David Livingstone - Missionary and Explorer

David Livingstone

David Livingstone was a famous British explorer and missionary during the 19th century. His primary focus was within the continent of Africa, and his initial motivation was missionary work. In time he became determined to end the slave trade entirely, and saw Christianity and an expanding economy as a means to achieve this goal.

David was born in Scotland in 1813 to a family of modest means. His father bought tea wholesale, and sold it in small bags door to door. He had three younger siblings, and the whole family lived in a single room apartment in the town of Blantyre. His grandfather had a large collection of books, which David borrowed regularly.

He started working in a local factory at the age of 10 to help support the family and pay for his younger sibling's education. His shift was from 6 AM to 8 PM, six days a week. Britain had recently passed a law requiring all factories employing children to offer free education after working hours. After working a 14 hour shift, Livingstone would attend classes.

God's Plan

In 1832, the pastor of his family's church, Reverend Moore, loans David a book titled, Philosophy of a Future State by Dr. Thomas Dick. The book argued that since all of nature was created by God, studying science would draw people closer to God. This served to encourage David's natural interest in science and nature.

When David was 19 years old, Reverend Moore read a letter to his church's congregation. The letter was written by Dr. Charles Gutslaf, a missionary in China, and addressed to all Christians in Europe and America. It stated that missionaries were badly needed, and the best way to serve as a missionary was to study medicine.

David was still working to support his family. He prays about God's plan for his life and feels that God is calling him to be a missionary. He begins thinking of how he could receive training in the medical field. He researched the cost of local medical schools, and determined that he could afford one term with three years of savings.

Anderson College in Glasgow Anderson College in Glasgow

After years of working, he had saved up enough to attend one semester at Anderson College in Glasgow. What a change it was to be able to study full time, without being exhausted after working 14 hour days. He loved his time at university immensely, and made many friends.

But after one semester, he had run out of funds. So he returned to his job at the factory, eager to save up enough to return to his studies. After one year of working, he still had not saved up enough to return to school. So his older brother generously provided the remaining funds needed.


Garden of John Penn, St James's Park: A charity fair for Charing Cross Hospital, 1830, by G. Scharf. Copyright Wellcome Library, London. A charity fair for Charing Cross Hospital, 1830

David Livingstone had completed his coursework at Anderson College by September of 1838. He was immediately offered a job as an instructor at the college with a 150£ per year salary. But he instead applied with the London Missionary Society, in order to receive training as a missionary. He is accepted and studies in London for six years. His final course work was completed at Charing Cross Hospital.

David now felt he was close to beginning his dreams of exploration and spreading the gospel. This whole time he believed he would end up in China. But the opium wars had broken out, and there could be no more missionaries admitted into the country. He would have to find another mission field.

At this time it was believed that only the coasts of Africa were populated, and that the interior of the continent was a barren wasteland. While in London, he speaks with Reverend Moffat who had worked as a missionary for years in southern Africa. Moffat states he is certain that native tribes had yet to be contacted deep within the interior of Africa.

This fascinated David and he immediately contacted the London Missionary Society, requesting to be sent to Africa. His requests are granted and he is assigned to Reverend Moffat's station in Kuruman, about 500 mi (900 km) north of the southern African coast.

To Africa at Last

On December 8th of 1840, at 27 years old, David is off to Africa aboard The George under Captain Donnelson. He was filled with excitement. The captain taught David how to navigate by the stars along their way. This skill would become essential when later exploring the interior of Africa.

Along their way, a major storm strikes and the ship loses its main mast and all of its sails. Slowly they drift across the Atlantic towards South America. They land in Rio de Janeiro and are stuck there for a week while the ship is repaired. Livingstone spent his short time there spreading the Christian faith wherever he could, including local taverns.

Port Elizabeth

David Livingstone's travels from Port Elizabeth to Kurman - 1841 David Livingstone's travels from Port Elizabeth to Kurman - 1841

The ship is repaired and the crew finally arrives in Port Elizabeth in 1841, on the southern coast of Africa. A wagon and a team of oxen are purchased, and the team begins their journey north to Kuruman. David was thrilled by the unknown he was facing ahead of him. They hunted all sorts of wild game along their journey, and David took notes describing this fantastic new land.

Continuing north, they stopped at various missionary settlements along the way. When they reached Kuruman, the most northern missionary outpost, David meets with the few missionaries presently at the station. Robert Moffat was still in London. Moffat founded the mission station 20 years ago, and although they regularly had 400 in attendance for church services, they had only converted 40 people to Christianity.

Livingstone immediately asked why missionaries had not pushed farther north, into the heart of Africa. Roger Edwards explains that the area north of Kuruman was uncharted desert, and they did not know what the territory or locals were like or if they could even survive in that region. Moffat also had a wife and children to look after, and they were quite well situated at Kuruman.

Free Reign

Livingstone uses this unsupervised time to explore the areas to the north, building relationships with many tribes. Traveling to the north east about 200 miles, he contacts a Bantu tribe and spends five days in the village of Mabotsa, near the modern day border of Botswana (near Zeerust, South Africa). Many reach out to him for medicine to cure various ailments. David and his party travel a little further north, nearing the edge of the Kalahari Desert, contacting Bakwain tribes. He does what he can to introduce people to the teachings of Jesus.

David and Roger know they need to get back to the mission station at Kuruman before the Reverend Moffat returns from England. The locals are sad to see them leave, but David assures them that they will return and stay longer.

They had traveled south a great distance when they noticed a young girl hiding in their wagon. The girl explains that her parents and older sister had recently died, and that her uncle had traded her to become a local warrior's wife. She begged David to take her to Kuruman since she had friends there. He agrees but soon the warrior tracks them down and demands the girl be returned to him. After a heated exchange, the warrior accepts some beads instead, and they part ways.

Back in Kuruman

Upon returning to Kuruman, a letter is received from Robert Moffat. It appears he will be staying in London much longer than expected. This leaves David as the only Western doctor in the region. People from all over flock to Kuruman to receive medical treatment and to hear the gospel. Here he helps cure many people and learns a great deal about treating malaria and many other diseases native to Africa.

The year is 1842 and David begins planning his next trip north, this time taking a new route. With help from the locals, he is becoming fluent in the Bantu language. He settles in at the town of Lepelole, and soon notices that the town has serious water issues. He begins to dig a channel from a spring to a newly planted village garden. This gives him days of working alongside the locals. Building relationships with them and helping lead them to a relationship with God.

Weeks later, he looks at his maps, it is only uncharted territory to the north. No Christian missionaries had yet crossed the Kalahari Desert. The group abandons their wagons, as the wheels would only sink into the sand of the desert. They load the backs of their oxen and walked north, directly into the desert.

After traveling for two weeks, they contact the Bamangwato people, with their main settlement containing 3,000 people. David meets with the local chief, who says he wants his heart changed. He explains how he is cruel to his people, and wants help treating them with more love. David teaches him the teachings of Jesus, and that accepting Christ is the only way to change his heart.

After some time, the party plans a journey to the neighboring town. The chief explains that the people there are vicious and will certainly kill him. He says that two white people visited the town years ago and were killed. When David decides to go anyway, the chief asks him why he would be willing to risk certain death. David explains that it is his calling to spread the word of God to as many people as he can, at whatever cost. The chief loans him four warriors, but expects them all to die.

When David arrives at Mabotsa, the villagers immediately flee. The local chief approaches David and tells him to leave, thinking he is there to avenge the killing of the other white traders. David pours a bag of corn meal into a pan, and asks for water, knowing that rumor has it that the previous white people to visit this village were poisoned with water. He cooks and eats the corn meal.

This wins the trust of the entire village. David climbs on top of a pile of rocks and tells the people the message of Christ.

After several days spent in this village, David and his party travel back through the Kalahari Desert. The chief's son travels with them, teaching them which plants are safe to eat and how to find water along the way. David notes everything in his journals.

After being away for five months, the group arrives back at Kuruman in July of 1842. Word comes that fighting has broken out between the tribes in the surrounding area. This leaves David stuck in Kuruman for eight months, during which he works hard converting new Christians and helping them grow in their faith.

Founding a New Missionary Station

David embarks on yet another expedition. He finds his old friend, chief Sechele, who has now settled a new town, as his old village was destroyed in the fighting. The chief's son is sick with what appears to be dysentery. He waits until the boy is cured before heading east.

While on his journey, David spends his evenings sitting by the fire chatting with locals, listening to their stories and legends. Sometimes he would tell his own stories, including his story of becoming a Christian.

After traveling all over the region to the north, David travels 400 miles back to Kuruman. He has now been in Africa for two years, and Reverend Moffat is still not back from London. David receives a letter from the London Missionary Society granting him permission to build a new missionary settlement at a place of his choosing. He knows just where to go. People from his home town had also raised 12£ to hire a new pastor.

It is now winter and David is putting together a team to found the new missionary station, when three English hunters pass through Kuruman, led by Captain Thomas Steel. The group travels with David for two weeks until they reach the location of the new missionary station at Mabotsa.

Robert Moffat Returns

It is now December of 1843 and David receives a letter informing him that Robert and Mary Moffat, and their three daughters, have landed at Port Elizabeth. David races off to meet them on their journey inland. They meet at the Vaal River, 150 miles south of Kuruman. Traveling back together, David and the Moffat family get to know each other.

David was back at Mabotsa by January of 1844. He founded a new missionary station here, building a new church and hiring a local pastor.

The region was infested with lions. One day, word came that a lion was attacking the sheep in one of the pastures. Livingstone races out to the pastures, scouts the area, and spies one lion in the grass. He sights his rifle, and shoots the lion in the shoulder. The lion pounces, grabbing him by the arm and shaking him around. David can hear his bones cracking in the lion's mouth. He is pinned on the ground by the lion when his friend fires, striking the lion in the chest. The lion pounces his friend and picks him up by his leg. The village warriors throw dozens of spears at the lion before it is finally killed.

David's arm is badly broken. He is slowly recovering, but after one month is tired of the inactivity. During this whole time away, he could not stop thinking about Robert Moffat's daughter, Mary. He decides to ride back to Kuruman to see her.

After some time together, David falls in love with Mary. He writes in his journal of his dreams of marriage and a family of his own.

The Moffat family had made a very good life for themselves in Africa. David was worried that he would not be able to give Mary they type of life she wanted or was used to. When he talked to her about it she said that missionary families should expect to have a more humble standard of living, and she would be happy with whatever God gave to them.

David and Mary are married on Jan 2, 1845.

A Life of Their Own

David and Anges Livingstone David and Anges Livingstone

David and Mary stayed in Kuruman for two months before moving to Mabotsa, Botswana. They worked hard to build a new home for themselves and a successful church for the village. However, noticing a surplus of missionaries in Mobatsa, David wants to travel north to found a new missionary station.

Mary was reluctant since their first child was due around their first anniversary. But they press on, becoming friendly with the Bakwain tribe, and founding a new missionary settlement in Chonuane. Here they befriend the local chief named Sechele. Although he enthusiastically converts to Christianity, few of the villagers follow his lead.

Having been in Chonuane for two years, the Livingstone's celebrate the birth of their second child, Agnes. Persistent drought sets in, and the villagers wish for David and his family to leave. So they travel 40 miles west to Kolobeng (modern day Kumakwane, Botswana) in 1847. It wasn't long before the entire population of Chounuane followed the Livingstone family to Kolobeng.

The Boers

It is here that David begins to have more serious trouble with the Boers. These were mainly Dutch people and a few hundred French Huguenots who had moved to Africa in the 1600's. The British successfully invaded Cape Town in 1795 and subsequently gained control over the whole of South Africa. Britain declared slavery to be totally banned in their territories by 1843.

The ever expanding Boers did not like that David Livingstone was strengthening the local tribes in the northern regions of their territory. David receives word that they planned to attack Kologen. He rides 300 miles to Boer headquarters to protest infront of military commanders. After heated discussions, the raid is called off. The primary reason for this was David's threats to communicate the event of any attack back to Europe. The Boers did not want any unusual attention paid to them, so they agreed to leave David's missionary endeavors alone for the time being.

This exchange motivated David to find another place to settle the Baquain tribes. He wants to resettle these people across the Kalahari Desert, far away from any trouble.

He writes to his friend, Captain Steele. A return letter suggests that a man named Cotton Oswell could help. David writes to Mr. Oswell and is thrilled to receive a letter back from him in 1848 stating that he would gladly help him explore the Kalahari. Mary is thrilled at the idea, by now giving birth to their third child.

The expedition leaves Kolobeng on June 1 of 1849. David had learned the hard way that a missionary settlement needs a reliable source of water, so he determined to find Lake Ngami, somewhere far to the north.

Crossing the large desert became desperate at times. They are grateful to reach the banks of the Zouga River on July 4, 1849. Following the river 280 miles to the north, the group finally discovers Lake Ngami on August 1, 1849. The entire area is filled with Elephants, buffalo, antelope, and many birds. David writes in his journal how beautiful the area is and how exciting everyone feels to be there. Using their newly drawn maps, they easily return to Kuruman.

Leaving Kolobeng

David has now been in Africa for 8 years, and dreams of a new missionary settlement on Lake Ngami. The locals tell him of a tribe far to the north called the Makalolo. David greatly wished to contact them. Although this new endeavor is exciting, his family grows sad at the idea of him leaving them.

Expedition to Lake Ngami Expedition to Lake Ngami

Their oldest son is infatuated with the idea of exploration. They are quite sad, expecting him to say his goodbyes. He smiles, and asks if they want to join him in his exploration. David promises to make it an easy journey for the family, especially since Mary is expecting another child.

Using David's maps, the family crosses the Kalahari Desert without incident. Upon reaching the area around Lake Ngami, the two oldest children become ill. They have no choice but to return home.

Upon returning to Kolobeng, David receives a letter from the Royal Geographical Society congratulating him on his exploration and discovery of Lake Ngami. He is awarded the annual gold medal, along with a prize of 25£. The children recover from their sickness, and Mary gives birth to a daughter named Elizabeth. Sadly, she develops a fever and dies less than two months later.

After some time, David begins to plan another attempt to contact the Makalolo tribe in the far north. Mary's parents insist that David not make his family endure any more expeditions, especially since Mary is pregnant again. David is nonetheless determined to open up central Africa to missionaries.

On April 24, 1851, the family begins their third trip across the Kalahari, this time joined again by Cotton Oswell. Reaching Lake Ngami yet again, the locals tell them where to find chief Sebituane, leader of the Makololo tribe.

Leaving Mary and the children with the wagons, David and Cotton Oswell continue on houseback and find chief Sebituane. David is overjoyed, and the chief shows them the Zambezi River and tells them about his people. Their time was limited though. Chief Sebituane died from pneumonia not long after their meeting.

It is now September of 1851, and the Livingstone family begins their journey home to Kolobeng. Along the way, their fifth child is born. He is named William Oswell in honor of the family friend who helped with their journey, and nicknamed Zouga after the river he was born next to.

Mary and the Children Return to Britain

David decides that Mary's parents are correct, and that Africa is not a safe place for his wife and children due to war and especially disease. The family travels together to Cape Town. Mary begs David to find a way for her and the children to stay, but David is firm. On April 23rd of 1852, David's family boards a ship, leaving Africa for Scotland.

Crossing the Kalahari Desert and returning to northern Botswana, David meets Sekeletu, chief of the Kololo in Linyanti. The chief is only 18 years old, and in time converts to Christianity. After spending one year in the area, giving many sermons and making many friends, David plans his next expedition.

Crossing the Continent

The Chobe River The Chobe River
photo credit: Markus Trachsel

In November of 1853, David continues exploring to the north of the Chobe River, starting from the town of Linyanti on the border of Botswana and Namibia. His goal is to reach the western coast of the African continent. Crossing into modern day Zambia, he traverses north up the Barotse Floodplain. Leaving the floodplain, he continues into eastern Angola. On March 6 he turns due north. After weeks of travel they stop at Lake Dilolo for a few days.

David notes the potential for irrigation, but says it is hardly necessary in Africa, since the food resources are so abundant. "Food abounds, and requires very little labor for its cultivation. No manure is required." He contacts as many tribes as he can find along his journey, spreading the message of Christ for as long as they will listen. He first listens to their stories, taking note of river names and other geographic features.

He also hopes to establish a road network from the west coast into the interior of Africa. This would aid greatly in spreading Christianity more easily, and perhaps would encourage more missionaries to reach the territories he was now charting. Although in crossing any river, some local chief usually demanded an ox, a tusk, or a man as toll fees.

David frequently records in his journals how beautiful the countryside is. At one point he and his team cross a valley over two miles wide. Rains rapidly fill it with one foot of clear water, slowly draining from the entire valley.

At one point on the journey west, they encounter locals who threaten him and his party. He explains that they have the ability to cause damage at range using firearms. He then explains that he is a man of God and does not want to kill one single human, placing his hand over his heart. The locals return by placing their hands over their hearts as well. This is David’s opening to spread the message of Christ to another tribe. As the expedition carries on, David continually prays for their safety.

In his journals, he states that although the Africans live in some of the most abundant land on Earth, they seem to not love their homeland, and therefore many settlements are temporary. He states that the Swiss and the Scotch Highlanders love their homelands beyond comparison, writing, "Mountaineers alone pine after their home."

David Livingstone's Expedition from Linyanti to Luanda David Livingstone's Expedition from Linyanti to Luanda. 1853-1854

Crossing great plains with grass two feet higher than their heads, they trek west towards the Atlantic coast. They reach Cassange in Angola on April 12, 1854, Portuguese territory about 100 miles from the coast.

At last David reaches Luanda and the Atlantic coast on June 17th of 1854. He attends Catholic church services, and there is no shortage of people eager to house one of the world's most famous explorers and missionaries. David had been terribly sick with malaria, and stays in bed for one month until fully recovered.

Some Notes on Slavery

The port of Luanda is a major center for export of slaves out of Africa. As David had drawn closer to the coast, he encountered Portuguese and Arab slave traders. They trade ivory tusks in exchange for existing slaves which are then taken to the coast. David remarks that the slave traders are making large sums of money, and therefore are able to afford extensive weaponry. This would make any forceful ending of slavery difficult.

David determines that the best way to end slavery would be to set up schools, teaching the New Testament to all children. This would instill in them a realization that all humans are equal in the eyes of God. Only such a religious conversion would be able to end an institution so common and ancient.

In conversations with slaves, he writes that many state they are happier since becoming captive. Stating that they no longer have to worry about food or shelter at all, as it is all provided for them.

David notes 37 slave ships in the port of Luanda. English cruisers are known for disrupting the slave trade, routinely hanging slave ship captains on the high seas. Word has it that the English are responsible for reducing the price of slaves, since slave traders are unable to deliver them to good markets.

Three hospitals (so called) sit on a hill just above the port. These are specifically for slaves. When the English are in the area, the guards act as doctors. They act as though they are developing methods for curing diseases native to Africa. But in reality, these are merely holding facilities for slaves, waiting on slave vessels to arrive at port. When the English are not sailing in the area, and when a slave ship is ready, the 'hospitals' are emptied and the slaves loaded onto ships.

David notes that if the people of Africa had a cohesive faith in God, and the corresponding moral living that comes from fearing God, they would not be so timid at the prospect of ending slavery. It is through immoral living that they are so easily taken advantage of. He writes,

"...and the people, having no religion, have no restraining motive, but follow every evil passion as far as they may without risk. They are timid, and on that account the conquerors can live among them in safety."

Leaving Luanda

Expedition to Lake Ngami St. Paul De Luanda - 1854

After mailing copies of his charts to the Royal Geographical Society, David plots his return journey. He leaves Luanda on September 20, 1854, traveling east through Angola along the Bengo River. He passes many coffee plantations, and describes the land as exceedingly beautiful, with rolling hills that look as waves upon the ocean. He reaches the settlement of Ambaca by December 4, about 100 miles inland.

As usual, he stops in every town along the way to spread the gospel. People invite him to stay in their homes, which he usually accepts for a couple of weeks. He turns south, crossing the Cuanza River and passing again through the Cassange region. This is an easy route as the rivers are dry this time of year.

David writes about local superstitions. Locals believe that the dead still walk among them. If someone kills another person, offerings are made to appease that person’s soul. He writes of tribes who file their teeth down to sharp triangular points, among many other peculiarities. In his journals, he rarely grows discouraged about his goal of bringing the locals to a relationship with Jesus.

By March 29 of 1855, he reaches Camáue in central Angola. By June he has reached Lake Dilolo in the far east of Angola. Traversing south back through the Barotse Valley Floodplain, every village gives David an extra ox to help pull the party’s wagons, or to use as food. Many locals remember David’s sermons from over a year ago, and want to know more about Christ.

David returns to Linyanti by then end of summer, 1855. He is happy to see his old friend, chief Sekeletu. He is overwhelmed by the generosity of the chief, and that of nearly every other tribe he had encountered in his journeys. He writes,

"I was entirely dependent on his generosity; for the goods I originally brought from the Cape were all expended by the time I set off from Linyanti to the west coast. I there drew L70 of my salary, paid my men with it, and purchased goods for the return-journey to Linyanti. These being now all expended, the Makololo again fitted me out, and sent me on the east coast. I was thus dependent on their bounty and that of other Africans for the means of going from Linyanti to Loanda, and again from Linyanti to the east coast, and I feel deeply grateful to them."

David now plots his journey towards the east coast of the African continent.

Victoria Falls

David Livingstone begins the next chapter of his expedition from the familiar town of Linyanti, Namibia. He consults locals on the best route towards the east coast, writing,

"Having found the path to the west impracticable, we now considered to which part of the east coast we should direct our steps. The Arabs assured us that the powerful chiefs beyond the Casembe on the north-east would have no objection to my passing through their country. The Makololo knew all the country eastward as far as the Kafue, and they all advised this path in preference to that by way of Zanzibar. But as the prospect of permanent water conveyance was good, I decided on going down the Zambezi and keeping to the north bank."

On November 3 of 1855, he travels north from Linyanti to Sesheke, on the Zambezi River in Zambia. Some members of the expedition took canoes down the river, others road wagons down the bank. By the 13th they had reached the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers. David writes, "...spending one night at Mparia, the island at the confluence of the Chobe, which is composed of trap having crystals of quartz in it coated with a pellicle of green copper-ore."

The next day he continues, "Attempting to proceed down the river the next day, we were detained some hours by a strong east wind raising waves so large as to threaten to swamp the canoe." They are now less than 50 miles from the Victoria Falls.

The group knew they were close, as mist could be seen rising when they were 5 or 6 miles away. David moves to a small canoe and rides the rapids to an island in the middle of the river, and situated on the very edge of the falls. The date is November 17th, 1855. He describes his view looking into the crevice of the Earth which the falls plunged into:

"Some trees resemble the great spreading oak; others assume the character of our own elms and chestnut; but no one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight. The only want felt is that of mountains in the background."

David names the falls 'Victoria' after the queen of England. He also comments on the more ancient names, "Falls of Victoria, called by the natives Mosioatunya, or more anciently, Shongwe."

He spends some months in the area just north of the falls in what would eventually be named the town of Livingstone in Zambia.

Victoria Falls Illustration of Victoria Falls by Thomas Baines
photo credit: Smithsonian Libraries

Carrying On

The expedition now leaves the Zambezi River and heads northeast into modern day Zambia. Boiling water and noting its temperature, David calculates an elevation of over 5,000 ft. He makes careful charts, and tries to make as many contacts as he can while traversing towards the east coast of Africa. His intention is to create trade routes from the east coast to the interior of the continent, and on towards Luanda on the west coast. This will make future missionary work into other parts of the continent easier. Also, opening trade routes will expand commerce and thus eradicate the continent of the entrenched slave trade in due time.

As usual, the locals are beyond friendly. "As we pass along, the people continue to supply us with food in great abundance. They had by some means or other got a knowledge that I carried medicine." He notes that generally, the temperature reads 72 to 74 at sunrise, 90 to 96 at mid-day, and 80 to 84 at sunset. By December 30th they had reached the Zambezi River once again as it turns to the north.

As they head east, they begin down in elevation, and the temperatures begin to steadily rise, reaching 98 at mid-day in the shade. Each village they come to gives the expedition two men to help guide them to the next town.

David Livingstone's Expedition from Linyanti to Quelimane.  1855-1856 David Livingstone's Expedition from Linyanti to Quelimane. 1855-1856

On January 14th, they reach the confluence of the Luangwa and Zambezi Rivers, on the border of modern day Mozambique. When they were within days of the Portuguese colony of Tete, David grew terribly ill. He sends a few members of his party ahead to contact the colony. Portuguese soldiers trek upstream and eventually find David. They escort him into town through cheering crowds on March 2nd of 1856.

Reaching Quelimane on the east coast of Mozambique, David Livingstone becomes the first European to cross the African continent.

Heading Home

In Quelimane, David receives mail from the Royal Geographical Society, but no mail from his family. It had been four and a half years since he had seen them, so he decides to go home to Scotland. He boards a ship heading north up the African coast, into the Red Sea.

While stopping in Egypt, he intercepts a letter addressed to him from his mother. She had written with sad news, David's father had died. Now he is even more urgent to get home. He boards another steamer to cross the Mediterranean. It stops in Marseille, France for repairs. He refuses to wait. He sends a letter ahead to Scotland, informing his family that he is coming home. He then boards a train to cross France. Mary and their children were waiting for him when he landed in South Hampton.

Life in Britain

Livingstone Cottage, Barnet, England Livingstone Cottage, Barnet, England

Mary had not been fitting in too well in Scotland. She had left the children with David's parents and gone to live in London with friends.

David is honored by the Royal Geographical Society, and is awarded a gold medal for exploration. He gives a speech stating he deserves no congratulation until every slave is freed in Africa.

He is invited to give sermons in churches all over England and Scotland. His unique perspective was of great interest to all of Europe. He still dreams of opening up the Zambezi River in order to expand trade and missionary work, so as to help end slavery within the continent.

While in Britain he receives two amazing offers. David meets Queen Victoria, and she requests that he serve as console at Quelimane, Mozambique. This position pays 500£ per year.

He also receives an offer from Harper & brothers Publishing to write a book titled Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. He and Mary live together in a home overlooking Hadley Green outside of London for six months while writing his book. It is published in 1858. The book is reviewed by Charles Dickens and is a tremendous success.

A Return to Africa

David returns to Africa in the Fall of 1858. He begins in Quelimane, and takes three months to reach Tete. David receives a letter from Mary, telling him of the birth of their daughter, Anna Mary, and asking him when she can travel to Africa to be with him.

He is now retracing his steps, heading west up the Zambezi River. Along the way he meets many people from the Makololo tribe who ask him to lead them back to their home (modern day western Zambia). Along the way they notice extensive evidence of the salve trade. Many villages had been burned down. David writes in his journal how incredibly discouraging the slave trade is for him.

By 1860 he had returned the lost Makololo people to their homeland. While in Linyanti, David receives a letter from Mary stating that she in on her way to Africa. They had not seen each other in four years.

David travels to the coast to greet her arrival. They now began an arduous journey once again into the heart of the continent. Along the way, Marry becomes ill with Malaria. David does everything in his power to cure her. Sadly, she passes in 1862 at the age of 41.

Back to Britain

The Royal Geographical Society in London The Royal Geographical Society in London

David now decides to return to Scotland once more. He sells what possessions he has, including a steam powered boat he had used to transport goods up the Zambezi. He wants to help put his children through school.

Upon returning home, David learns that his oldest son, Robert Moffat Livingstone, had gone to Africa in search of his father. After being unsuccessful, he enlisted in the Union Army and fought in the American Civil War.

David writes another book during his time back in Great Britain, titled, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries. He gives many lectures on the need to end slavery worldwide. The British government awards him 500£ to return to Africa and continue his fight against the slave trade. The Royal Geographical Society also awards him 500£. Additionally, an old college friend, James Young, gifted David 1000£ to aid in his efforts.

Before David leaves for Africa, he learns that his son has died in the American Civil War. He had enlisted with the New Hampshire regiment using a false age and name of Rupert Vincent. He was captured and sent to a Prisoner of War camp in North Carolina. It is likely that he died and was buried in what is now Salisbury National Cemetery.

David's Final Trip to Africa

David leaves Britain for his final trip to Africa in 1865. His last expedition is sponsored by The Royal Geographical Society to find the source of the Nile River. He travels first to Bombay (now Mumbai) to sell his ship for 2300£. Upon depositing the money in a bank, the bank promptly failed. A local friend of his, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, gifted David 1000£ to help make up for the loss.

Henry Morgan Stanley finds David Livingstone David Livingstone's Journey to Ujiji, Tanzania

He starts his final expedition in Africa from the coastal town of Mikindani, in modern day Tanzania. His intent was to find the source of the Nile River, something explorers had looked for it since Herodotus attempted a search around 460 BC. Not long after beginning his journey inland, two of the men in his team stole his medicine box and deserted him. They returned to the east coast and reported David as deceased, presumably to receive the rest of their wages. A search party was put together. Although they could not find David Livingstone, they were convinced that he was still alive and continuing inland.

By 1867 David had arrived at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. This is the modern day border of the Congo and Tanzania, and over 500 miles inland. Here he becomes ill and needs to rest for three weeks.

Carrying on, he sees signs of the slave trade everywhere. The slave traders in the east of Africa are mainly Arabs. He makes friends with them while trying to convert them to Christianity. It is David’s goal to show them that slavery is a terrible wrong. He writes,

"What was known as the slave trade was being carried on all over this part of Africa. Men, women, and children were being captured by fierce savages and sold as slaves."

Livingstone is determined to do what he could to stop this terrible state of things. The slave traders sought to avenge themselves by means of violence towards Livingstone.

David explores this part of the continent for the next three years. He takes notes and makes maps of everything he encounters, discovering two more lakes. When he ran out of ink, he crushed local berries to use for writing.

Henry Morgan Stanley

As far as the world was concerned, David Livingstone had been missing in Africa for over four years. Local Arab slave traders would not allow David to mail any letters in fears that major European powers would be enticed into ending their trade. He was deep in the heart of Africa, 1000 miles from any coast.

In October of 1869, a New York Herald reporter named Henry Morgan Stanley was tasked with traveling to Africa and finding Mr. Livingstone, or "bring back all possible proofs of his being dead." He ventures into the continent from Zanzibar on the east coast. He heard rumors that a white man was living near Ujiji, Tanzania, some 750 miles inland.

Stanley worked his way south to avoid ongoing tribal wars. Reaching a mountain summit, Lake Tanganyika sparkled below, and on its banks sat the town of Ujiji. Stanley ordered the American colors raised, and the caravan marched into town. Approaching David Livingstone, Stanley utters the words, "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" The two men shake hands on November 10, 1871.

They explore the area around Lake Tanganyika together. Stanley offers to take David to the east coast so he may return to Scotland. David refuses, and Stanley takes all of David’s notes and maps with him as the two say their goodbyes.

David Livingstone's Final Days

David Livingstone's Final Journey 1865-1873 David Livingstone's Final Journey 1865-1873

David travels south down the bank of Lake Tanganyika. He then turns west following the Lufuba River. Trekking west, they wade through waste deep mud bogs, are attacked by bees, and stalked by lions.

Reaching Lake Bangweulu in modern day Zambia, David is now in constant pain. He reaches his 60th birthday, and can only travel 10 hours per week. By this point in his life, he has traversed roughly 40,000 miles of the African wilderness.

He camps in the village of a local chief named Chitambo. He has felt terribly sick for some time now, and feels his life is ending. David climbs out of his cot and kneels in front of it to pray. He is found dead in this position by locals hours later. The date is May 1, 1873.

David’s three helpers understood that he was very popular in his home country of Britain, and wanted to return his body. Wrapping him in cloth, it took them 8 months to reach the coast. His body is returned to Britain, and April 18, 1874 is declared a national day of mourning. David Livingstone’s funeral is held at Westminster Abby.

David is awarded a Founder’s Medal for the encouragement and promotion of historical geography.

David Livingstone's Journeys in Africa 1841-1873 David Livingstone's Journeys in Africa 1841-1873

From adverse conditions working 84 hours per week at the age of ten, to traveling tens of thousands of miles throughout southern Africa, David Livingstone's contributions to the world did not come easily. But his efforts lead thousands to convert to Christianity, and paved the way for future missionaries to work deep in the interior of the African continent.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

Originally published
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

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David Livingstone - Missionary and Explorer

  • Truly David Livingstone was a greatest missionary and explorer in Africa no one else other than him from Europe has left such a record. He will always be remembered for his great work in Africa.
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