Thursday, March 21, 2024

Today in 1871: The Search for Dr. David Livingstone Begins


Livingstone was a Scottish doctor, missionary, and explorer with extensive travels in Africa starting in 1840 who left the U.K. in 1865 to discover the source of the Nile. He was quite the leader and a true hero of the Victorian Age:

Livingstone was married to Mary Moffat Livingstone, from the prominent 18th-century Moffatt missionary family. Livingstone came to have a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class "rags-to-riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion. As a result, Livingstone became one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era.

Why was he so focused on finding the source of the Nile? He wanted to gain enough power to combat the evils of slavery, specifically the Arab slave trade: 

"The Nile sources", he told a friend, "are valuable only as a means of opening my mouth with power among men. It is this power [with] which I hope to remedy an immense evil."

More details on the Arab slave trade. Like most people, I was unaware until reading about this today that Livingstone’s primary motivation was ending slavery as part of his Christian missionary goals and lifestyle.

By 1871 he’d been gone 6 years with no word, and people were curious. So the publisher of the New York Herald sent a journalist named Henry Stanley to find him. 

Stanley himself had led an interesting life too:

At age 28, Stanley had his own fascinating past. As a young orphan in Wales, he crossed the Atlantic on the crew of a merchant ship. He jumped ship in New Orleans and later served in the Civil War as both a Confederate and a Union soldier before beginning a career in journalism. […] After setting out from Zanzibar in March 1871, Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa. Nearly eight months passed—during which Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria and smallpox—before the expedition approached the village of Ujiji, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Sick and poverty-stricken, Livingstone had come to Ujiji that July after living for some time at the mercy of Arab slave traders. When Stanley’s caravan entered the village on October 27, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward the new arrivals. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Livingstone led an amazing and adventurous life, and was one of the main early explorers of the entire African continent. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

From Wikipedia, his travels from 1851 until his death in 1873, part of the Scramble for Africa.