David Livingstone (1813-73)

David LivingstoneFor more than 30 years David Livingstone worked in Africa as a medical missionary and travelled the continent from the equator to the Cape and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In so doing, he gained worldwide fame as an explorer and strongly influenced the way successive generations have thought about Africa. By awakening the interest of the outside world in the then largely unknown continent, he helped pave the way for its European colonization later in the 19th century. Also, through his strong belief that Africans could advance into the modern world, he served as an inspiration for African nationalism.

David Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Scotland, on March 19, 1813. One of seven children of a very poor family, he was already working in a cotton mill by the time he was 10. The little education he received came largely through his own efforts and from the determination of his parents, strict Calvinists who believed in hard work and schooling.

In 1834 he heard about an appeal by British and American churches for medical missionaries to go to China. He decided this should be his career, and for two years while continuing to work part-time, he studied theology and medicine. In 1838 he was accepted by the London Missionary Society but was prevented from going to China by the Opium War. A subsequent meeting with Robert Moffat, the noted missionary to southern Africa, convinced Livingstone that he should take up his work in Africa.

He arrived in Cape Town on March 14, 1841. From the moment he arrived, Livingstone determined to become an explorer to help open up the continent for Christianity and Western civilization. His career can be divided into four fairly distinct phases: the early missionary explorations in the years from 1841 to 1849, during which he traveled to the Transvaal and into the Kalahari region; the expedition from 1850 to 1856 that took him to Luanda on the west coast and to Quelimane on the east coat; the explorations along the Zambezi River from 1858 to 1864; and his determined, but unsuccessful, search for the source of the Nile River from 1866 to 1873.

By mid-1842 he had travelled north into the Kalahari territory, farther than any European had ventured. He established a mission at Mabotsa in 1844. He married Moffat’s daughter, Mary, and she accompanied him on his travels until 1852, when she and their four children returned to Britain because of her health and the children’s needs for security and education.

During his first decade in Africa, Livingstone gained his first measure of fame when he assisted in the discovery of Lake Ngami on Aug. 1, 1849. For this he was awarded a gold medal and a monetary prize by the British Royal Geographical Society.

With his family safely in Scotland, Livingstone was able to set out on his second major journey in November 1853. His first goal was to reach the Atlantic coast to open up an avenue of commerce. He arrived at Luanda, on the Atlantic coast, on May 31, 1854. Four months later he began the return trip, exploring the Zambezi River region along the way. On May 20, 1856, he arrived at Quelimane, on the east coast, in Mozambique. The most spectacular result of this trip was the discovery and naming of Victoria Falls on the Zambezi on Nov. 17, 1855.

For his accomplishments he was received as a national hero when he returned to England in December 1856. He published a book, `Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa’ in 1857 and spent six months on a speaking tour in the British Isles. His speeches at Cambridge were published as `Dr. Livingstone’s Cambridge Lectures’ in 1858. Back in Africa early in 1858, Livingstone began extensive explorations of the Zambezi region. On this journey his wife died, in April 1862. The explorations were not successful from a commercial point of view, so the expedition was recalled by the British government.

Livingstone’s last great venture was his attempt to locate the source of the Nile. This quest, fraught with hardships and dissension among his staff, left him broken in health and–at one point–given up for dead. Henry Morton Stanley, a correspondent for the New York Herald, found him in Ujiji on Oct. 23, 1871, and provided him with food and medicine.

Together they explored the area northeast of Lake Tanganyika. Stanley returned to England in March 1872, but Livingstone refused to accompany him. On May 1, 1873, his servants found him dead in a village in what is now Zambia. His body was taken to England and buried in Westminster Abbey on April 18, 1874. Later that year `The Last Journals of David Livingstone’ were published.

David Livingstone Statue at Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

The David Livingstone Statue at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

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  • sue macleod

    thanks for the information about Livingstone
    My daughter is for her history homework researching a famous Victorian and she chose David Livingstone.
    you piece contains some interesting facts so many thaks

  • How I wish such inspirational stories were heard more in our world of today- this story should be told and retold again and again!