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David Livingstone


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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