David Livingstone Explorer
The Great Ones – David Livingstone
Mapping the heart of an unmapped continent
David Livingstone (1813-1873) is often credited with “opening up” the interior of Africa, and rightfully so. The 19th-century Protestant missionary and explorer spent most of his life living among Africa’s native people, preaching and exploring the southern and central regions of what was then called the “Dark Continent.” Although he was eager to bring European ideas to the Africans, Livingstone, who was adamantly anti-slavery, wasn’t motivated by political or economic gains like other explorers of his era.
Lived and traveled for 30 years in Africa, embarking on four official expeditions in what’s now known as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, and Mozambique.
Born into a poor, religious family in Scotland, Livingstone began working in the cotton mills at age 10. He studied theology and medicine in Glasgow for two years, and, in 1838, he joined the London Missionary Society. At age 27, he shipped off to Cape Town and later arrived in Kuruman, his assigned missionary station, about 1,000 miles north of Cape Town. He almost immediately began exploring the unmapped territory to the north and befriending the natives. In 1849, he launched his first true expedition, an exploratory trip to Lake Ngami, about 500 miles north of Kuruman, which earned him a medal from England’s Royal Geographic Society. Later, traveling with a small group of African companions, he traversed the southern end of the African continent from west to east, often covering less than 10 miles a day through the thick jungles. On this trip, he and his party discovered one of the most spectacular falls in the world, the mile-wide, 350-foot-high Victoria Falls, which he named for England’s queen.
For the history books:
When he returned to England a hero in 1856, Livingstone convinced the British government and the Royal Geographic Society to sponsor his third African expedition. He and a group of Europeans set out to navigate the Zambezi River, which he saw as “a great highway” for trade into Africa’s interior. At the time, the Zambezi Expedition (1858-1864) was considered a failure–the river proved not to be navigable–but the geographic information Livingstone gathered turned out to be invaluable.
In 1866, Livingstone began his last trip to Africa, an expedition in search of the source of the Nile, which he believed might be Lake Tanganyika. He was wrong–it’s Lake Victoria–but he spent six years exploring the area. He suffered from malaria almost constantly, and rumors circulated in England that he had died. Livingstone was a tired and broken man when, in October 1871, journalist Henry Morton Stanley broke through the jungle and found him, near death, in Ujiji. That’s when Stanley reportedly uttered the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” (The New York Herald had sent Stanley on assignment to find the missing explorer.) Stanley and Livingstone continued searching together for the Nile’s source, without avail. On May 1,1873, he died in Chitambo, in present-day Zambia. His heart was buried in Africa; the rest of his body was returned to England and entombed in Westminster Abbey.
Words to live by:
“I determined never to stop,” Livingstone wrote, “until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.
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