xxxxxThe Scottish explorer David Livingstone went to southern Africa as a medical missionary in 1840 and, based at Kuruman in today’s Cape Province, spent eight years preaching, teaching and tending the sick. To spread the gospel further, in 1849 he travelled north into unexplored territory, crossing the Kalahari Desert and discovering Lake Ngami. In 1853, after his wife and children had returned to Scotland, he spent four years penetrating further into the interior. With a small party of Africans, he first made his way to Luanda, a port on the west coast, and then, following the course of the Zambezi, he reached the Indian Ocean in May 1856, becoming the first European to see the Victoria Falls and cross the continent from west to east. On his return to Britain he was welcomed as a national hero. His Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, plus his extensive lecture tour, added to his fame, and did much to stimulate interest in that part of the world. In 1858 he led a government sponsored expedition into east and central Africa to promote commerce and civilisation and put an end to the slave trade - one of Livingstone’s major aims. It was not a success. Disputes broke out among the European contingent, and there was criticism of his leadership. However, before the expedition was recalled in 1863, it reached Lake Nyasa and discovered Lake Chilwa. And its findings eventually paved the way for settlement in the area and the abolition of the slave trade. In his last expedition he tried to find the source of the Nile. When concern grew as to his safety a search party was sent out, led by the Welsh-American Henry Morton Stanley, and, as we shall see, he was eventually found at Lake Tanganyika in November 1871 (Vb).


(G3c, G4, W4, Va, Vb)


Livingstone: after the English portrait painter Frederick Havill (c1815 -1884), 1873 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Map (Central and Southern Africa): A Compton’s Map – licensed under Creative Commons via Victoria Falls: date and photographer unknown. Lion Attack: one of 40 lantern slides depicting the life of Livingstone, produced by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company for The London Missionary Society, c1900 – Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. Map (Gabon): from

xxxxxThe Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingston, was born in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, a town about 12 miles south-east of Glasgow. One of seven children, the family was poor, but the Calvinist faith of his parents instilled in him the need to work hard and to serve and care for others. From the age of ten he worked in a local cotton mill to help provide for the family, but in 1834 a church appeal for medical missionaries in China determined his future. Regarding this as a calling, and prepared to work hard to achieve his aim, he attended a medical school in Glasgow as a part time student, and also began a study of theology. At the age of 25 he offered his services to the London Missionary Society but, as fate would have it, the outbreak of the First Opium War in 1839 put an end to his hopes of going to China. However, after meeting the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat he set his heart on South Africa. On completion of his medical studies, he was ordained in 1840 and later that year set sail for Cape Town, arriving there in March the following year. It was the start of a life devoted to the service of what was then termed “The Dark Continent”.


Paul Belloni du Chaillu


xxxxxHexarrived at Kuruman (arrowed on map above) in today’s Cape Province in July 1841, and began preaching, teaching and tending the sick at a missionary settlement in Bechuanaland (now Botswana), founded in 1823 by Robert Moffat (1795-1883). He married Moffat’s daughter, Mary, in 1845, and four years later, determined to spread the gospel and bring the benefits of civilisation to the African interior, they formed a small expedition and travelled northwards into unexplored territory. In 1849 they crossed the sparse area known as the Kalahari Desert, the first Europeans to do so, and then discovered Lake Ngami. (See blue journeys on map above.) Later, his part in the discovery of this lake earned him a gold medal from the British Royal Geographical Society, a body which did much to support him during his future expeditions.

Mosi-O-TunyaxxxxxIn 1852 his wife and four children returned to Scotland, and Livingstone resumed his exploration, determined to journey even deeper into central Africa or perish in the attempt. Having been told of a mighty river - the “Great Flow” - north of Lake Ngami, he assembled a small party of Africans and, though sparsely equipped for such an undertaking, spent nearly four years, from 1853 to 1856, penetrating the jungle areas of the interior to spread his “trinity” - Christianity, commerce and civilisation. (See mauve journeys on map above.) Reaching the Zambezi River he at first travelled westward along native trade routes, reaching Luanda in Portuguese Angola in May 1854, a port on the Atlantic cost and, at that time, the centre of a flourishing slave market (arrowed on map above). Then, after three months needed to regain his strength, he returned to the Zambezi and followed its course downstream through modern Zambia and Mozambique until he reached the Indian Ocean at Quelimane in May 1856. In so doing, Livingstone became the first European to see the “Victoria Falls”, as he himself named them, and the first to have crossed the continent of Africa from west to east. It was an arduous struggle on foot through some of the most daunting terrain and the most demanding climate in the world.

xxxxxOn his return to Britain in 1856, news of his extraordinary exploits had preceded him. He was welcomed as a national hero, and acknowledged as an outstanding explorer whose travels required a substantial revision of the contemporary maps of southern and central Africa. In the following year he produced his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, a work which sold over 70,000 copies in a matter of weeks. And this, together with a lecture tour around Britain and the publication of Dr. Livingstone’s Cambridge Lectures of 1858, added to his fame, and did much to stimulate missionary and commercial work in that part of the world. Indeed, out of such exposure came the setting up of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa in 1860. Furthermore, these lectures and writings encouraged other explorers to take up the African challenge, including Richard Burton and John Speke in 1858.

xxxxxIn 1858 the British government, anxious to extend its knowledge of this area, appointed him British consul for the east coast of Africa, based at Quelimane (arrowed on map above, in today’s Mozambique). From here he was required to lead an expedition to explore east and central Africa “for the promotion of Commerce and Civilisation and with a view to the extinction of the slave trade”. (See green journeys on map above.) This expedition was on a grand scale compared with his earlier, lone ventures. The party numbered seventeen, and the seven Europeans included his wife Mary, his brother Charles, and John Kirk, a Scottish physician. Supplies were plentiful and a paddle steamer was provided to make the going much easier - or so it was thought. But despite such advantages, the expedition was seen as a failure at the time. The Zambezi proved impossible to navigate, and attempts to find an alternative route led to bitter disputes among the Europeans, and growing criticism of Livingstone's leadership. And for him, matters were made worse by the death of his beloved Mary. She was taken ill with a fever and died at Shupanga on the Zambezi in April 1862. However, before the British government recalled the expedition in 1863, it reached the area around Lake Nyasa and, via the Rovuma River, discovered Lake Chilwa. Furthermore, the extensive knowledge gained of this region aroused enormous interest in central Africa, and led to colonial settlement later in the century.

xxxxxDuring this sponsored expedition Livingstone’s reputation as an explorer suffered something of a setback. Nevertheless on his return to England in 1864, the general public applauded him for his dedication and courage. It was then that, with the assistance of his brother Charles, he wrote his second book, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries, published the following year. Apart from a general account of the expedition, this roundly condemned the slave trade, describing the cruelty and misery inflicted on the local African tribes by the Arab and Portuguese slave traders in the area of Lake Nyasa. It was widely read in government circles and played a significant part in the eventual abolition of this trade.

xxxxxIt was during his last expedition, begun in 1866 to discover the source of the Nile (See orange journeys on map above), that little was heard of his whereabouts and international concern grew as to his safety. As we shall see, this eventually led to the sending of a rescue party, led by the Welsh-American journalist Henry Morton Stanley, and the famous meeting with the explorer at Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika (arrowed on map above) in November 1871 (Vb)

xxxxxIncidentally, quite apart from the demanding and arduous nature of his exploration, Livingstone also met with open hostility. This came not from the Africans - for whom he had a high regard and a sound understanding of their cultures - but from the local Boers and Portuguese colonists, who resented his efforts on behalf of the natives. He often had to change his route to avoid Portuguese settlements, and at one time, in 1852, the Boers destroyed his home at Kolobeng and attacked Africans who had joined his mission. ……

xxxxx…… In 1844 his career in Africa almost came to an abrupt end. He was travelling to Mabotsa, a native settlement some 200 miles north of Kuruman, to set up his own mission station, when he was suddenly attacked by a lion. He was badly mauled by the animal and was lucky to escape with his life. As it was, he was quite seriously injured and lost the full use of his left arm. ……

xxxxx…… Livingstone’s adventures were not confined to the land. On his return to England in 1864 he decided to travel via Bombay! He made the journey across the Indian Ocean - a voyage of some 2,500 miles - in a little boat he called Lady Nyassa. The crew were virtually untrained, and he very nearly ran out of fuel, but he just managed to reach his destination. He then sold the boat and took a ship home. ……

xxxxx…… In 1863 Livingstone’s eldest son, Robert, was due to join his father in Africa but, having difficulties over the journey, went to the United States instead. He was killed in December of the following year while fighting for the North in the American Civil War. ……

xxxxx…… Duringxhis Zambezi expedition of 1858-1863 Livingstone was accompanied by the Scottish physician and naturalist John Kirk (1832-1922). He made a spectacular photographic record of the journey, and his research work formed the basis for his Flora of Tropical Africa, first published in 1868. He went on to become a diplomat and served for some years as the British administrator in Zanzibar. He was knighted in 1907 for his work on behalf of the Ragged School Union, an organisation formed by Lord Shaftsbury in 1844 to provide free schooling for working class children.

Click Map to EnlargexxxxxIt was while Livingstone was making his epic crossing of South Africa that the French-born American explorer Paul Belloni du Chaillu (1835-1903) carried out a four-year exploration of West Africa. Travelling alone, he covered 8,000 miles on foot and in 1859 returned to the United States with a vast number of stuffed birds and animals, many of them previously unknown and including a gorilla. After writing about his experiences in his Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, published in 1861, he returned to Africa and confirmed the existence of pygmy tribes in the deep forests of Gabon. The Chaillu Massif, the mountain range which he discovered while travelling up the Ngounie River, is named after him. A later work, his The Land of the Midnight Sun, was written after his travels in northern Europe during the early 1870s.