David Livingstone: missionary and explorer

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WHEN David Livingstone was born into a working-class and deeply religious family in Blantyre’s Shuttle Row in 1813, nothing was known in Europe about the interior of Africa - the Dark Continent as it was then known.

Livingstone, who at the age of ten was sent to work in the cotton mills on the banks of the River Clyde, was to change all that. He spent 30 years in Africa journeying into the unknown, often overcoming great danger and opening up the heart of the continent in a way no-one could have imagined.

As a youngster Livingstone was an avid reader and studied medicine and theology at Glasgow’s Anderson College (now Strathclyde University) in a bid to achieve his goal of becoming a missionary in China. He was accepted by the London Missionary Society but his dream of going to China was thwarted by the outbreak of the Opium War.

Instead, Livingstone was inspired by fellow Scot Dr Robert Moffat whose missionary work had taken him to southern Africa. Moffat spoke of "the smoke of a thousand villages where the gospel had never been preached" and in 1840 Livingstone was Africa-bound.

On arrival at Moffat’s mission, Livingstone was frustrated by the small population of Africans living there and established his own mission station 700 miles further inland. He married Moffat’s daughter, Mary, and the couple had four children.

Shortly after the marriage, Livingstone was attacked by a lion and lost the use of his left arm. Undaunted, he travelled further inland, crossed the Kalahari Desert and discovered Lake Ngami. By this time he had learned the languages of the native African people and converted many to Christianity but had also witnessed the grim realities of the slave trade. He called it "terrible trafficking in human life" and vowed to end the practice.

Between November 1853 and May 1856 Livingstone completed a remarkable coast-to-coast journey from Luanda in the west to the mouth of the Zambezi River in the east. It was an epic trip of 4,300 miles and Livingstone became the first European to complete it.

Along the way he had discovered a giant waterfall called ‘Mosi-oa-tunya’ (the smoke that thunders). Livingstone named it Victoria Falls after the British monarch.

He returned to London but two years later was back in Africa, this time sponsored by the government. The trip brought personal tragedy with the death of his wife Mary from African Fever. Livingstone himself suffered fever and malaria and although he discovered Lake Nyassa (now Lake Malawi) he sailed back to England, via Bombay, in 1864.

His third trip was to be his last. Accompanied by his loyal African companions, Sisu and Chuma, he explored Lakes Tanganyika, Mweru and Bangweulu. The map of Africa was slowly being plotted but, as he searched in vain for the source of the River Nile, the rest of the world had heard nothing about Livingstone’s progress for months.

On 10 November 1871, he was "found" by New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley, who greeted him with the famous words: “Dr Livingstone, I presume”.

But he was a frail and weak figure and in the morning of 1 May 1873, his companions found him kneeling by his bedside having died in prayer. They buried his heart under a Mvula tree nearby and carried his body 1,000 miles to Zanzibar where it was shipped back to Britain to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Livingstone had travelled 29,000 miles in Africa and added almost one million square miles to the known portion of the globe.