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Famous Scottish Explorers

David Livingstone

Contents

Dr David Livingstone / Explorers

  • Name  : Livingstone
  • Born  : 1813
  • Died  : 1873
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Viewing the Victoria Falls

Although an ineffective missionary, his explorations through an unknown Africa are astonishing journeys, covering some 30,000 miles. He was born in Blantyre, 8 miles south of Glasgow, on 19 March 1813. Working at a local cotton mill, for 14-hour days, Livingstone had to walk 20 miles during the course of the work. He used this to study, which must have meant some interesting mental control, considering the horrendous noise of most mills.

He was probably influenced by the writings of a German missionary to study medicine before becoming a missionary himself. Finishing medicine at Glasgow University, he arrived in Cape Town in 1841. There he married Mary Moffat, the daughter of Robert Moffat, a well known missionary.

His great explorations led north through the Kalahari Desert, west to the Atlantic at Luanda, then back east via the Zambesi to the Indian Ocean, seeing the Victoria Falls for the first time. He seems to have been unlucky with navigation, as an instrument fault and a rare mistake led him to believe that the Zambesi was navigable into the heart of the Dark Continent. This misconception led to another expedition in 1858, taking a dismantled steam launch up the Zambesi. He would have not been amused on reaching the Kebra Basa rapids.

Turning north he discovered Lake Nyasa. Personal tragedy happened in 1862 when his wife Mary, who had joined him, died after an illness.

He returned to Africa for what was to be the last time, in 1866. His health was now failing, as he attempted to explore the various great river systems. No less than four expeditions were by now looking for him, as his name became known back home. It was the journalist Henry Stanley, a Welsh-born American who eventually tracked him down, meeting him with the immortal words 'Doctor Livingstone, I presume.'

The slave trade was a constant source of anguish for Livingstone, and on several occasions he risked his life to free captured slaves. Bad weather and worsening health paid their inevitable tolls, and in what is now Zambia, at Chitambo, on 1 May 1873, he was found dead by his bedside, on his knees in an attitude of prayer. What followed is an indication of how much he was revered by his followers. Firstly they buried his heart locally, then embalming his body they struggled for 1500 miles with it to the coast, a journey on no inconsiderable personal danger to themselves. His remains were taken home and buried in Westminster Abbey, in 1874.

His work prompted the British government to re-examine the slave trade. In 1873 they stopped the open sales of slaves at Zanzibar, though it would some time before the practice was halted completely.

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James Bruce Explorer

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James Bruce / Explorer

  • Name  : Bruce
  • Born  : 1730
  • Died  : 1794
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Crossing the Sudan (1771-3)

Born 14 December 1730 at Kinnaird House, Larbert near Stirling, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner. In adulthood Bruce certainly stood out from the crowd, as he was 1.93m (six foot four inches) in height with red hair. He also had a natural arrogance to go with it. He was educated at Harrow School and later studied law at Edinburgh University.

He married the daughter of a London wine-merchant in 1753 and joined the family business, but when his heavily pregnant wife died of consumption (tuberculosis) he set off on a series of travels. In 1762 he was appointed British Consul in Algiers, and six years later set off in search of the source of the Nile, a perennial holy grail in those days.

He travelled from Cairo to the Red Sea by way of the desert, then struck south eventually reaching Gondar, the capital of Abyssinia (later Ethiopia, now Eritrea) in February 1770. He continued after a stay there and reached Lake Tana, where the Blue Nile rises, in November, before returning to Gondar.

His final epic journey began from Gondar in December 1771, heading westward across the terrible landscapes of the Sudan with mountains and deserts. It would be two years before he regained Cairo, and Scotland, in 1774.

His stories were too bizarre for general acceptance, and the otherwise esteemed Dr Johnson, as he did with others, dismissed him as a fraud. He published Travels to Discover the Sources of the Nile in 1790, but this did little to allay the sceptics, and it was only with the slow rediscovery and retracing of his steps by other explorers that his findings were vindicated.

An astronomer, naturalist and linguist, Bruce use a specially-designed portable camera obscura in North Africa, producing many sketches of Roman antiquities. Back home in Kinnaird, he remarried a woman 24 years his junior. Sadly, she died in 1788 aged 34. Bruce himself was a victim of a common enough accident, falling down the stairs at the age of 64 on 27 April 1794.

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Mungo Park Explorer

Mungo Park / Explorers

  • Name  : Park
  • Born  : 1771
  • Died  : 1806
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Mapping the upper reaches of the Niger.

Born 10 September 1771 at Foulshiels in the Yarrow Valley, Park was a neighbour and contemporary of the future Sir Walter Scott. He was one of 14 children and went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. Through an elder sister's marriage to a seedsman, he became aware of the world of botany, and going south to London he became appointed as surgeon on a vessel exploring Sumatra in 1792. Performing well on this trip, and impressing Sir Joseph Banks, the newly formed Africa Association made him leader of an expedition to find the source of the Niger. He was a youthful, but enthusiastic 24. Beginning at the mouth of the Gambia, with six African companions, provisions for two days and a handful of other useful item such as a compass and pocket sextant, his expedition was the epitome of travelling light.

The territory into which he stepped was completely unmapped, unexplored, and potentially hostile. And that was not counting disease and wild animals. They ascended the river for 320 km (200mls) to reach Pisania (now Karantaba, The Gambia). Crossing the upper basin of the River Senegal, he was captured for four months by Arab tribes, before escaping in July 1796. He succeeded in mapping the upper reaches of the Niger, in Mali, before traversing mountainous country to arrive at Kamalia. There he lay with fevers for seven months, before regaining Pisania in June 1797.

His journal was later published as Travels into the Interior of Africa (1797) and it showed that he had a respect for the indigenous natives of the lands he was moving through. He was exploring for the sake of discovery, not for religious or trade reasons.

He returned to the Borders, where he practiced as a doctor and married a surgeon's daughter. But the lure of Africa had infected his blood, along with a host of microorganisms no doubt. Two years later he was invited to lead a government expedition to complete his exploration of the Niger. This was more heavyweight than his first, with a complement of 40 Europeans. Delays saw them starting during the rainy season, and disease struck with a vengeance.

Of the original party, only 11 made it to the Niger, followed by another six. The end came at the Bussa rapids in Nigeria. Park and his remaining companions were drowned, possibly after being attacked. This was in January 1806. It would be another six years before details of their deaths filtered out of Africa.

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William Balfour Explorer

William Balfour Blaikie / Explorer

  • Name  : Blaikie
  • Born  : 1825
  • Died  : 1864
  • Category  : Explorers
  • Finest Moment : Opening up the River Niger to navigation.

Born in Kirkwall, Orkney, Blaikie studied medicine at Edinburgh University, joining the Royal Navy as a surgeon in 1848. In 1854 he was the surgeon/naturalist on the schooner Pleiad, exploring the Niger river in West Africa. On the death of the captain, Blaikie took over the command of the ship, and succeeded in penetrating some 250 miles further inland than previous explorations. This success was due in part to a successful method of avoiding malaria. He returned and published a book on the voyage in 1856.

The following year Blaikie was back on the Pleiad again, but not for long as it was wrecked. He created a settlement at Lukoja, where the Niger and Benue Rivers join, and within five years he had opened up the navigation of the Niger, built roads, collated a native vocabulary, and translated part of the Bible and Prayer Book into Hausa.

He died when on leave, at Freetown in Sierrra Leone, in 1864.

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