Yes, yes, yes, we’ve all heard the famous line of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" But there’s so much more to the story. Let’s start with a quote, shall we…
“I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.”
David Livingstone was born March 19, 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland and died May 1, 1873 in Chitambo, Northern Rhodesia.
As explorers go, David Livingstone ranks right up there with the likes of Marco Polo,
Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and any others you might care to name. All he did during his lifetime was to add about one million square miles to the known portion of the globe.
Livingstone – The Early Years
Born as the second child to Neil and Agnes Livingstone, David had could be what is best described as a poor upbringing. His entire family eventually consisted of 3 other brothers and a sister all crammed into a two room house. When he reached the age of 10, he was put to working a cotton mill factory in order to help provide additional income in which to support his family. He managed to scrounge up enough money and the first book he purchased was titled Rudiments of Latin. He could often be seen studying well into the night.
At the age of 17, he was “promoted” to cotton spinner and he was able to save enough money to put him through medical school in Glasgow in 1830. By the time he was 22 he had expanded his studies to include Greek, theology and medicine at someplace called Anderson’s College and Glasgow University. It was also during this time that he converted to Christianity after reading a book titled Dick's Philosophy of the Future State.
From Glasgow, he moved on to London to continue his studies and applied to the London Missionary Society. He was ordained as a medical missionary in 1840 and was given his first assignment on the continent of Africa.
Livinstone – The Middle Years
After setting sail from London, he arrived in a missionary town called Kuruman, near Cape Town in South Africa on July, 31, 1841. From there he turned his attention to the north country and to the formation of a new mission. Before the year was up, he had traveled over 700 miles over land. It was also during this time that Livingstone recognized the importance of using natives to spread the word of Christianity.
In February of 1842, he headed towards the interior. He also decide to isolate himself from his fellow Europeans in order to gain a better insight as to local customs and to acquire a working knowledge of the native languages. His party consisted of five, two native members of the local missionary and two others to tend to the wagon that carried their supplies. Along the way he managed to establish friendly relations with several tribes and even mastered some of the local dialect. He also started recording such details as local geology
and natural history of the lands. In June of the same year, he returned to Kuruman and stayed for several months. During that time he took part in routine missionary work such as prescribing for the sick, preaching and the construction of a chapel
In February of 1843 he set out on a journey of about four hundred miles among the tribes he had previously visited , journeying without knowing it to within a short distance of Lake Ngami, and returning in June to Kuruman. During that time, instructions came for the society requesting that he set up a new settlement within the interior of Africa. In August of the same year, he and another missionary and three other English sportsmen set out on their journey. After about two weeks, they arrived at Mabotsa in the Bakatla country and placed a native Mebalwe in charge. . A large hut was built and the new station started as a base for operations in the interior. Unfortunately, the site they chose was infested by lions. They attacked the open herds by day and raided cattle pens during the evening. Livingstone decided to go out on a lion hunt and managed to wound one of them. As he approached what he thought was a kill, the lion attacked him and crushed the bones in his left shoulder, rendering it almost useless. The lion was eventually shot by other members of the party.
Livingstone – The Later Years
Over the ensuing years, Livingstone made many more expeditions within the interior of Africa. He also returned to England on a couple of occasions in order to lecture and publish his works. Upon each of his returns he was afforded a heroes welcome. On what turned out to be his last expedition, Livingstone remained incommunicado with the outside world. Fearing the worst, one H. M. Stanley of the New York Herald was dispatched to find him, Remarkably, this was done and those immortal words were uttered. Stanley, finding Livingstone in poor health tried to persuade him to return to civilization where his medical needs could be tended to. After four months of trying, he gave up and left Livingstone near Zanzibar. It was on April 27, 1873 that Livingstone made his final journal. On 30 April he arrived at a village in the country of Ilala and asked .,"How many days to go to the Luapula?". When the reply came that it would take three days, Livingstone was only able to answer "Oh dear! dear!"
After telling his attendant to bring some medicine, Livingstone said, "All right; you can go out now." Those proved to be his last words. At four o'clock next morning they found him dead, kneeling by the side of his bed. His heart and some internal organ were removed and buried under a tree. The rest of his body was roughly embalmed and returned to England. After a years journey, Livingstone's body was finally put to rest in Westminster Abbey.
Livingstone - The Epilogue
By the time all was said and done, its estimated that Livingstone had traveled about 29,000 miles inside of Africa. While there, he “discovered” many lakes and rivers, the Zambesi being the most famous. He was the first white man to see Victoria Falls and probably one of the first individuals to transverse the entire length of Lake Tanganyika. He was also the first Euopean to traverse Africa from east to west. Had he not met with his early demise, he probably would have succeeded in his quest to find the source of the Nile River. Although labeled a missionary, Livingstone used alternative methods such as healing and exploring in his attempts to introduce Christianity to Africa.