Stanley, Henry Morton

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Stanley, Henry Morton

Born as John Rowlands in Denbigh, Wales, on January 28, 1841, Henry Morton Stanley spent most of his unfortunate youth in a workhouse, from which he was released in 1856. He embarked on a ship to the United States as a cabin boy in 1858, but jumped ship upon his arrival in New Orleans. There he met a wealthy cotton broker, Henry Hope Stanley, who offered him protection and gradually began treating him as a son. Out of gratitude to his adoptive father, John Rowlands took the name "Stanley" from 1859 onwards. After a quarrel with his benefactor, he resumed his errant lifestyle.

He was, among other things, a sailor, a soldier in the Confederate (1861–1862) and the Union army (1864–1865), and a journalist. In this capacity, he traveled widely in the Far West, in Ethiopia, and in many countries around the Mediterranean. In 1869 the New York Herald asked him to organize an expedition in order to search for Dr. David Livingstone (1813–1873), the British missionary and explorer, who was reported lost in Central Africa. This expedition met with success and took place between 1871 and 1872. Stanley found Livingstone in Ujiji. After this, he convinced the New York Herald and the Daily Telegraph to finance another expedition in this region.

Starting from Bagamoyo, on the East African coast, on November, 17, 1874, he crossed the continent in approximately 1,000 days, arriving in Boma, at the mouth of the Congo River, on August, 9, 1877. On his return to Europe, Stanley tried to persuade the British authorities to develop a more active political interest in the Congo area. These demarches being unsuccessful, he then accepted the offer of Leopold II (1835–1909), king of the Belgians, to become the managing agent of the Comité d'Etudes du Haut-Congo and, later, of the Association Internationale du Congo (AIC). Both organizations were created by Leopold II to realize his commercial and political ambitions in the Congo region.

From 1879 to 1884, Stanley remained intensely active. During this period, he explored the Congo basin, built a military force, concluded treaties with African chiefs recognizing the AIC's sovereignty, and founded many colonial stations, some of which were to become major cities such as Kinshasa and Kisangani. Upon his return to Europe in June 1884, he became a technical adviser of the American delegation at the Berlin Conference (1884–1885), while still on Leopold's payroll. Consequently, he contributed to the international recognition of the AIC as the legitimate authority of the vast area, which was, from then on, called the Congo Free State.

Stanley led a last important expedition in Africa from March 1887 to December 1889. With Eduard Schnitzer (1840–1892), also called Emin Pasa, white province governor in Southern Sudan, being threatened by the Mahdists, a campaign was launched in Europe to rescue him. Stanley was chosen as the leader of this expedition, which succeeded in finding Emin Pasa and bringing him back to the east coast of Africa. Leopold II, still eager to expand his African dominion toward the Nile, then asked Stanley to lead a huge military campaign to take Khartoum from the Mahdists, but Stanley declined the offer. Stanley's career as an explorer was now over, but in the early 1890s he made one last contribution to the shaping of colonial Africa, when he led a campaign aimed at bringing and maintaining Uganda under British rule.

During the last years of his life, Stanley retired to the English countryside. In 1890, he married a wealthy lady, Dorothy Tennant, and adopted a son in 1896. Stanley served as a Member of Parliament (1895–1900) and was knighted in 1899. He died in his domain of Furze Hill, Surrey, on May 10, 1904.

Stanley was a controversial figure, even in his own time. He met with hostility in influential British circles, but, at the same time, was hailed as a heroic personality—most notably by the Belgians. The many books Stanley wrote, as well as his numerous conferences held in Europe and the United States largely contributed to his extraordinary fame. Stanley's writings must nevertheless be read with great caution, since their author more than once takes liberty with the facts. This tendency to hide or to embellish things is but one aspect of Stanley's complex psychology. On the one hand, he was tortured by his troubled sexuality; on the other, he acted in an authoritarian, ruthless, and often violent way during his African journeys, both toward the African population and the members of his expedition. With that being said, Stanley undoubtedly left a historic imprint on the political fate of contemporary Africa.

see also Belgium's African Colonies; Berlin Conference.


Liniger-Gaumaz, Max, and Gerben Helling. Henry Morton Stanley. Bibliographie. Genève: Editions du Temps, 1972.

McLynn, Frank. Stanley, the Making of an African Explorer. Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House Publishers; Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 1990.

McLynn, Frank. Stanley. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Newman, James L. Imperial Footprints: Henry Morton Stanley's African Journeys. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2004.

"Stanley Private Papers." The Africa Museum of Tervuren, Belgium. Available from

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