People: David Livingstone
Issue 25
Missionary explorer
Born Blantyre, Scotland (19 March, 1813)
Died Ilala, Zambia (1 May, 1873)

It has been said that David Livingstone's mission in life was to bring Christianity, civilisation and commerce to Africa. His religious commitment, derived from pious parents and the strict discipline of the Scottish Church, was projected throughout his life. In effect though, he converted relatively few to the faith, but he did open the way for other missionaries to do so. It is, however, for his feats as an explorer that he is probably most revered.

Livingstone's first period in Africa (1841-1856) included an exploration of much of the Kalahari and an epic, west-to-east cross-continent expedition during which he ‘discovered' and patriotically named the Victoria Falls. He returned to England a national hero. Further acclaim followed with the publication of the account of his experiences and a series of lectures. These allowed him to provide for his family, who had survived in poverty from the time he sent them back to the UK in 1845.

Following his appointment as Consul at Quelimane he returned in 1858 to command a team with six Europeans (including his brother and the artist Thomas Baines) to explore eastern Central Africa. However his leadership limitations, querulous nature and poor interpersonal skills with fellow Europeans broke up the expedition. It was with a crew of local recruits that he later investigated the navigability of the Zambezi and Shire rivers and went on to ‘rediscover' Lake Nyasa. This, in addition to sailing his little boat 2500 miles to Bombay and writing another volume about his travels and the evils of slave trading, helped restore some of his tarnished status. In 1865 Livingstone left Zanzibar to search for the source of the Nile. However, desperately ill and short of rations, he was ‘presumingly' rescued by Henry L Stanley at Ujiji on Lake Victoria in 1871. When partly recovered, he continued his quest but died at a village in what is now north-east Zambia. His heart buried under a tree, Livingstone's pickled corpse was carried to Zanzibar by his faithful companions, Sushi and Chuma (see Travel Africa Ed 19) and shipped to London for burial in Westminster Abbey. Among the pall-bearers was his father-in-law Robert Moffat.

It has been estimated that Livingstone walked over 9000 miles in Africa. He is attributed with being the first white man to have crossed the Kalahari and to have seen many of the sub-continent's physical features. Altogether his exploits inspired a nation, motivated African exploration, started African territory-grabbing among European powers and provided a wealth of geographical, medical and social information. He also laid the foundations for the elimination of the slave trade in East and Central Africa.

However his dedication to his life mission meant that his duties as a husband and father took a very poor second place, a characteristic not uncommon amongst exceptional achievers.

Publications Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857)
Narrative of an expedition to the Zambezi and its tributaries (1865)
Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa (1874)
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