competency had he felt himself at liberty to settle down for life. In 1857 he severed his connexion with the London Missionary Society, with whom, however, he always remained on the best of terms, and in February 1858 he accepted the appointment of “Her Majesty’s consul at Quilimane for the eastern coast and the independent districts in the interior, and commander of an expedition for exploring eastern and central Africa.” The Zambezi expedition, of which Livingstone thus became commander, sailed from Liverpool in H.M.S. “Pearl” on the 10th of March 1858, and reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the 14th of May. The party, which included Dr (afterwards Sir) John Kirk and Livingstone’s brother Charles, ascended the river from the Kongone mouth in a steam launch, the “Ma-Robert “; reaching Tete on the 8th of September. The remainder of the year was devoted to an examination of the river above Tete, and especially the Kebrabasa rapids. Most of the year 1859 was spent in the exploration of the river Shiré and Lake Nyasa, which was discovered in September; and during a great part of the year 1860 Livingstone was engaged in fulfilling his promise to take such of the Makololo home as cared to go. In January of next year arrived Bishop C. F. Mackenzie and a party of missionaries sent out by the Universities Mission to establish a station on the upper Shiré.

After exploring the river Rovuma for 30 m. in his new vessel the “Pioneer,” Livingstone and the missionaries proceeded up the Shiré to Chibisa’s; there they found the slave trade rampant. On the 15th of July Livingstone, accompanied by several native carriers, started to show the bishop the country. Several bands of slaves whom they met were liberated, and after seeing the missionary party settled in the highlands to the south of Lake Chilwa (Shirwa) Livingstone spent from August to November in exploring Lake Nyasa. While the boat sailed up the west side of the lake to near the north end, the explorer marched along the shore. He returned more resolved than ever to do his utmost to rouse the civilized world to put down the desolating slave-trade. On the 30th of January 1862, at the Zambezi mouth, Livingstone welcomed his wife and the ladies of the mission, with whom were the sections of the “Lady Nyassa,” a river steamer which Livingstone had had built at his own expense. When the mission ladies reached the mouth of the Ruo tributary of the Shiré, they were stunned to hear of the death of the bishop and one of his companions. This was a sad blow to Livingstone, seeming to have rendered all his efforts to establish a mission futile. A still greater loss to him was that of [the death] his wife at Shupanga, on the 27th of April 1862.

The “Lady Nyassa” was taken to the Rovuma. Up this river Livingstone managed to steam 156 m., but farther progress was arrested by rocks. Returning to the Zambezi in the beginning of 1863, he found that the desolation caused by the slave trade was more horrible and widespread than ever. It was clear that the Portuguese officials were themselves at the bottom of the traffic. Kirk and Charles Livingstone being compelled to return to England on account of their health, the doctor resolved once more to visit the lake, and proceeded some distance up the west side and then north-west as far as the watershed that separates the Loangwa from the rivers that run into the lake.

Meanwhile a letter was received from Earl Russell recalling the expedition by the end of the year. In the end of April 1864 Livingstone reached Zanzibar in the “Lady Nyassa,” and on the 23rd of July Livingstone arrived in England. He was naturally disappointed with the comparative failure of this expedition. Still the geographical results, though not in extent to be compared to those of his first and his final expeditions, were of high importance, as were those in various departments of science, and he had unknowingly laid the foundations of the British protectorate of Nyasaland. Details will be found in his Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, published in 1865.

By Sir Roderick Murchison and his other staunch friends Livingstone was as warmly welcomed as ever. When Murchison proposed to him that he should go out again, although he seems to have had a desire to spend the remainder of his days at home, the prospect was too tempting to be rejected. He was appointed British consul to Central Africa without a salary, and government contributed only £500 to the expedition. The chief help came from private friends. During the latter part of the expedition government granted him £1000, but that, when he learned of it, was devoted to his great undertaking. The Geographical Society contributed £500. The two main objects of the expedition were the suppression of slavery by means of civilizing influences, and the ascertainment of the watershed in the region between Nyasa and Tanganyika. At first Livingstone thought the Nile problem had been all but solved by Speke, Baker and Burton, but the idea grew upon him that the Nile sources must be sought farther south, and his last journey became in the end a forlorn hope in search of the “fountains” of Herodotus. Leaving England in the middle of August 1865, via Bombay, Livingstone arrived at Zanzibar on the 28th of January 1866. He was landed at the mouth of the Rovuma on the 22nd of March, and started for the interior on the 4th of April. His company consisted of thirteen sepoys, ten Johanna men, nine African boys from Nasik school, Bombay, and four boys from the Shire region, besides camels, buffaloes, mules and donkeys. This imposing outfit soon melted away to four or five boys. Rounding the south end of Lake Nyasa, Livingstone struck in a north-northwest direction for the south end of Lake Tanganyika, over country much of which had not previously been explored. The Loangwa was crossed on the 15th of December 1866. On Christmas day Livingstone lost his four goats, a loss which he felt very keenly, and the medicine chest was stolen in January 1867. Fever came upon him, and for a time was his almost constant companion; this, with other serious ailments which subsequently attacked him, and which he had no medicine to counteract, told on even his iron frame. The Chambezi was crossed on the 28th of January, and the south end of Tanganyika reached on the 31st of March. Here, much to his vexation, he got into the company of Arab slave dealers (among them being Tippoo-Tib) by whom his movements were hampered; but he succeeded in reaching Lake Mweru (Nov. 1867). After visiting Lake Mofwa and the Lualaba, which he believed was the upper part of the Nile, he, on the 18th of July 1868, discovered Lake Bangweulu. Proceeding up the west coast of Tanganyika, he reached Ujiji on the 14th of March 1869, “a ruckle of bones.” Livingstone recrossed Tanganyika in July, and passed through the country of the Manyema, but baffled partly by the natives, partly by the slave hunters, and partly by his long illnesses it was not till the 29th of March 1871 that he succeeded in reaching the Lualaba, at the town of Nyangwe, where he stayed four months, vainly trying to get a canoe to take him across. It was here that a party of Arab slavers, without warning or provocation, assembled one day when the market was busiest and commenced shooting the women, hundreds being killed or drowned in trying to escape. Livingstone had “the impression that he was in hell,” but was helpless, though his “first impulse was to pistol the murderers.” The account of this scene which he sent home roused indignation in England to such a degree as to lead to determined and to a considerable extent successful efforts to get the sultan of Zanzibar to suppress the trade. In sickened disgust the weary traveller made his way back to Ujiji, which he reached on the 13th of October. Five days after his arrival in Ujiji he was inspired with new life by the timely arrival of H. M. Stanley, the richly laden almoner of Mr Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald. With Stanley, Livingstone explored the north end of Tanganyika, and proved conclusively that the Rusizi runs into and not out of it. In the end of the year the two started eastward for Unyamwezi, where Stanley provided Livingstone with an ample supply of goods, and bade him farewell. Stanley left on the 15th of March 1872, and after Livingstone had waited wearily in Unyamwezi for five months, a troop of fifty-seven men and boys arrived, good and faithful fellows on the whole, selected by Stanley himself. Thus attended, he started on the 15th of August for Lake Bangweulu, proceeding along the east side of Tanganyika. His old enemy dysentery soon found him out. In January 1873 the party got among the endless spongy jungle on the east of Lake Bangweulu, Livingstone’s object being to go round by the south and away west to find the “fountains.” The doctor got worse and worse, and in the middle of April he had unwillingly to submit to be carried in a rude litter. On the 29th of April Chitambo’s village on the Lulimala, in Ilala, on the south shore of the lake, was reached. The last entry in the journal is on the 27th of April: “Knocked up quite, and remain—recover—sent to buy much goats. We are on the banks of the Molilamo.” On the 30th of April he with difficulty wound up his watch, and early on the morning of the 1st of May the boys found “the great master,” as they called him, kneeling by the side of his bed, dead. His faithful men preserved the body in the sun as well as they could, and, wrapping it carefully up, carried it and all his papers, instruments and other things across Africa to Zanzibar. It was borne to England with all honour, and on the 18th of April 1874, was deposited in Westminster Abbey. His faithfully kept journals during these seven years’ wanderings were published under the title of the Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa, in 1874, edited by his old friend the Rev. Horace WaIler. In Old Chitambo’s the time and place of his death are commemorated by a permanent monument, which replaced in 1902 the tree on which his native followers had recorded the event.

In spite of his sufferings and the many compulsory delays, Livingstone’s discoveries during these last years were both extensive and of prime importance as leading to a solution of African hydrography. No single African explorer has ever done so much for African geography as Livingstone during his thirty years’ work. His travels covered one-third of the continent, extending from the Cape to near the equator, and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Livingstone was no hurried traveller; he did his journeying leisurely, carefully observing and recording all that was worthy of note, with rare geographical instinct and the eye of a trained scientific observer, studying the ways of the people, eating their food, living in their huts, and sympathizing with their joys and sorrows. In all the countries through which he travelled his memory is cherished by the native tribes who, almost without exception, treated Livingstone as a superior being; his treatment of them was always tender, gentle and gentlemanly. By the Arab slavers whom he opposed he was also greatly admired, and was by them styled “the very great doctor.” “In the annals of exploration of the Dark Continent,” wrote Stanley many years after the death of the missionary explorer, “we look in vain among other nationalities for a name such as Livingstone’s. He stands preeminent above all; he unites in himself all the best qualities of other explorers. . . . Britain . . . excelled herself even when she produced the strong and perseverant Scotchman, Livingstone.” But the direct gains to geography and science are perhaps not the greatest results of Livingstone’s journeys. His example and his death acted like an inspiration, filling Africa with an army of explorers and missionaries, and raising in Europe so powerful a feeling against the slave trade that through him it may be considered as having received its deathblow. Personally Livingstone was a pure and tender-hearted man, full of humanity and sympathy, simple-minded as a child. The motto of his life was the advice he gave to some school children in Scotland—"Fear God, and work hard."

See, besides his own narratives and W. G. Blaikie's Life (1880), the publications of the London Missionary Society from 1840, the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, the despatches to the Foreign Office sent home by Livingstone during his last two expeditions, and Stanley's Autobiography (1909) and How I Found Livingstone (1872).

From The Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911.

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