1902 Encyclopedia > David Livingstone

David Livingstone
Scottish missionary and explorer
(1813-73)




DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813-1873), missionary and explorer, was born on March 19, 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 poor and self-respecting, 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 he 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, and also a theological class. In September 1838 he went up to London, and was accepted by the London Missionary Society as a candidate. During the next two years he resided mostly in London, diligently attending medical and science classes, and spending part of his time with the Rev. Mr Cecil at Ongar in Essex, studying theology and learning to preach. He took his medical degree in the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow in November 1840. Livingstone had from the first 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 December 8, 1840. From Algoa Bay he made direct for Kuruman, the mission station, 700 miles north, established by Hamilton and Moffat thirty years before, and there he arrived on July 31, 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 had already become convinced that the success of the white missionary in a field like Africa is not to be reckoned by the tale of doubtful conversions he can 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 miles north-east of Kuruman, as his first station. It was shortly after his settlement here that he was attacked by a lion which crushed his left arm, and nearly put an end to his career. 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 brought home his wife, Mary Moffat, the daughter of Moffat of Kuruman. Here he laboured till 1846, when he removed to Chonuane, 40 miles further north, the chief place of the Bakwain tribe under Sechele. In 1847 he again removed to Kolobeng, about 40 miles westwards, the whole tribe following their missionary. With the help of and in the company of two English sportsmen, Mr Oswell and Mr Murray, he was able to undertake a journey of great importance 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 August 1, 1849. In April next year he made an attempt to reach Sebituane, who lived 200 miles beyond the lake, this time in company with his wife and children, but again got no further than the lake, as the children were seized with fever. A year later, April 1851, Livingstone, again accompanied by his family and Mr Oswell, set out, this time with the intention of settling among the Makololo for a period. At last he succeeded, and reached the Chobe, a southern tributary of the Zambesi, and in the end of June discovered the Zambesi itself at the town of Sesheke. Leaving the Chobe on August 13, the party reached Capetown 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, with a sad heart, seen his family off to England, Livingstone left the Cape on June 8, 1852, and reached Linyanti, the capital of the Makololo, on the Chobe, on May 23, 1853, received in royal style by Sekeletu, and welcomed by all the people. His first object in this journey was to seek for some healthy high land in which to plant a station. Ascending the Zambesi, he, however, found no place free from the destructive tsetse insect, and therefore resolved to discover a route to the interior from either the west or east coast. To accompany Livingstone in his hazardous undertaking 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 Linyanti on November 11, 1853, and, by ascending the Leeba, Lake Dilolo was reached on February 20, 1854. On April 4 the Coango was crossed, and on May 31 the town of Loanda was entered, much to the joy of the men,—their leader, however, being all but dead from fever, semi-starvation, and dysentery. Livingstone speaks in the warmest terms of the generosity of the Portuguese merchants and officials. From Loanda Livingstone sent his astronomical observations to Maclear at the Cape, and an account of his journey to the Royal Geographical Society, which in May 1855 awarded him its highest honour, its gold medal.





Loanda was left on September 20, 1854, but Livingstone lingered long about the Portuguese settlements. Making a slight detour to the north to Cabango, the party reached Lake Dilolo on June 13. Here Livingstone made a careful study of the watershed of the country in what is perhaps the most complicated river system in the world. 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. Their reception all along the Barotse valley was an ovation, and Linyanti was reached in the beginning of September.

For Livingstone's purposes the route to the west was unavailable, and he decided to follow the Zambesi to its mouth. With a numerous following, he left Linyanti on November 8, 1855. A fortnight afterwards he made the great discovery with which, in popular imagination, his name is more intimately associated than with anything else he did,—the famous "Victoria" falls of the Zambesi, which, after a second examination in his subsequent journey, he concluded to be due to an immense fissure or fault right across the bed of the river, which was one means of draining off the waters of the great lake that he supposed must have at one time occupied the centre of the continent. 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 Tette on March 2, 1856, in a very emaciated condition, and after six weeks, left his men well cared for, and proceeded to Kilimane, where he arrived on May 20, 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. Men of the highest eminence in all departments of science testified to the high value of Livingstone's work. In later years, it is true, the Portuguese, embittered by his unsparing denunciations of their traffic in slaves, attempted to depreciate his work, and to maintain that much of it had already been done by Portuguese explorers. When Livingstone began his work in Africa it was virtually a blank from Kuruman to Timbuctoo, and nothing but envy or ignorance can throw any doubt on the originality of his discoveries.

On December 12 he arrived in England, after an absence of sixteen years, and met everywhere with 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 Kilimane for the eastern coast and the independent districts in the interior, and commander of an expedition for exploring eastern and central Africa."

The Zambesi expedition, of which Livingstone thus became commander, sailed from Liverpool in H.M.S. "Pearl" on March 10,1858, and reached the mouth of the Zambesi on May 14, and the party ascended the river from the Kongone mouth in a steam launch, the " Ma-Robert," reaching Tette on September 8. The remainder of the year was spent in examining the river above Tette, and _especially the Kebrabasa rapids. Most of the year 1859 was spent in the exploration of the river Shire.and Lake Nyassa, which was discovered in September; and much of the year 1860 was spent by Livingstone in fulfilling his promise to take such of the Makalolo home as cared to go. In January of next year arrived Bishop Mackenzie and a party of missionaries sent out by the Universities Mission to establish a station on the upper Shire.

After exploring the river Rovuma for 30 miles in his new vessel the " Pioneer," Livingstone and the missionaries proceeded up the Shire to Chibisa's; there they found the slave trade rampant, desolating the country and paralysing all effort. On July 15 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 of Magomero to the south of Lake Shirwa, Livingstone spent from August to November in exploring Lake Nyassa. 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 January 30, 1862, at the Zambesi 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, absorbing most of the profits of his book, and for which he never got any allowance. When the mission ladies reached the mouth of the Ruo tributary of the Shire, they were stunned to hear of the death of the bishop and of Mr Burrup. 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 his wife at Shupanga, on April 27, 1862.

The " Lady Nyassa" was taken to the Rovuma. Up this river Livingstone managed to steam 156 miles, but further progress was arrested by rocks. Returning to the Zambesi 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 water-shed 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 30th he set out with nine natives and four Europeans for Bombay, which was reached after an adventurous voyage of a month, and on July 23 Livingstone arrived in England. He was naturally disappointed with the results of this expedition, all its leading objects being thwarted through no blame of his. For the unfortunate disagreements which occurred, and for which he was blamed in some quarters, he must be held acquitted, as he was by the authorities at home; though it is not necessary to maintain that Livingstone was exempt from the trying effects on the temper of African fever, or from the intolerance of lukewarmness which belongs to all exceptionally strong natures. Still the results at the time, and especially those of the future, were great. 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. Details will be found in his Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, published in 1865.





By 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 i seeing 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 H.M. consul to central Africa without a salary, and Government contributed only ¿6500 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 Nyassa 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 January 28, 1866. He was landed at the mouth of the Eovuma on March 22, and started for the interior on April 4. His company consisted of thirteen sepoys, ten Johanna men, nine African boys from Nassick 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 Nyassa, Livingstone struck in a north-north-west direction for the south end of Lake Tanganyika, over country much of which had not previously been explored. The Loangwa was crossed on December 15, and on Christmas day Livingstone lost his four goats, a loss which he felt very keenly, and the medicine chest was stolen in January 1868. Fever came upon him, and for a time was his almost constant companion; this, with the fearful dysentery and dreadful ulcers and other ailments which subsequently attacked him, and which he had no medicine to counteract, no doubt told fatally on even his iron frame. The Chambeze was crossed on January 28, and the south end of Tanganyika reached March 31. Here, much to his vexation, he got into the company of Arab slave dealers, by whom his movements were hampered ; but he succeeded in reaching Lake Moero. After visiting Lake Mofwa and the Lualaba, which he believed was the upper part of the Nile, he, on July 18, discovered Lake Bangweolo. Proceeding up the west coast of Tanganyika, he reached Ujiji on March 14, 1869, "a ruckle of bones." Supplies had been forwarded to him at Ujiji, but had been knavishly made away with by those to whose care they had been entrusted. Livingstone recrossed Tanganyika in July, and through the country of the Manyuema he tried in vain, for a whole year, to reach and cross the Lualaba, baffled partly by the natives, partly by the slave hunters, and partly by his long illnesses. It was, indeed, not till March 29, 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 down the poor 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 October 13. Five days after his arrival in Ujiji he was cheered and inspired with new life, and completely set up again, as he said, by the timely arrival of Mr H. M. Stanley, the richly laden almoner of Mr Gordon Bennett, of the N~ew York Herald. Mr Stanley's residence with Livingstone was almost the only bright episode of thes6 last sad years. With Stanley Livingstone explored the north end of Tanganyika, and proved conclusively that the Lusize runs into and not out of it. In the end of the year the two started eastward for Unyanyembe, where Stanley provided Livingstone with an ample supply of goods, and bade him farewell. Stanley left on March 15, 1872, and after Livingstone had waited wearily at Unyanyembe 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 August 15 for Lake Bangweolo, 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 Bangweolo, Livingstone's object being to go round by the south and away west to find the " foum tains." Vexatious delays took place, and the journey became one constant wade below, under an almost endless pour of rain from above. The doctor got worse and worse, but no idea of danger seems to have occurred to him. At last, in the middle of April, he had unwillingly to submit to be carried in a rude litter. On April 29 Chitambo's village on the Lulimala, in Ilala, on the south shore of the lake, was reached. The last entry in the journal is April 27 :— " Knocked up quite, and remain—recover—sent to buy milch goats. We are on the banks of the Molilamo." On April 30 he with difficulty wound up his watch, and early on the morning of May 1 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 April 18, 1874, was deposited in Westminster Abbey, amid tokens of mourning and admiration such as England accords only to her greatest sons. Government bore all the funeral expenses. 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 Waller.

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. It will be long till the tradition of his sojourn dies out among the native tribes, who almost, without exception, treated Livingstone as a superior being; his treatment of them was always tender, gentle, and gentlemanly. But the direct gains to geography and science are perhaps not the greatest results of Livingstone's journeys. He conceived, developed, and carried out to success a noble and many-sided purpose, with an unflinching and self-sacrificing energy and courage that entitle him to take rank among the great and strong who single-handed have been able materially to influence human progress, and the advancement of knowledge. His example and his death have 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 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 Dr Blaikie's Life, the publications of the London Missionary Society from 1840, the Proceedings of the Moyal Geographical Society, the despatches to the Foreign Office sent home by Livingstone during his last two expeditions, and Mr H. M. Stanley's How I Found Livingstone. (J. S. K.)



The above article was written by J. S. Keltie.



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