David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a Scottish physician and possibly the greatest of all African missionaries, explorers, and antislavery advocates.
Before Livingstone, Africa's interior was almost entirely unknown to the outside world. Vague notions prevailed about its geography, fauna, flora, and human life. Livingstone dispelled much of this ignorance and opened up Africa's interior to further exploration.
David Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813, in Blantyre, coming from Highlanders on his father's side and Lowlanders on his mother's. The Livingstones were poor, so at the age of 10 David worked in the textile mills 14 hours a day, studying at night and on weekends. After some hesitation he joined the Congregational Church of his father. In 1836 he entered the University of Glasgow to study medicine and theology, working during holidays to support himself. In 1840 he received his medical degree, was ordained, and was accepted by the London Missionary Society. He had been influenced by Robert Moffat and the first Niger expedition to apply for service in Africa. After a 98-day voyage Livingstone arrived in Cape Town on March 15, 1841. He reached Moffat's station, Kuruman, at the time the outpost of European penetration in southern Africa, on July 31.
But Livingstone soon moved north to the Khatla people. It was here he permanently injured his left shoulder in an encounter with a lion. In 1845 he married Mary Moffat and settled farther north at Kolobeng. From here he set out with two friends, Oswell and Murray, to cross the Kalahari Desert, discovering Lake Ngami on Aug. 1, 1849. On another journey, in 1851, Livingstone and Oswell discovered the Zambezi River.
Crossing the Continent
In April 1852 at Cape Town, Livingstone saw his wife and four children off to England. Returning to Kolobeng, he found that some Boers had destroyed his station, the last settled home he ever had. In December he set out to walk to the west coast. He reached Linyanti, in Barotseland, where Chief Sekeletu of the Makololo gave him 27 men to go with him. They walked through hostile, unknown country, and after incredible hardship he reached Luanda on May 31, 1854.
The British consul there nursed him back to health, but Livingstone refused passage back to England. He had not found the hoped-for waterway, and he wanted to return the Makololo to their chief. Having been reequipped by the British and Portuguese in Luanda, he left on Sept. 19, 1854, but reached Linyanti only on Sept. 11, 1855. Sickness, rain, flooded rivers, and hostile tribes delayed him and forced him to spend all his equipment. He was given fresh supplies and men by Sekeletu. On November 15 he reached the spectacular falls on the Zambezi, which the Africans called the "Smoke which Thunders" but which Livingstone named Victoria Falls in honor of the queen of England. He finally reached Quelimane on the east coast on May 20, 1856. For the first time Africa had been crossed from coast to coast. He waited 6 months for a ship which returned him to England.
Livingstone was now a famous man. In 1855 the Royal Geographical Society had awarded him the Gold Medal; now at a special meeting they made him a fellow of the society. The London Missionary Society honored him; he was received by Queen Victoria; and the universities of Glasgow and Oxford conferred upon him honorary doctorates. In November 1857 his first book, the tremendously successful Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, was published.
Livingstone caught the imagination not only of England but the world. He opened the eyes of the world to the tremendous potentialities of Africa for human development, trade, and Christian missions; he also disclosed the horrors of the East African slave trade.
With mutual regrets he severed his ties with the London Missionary Society, but the British government agreed to support an expedition to explore the Zambezi River led by Livingstone, who was made a British consul for the purpose. He sailed for Africa in March 1858.
The Zambezi expedition met with many difficulties. It was marred by friction among the Europeans, mainly caused by Livingstone's brother Charles. The steam launch Ma Robert proved unsuitable, and the Kebrabasa Rapids killed the dream of Zambezi as an inland waterway. The Ma Robert was taken into the Shire River but was blocked by the Murchison Falls.
The explorers learned of the existence of two lakes to the north, and on a second journey they discovered Lake Chilwa on April 16, 1859. On a third journey up the Shire they left the boat, walked 3 weeks overland, and discovered Lake Nyasa on Sept. 17, 1859. A new steamer, the Pioneer, arrived in 1861, by which they explored the Ruvuma River in an effort to bypass the Portuguese. Later they managed to get the Pioneer to Lake Nyasa, which they explored but did not circumnavigate.
In January 1862 a third boat, the Lady Nyassa, arrived together with Mrs. Livingstone, giving him fresh hope. But Mary Livingstone died from fever at the end of April. The Lady Nyassa never reached the lake, and finally the British government recalled the expedition. The Royal Navy took over the Pioneer at Quelimane, but Livingstone took the Lady Nyassa on a daring voyage to Bombay, India, where it was sold. In July 1864 Livingstone reached England.
In 1865 Livingstone published his second successful book, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries, and the Royal Geographical Society equipped him for another expedition to explore the watersheds of Africa. He reached Zanzibar in January 1866 and began exploring the territory near Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika. On Nov. 8, 1867, he discovered Lake Mweru and the source of the Lualaba River. On July 18, 1868, he found Lake Bangweulu. In March 1869 he reached Ujiji only to discover that there was no mail and that his supplies had been stolen. He was sick, depressed, and exhausted, but in September he set out again, witnessing at Nyangwe the horrors of the Arab slave trade. He returned to Ujiji in October 1871.
Search for Livingstone
Europe and America thought that the lonely man was lost, so the London Daily Telegraph and the New York Herald sent Henry Stanley to search for him. Stanley found Livingstone at Ujiji and stayed 4 months. Unable to persuade Livingstone to return to England, Stanley reequipped him and departed from him near Tabora on March 14, 1872. In August, Livingstone was on his way again. Near Bangweulu he got bogged down in swamps but finally reached Chitambo's village. On May 1, 1873, his servants found him in his tent kneeling in prayer at the bedside. He was dead. His men buried his heart but embalmed the body and carried it to the mission of the Holy Ghost fathers at Bagamoyo. It reached England, where it was identified by the lion wound in the left shoulder. On April 18, 1874, Livingstone was buried in great honor in London's Westminster Abbey.
No one made as many geographical discoveries in Africa as Livingstone, and his numerous scientific observations were quickly recognized. He was right in using quinine as an ingredient for the cure of malaria.
Regarding himself as a missionary to the end, Livingstone inspired many new enterprises such as the Makololo, Ndebele, and Tanganyika missions of his own society, the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, and the Livingstonia Mission of the Church of Scotland. His life caught the imagination of the Christian world.
Livingstone drew the world's attention to the great evil of the African slave traffic. He taught the world to see the African as "wronged" rather than depraved, and the world did not rest until slavery was outlawed. He saw the cure for it in Christianity and commerce and also inspired enterprises such as the African Lakes Company. But in his wake came also European settlement and the colonial scramble for Africa with all its ambiguities.
Although the Zambezi expedition proved that Livingstone was no ideal leader for white men, he nevertheless greatly influenced men who knew him, such as Stanley, John Kirk, and James Stewart. He made a lasting impression on the Africans he met, which was amply attested to by those who followed him. His peaceful intentions and moral courage were immediately recognized.
In addition to Livingstone's own books, his Cambridge Lectures were edited by William Monk (1860) and Last Journals in Central Africa: From 1865 to His Death by Horace Waller (2 vols., 1874). The field notes that Livingstone kept during the Ruvuma River expedition were edited by George Shepperson, David Livingstone and Rovuma: A Notebook (1966). The most comprehensive biography is George Seaver, David Livingstone: His Life and Letters (1957). Still good is William G. Blaikie, The personal life of David Livingstone (1880; repr. 1969). Livingstone's Zambezi expedition is the subject of George Martelli, Livingstone's River: A History of the Zambezi Expedition, 1858-1864 (1970). J. P. R. Wallis, ed., The Zambezi Journals of James Stewart, 1862-1863 (1952), is an interesting companion piece to the Martelli study. For general background see Roland Oliver and J. D. Fage, A Short History of Africa (1962; 2d ed. 1966). □
Missionary and explorer
Youthful Ambitions. The most renowned explorer of the nineteenth century, David Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, in 1813. He was raised in a pious family that strictly abided by the Calvinist tenets of the Scottish-established church. While working in a textile factory as a youth, he began studying Greek and Latin. An 1834 public appeal for medical missionaries in China caught Livingstone’s imagination, and he prepared himself for the mission field by studying medicine and theology at the University of Glasgow. The Opium War (1839–1842) prevented Livingstone from going to China, but after meeting Robert Moffat (a notable Scottish missionary stationed in South Africa), he shifted his ambitions to Africa.
Africa. In November 1840 he was ordained as a medical missionary by the London Missionary Society and left for the Society’s South African mission the following month. In July 1841 he reached the Kuruman station, which was run by Moffat. From this base Livingstone traveled widely, pushing into the Kalahari to take the gospel and medicine to indigenous populations beyond the frontier. These efforts in the Kalahari won few converts, aroused the ire of white settlers, and placed Livingstone in great danger. When he was working to establish a mission station at Mabotsa in 1844, he was badly mauled by a lion, permanently damaging his left arm. However, this incident did not curb Livingstone’s commitment to his mission or his growing love of exploration. Throughout the remainder of the 1840s he journeyed extensively, often accompanied by his wife, Mary (Robert Moffat’s daughter, whom he married in 1845). As a result of his discovery of Lake Ngami in August 1849, he gained considerable fame as a scientist and surveyor, and he received a gold medal and monetary prize from Britain’s Royal Geographical Society.
Journey into the Interior. This achievement marked the beginning rather than the culmination of Livingstone’s career as an explorer, and after the return of his wife and children to Scotland, Livingstone dedicated himself to pushing northward into the heart of Africa. He charted lands unknown to Europeans and sowed the seeds of “Christianity, Civilization and Commerce.” His first great expedition was to cross southern Africa, from the Zambezi River to the Congo River, and then on to Luanda, the capital of Angola on the Atlantic coast. This journey, which lasted from January 1853 to May 1854, was undertaken with the hope that it would open up new legitimate commercial routes, thereby undercutting the vestiges of the African slave trade. In September 1854 he left Luanda for his return across the continent, reaching the Indian Ocean in May 1856. En route he was the first European to lay eyes on the enormous, thundering waterfalls on the Zambezi that he named Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria of Great Britain. After completing this arduous expedition, Livingstone returned to England in December 1856, and in the following year he published his Travels and Researches in South Africa. This work, which was a publishing sensation, not only secured Livingstone’s status as a national hero but also disseminated the immense store of geographical and ethnological knowledge he had accumulated during this eleven-thousand-mile journey.
Zambezi Expedition. Travels and Researches in South Africa and the many speeches he delivered during 1857 generated immense public interest in Africa. Indeed, his lectures at the University of Cambridge Senate (which were published as Dr. Livingstone’s Cambridge Lectures in 1858) were the spur for the foundation of the University’s Mission to Central Africa in 1860. Meanwhile, Livingstone returned to Africa in 1858 as the newly appointed British Consul at Quelimane, where he was to be responsible for “the promotion of Commerce and Civilization with a view to the extinction of the slave-trade.” With a paddle steamer and a well-supplied entourage (including his wife), Living-stone began to explore the Zambezi river network. Livingstone’s high hopes for the expedition soon were dashed by administrative decisions in Britain and by personal tragedy. Although his party comprised the first Europeans to explore Lake Nyasa and its environs (in modern Malawi), this disease-plagued and rather chaotic expedition was recalled before completion by the British government, and Mary, Livingstone’s wife, died on the Zambezi. It was only in the long term, after the creation of the British Central Africa Protectorate in 1893 (which became Nyasaland in 1907), that the true fruits of this voyage were seen.
Source of the Nile. On the completion of the Zambezi expedition Livingstone crossed the Indian Ocean to Bombay, where he sold his steamer and briefly returned to Britain, publishing his Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi and Its Tributaries (1865). He returned to Africa as British Consul-at-Large, with the aim of exploring the river networks of central Africa and with the hope that he might discover the ultimate source of the Nile. Almost from the outset difficulties plagued this expedition, and it was surrounded by drama as a number of his retinue abandoned the expedition in September 1866, announcing to European journalists that Livingstone was dead. With a depleted entourage Livingstone pushed north from Lake Nyasa, discovering Lake Mweru in November 1867 and Lake Bangweulu in July 1868, before reaching Lake Tanganyika in February 1869. Battling fatigue and illness, Livingstone pressed further west than any previous European, reaching Nyangwe, on the Lualaba River leading into the Congo River. Returning to Lake Tanganyika in October 1871, Livingstone encountered Henry Morton Stanley, a correspondent for the New York Herald, who replenished Livingstone’s rations and medical supplies before returning to Britain. After Stanley’s departure, Livingstone pushed south again, but his desperate search for the source of the Nile was halted by illness. In May 1873, at Chitambo in modern Zambia, he was found dead kneeling beside his bed as if in prayer. Livingstone’s heart was buried in Africa, but his body was embalmed, and it finally reached the coast after a nine-month journey. The corpse was shipped back to London, and amid national mourning he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 18 April 1874.
David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa (London: National Portrait Gallery, 1996).
Denis Judd, Livingstone in Africa (London: Wayland, 1973).
Andrew Ross, David Livingstone: Mission and Empire (London: Hambledon & London, 2002).
Richard Worth, Stanley and Livingstone and the Exploration of Africa in World History (Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2000).
Scottish Missionary and Explorer
Born into a devoutly religious and hard-working family in Blantyre, Scotland, David Livingstone's faith and work habits would become the map and vessel for a lifetime of exploration. His parents impressed upon him the importance of spreading the Christian gospel. At age 10, he was put to work at a cotton mill, where he labored from six in the morning until eight at night. Afterwards, he went on to study, sometimes late into the night.
In 1836 he began medical school at Anderson's College in Glasgow, intending to become a medical missionary. It was there that he heard fellow Scotsman, Dr. Robert Moffat (1795-1883), speak of having seen, "The smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary has ever been." In 1840 Livingstone set sail for Africa and arrived at Capetown on March 14, 1841.
He spent the next 15 years moving in and about the interior of this remarkable continent. It was a geographical delight to him and he learned all he could about its native population and their cultures. In time, he had occasion to meet the Boers and the Portuguese and developed an intense dislike for their inhumane treatment of the native Africans.
Eventually, he began working with Moffat as a medical missionary in the port town of Kuruman. His work took him into more remote parts of the country and, by the summer of 1842, he had already ventured farther north into Kalahari country than any other white man in history. He decided to leave Kuruman in hopes of spreading the gospel in new, untried areas. Apparently unhindered by typical needs for the companionship of countrymen, he moved to an inland village to learn African languages and customs. During a trek to Mabotsa where he hoped to establish another Christian mission, he was attacked and badly mauled by a lion. Although he recovered generally, he was never again able to fire a gun with any accuracy and was often at the mercy of jungle animals.
In 1845 Livingstone married Moffat's daughter, Mary. A combination of droughts and Livingstone's desire to spread Christianity caused them to relocate three times over the next five years. Eventually, Livingstone sent her and their four children back to Britain out of concern for their safety and their need for security and education.
Between 1853 and 1856, Livingstone traversed the entire continent, traveling an incredible 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of land along the Zambezi River, none of which had been touched by Europeans. On November 17, 1855, Livingstone laid eyes upon the awesome Victoria Falls. He had discovered most, but not all, of his "highway" when he returned to Britain and recorded his journeys in his first book, Missionary Travels.
Tragedy filled the next decade. In 1862 he embarked on what was later called the Zambezi Expedition, on behalf of the British government. Plans to navigate the Zambezi proved to be impractical and the expedition was finally recalled. Not in time, however, to avoid the death of Mary Livingstone who died during the journey. Two years later, the discovery of the impassable Murchison Cataracts shattered his hope of finding a waterway to central Africa. To Livingstone, this did not mean the end of his dream or his travels and he continued to explore Africa on his own terms.
After disappearing from the public eye for several years, a challenge to find Dr. Livingstone was issued. New York Herald staff reporter Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) took the challenge. He spent a year traveling through Africa before he had the opportunity to pose the famed understatement—"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"—upon encountering Livingstone.
Stanley offered to help Livingstone back to the coast, but he refused the offer and continued his travels. Livingstone died in 1871 at the age of 60.