The journalist, Henry Morton Stanley, found David Livingstone, the ‘missing’ Scottish missionary, at Ujiji in Tanganyika, on the 10th of November, 1871.
David Livingstone was a pioneering missionary man with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. He was not the only Scot to find renown in exploring Africa as his name stands alongside others such as Mungo Park, Hugh Claperton, William Balfour Baikie, James Bruce, James Augustus Grant and Major Alexander Gordon Laing in the hall of fame. However, Livingstone was one of the most popular and celebrated national heroes of late 19th Century Victorian Britain. His fame as an explorer helped drive the obsession with discovering the sources of two of African's great trading arteries, the Niger and the Nile. That was during the classic period of colonial penetration of the African continent known as the ‘scramble for Africa’. European explorers made a massive contribution to the general scientific and geographical knowledge and understanding of the climate and resources of Africa. Primarily, however, they went in search of fame or celebrity or to convert the natives to Christianity or, in terms of their sponsors’ intentions, to contribute towards an imperial strategy of controlling the ‘Dark Continent’.
As a missionary, Livingstone made a poor show. The only Christian convert of his career was Chief Sechele of the Kwena. No doubt that ‘failure’ led to Livingstone’s belief that he had a spiritual calling for exploration rather than missionary work. Livingstone could see the point of view of those who did not want to be converted as evidenced by an encounter with Chief Sechele’s uncle. The uncle said of Livingstone, “We like you as well as if you had been born among us… but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying. You see we never get rain, while those tribes who never pray as we do obtain abundance.” Revealingly, Livingstone recorded that as a fact, stating, “”We often saw it raining on the hills ten miles off, while it would not look at us ‘even with one eye’.” Understandably then, in 1857, he resigned from the London Missionary Society, after it demanded that he do more evangelising and less exploring. After that, with the help of the President of the Royal Geographical Society, Livingstone was appointed as Her Majesty's Consul for the East Coast of Africa. It was as an explorer that Livingstone found lasting fame.
David Livingstone was the first European, although not the first African, to make a transcontinental journey across Africa, which he did from Quelimane, near the mouth of the Zambezi, to Luanda on the Atlantic Coast. He was the first European to see the ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (‘the smoke that thunders’) waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls. Livingstone great task was the Zambezi and he believed the key to achieving the goals illustrated by his motto, ‘Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation’, was the navigation of that river, which he saw as a commercial highway into the interior. Unfortunately, it turned out to be completely impassable to boats past the Cabora Bassa rapids. However, his expedition became the first to reach Lake Malawi and he went on to become the first European to see Lake Bangweulu and Lake Ngami. Gruesomely, his attempts to navigate the Ruvuma River failed, because of the continual fouling of the paddle wheels on his boat by bodies thrown in the river by slave traders. It was on that journey that he uttered his most famous quote, “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.” After the failure of the Zambezi expedition, Livingstone returned to Africa in search of the source of the Nile. He found the Lualaba River and decided it was the ‘real’ Nile, but it wasn’t as it flows into the Upper Congo Lake. In addition to his discoveries and ‘firsts’, he provided details of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru, and charted the course of many rivers, especially the upper Zambezi, and his observations enabled large, previously blank, regions to be mapped.
During his efforts to find the Nile, Livingstone completely lost contact with the outside world for six years and only one of his forty-four dispatches made it to Zanzibar, which is why he needed to be ‘found’. Livingstone suffered from pneumonia, came down with cholera, had tropical ulcers on his feet, had his supplies stolen and had to rely on slave traders for sustenance. Following all of those trials and tribulations and at the end of the wet season in 1871, he returned to Ujiji, where he arrived on the 23rd of October. And that was where he was found by Henry Morton Stanley (aka John Rowlands) just a couple of weeks later, on the 10th of November, 1871. Stanley greeted him with the now famous, but probably fabricated words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
David Livingstone was born at Blantyre in Lanarkshire, in March 1813. At the age of ten, he was sent to the cotton factory of H. Monteith & Co as a ‘piecer’ and, with his first wages, be purchased Ruddiman's ‘Rudiments of Latin’. For some years, he studied at an evening school and at home until late at night, even though he had to be at the factory at six o'clock in the morning. By the time he was nineteen he had become a cotton spinner and his wages were enough to support him whilst he studied Medicine, Greek and Divinity at Glasgow. In September, 1838, he went to the London Missionary Society and passed its preliminary examination following which, he devoted himself to medical and scientific study. He was prevented from going to China by the opium war and instead determined to go to South Africa. He was admitted a licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow University at the beginning of November, 1840 and, later in the month, he was ordained a missionary in Albion Chapel, London. In December of that year, he embarked in the ‘George’ for Simon’s Bay, which was where, on the 15th March, 1841, David Livingstone first set foot upon the continent upon which he was to leave such a mark. And so began an adventure of discovery and achievement, the like of which had few parallels in the history of human endeavour.
David Livingstone appears to have died of malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery, in the village of Ilala in Zambia, on the 1st of May, 1873. However, his attendants noted the date as the 4th of May, which they carved on a tree. Livingstone's heart was buried under that Mvula tree, near the spot where he died, and his body was eventually returned to Britain, where his remains were interred at Westminster Abbey.