David Livingstone

by Adam Letcher
Class of 1997

Europeans expected nothing from David Livingstone, but through exploration he changed Western attitudes about Africa. Livingstone was a Scottish doctor and missionary, considered one of the most important explorers of Africa.

In 1840, Livingstone was ordained and sent as a medical missionary to south Africa. In 1841 he reached Kuruman, a settlement founded in Bechuanaland ( now Botswana) by the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat. He began converting black Africans, trying to move northward, despite hostility by the Boers. In 1845 he married Mary Moffat, daughter of Robert, working together they traveled into areas unknown to Europeans in African territory. In 1849 he crossed the Kalahari Desert and discovered Lake Ngami. In 1851 he discovered the Zambezi River.

Livingstone's explorations resulted in a revision of all contemporary maps. Upon his return in 1856 he was welcomed as a great explorer in Great Britain. His book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa made him famous as an explorer.

Livingstone resigned as a missionary and in 1858 became the British consul at Quelimane ( now in Mozambique) for the east coast of Africa. He became the commander of an expedition to explore east and central Africa. He led an expedition up the Shire River, a stream leading to the Zambezi and discovered Lake Nyasa. In 1859 he also explored the Rovuma River and discovered Lake Chilwa.

Living stone became greatly concerned with slave trade after his exploration of the country around Lake Nyasa. In 1865, on a visit to England, he wrote Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi and Its Tributaries, it included a condemnation of slave trade and examples of alternate commercial possibilities for the region.

In 1866 Livingstone went out into central Africa to discover the source of the Nile. He traveled along the Rovuma River toward Lake Tanganyika, along the way he discovered Lakes Mweru and Bangweulu. During his exploration little was heard from Livingstone and his welfare became a matter of international concern. Some of Livingstone's followers deserted him because the trip was difficult. To avoid punishment when they returned to Zanzibar, they created the story that Livingstone had been killed by the Ngoni. Livingstone, in fact, had not been killed and continued his expedition into the jungle with little food or medical supplies, since his follows had taken it with them. Despite illness, he went on and arrived at his ultimate northwesterly point, Nyangwe, on the Lualaba leading into the Congo River. This was farther west than any European had penetrated.

Returning to Ujiji Livingstone was a sick and failing man, luckily he was met by a rescue party led by Henry Morton Stanley, a journalist for the New York Herald. Upon meeting Livingstone, probably the only other white man in the jungle, he made the famous remark, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Stanley and Livingstone became very close and later they explored the country north of Lake Tanganyika together.

Eventually, Livingstone set out alone to continue his search for the source of the Nile and the destruction of slave trade. Unfortunately illness overcame him and he died in May 1873 at Chitambo. Livingstone's servants found him dead, kneeling by his bedside as if in prayer. They buried his heart at the foot of the tree beneath which he died and carried his body to Zanzibar on the east coast. In April 1874 his remains were buried in Westminster Abbey.

Despite lack of interest in Africa before, Livingstone changed European views. Europeans felt a need to be involved in the revolt against slave trade, and could see the value in African land after Livingstone's exploration. For these reasons Livingstone is considered one of the greatest modern African explorers.