David Livingstone, 1813-1873, Missionary, Explorer
AUTHOR: Unknown
PUBLISHED ON: March 13, 2003
PUBLISHED IN: Biographies

David Livingstone
Missionary and explorer. David Livingstone was born near
Glasgow, Scotland. He studied medicine and theology at the
University of Glasgow. He tried to go to China as a mission-
ary in 1838, but when the Opium War in China closed the
doors, he went to Africa.
        He pushed 200 miles north of his assigned station and
founded another mission station, Mebosta. Livingstone contin-
ued on the mission field and advanced 1400 miles into the in-
terior in spite of the hardships he encountered. He was at-
tacked and maimed by a lion; his home was destroyed during
the Boer War; and his wife died on the field.
        Eleven years later, Livingstone was found by his bed,
kneeling, and dead. Natives buried his heart in Africa, as he
had requested, but his body was returned to Westminster Abbey
in London.

David Livingstone
BORN: March 19, 1813
Blantyre, Scotland
DIED: May 1, 1873
Chitambo, Northern Rhodesia
LIFE SPAN: 60 years, 1 month, 12 days

ingstone joins the class of men who rank as the greatest
explorers the world has ever produced. Marco Polo,
Christopher Columbus, Charles Lindbergh, Edmund Hillary, and
Neil Armstrong all have thrilled the world with their ex-
ploits. Add the name of Livingstone who opened up Africa to
civilization and Christianity. No wonder the natives gave him
the longest funeral procession in history, after burying his
heart under a tree near the place where he died.
        Livingstone traveled 29,000 miles in Africa, added to
the known portion of the globe about one million square
miles, discovered many famous lakes, the Zambesi and other
rivers, was the first white man to see Victoria Falls, and
probably the first individual to traverse the entire length
of Lake Tanganyika. Had his health not failed he would surely
have succeeded in also discovering the source of the Nile. He
never lost sight of one of his great objects–bringing Christ
to Africa–although healing and exploring were often the ve-
hicles he used.
        Born the second son of poor and pious parents, Neil
and Agnes (Hunter) Livingstone, he had three brothers and one
sister. The seven were crowded into a two-room house. The fa-
ther, while delivering tea to his customers, would also dis-
tribute religious books. At age ten young David was put into
the cotton-weaving mills factory as a piecer to aid in the
earnings of the family. He purchased Rudiments of Latin,
which he used to help himself study that language at evening
school. His hours at the factory were long, from 6 a.m. till
6 or 8 p.m. He attended evening school from 8 to 10 p.m.,
then studied until midnight or later. Often he placed a book
on a portion of the spinning jenny so he could catch a few
sentences in passing.
        By age 17 he was advanced to cotton-spinner and the
pay was such that he could put himself through medical school
in Glasgow, entering in 1830. By the time he was 22 he had
studied Greek, theology and medicine in college courses at
Anderson’s College and Glasgow University. During this time
he was soundly converted at age 20 (1833) while reading the
book Dick’s Philosophy of the Future State.
        He continued his studies in London, where he received
a medical degree with honors in 1840. During these years of
study several things happened. First he applied to the London
Missionary Society in 1838 and was provisionally accepted.
Then, in 1839, God sent Robert Moffat into his life. Home on
furlough, Moffat gave stirring messages that aroused Chris-
tian people to the missionary possibilities in Africa. One
statement burned in Livingstone’s soul and haunted him as he
tossed on his bed. Moffat had said:

I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a
thousand villages, where no missionary has ever been.

        Livingstone decided it was God’s will for him to go
to Africa. Finally he received his appointment–Kuruman in
southern Africa–which Moffat had built and managed.
        In 1841 he landed at Algoa Bay. Here two qualities of
his life manifested themselves immediately–characteristics
which were to demonstrate future greatness. One, the ability
to cope with the difficulties of travel, whether by ox-wagon,
horse or on foot. And, second, a quick understanding and sym-
pathy for the native Africans.
        Kuruman was 700 miles due north of Cape Town, so af-
ter a ten-week journey from Cape Town he arrived at Kuruman
July 31, 1841.
        A few months after his arrival he made a journey with
another, covering over 700 miles, winning the confidence of
the natives wherever he went by his medical activity. A sec-
ond trip, alone, was made into the interior February to June,
1842. Returning, he stayed until February, 1843, teaching,
preaching, caring for the sick, and building a chapel at an
outstation. Then it was off to the interior again in search
of a suitable location for another mission site.        On
this trip he discovered the beautiful valley of Mabotsa in
the land of the Bakatia tribe. Upon his return in June 1843
when he finally found a letter authorizing his formation of a
settlement in the regions beyond, he went back to Mabotsa in
August to open a mission station there. Crowds of sick, suf-
fering folk begged the great white doctor to heal them. At
night around the fire he would listen to their stories, then
he would tell them about Jesus. The only problem with the
area was that it was infested with lions. Livingstone decided
to rid the valley of them, for he heard that if one in a
troop is killed, the rest leave the area. He took with him
Mebalwe, a native teacher–and here happened one of the most
famous incidents of his entire life. Livingstone shot a lion.
Then, as he began to reload his gun, the wounded lion sprang
up on him and shook him as a cat does a rat. His left arm was
crushed to the bone. Mebalwe grabbed his gun and, seeing the
motion of the upraised gun, the lion left Livingstone and
sprang upon Mebalwe, biting him through the thigh. Another
man coming on with a spear was bitten as well before the lion
toppled over dead as a result of the bullet wound. Living-
stone’s arm was stiff and useless from then on and, when he
raised it, intense pain shot through his body. The left arm
had loss of power the rest of his life.
        He returned to Kuruman to have his arm treated and to
recuperate. Mary Moffat, Robert’s daughter, was now looking
prettier every day. The two began to be drawn to one another,
and so they made some plans. As soon as his arm healed, he
would hasten back to Mabotsa to build a comfortable little
stone house. Returning, he was married in March, 1844, with
Robert Moffat performing the ceremony. Then came the 200-mile
ox-wagon honeymoon. They remained at Mabotsa until 1845. A
fellow missionary named Edwards, who had joined them, made
life miserable for them, so they moved 40 miles away to
Chonuane to work among the Bakwains. Misfortune struck them
the second time. The lack of rain brought the threat of fam-
ine and a scarcity of water. One evening he announced he was
leaving and the next morning everyone was packed and ready to
follow David Livingstone.
        They found a suitable locality at Kologeng and set-
tled down for five years to what would be his last home on
earth. By the time they left there he had four children,
three of whom were boys. However, things became very parched
for lack of rain. Rumors came about a huge waterfall. Living-
stone was challenged to find it, believing the banks of a
large lake would make an ideal location for a mission state.
        Not only did mysterious Lake Ngami challenge him, but
there was a powerful chief of the Makololo tribe named
Sebutuane, still farther north, under whom he hoped to estab-
lish a mission station beyond the range of both the Boers and
the militant tribe of the Matabele. On August 1, 1849, the
Livingstone party came to the northeast end of Lake Ngami and
were the first white people to see the lake. The presence of
tsetse flies and the obstruction of a local chief prevented
them from going the additional 200 miles north to meet
Sebituane and so they retraced their steps with reluctance.
They found the mission station destroyed by the Boers. In the
spring of 1850 they were to start out again. As before Liv-
ingstone took his wife and children with him, fearful that
they might be molested by the Boers. But, rather than the
Boers, the disease malaria struck the party at Lake Ngami,
and they had to turn back. Back at Kologeng a baby girl was
born to the Livingstones, but she soon took fever and died.
They then retreated to Kuruman, where he remained with his
family for rest until the spring of 1851. In April of that
year they set out again, determined not to return to Kologeng
but to a hill region where health conditions surely must be
better. He, his family, and a fellow explorer named Oswell
found Chief Sebituane on the Chobe River, which they had dis-
covered by taking a new route.
        Now came one of life’s crucial decisions–the family.
Where health was safe, hostile tribes lived. Where friendly
people lived, health conditions were bad. He decided to send
his wife and children back to England until he could find a
suitable location for them. So back to Cape Town they all
went, and for the first time in eleven years Livingstone saw
civilization. He was 39 and it was a sorrowful parting. He
fully intended to join them in two years. The family left for
England on April 23, 1852.
        Frustrated in not being able to find a healthful site
for a mission station, he gave attention to a second objec-
tive–to find a way going to the sea. Going to Linyant on the
River Tshobe, which was the capital of the Makololo terri-
tory, he set out upon the trail of many waters, declaring, “I
will open a path into the interior or perish.” It was in No-
vember, 1853, that he started his famous journey through un-
known country to the west coast of Africa with 27 Makololo
men loaned to him by a friend, Chief Sekeletu. It was a hor-
rible journey, with sickness, hunger, swamps, hostile
tribes–six months of hardships–but on May 31, 1854, some
1,500 miles of jungle had been conquered as they arrived at
Luanda. Broken in health, Livingstone was invited by ship
captains to take passage back to England. However, he had
brought men to a place where they could not return by them-
selves. He was not going to leave them! He would guide them
back to their homes. Africa had never known such loyalty.
        He then took his party on an even longer and more
perilous journey back to Sesheke. Contending with wet
weather, they could find no dry place to sleep en route. He
was nearly blinded as a result of being hit in the eye by a
branch in the thick forest, and nearly deaf because of
rheumatic fever. Then there were the perils of crocodiles,
hippopotami, javelins of hostile savages. His return was con-
sidered a miracle. Two months of rest followed. The boat he
considered going back to England in sank–and with it all his
maps, journals and letters.
        He now determined to find a route to the east coast
of the continent. Sekeletu gladly furnished him with the
means of following down the Zambezi River, giving him some
120 tribesmen. He started east in November of 1855. Only 50
miles en route, he discovered a magnificent waterfall that he
named Victoria Falls. His food consisted of bird seed, manioc
roots and meal. His bed was a pile of grass.
        He arrived at Quilimane on the coast in May, 1856,
and was given hospitality by the Portuguese before finding a
ship to take him back to England. He left his Makololo
tribesmen in good hands at Tete. Before he left, he received
a letter from the London Missionary Society, stating they did
not like his efforts of diverting from settled missions to
exploration. It was a shock to him, since he felt himself
just as sincere a missionary as ever. But he accepted a sev-
erance of relations after 16 years of service. However, the
London Royal Geographical Society was not quite so naive, as
they awarded him their gold medal, their highest honor, when
he returned home. Why? Because Livingstone had done something
no one else had ever done–he had crossed the entire African
Continent from west to east. Arriving home for the first time
in 16 years, he found himself famous. His father’s death
while Livingstone was en route home cast a pall on the cele-
brations. He was forced into a limelight which he disliked.
He was asked to give lectures, which was a burden, for he had
never been a good public speaker. Neither did he care to
write, but he did put together his Missionary Travels at the
urging of many.
        The universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Glasgow all
gave him honorary degrees.
        Now came the second segment of his life of explora-
tion, from 1858 to 1865, which took him into the Zambezi
River area under the auspices of the British government. He
was appointed the Consul for the East Coast of Africa, and he
was given a command that included his having anything he wan-
ted or needed.
        He was now on governmental salary, had better equip-
ment and ample funds. His wife and youngest son returned with
him, his own health was much improved, and it looked like a
bright future, as he accepted the challenge of exploring the
eastern and central portions of the continent. But many
disappointments were ahead.
        In March 1858 at age 46 he set out for Africa. Soon
after arriving at Cape Town the trials began. His wife’s
health was poor, preventing her from going further with him.
She took the child and went to her parents, the Moffats, at
Kuruman. Then a second serious problem arose. Livingstone
could command and organize Africans, but managing white col-
leagues and a large expedition was a total disaster. His
greatest mistake was in taking his younger brother, whose
temperament was totally unsuited to expedition work. Six
years of disharmony and frustration were to follow, with a
man named John Kirk being the only capable associate of this
        Third problem: He found out that there were myriad
obstacles to the navigation of the Zambezi. Fourth reversal:
His modern equipped boat, the Ma Roberts, was more of a hin-
drance than a help. She was so slow that a native canoe could
easily outdistance her. She burned so much fuel that half of
the time was given just to cut wood for her. On September 8,
1858, he did reach Tete and his beloved Makololo tribesmen.
Much exploration followed, including the finding of Lake
Nyasa on September 18, 1859, plus the discovery of the Shire
River and the Kongone entrance to the Zambezi, which was Lake
Shirwa. On November 4, 1859, he received a letter informing
him that he had a little daughter born at Kuruman on November
16, 1858–a year before. Much of 1860 was spent with his old
friends, the Makololo. At the beginning of 1861 a new boat,
the Pioneer, came to replace its antiquated predecessor. On
the boat were missionaries under the direction of Bishop
Charles Mackenzie, to minister to those who lived on Lake
Nyasa. He explored the Rovuma River and helped establish the
mission station on the Shire River in Nyasaland. This had
been one of his dreams–an interior mission station–but the
dream was soon shattered. Bishop Mackenzie died on January
31, 1862. Several of his helpers also died.
        That month, Livingstone’s wife rejoined him after a
separation of four years. In the intervening time she had
taken the youngest son and baby girl back to Scotland, and
then returned to rejoin her husband. But her failing health
prevented the reunion to last for long. She died on April 27,
1862–just three months after she was reunited with her hus-
band. She was buried under a great baobab tree at Shupange on
the lower Zambezi. Livingstone was 49 years old and consid-
ered this a terrible loss. Out of 18 years of marriage, the
two were together less than half the time.
        He put together a boat called the Lady Nyasa, and
sought to launch her in June, 1862, on the lake for further
exploration purposes. But weather conditions prevented the
        Slave trading continued to plague him. Human skele-
tons showed up everywhere. Finally, the Portuguese king prom-
ised to cooperate with Livingstone, but the officers in Af-
rica ignored such royal suggestions. Livingstone’s work actu-
ally helped rather than hindered them, for wherever he ex-
plored in Portugese East Africa, the officers would come in
and tell the natives they were Livingstone’s children. Thus,
through lying and trickery, they would obtain even more
slaves–in Livingstone’s own name.
        Then came a dispatch from the British government re-
calling the expedition, saying it was more costly than the
government had anticipated. But the truth was that the
Portuguese government had written to the British Foreign Of-
fice that Livingstone’s work was offensive to them, and the
Portuguese asked for his removal.
        This latest blow in 1863 failed to stagger him. He
decided to sell the boat, but not to the Portuguese because
it would be used in slave trade. Rather, he decided to go to
Bombay, India, and sell it there. With a small crew, only 14
tons of coal, scant provisions including little water, and
having never navigated a boat on the ocean, he left Africa
April 30, 1864, and arrived in Bombay on June 16. He was re-
ceived warmly but could not sell the boat, so he sailed to
London, arriving July 10. This was his second and last trip
home. He spent his time with his children, associating with
William Gladstone and other notables, giving speeches against
the slave trade and writing another book, The Zambezi and Its
Tributaries. While home, his mother died. Another tragedy in
his life–Livingstone’s son Robert, who at this time was
fighting in the American Civil War to free the slaves, was
killed and buried at Gettysburg.
        Now the third phase of his explorations began to
shape up. The Royal Geographical Society planned and spon-
sored his last expedition, which was from 1866 to 1873. His
influential friend, Sir Roderick Murchison, had encouraged
him to go back to find out more about the slave trading and
also to discover the sources of the Zambezi, Congo, and Nile
Rivers. He returned to Africa by way of Paris, France, where
he put his daughter Agnes in school, and then Bombay, where
he finally sold the boat at a loss of $18,500. The money he
got was invested in an Indian bank, which shortly went
broke–and all his funds were lost. He sailed from Bombay on
January 3, 1866, and arrived in Zanzibar on January 26. This
time he was once more going to be the only white man, having
some 60 carriers consisting of Indians, plus Chuma and Susi
from Africa and animal transport. They landed at the mouth of
the Rovuma River in April, 1866, intending to pass around
Lake Nyasa far from the influence of the Portuguese. However,
in five months, he lost by desertion or treachery all but
eleven of his men and all the animals. For four years he was
befriended and cared for by people he despised–slave
traders. During this time he discovered the southern end of
Lake Tanganyika (1867) and Lakes Moero and Bangweolo (1868).
In 1869 he reached Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika, the headquar-
ters of the trade in ivory and slaves. By this time Living-
stone was desperately ill, only to find his supplies and mail
sent from the coast plundered and gone. He spent the next two
years striving to explore the upper Congo. He struggled back
to Ujiji a broken and disappointed man beginning on July 20,
1871. On this trip a spear was thrown at him, missing his
head but grazing the back of his neck. Also, a huge tree
crashed across their path, missing Livingstone by a yard. Ar-
riving on October 22 with three attendants, he thought surely
mail and medicine would be waiting for him–but it was not.
The medicine had been sold and the letters destroyed or sold
by Arab traders.
        On October 26, 1871, four days after his arrival,
when his spirits were at their lowest ebb, with awful sores
on his feet, dysentery, loss of blood, fever, and being half-
starved–he heard Susi, one of his faithful followers, come
running at top speed, gasping, “An Englishman–”
        J.G. Bennet of the New York Herald had called for a
famous English reporter, Henry Stanley, to search for and
find Livingstone at all cost, or verify his death, which by
this time had been rumored. Shortly, when Stanley saw Living-
stone approaching, he pushed through the crowd of natives to
see him with the now-famous and legendary, “Dr. Livingstone,
I presume?” A supply of food and mail was like a tonic to the
tired explorer. Stanley lived with the missionary during the
winter and did everything to nurse him and encourage him to
return to England. Failing to convince him to return to Eng-
land, in March, 1872, the two men–now good friends–parted.
Livingstone accompanied Stanley to Unyamuembe. He was to wait
until men and supplies, which Stanley going to Zanzibar prom-
ised to send him, would arrive. Waiting was difficult, but
finally the promised men and supplies did arrive.
        Stanley summed up his relationship with Dr. David
Livingstone with these words: “I was converted by him, al-
though he had not tried to do it.”
        In August the new party started toward Lakes
Tanganyika and Bangweolo. Jacob Wainright became a valuable
and trusted aid, along with old-time stalwarts, Susi and
Chumah. Trials were reduced to such things as ants and
floods. When Livingstone grew too weak to travel, Susi car-
ried him on his shoulders. He found himself entangled in the
swampy region of Lake Bangweolo in the middle of the rainy
season. Because of an accident to his sextant, for a while he
was lost. His dysentery attacks were almost continuous, but
he kept going across the great swamps, reaching the southern
side of Lake Tanganyika, mapping to within a day of his
death. Soon he could not walk at all. He was carried on a
litter and reached Chitambo, a village in Itala where a hut
was built for him. His last written words by letter were:

All I can say in my solitude is, may Heaven’s rich blessing
come down on every one–American, English, Turk–who will
help heal this open sore of the world.

        At 4 a.m. on May 1, 1873, his friends heard an un-
usual noise, lit a candle and found him dead on his knees in
the hut. They removed his heart and buried it reverently at
the foot of a mulva tree, with Wainright reading the service.
A wood monument was erected. They embalmed his body by fill-
ing it with salt, leaving it in the sun to dry for 14 days,
then wrapping it in cloth, before enclosing the body in the
bark of a Myonga tree, over which they sewed heavy sail
cloth. This package was tied to a long pole so that two men
could carry it. Along with his papers they started toward
Zanzibar on a 1,000-mile trip that was to take nine months.
They arrived in February of 1874 and gave the body to the of-
ficers of the British Consul.
        When the body arrived in England on April 15, there
was some doubt about the identity of the remains. However,
upon examination of the mangled left arm, the doubt disap-
peared. On April 18, 1874, London came to stop as he was bur-
ied in Westminster Abbey with the kings and the great. At his
funeral were his children, Susi, Henry Stanley–and the aged
Robert Moffat, who started it all.

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