To open Africa for Christ: this was the vision to which Dr. David Livingstone gave his life. His 30 years of work as a missionary, explorer and anti-slaver, aroused a reverent awe in Englishmen and African alike. In 1868, on his last journey, all news of him ceased, fevered public anxiety about his fate led to the famous incident in which the journalist, Henry Morgan Stanley, tracked down the disease-ridden explorer two years before his death in 1873. Thereafter, Stanley took upon himself, Livingstone’s mantle and set about completing the Doctor’s explorations.
In 1840 a group of earnest young men were living in the village of Ongar in Essex, to take instruction in theology, as probationers of the London Missionary Society (LMS) . Among them was a young doctor, trained in Glasgow, and London, who had been provisionally accepted to convert the heathens in China as soon as British guns had overcome that corrupt governments attempts to keep out opium grown in British India. David Livingstone was the personification of the porridge-bible-raised-Scot, self-educated and self-reliant. Hesitant in manner, but when drawn out he radiated a strange and compelling charm. One felt a steel in his nature, which could be put down to ambition and egotism. He had startling powers of concentration and endurance. His fellow students discovered this when he walked to London and back in a day, a distance of 50 miles, attending to a road accident on route.
Although slavery had been abolished in Britain, the ban was not total: Though Britain had used her supremacy at sea to compel the reluctant Europeans to abjure the trade officially, the human cargos continued unofficially to to be shipped out to Brazil and to the American slave states.
A new preventative medicine had been found - the introduction into the African hinterland of “Christian Commerce” which would replace the human merchandise. The replacing of trade in human flesh by trade in cottons sank into Livingstone’s consciousness and later governed his whole life. In 1841, Livingstone was working for the LMS in Kuruman farther north from the South African coast than any missionary had been before. He travelled in a Cape Wagon, revelling in the new experience which he called a prolonged system of picnicking, excellent for the health, and agreeable to those who are not fastidious over trifles - as he never was.
Although deputising in Kuruman for a Dr. Moffat, who was on leave, Livingstone decided, with out waiting for Dr. Moffat’s return, to push north to set up a station on the frontier of the newly established Boer colony of Transvaal. He forged farther and farther into the bowels of Africa. To everybody but Livingstone it was an uninviting prospect - desert without end. In 1841, almost nothing was known to white men of the interior of Africa - and little to black men either, for not withstanding the vast migrations stirred up by Boer and Zulu aggression, and expansion, most tribes were localised. Innocent in a geographical sense of anything which lay beyond the lie of their grazing lands or pasturing.
It was assumed, even against fragmentary evidence, that the central plateau was an extension of the Kalahari Desert, perhaps meeting the Sahara somewhere. The sources of the great rivers, the Nile, Congo, Zaire, Zambezi and Niger, were unknown. Livingstone was intrigued by the possibility that beyond the desert was a fresh water Lake, Ngami, no man had ever seen, where there might be a populace to be won for the Gospel.
He felt at home with the African personality, he did not threaten, he argued patiently and doggedly in their own tongue, he could not always manage them but he seemed always to have retained their respect. He was not dismissive of witch doctors, or the African medical profession. He soon found that his own medical skill brought him a large African practice, for the blacks were subject to a great range of diseases known in Europe. He studied fossils geology and above all geography and hydrology keeping precise records in notebooks later transcribed into journals; and armed with his sextant, compass and chronometers, he accurately reckoned his longitude and latitude. In 1843, Livingstone thought he should do his duty, as a missionary and marry. He returned to Kuruman and finally met the Moffats, and decided to marry their daughter Mary. She was to be the wife of a great man. As a missionary’s daughter she knew that hardship, even martyrdom, was her lot. When he took her to Mabotsa she settled down to infant school teaching and the production of five babies in about as many years. She moved with him from station to station, and finally took the family exploring with him.
In 1844 Livingstone received the approval of his employers to explore the unknown and bring Christianity to the natives and set out as the first white expeditionary to cross the Kalahari and finally discover Lake Ngami. It was a decisive breakthrough in as much as it revealed that beyond the desert a huge area of well-watered country lay. Whilst he was away his wife found that life at the mission station impossible. The Boers were incensed at Livingstone’s intention to educate native teachers and his disapproval of their custom of kidnapping African children for domestic slavery. Knowing the Boers intentions, he had little alternative but to make his wife and children explorers.
The following year therefore, he brought the family to Ngami. The children nearly died of thirst on the way. During their journey, not a square inch of their skin was without an insect bite, but they survived.
Livingstone however, now encountered his greatest enemies; the anopheles mosquito, which carried malaria , and the tsetse fly which carries cattle sickness that makes it almost impossible use animal transport in the middle of Africa. Livingstone, his family feverish and shaking round him, resolved to discover the cause of malaria and over the years wrote much about it and its treatment .
At Ngami, he heard of a far richer country, far finer rivers and a great people, the Makololo to the north. Ngami was too unhealthy for a mission. They all returned to Kolobeng where he had worked earlier. Mary, desperately sick lost her fifth baby there and was sent to recover with her parents who were stunned when they saw the sad condition of their daughter and family.
Livingstone returned to Ngami and finally, with the assistance of a hunter, got through to the Makololo country ruled over by the good Sebituane. There he found the river - the Zambezi - that suggested to him that there was a highway into a great new unknown, prosperous Africa! Where a mission and colony could be planted. The family could not accompany him. Livingstone made his way back to his family and told them must go back to Scotland and live on charity.
From then henceforth he was a rare stranger, awesomely famous, who now and then sent them letters, affectionate but pious from the “dark interior” that enveloped him. By may 1853, Livingstone was back among the Makalolo at their city, Linyanti.
Next he went on to explore the Zambezi until the rapids stopped him, but he was undeterred. There just had to be a way into this great new African world for Christianity, if only by native jungle paths. With a troop of Makalolo attendants Livingstone started Westwards again for Luanda on the west coast, a journey of 1,000 miles. First by canoe then by land through tribes that became increasingly hostile as Livingstone encountered the evidence of a widespread slave trade extending from Luanda. Once he quelled a mutiny among his own men threatening to go on alone. They were frequently starving and worst of all he went down repeatedly with malaria and dysentery spending days and weeks incapacitated. He dwelt on the fact that he was supposedly the first white man that the tribesmen had ever seen.
Livingstone never refers to another white man who was purported to be living in the region at the same time.
Eventually recovering he, he decided to the amazement of all, to march back to Linyanti and thence attempt to reach Quelimane on the east coast about 2,000 miles away. He was still obsessed by the idea that the Zambezi provided a highway to the interior. Eventually on 1st March 1855 he disappeared into the jungle. On the journey back to Linyanti he went down rheumatic fever as well as malaria but again pressed on. He reached Linyanti and became the first European to visit “ the smoke that thunders”, the great natural phenomenon he revealed to the Victorian world as the Victoria Falls. Their discovery symbolised the opening up of the whole of Central Africa to Europe.
Lazlo Magyar, a Hungarian had married an African Princess Bihe and in 1853 was in Linvanti an area Livingstone claimed to have pioneered. Later Livingstone repeatedly demonstrated while he expected others to follow him disliked the claims that any had preceded him. Livingstone staggered into Portuguese Angola and was warmly received by Edward Gabriel British Slavery Commissioner and spent weeks in bed in his house recovering from total exhaustion.
At Linyanti he was refreshed by supplies sent up through the desert by his father-in-law Dr. Moffat. Then with a new Makalolo team, he started downstream on the Zambezi, mapping every mile of the rout, exaltation In his heart as the great river went on and on picking up its tributaries, towards the sea. The going through the mountains was hard, and since war raged between the slaving tribes, he made the natural, but fatal, detour on the western bank. Thus he was utterly ignorant of the impassable rock-strewn Quebrabasa rapids. When he finally marched into Portuguese territory at Tete, he had completed the ‘traversa’ the crossing of central Africa, which had only once been done before and was not done again until 1879.
A Scotsman had thus achieved what the Portuguese needed to do, to lay the foundations to their claim to “own” the whole middle belt of tropical Africa from sea to sea.
Livingstone was swift to emphasise the real importance of his feat. He wrote home “I have been able to follow-up my original plan of opening a way to the sea on either the East or West coast of Africa from a healthy locality in the interior of the continent, using this fine river flowing through fertile country, we have a water conveyance to within 1 or 2 degrees of the Makalolo”.
At Tete he met Senhor Candido who told him of his visit to a great lake to the north, connected with the Zambezi by the Shire River. Livingstone asked him to draw a map for him, and Senhor Candido obliged. Livingstone wrote warmly of him and was to remember his information later. (CONTINUED BELOW CONTENTS BOX)
Livingstone struck out confidently on his last exploration, sure that the country south of Lake Tanganyika contained the answer to the mystery of the source of the Nile. In the five years that followed, he lost his medicine chest and nearly all his men and animals before limping into Ujiji utterly destitute.
It had been two years since England had heard from him, and many people thought he was dead. Not so Henry Morton Stanley, a young Welsh-born American reporter dispatched by James Gordon Bennett Jr. Editor of the New York Herald, to find the explorer. On November 10th 1871, preceded by the American flag, Stanley entered Ujiji at the head of a large caravan.
In his book Stanley wrote of the most famous encounter in African history, “I would have run to him ... would have embraced him, but that I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what moral cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing, walked deliberately to him, took off my hat and said ‘Dr. Livingstone I presume’.”
The 30 year old journalist and the 58 year old explorer were poles apart in personality - the simple old Scot, one of the most famous men alive, utterly resolute in his lonely, self-appointed task; and the flashy young Anglo-American journalist block-busting his way through Africa in search of fame, yet they got on well. Stanley was awed by Livingstone’s saintliness “his gentleness never forsakes him”. The two men spent the next four months together in harmony. Stanley’s ample supplies - which included a bathtub and Persian carpet - helped Livingstone to regain his strength.
The oddly assorted pair explored Lake Tanganyika and Stanley tried to persuade Livingstone to return to England. But Livingstone refused to abandon his search for the source of the Nile river.
It took him six years to reach it building first one mission then another, wrestling with the desert and the drought. He perfected an art of exploration all of his own. He recognised the need to master local languages and set about it with unusual zeal. Towards the Africans, his approach was wholly original - anthropological rather than missionary. He studies customs dispassionately, and thought of each black man or woman as an individual.