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Thursday, 4 February 2016

David Livingstone


David Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813 in a Glasgow worker's tenement in the mill town of Blantyre, Strathclyde, Scotland

He was the second of seven children born to Neil Livingstone (1788–1856) and his wife Agnes (née Hunter; 1782–1865).

Livingstone's father ran his own business as a door-to-door tea salesman, so the room was constantly fragrant with the smell of tea.

David Livingstone's birthplace The National Trust, having taken over the running of the museum from the original Trust, has recreated the look of the room of Livingstone's family using furnishings and artefacts from around 1800. By kim traynor, CC BY-SA 2.0,Wikipedia Commons

His father was a Calvinist Congregationalist who distributed tracts as he sold tea. Neil Livingstone disapproved of non religious novels and science books. The only escapism young David was allowed were travel books like Robinson Crusoe.

David was employed at the age of 10 in the cotton mill of Henry Monteith & Co. in Blantyre Works in order to help support his impoverished family. He and his brother John, worked twelve-hour days as piecers, tying broken cotton threads on the spinning machines.

From a young age, David had a thirst for knowledge. While working in the cotton mill, David laid a Latin crammer on the spinning jenny so he could learn as he worked. Other urchins threw spindles to knock it down.


At the age of 21, Livingstone was inspired to take up Theology and Medical studies after hearing an appeal by British and American Churches for medical missionaries to go to China.

Livingstone took a medical degree at Glasgow University, walking nine miles to and from his home.There he attended medicine and Greek classes in the winter and took a Theological course in the summer as preparation for the calling he was experiencing to be a missionary overseas.

Livingstone was prevented from going to China by the Opium War and after a conversation with the the founder of the London Missionary Society, Robert Moffat, he decided to take up his work in Africa. He started his missionary training at the Congregational Church, Ongar, Essex.

Livingstone was a poor speaker. On his first sermon for the London Missionary Society, he stood in the pulpit for five minutes in silence. The tongue-tied fledgling preacher then admitted he had forgotten all he had to say.

He was a student at the Charing Cross Hospital Medical School from 1838–40; Livingstone's courses covered medical practice, midwifery, and botany.

Livingstone was posted to the Kuruman Mission North Cape Colony in Africa. The newly ordained medical doctor set out for South Africa in December 1840, little realizing he would be gone 16 years. The voyage, via Brazil, was so rough the little sailing ship was tossed like "a ship in a fit of epilepsy." Three months later, he arrived in Cape Town, the main British colony.

Posthumous portrait of David Livingstone by Frederick Havill

He spent his first six months in Africa cut off from European society in modern day Botswana, with the Bechuna people learning their language and traditions.

When the Bechuna chief, Sechele, became a Christian, Livingstone had to prevent the new convert from forcing other members of his tribe to follow him in the faith by whipping them with rhinoceros hide.

Livingstone made very few conversions, in his first twelve years in Africa, Sechele was his only convert. Even The Times criticized him for not winning more converts.


In 1855, while walking across Africa from West to East, David Livingstone became the first white man to see Victoria Falls. Later he described the Falls as "scenes so lovely, they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."

Livingstone returned to England in 1856 a national hero. He arrived at Christmas and Queen Victoria was there to greet him. However the London Missionary Society complained that his activities have only the remotest connection with the spread of the Gospel.

Livingstone's Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, first published in 1857, described his travels and work in parts of southern and central Africa previously unknown to Europeans. It was an immediate bestseller, selling 70,000 copies.

He made more than 120 times his £100 annual London Missionary Society salary from the royalties for the book which he used for his family and his expeditions. Despite its success, Livingstone reportedly said "I think I would rather cross the African continent again than undertake to write another book."

The British government agreed to fund Livingstone's idea and he returned to Africa as head of the Zambezi Expedition to examine the natural resources of southeastern Africa and open up the River Zambezi.  It was a complete failure as the Zambezi turned out to be completely impassable to boats past the Cahora Bassa rapids. Livingstone eventually returned home in 1864 after the government ordered the recall of the expedition because of its increasing costs and failure to find a navigable route to the interior.

The journeys of Livingstone in Africa between 1851 and 1873. Uploaded by Hans Erren - Gutenberg project, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons

Livingstone was the first person to discover the Tsetse fly, the bearer of sleeping sickness to millions.


Livingstone was a committed Christian. "I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ," he once said

Livingstone believed it was Europe's duty to bring the 3 C's to Africa, Christianity, commerce and civilization. His main motive for his journeys was to drain the Arab slave trade. He hoped to replace the slave economy with a capitalist economy: buying and selling goods, like beeswax and ivory, instead of people.

Livingstone partially financed his travels by trading goods from one native state to another: guns for bronze, bronze for elephant tusks, tusks for slaves (whom he escorted to safety and set free), arriving at the coast with cart-loads of ivory left over.


Livingstone spoke slowly with a Lanarkshire accent.

He was not an easy man, being awkward, dour, shy and bad tempered. Livingstone was prone to quarreling with white men, through whom he suffered in his later years. He preferred the company of Africans to whom he was gentle and kind.

Livingstone married Mary Moffat, the daughter of Robert Moffat, in January 1845. They loved each other deeply and for the next eight years she accompanied him in Africa.

In 1852, after seven years of marriage, Livingstone escorted Mary and the children to Cape Town, his first visit to "civilisation" in 11 years. He put them on the boat to Britain, and did not see them again for four years.

In 1858 Livingstone sailed to Cape Town with his wife and young son, he left them there and he attempted unsuccessfully to sail up the Zambezi. Tragically Mary died of malaria on April 27, 1862 in his arms only days after joining him at the mouth of the Zambezi.

Burial site of Mary Moffat Livingstone in Chupanga, Mozambique.By Soccerman321 - Wikipedia Commons

Though often separated from her husband for years at a time, Mary gave birth to six children in their 17 years of marriage.


In January 1866, Livingstone returned to Africa for a third time, this time to Zanzibar, and from there he set out to seek the source of the Nile.

By 1871 he had been lost to the world for over five years and had trekked 30,000 miles in his attempt to find the source of the Nile. His men had deserted him and he has been left with just four native boys. The Bible verse that sustained Livingstone through the years of loneliness in a hostile land, where strange languages are spoken, was "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the Earth." (Matthew 28 v 20)

The journalist H.M. Stanley eventually found Livingstone at Ujiji, on the bank of Lake Tanganyika on November 10, 1871 and greeted him with the famous words "Dr Livingstone I presume".

Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone

Livingstone had spent several months resting at Ujiji. He was suffering from fever, dysentery and foot ulcers, having had his medicine chest stolen. In addition for many years he'd had to endure the pain from an un-united fracture of the upper left arm after a lion bite.

When Stanley found Livingstone, the Scottish explorer was wearing a bluish cap with a faded gold band around it, a red sleeved waistcoat and a pair of grey white trousers.

Stanley described Livingstone as "pale looking, grey bearded."

Livingstone's report on his discovery of Lake Nyasa included a comment on the way Arabs had destroyed the local African tribal society by using them as slaves to haul ivory overland. Livingstone suggested that steamers on the lake would be the solution to this problem. Stanley took this report back to England and they became a catalyst in awakening the nation's conscience. The Government was forced to use it's influence to end the trade and the African Lakes Company was set up to arrest the situation.


Livingstone was determined not to leave Africa until his mission was complete. He died on May 1, 1873, at the age of 60 at Old Chitambo, Zambia, while still searching for the source of the Nile in the headwaters of the Zambezi, ignoring the advice of his guides.

Livingstone Memorial in Ujiji, Tanzania. By Peter Levey, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia Commons

While his body was being prepared for burial, a blood clot several inches long was found obstructing his small intestine, evidence that his death had been hastened by severe hemorrhoidal bleeding

His body was carried 1500 miles across harsh equatorial terrain for ten months to the coast by his loyal attendants Chuma and Susi, and shipped to England.

His death alone in Africa touched the nation and helped get Livingstone's anti slavery message across.

Livingstone's heart was buried by his followers within the roots of an old African tree. On it's bark a native carved "Dr Livingstone May 4th 1873". The tree was later sent to England in a box.

Three of Livingstone's nieces, who were pupils at Walthamstow Hall School, Kent, got hold of some seeds from the tree and over hundred years later, in 1992, they were planted in a greenhouse. They are now healthy saplings.


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