A multi-million pound project to transform the birthplace of Scotland’s most famous explorer into a 21st century visitor attraction has been unveiled.
It is hoped the £6 million scheme announced today to refurbish the former home of Victorian missionary Dr David Livingstone in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, will “reawaken” interest in his exploits.
He is widely thought to be better known in African than in his home country.
The project is aimed at creating “a vibrant new museum setting Scotland in a global context and celebrating the inspirational story of how a poor mill-worker became one of the most popular British heroes of the Victorian era and a hero of Africa today.”
The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland have all thrown their weight behind the planned transformation of an 18th century tenement which was built for cotton mill workers.
Born in 1813, Livingstone worked 12 hours a day from the age of 10 at the factory on the banks of the Clyde.
Originally intending to go to China as a missionary, Livingstone was fired by the conviction that the African slave trade might be destroyed through the influence of “legitimate trade” and the spread of Christianity.
He would go on to gain almost mythic “celebrity” status in 19th- century Britain as a scientific investigator and explorer and is still revered as one of the great European explorers of Africa.
More than 3000 artefacts related to Livingstone will be on display at the new-look museum, which will be getting its first major overhaul since it opened in the 1920s.
Dr Isabel Bruce, chair of the David Livingston Trust, which will take over responsibility for the site from the National Trust for Scotland, said: "The project will re-ignite the powerful story of David Livingstone for new generations and further strengthen the world wide connections that Livingstone, his principles and legacy have inspired not just locally but globally.
"The centre will become a key resource for learning about his heritage and his far reaching impact in - science, health, exploration, faith and humanitarian endeavour.
"Visitors will travel from all corners of the globe to explore his story and we believe will become a part of Livingstone's living legacy through this transformative project, that will ensure that David Livingstone's impact continues to be felt locally, nationally and internationally for future generations.”
Livingstone studied medicine, theology and Greek at what is now Strathclyde University before completing his medical studies in London. He joined the London Missionary Society and was ordained in 1840.
From 1841 until his death in 1873, Livingstone explored central and southern Africa. His aim was to spread Christianity, commerce and “civilisation”, but as a skilled navigator, linguist and natural historian, his later missions were more concerned with exploration.
In 1849 and 1851, he travelled across the Kalahari Desert, and sighted the upper Zambezi River. In 1842, he began a four-year expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast. This filled huge gaps in western knowledge of central and southern Africa. In 1855, Livingstone discovered a spectacular waterfall, which he named Victoria Falls. He reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean in May 1856, becoming the first European to cross the width of southern Africa.
He was often the first European to meet local tribes, winning trust as a medicine man. He was particularly sought for his skills in obstetrics, the surgical removal of tumours and ophthalmology.
Livingstone was a prolific writer and his journals, letters and published narratives provide observations on tropical diseases such as tropical ulcer, scurvy and malaria.
During his final years, Livingstone was beset with health problems, but he refused to leave Africa. He died in Zambia in 1873, by which time he is estimated to have travelled more than 46,000km in Africa, mainly on foot. After his death, his body was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “The life of David Livingstone is both incredible and inspirational yet his pioneering work is recognised more in Africa than it is in Scotland where he was born. In the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology, it’s timely that David Livingstone’s birthplace is set to become a valuable education resource and world tourist destination.”