David Livingstone, African missionary and explorer, arrived in Africa on the 15th March 1841, beginning the career for which he is undoubtedly and justifiably famous.
David Livingstone was a missionary man with the London Missionary Society and as an explorer in Africa, he was one of the most popular and celebrated national heroes of late 19th Century Victorian Britain. However, in terms of converting the ‘heathen’ natives, Livingstone wasn’t a great of success. The only Christian convert he made in his entire career was Chief Sechele of the Kwena. Perhaps it was that ‘failure’ that led to Livingstone’s belief that he had a spiritual calling for exploration, rather than missionary work. Strangely enough, although Livingstone’s pious father instructed his children in the doctrines of Christianity, David positively disliked religious reading; that was until he met with Dick’s ‘Philosophies’ – ‘Religion’ and ‘a Future State’. So it was that in his twentieth year, he became conscious of strong religious convictions. As he himself related, “In the glow of love, which Christianity inspires I soon resolved to devote my life to the alleviation of human misery.” No wonder he always looked miserable.
David Livingstone of the furrowed brow, drooping moustache and downturned mouth, was born at Blantyre in Lanarkshire, on the 19th of 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 (no relation) of Latin’. For some years, he studied at an evening school and ‘burned the midnight oil’ at home, even though ‘yoking time’ at the factory was an ungodly six o'clock in the morning. It’s no wonder he always looked miserable and, looking at his pictures, it looks as if nobody ever said to him, “Smile for the daguerreotype.” By the time he was nineteen he had become a cotton spinner and his wages were enough to support him whilst he attended the medical class in Anderson College, the Greek class at Glasgow University, and the divinity lectures of Dr. Wardlaw.
In the course of his second session at College, Livingstone offered his services to the London Missionary Society, which he selected on account of its un-sectarian character. In September, 1838, he went to London, passed a preliminary examination, and was sent to the Rev. Richard Cecil at Chipping Ongar, in Essex, for some months’ probation. On completion of that trial period, Livingstone returned to London and devoted himself, in the meantime, to medical and scientific study. The meantime was intended to be a period prior to his going to China, but to the benefit of the African continent, he never made it to the Far East, although later on, he did visit India. Livingstone was prevented from going to China by the opium war and after meeting Dr. Robert Moffat, fellow Scot and pioneering South African missionary, he determined instead to go to South Africa. Livingstone was admitted a licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow University in November, 1840, in which same month he was ordained a missionary in Albion Chapel, London. Then in December, he embarked in the ‘George’, under Captain Donaldson, and sailed with hope in his heart for the Cape of Good Hope.
The George put in at Rio de Janeiro, where the captain instructed Dr. Livingstone in the use of the quadrant and taking lunar observations, which were skills he would later put to good use. After setting sail once more, the ship anchored in Simon’s Bay, South Africa, on the 15th of March, 1841, and it was there that David Livingstone first set foot upon the continent on which he was to leave such a mark. Following a delay of a month or so, at Cape Town, Livingstone proceeded to Algoa Bay and landed in Port Elizabeth. Later, in July, he arrived by wagon at Kuruman, in the Bechuana country, the usual residence of his mentor, Dr. Moffat, whose daughter he was later to marry. Livingstone first turned his attention to the formation of a new station further north and, before the end of the year, had also made his first journey of exploration; the seven hundred miles to Shokwane, where he found Chief Sechele. On the way back, he selected a village, 250 miles north of Kuruman, as first base for his missionary operations.
Quite apart from his talents and feats as an explorer, Livingstone displayed many additional skills and accomplishments during his interim interludes in the interior. A native smith taught him to weld iron, Dr. Moffat taught him carpentry and gardening, and Livingstone became handy at most mechanical necessities. His routine work at each of the missionary stations he founded was preaching, printing, prescribing for the sick, and building a chapel and a school. He also built three houses for himself and his family; at stations in Mabotsa and Tshonuane, and on the banks of the River Kolobeñ, where he taught the tribesmen to irrigate their gardens by runnels from the river. On his second journey into the interior, in 1842, he secluded himself from all Europeans and acquired a working knowledge of the native languages. When he had mastered one dialect, he commenced learning another. He produced a grammar of the Sichuana language and taught incessantly, in addition to organising systematic instruction under native teachers; perhaps his greatest contribution to the native peoples. In later life, his only regret was that, while spending all his energy on the “heathens,” he had not devoted an hour each day to play with his children. Nevertheless, he also found time to investigate the geology, botany, and natural history of the country he traversed, including the Kalahari Desert.
Once, in 1843, at Mabotsa in his “charming valley”, Livingstone even found time to wrestle with a wounded lion, which sprang on him, brought him to the ground, crushed his left shoulder bone, and left him with restricted use of his left arm. Once was enough. Later, in a sojourn to Cape Town and adding to his skill set, the astronomer-royal, Sir (to be) Thomas Maclear, after whom Livingstone named Cape Maclear on Lake Nyasa, taught Livingstone how to take astronomical observations, in which he became expert. Livingstone was also the author of a couple of books about his travels. The first, published in 1857, was called ‘Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa’ and it made him a fortune; all of which he spent on further exploration. In 1865, he published ‘Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, and of the Discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858-1864’, compiled from his and his brother’s journals.
David Livingstone died in Africa, suffering from the combined effects of malaria and dysentery, on the 1st of May, 1873. His body, minus its heart, which was buried in Africa, was returned to Britain to be interred in Westminster Abbey, where a black slab in the centre of the nave marks its final resting place. In tribute, Sir Bartle Frere, President of the Royal Geographical Society, wrote of Livingstone that “As a whole, the work of his life will surely be held up in ages to come as one of singular nobleness of design and of unflinching energy and self-sacrifice in execution.”