Note explores hidden side to Dr Livingstone

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HE WAS a Scottish explorer whose ambitious pioneering spirit made him an icon of Victorian society and inspired others to set out to investigate the uncharted parts of Africa.

But a letter written by missionary David Livingstone before his final departure to Africa 147 years ago has revealed he was also a concerned parent, worried about his two surviving sons.

Experts claimed yesterday the three-page letter, due to go under the hammer next week, depicts a “softer side” to the Victorian more famous for his own personal ambition. In it, he writes of his wishes for the boys to “aim high” in life.

The previously unpublished letter was written at Burnbank Road, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, to Peter Le Neve Foster, secretary to the Society of Arts, on 8 June, 1865 and requests past papers to help his schoolboy sons Thomas and William Oswell pass the Indian civil service examinations. Livingstone claims neither son was “fit” to sit such exams – and lists their various school interests – but insists he wants them to “aim high”.

The signed document will be sold at Bonhams’ auction of books, maps and manuscripts in London on Tuesday, when it is expected to fetch £1,200.

The letter reads: “Neither of my boys are fit as yet for it, but I would like to show them what is expected. One of them got prizes for geography, German, French & Latin yesterday and seems likely to go on in these studies – another got a prize for drawing – I wish to set them to aim high.

“Knowing your readiness to oblige, I venture again to trouble you.”

When Livingstone wrote the letter, he was preparing for his final departure for Africa, having been invited by the Royal Geographic Society to pinpoint the source of the Nile.

Luke Batterham, Bonhams’ books and manuscripts specialist, said: “When Livingstone wrote this letter he was on the cusp of his final journey to Africa, from which he would not return. He talks about family and fears, and asks Foster to send on papers to help his surviving sons – he’s trying to organise before he goes away exploring once more, leaving them in the hands of tutors.

“He’s a Victorian explorer – families were left behind – and he heroically puts the interests of Britain first. But this shows he did not forget his boys.

“His words show he acknowledges the difficulties of his chosen path on his children. It shows a softer side than the popular image we have of him. This is as warm as he would have been in the confines of his time.”