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.
Further Reading on David Livingstone
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).