David Livingstone - The Missionary, The Explorer.

1 Conversation

Southern Africa has many prominent and famous land marks. The Table Mountain, near the city of Cape Town in the south! The Limpopo river, which is one of the largest river on African continent, rises from the central area of South Africa and flows through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and finally into the Indian Ocean. This river is also mentioned in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Just So Stories.” The river Zambezi, which begins to rise in Zambia, flows through Angola and then back into Zambia, flowing near the border with Namibia, through Mozambique and into the Indian Ocean. Finally, the Victoria Falls, also known as “The cloud that thunders,” translated into local African language as “Mosi – oa – Tunya.”

The region doesn’t just have famous land marks. It has had countries and towns named after famous men. Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the world famous diamond company, De Beers, had a country named after him – Rhodesia.

Rhodesia was one country before it was divided – Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia, and Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.

David Livingstone, the famous explorer, has not only a town, in southern Zambia, Livingstone, named after him but also an airport. A statue of him exists in the town as well. But who is able to forget what a reporter from New York Herald, Henry M. Stanley, asked him when he met him at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in Tanganyika, now known as Tanzania, in October 1871? Here, there’s a plaque commemorating the meeting between the two.


David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and a physician, second son of Niel and Agnes Livingstone, was born in Blantyre, south of Glasgow, on 19th March 1813. His father, though quick tempered, had a warm and was a person with deep and noble convictions as well as being a good reader and a member of the congregational church. His mother shared her husband’s ideals and the family regularly attended church and observed Sunday as a day of worship on strict basis. At the age of ten, the young Livingstone began to work in a cotton mill and often worked long hours for very little pay. When he didn’t work, he studied and read a lot. At the age of twenty three, he joined “Anderson College” in Glasgow and studied theology and medicine,

Four years after joining the college, which is now the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, he received his degree in medicine. But during this time he had joined the London Missionary Society and had hoped to become a missionary in China. His hopes were dashed when the first opium war between Britain and China broke out. The society, however, made arrangements for him to go to South Africa.

On 8th December, 1840, he left England.


Arriving in Cape Town in 1841, David Livingstone, went onto Kuruman, situated south of the Kalahari Desert where the London Missionary Society, headed by Robert Moffat, whom he had met in London, was based. He was not impressed with what he saw there. Since he believed that his priority was to preach the Gospel to those who were willing to listen and that he shouldn’t remain in the same spot, he decided to move on further north to Mabotsa, near the Limpopo River, an area that was crawling with lions. Here he set up a station of his own near the banks of the river. One day a lion sprang on him out of the bushes and ripped his flesh and broke his arm. This attack prevented him from using his arm to raise a gun without pain. He soon returned to Kuruman to convalesce. It was during this time that he met and married Mary, Robert Moffat’s eldest daughter.

Mary Moffat, Scottish by birth, had lived in Africa since the age of five. The two got married in 1845 and Mary soon became pregnant. Despite this and protests from in-laws, Livingstone decided to move on to Chonuane, now a town in South Africa, with Chief Sechele 1, the Chief of Bakwena, one of the major tribes in the region. In 1847 they reached Kolobeng, now in Botswana, and it was here that Mary gave birth to their first child, Agnes. As well as building a station here, near the Kolobeng River on the belief that it would not dry up. Livingstone built an infant school and converted his first convert Chief Sechele to Christianity after baptising him and after the Chief had denounced all but his first wife. It was now that the missionary emphasized the importance of local custom as well as beliefs and the necessasity of encouraging the natives to convert somebody. But he faced difficulties of finding converts he could consider training to be missionaries. He also realised that Christianity was a threat to the African society and their unity. With this in mind, Livingstone began to make plans for new initiatives. But soon he began to face problems with his growing families, which now included two sons named Robert and Thomas. However, before they could return to Kuruman, he lost his daughter, Elizabeth, on 15th September 1850, aged six weeks. One of the problems that Livingstone faced at Kolobeng was that the Kolobeng River had dried up and this caused a lot of the animals and people to die. The other problem was that he was blamed for the difficult situation Chief Sechele’s rejected wives found themselves in through no fault of their own.

Though Livingstone remained, his family returned to England.


As Livingstone’s family departed from Cape Town for England, he realised that he would come across obstacles, especially from the Dutch Boers, who had robbed and subjected the natives to slavery. They also opposed his efforts and stooped to the degree of destroying his home. But he was still determined and went into Makololo Country, now known as Zambia, to build a mission and a trading centre. Previous to this, in 1847, he had failed to achieve this. But this time, the Chief welcomed him. This time, he came across the Zambezi River and envisaged it as a possible navigable waterway that would aid in opening Central Africa. Despite suffering repeatedly from diseases such as malaria and dysentery, as well as from hunger, he headed down the river. At the same time, he managed to keep careful records which would be helpful to the European knowledge of Central and South Africa. He also went as far as Luanda, now in Angola, West Africa, in search of connecting the river but failed. He then headed east, towards the Indian Ocean.

In 1855, three years after he started his journey, he came across an area from where he could hear, what seemed like sound of thunder. But as he headed in the direction from which the sound was coming from, he saw the Zambezi fall into a narrow gorge. The natives called this “Mosi – oa – Tunya” – “The cloud that thunders.” Being the first European to have seen this, Livingstone named this “Victoria Falls,” after the reigning monarch and in 1856, a year later, he reached the mouth of the river, in what is now known as Mozambique, on the south east coast of Africa, making him the first European to cross the full width of southern Africa. This news spread like a wild fire and in Britain he was considered a national hero, when he returned. He was honoured by the Royal Geographical Society and his book, entitled “Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa,” was sold widely across the country and he also made speeches wherever he was invited. But it was his speech at Cambridge University that made the impact which led to the Universities Mission for Christian Work in Africa to be set up. In the meantime, the London Missionary Society, indicated that they were not convinced that he was spreading the Gospel through his travels. This led him to resign from the society a year later.

Chief Sechele was his only convert, who later went back to his old ways.


Being appointed as Her Majesty’s Consul for East Coast of Africa, David Livingstone, with his wife, returned to Africa in 1858 and between then and 1863, with six assistants and countless steam vessels, he explored the Zambezi and the Shire River, in now what is southern Mozambique. In 1861 he assisted the Universities Mission in setting up a mission south of Lake Malawi on the shores of Lake Chilwa, which is now the third largest lake in the country. But soon he faced disappointment and was dealt a blow by the death of the mission’s leader. But there was a more personal blow, when his wife Mary, passed away in 1862, in Shupanga, now known as Chupanga, a remote village, in the Mozambican province of Sofala, while she was expecting another child. The cause of death was malaria, which is a weakening disease, transmitted from one person to another by a bite from a female mosquito. What added to these blows was the slave trade that was taking place from Lake Malawi to the eastern coast. There were several times when he encountered marches of slaves who were joined by a pair of metal rings by a chain around their wrists. In 1864, the Government, not satisfied with him, ordered him to return. Here, at home, he wrote extensively about slave trade, about his expedition to Zambezi and its tributaries, as well as being immensely popular with the Royal Geographical Society. It was this that raised private support for the next venture – exploring the watersheds of Central Africa and this was to lead in search of the source of the Nile.

The source for the source of the Nile was a very hotly debated topic in mainland Europe as was the slave trade but David Livingstone never lost his hopes to begin suppress the progress of what he called this “enormous evil.” But this was not to be.

What would be his final expeditions began in 1866 and this time there were two Africans with him, Chuma, a free slave, and Susi, a man who had been employed earlier. He once again tried to go via eastern African coast but was unsuccessful. But then, suddenly he became ridden with fever and became frail but having gone through the Ruvuma River, which lies on the border between Tanganyika, now known as Tanzania and Mozambique, he went on to explore Lakes Malawi, Lake Mweru, which is a fresh water lake and is the second largest river on the continent and is located on the border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lake Bangweulu, which is situated in the upper Congo river basin in Zambia. Following these watercourses, he finally reached Ujiji, now in Tanzania, on the shores, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

In the meantime, back in England, since no one had received any correspondence from David Livingstone, it was decided by those concerned at the Royal Geographical Society that one of his sons should go and locate him. His son, Robert travelled down to Natal only, while the second son, Thomas, had joined the University Mission and was in East Africa. In the meantime, James Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald, decided to send someone in search of the explorer. He sent Henry M Stanley, who wrote, “No living man shall stop me, only death can stop me, but death, - not even this. I shall not die, I will not die, I cannot die. Something tells me that I shall find him. And I write it larger, FIND HIM.”

On departing Ujiji, Livingstone, with some Arab slave traders, headed in westward direction and in March 1871, upon reaching the Lualaba River, which is the greatest headstream of the Congo River by volume and lies within the Democratic Republic of Congo, he became the first European to reach this area. He theorised that this was the source of the Nile (although he was mistaken about this) and he decided to return to Ujiji as his health was now deteriorating considerably.

After being forced to march for a long time, Henry M. Stanley, met Susi, the man who had been with the explorer ever since his time on a steamer. With the African beside him, the reporter from New York Herald met Dr. David Livingstone at Ujiji.

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” he asked.

The letters and various supplies, which Stanley had brought with him were in abundance and were much appreciated by the now pale, weary, grey haired missionary and explorer – for he was overjoyed. Together, the two men spent four months exploring Lake Tanganyika after which they separated. This was to be the last time anyone would see David Livingstone alive.

The meeting between the two was a major scoop for the paper.

The explorer continued in his efforts to find the source of the Nile but eventually, with dysentery weakening him, he had to put on a stretcher and was carried to Chitambo, now in Zambia, where he made notes of his observations, drew maps and updated his journal. On the night of 30th April, 1873, he took a rest but a few hours later on the morning May 1, Susi, upon waking up and walking into the tent, found Livingstone in a kneeling position and seemed to be praying – he had passed away.

Chuma, and Susi, both later removed the explorer’s heart at the foot of a nearby tree and buried it and then the dried and wrapped his body and carried it along with his papers and instruments to the Indian Ocean coastal island of Zanzibar. From there, the body was put on a ship to England. His remains finally arrived in London April 1874 and was buried at Westminster Abbey after which his last journals were published.

No explorer or missionary has done so much for the African continent as Dr. David Livingstone did; for he travelled across almost one third of the continent for more than 30 years and made careful observations of not just places but also of people. And by the time he had passed away, the western world had an intense interest in the Dark Continent. His explorations had revealed that the interior of the African Continent was not an arid wasteland as many had believed. It was his effort to marshal British interest in the tragedies which were associated with the slave trade that he managed to provide new and more incentives for European colonisation.

Today, Livingstone’s six week old daughter’s grave is situated in Kolobeng by the river where she had died and the temporary mission that he had built was destroyed by a Boer raiding party of which very little remains is left. But the remains of the house in which he lived with his family has been preserved and is protected by a fence which had been erected in 1935 by a Dr. Shepherd, who worked as a missionary doctor.

Mary Livingstone’s grave lies in a forgotten and dilapidated cemetery near a dirt road which lies between the River Zambezi and a highway in Mozambique. His son, Robert, who went to Natal, later went to Boston in the USA, where he joined the New Hampshire Volunteers, 10th Army Corp. During the American Civil War, he used the name “Rupert Vincent” and was wounded at Laurel Hill in Virginia where he was captured and was taken as a prisoner of war to Salisbury in North Carolina, where he died. His second son, Thomas, after leaving East Africa, went to Alexandra, in Egypt, where he passed away in 1876. Finally, his eldest sibling, Agnes, married Alexander Bruce in 1875.

In 1862, Speke, who had been earlier denounced as a charlatan when he claimed that the Nile flowed out of a huge lake in Central Africa, went on to prove that this theory of his was correct. He did this by marching around Lake Victoria and found the source of the river.

Today, in Zambia, there’s a town named after David Livingstone, Livingstone, which is not far away from the Victoria Falls and near this, as well as in the town, there’s a statue of the explorer. In the neighbouring country of Zimbabwe, near the falls, there’s a statue of him as well. In his home town of Blantyre, in Scotland, there’s a David Livingstone Memorial Centre – a museum and his grave at Westminster Abbey is marked. The Royal Geographical Society has a statue of him in their London Head Quarters, there’s a range of mountains named after him in southern Alberta, in Canada as well as schools being named after him in London as well as in the United States of America.

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