Livingstone’s Brother John

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Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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David Livingstone

Livingstone’s Brother John

Did you know that David Livingstone’s two brothers were both successful in their own right? One a successful Chemist in Canada and the other a Pastor in North America before becoming Her Majesty’s Consul to the West Coast of Africa and that they all were not adverse to poaching the odd Salmon or Hare whilst living in Blantyre. Read on…

Dr. David Livingstone missionary and explorer, with his grandson Henry D. Livingstone.John Livingstone, brother of Doctor David Livingstone

John Livingstone 1811-1899 of Listowel, Ontario, Canada, merchant and brother of Dr. David Livingstone missionary and explorer, with his grandson Henry D. Livingstone.

The Sydney Morning Herald – June 22nd 1900

Mr. John Livingstone who died recently at Listowal, Ontario, Canada, was (says the “Sunday at home”) the older brother of the great African Missionary and Explorer, and with his demise the last of his generation has passed away. He was about two years older than his well known brother, having been born at Blantyre in 1811.

When quite a young man John Livingstone emigrated to North America, where he started life as a farmer and storekeeper. Here he, by his energy and industry, did much for the cultivation of a large tract of unreclaimed land, and was very successful in introducing new and greatly improved methods of farming into the country. He afterwards abandoned the farming, and carried on business as a chemist so successfully that he was able to retire in 1873.

In appearance, John somewhat resembled his famous brother, and had all the grit, push, and principal of a true Scot. Like all the members of the Livingstone family he was noted and respected in the land of his adoption for his integrity and humble and unobtrusive piety. Those and other good qualities he always contributed to the sterling worth and example of godly parents.

When David Livingstone was lost in the heart of the Dark Continent, and Stanley’s search was attracting universal attention, an indefatigable representative of the “New York Herald” discovered John and gave a graphic sketch of the grand old Scotsman and his surroundings.

Mr. Livingstone had many interesting reminiscences of his famous brother, and often entertained his intimate friends with family traditions which he had from his mother’s lips. His recollections of his native village, Blantyre, and of its customs and characters, were exceedingly entertaining. Like David he never forgot his humble origin and his struggle upwards. He often spoke of the one-roomed house, so trig and clean, in which they were born, and took a peculiar delight in describing the little Congregational chapel at Hamilton in which the family worshipped in his youth. This was nothing more than a dwelling-house filled with benches. To it the Livingstone’s walked regularly every Sunday from Blantyre. Here the explorer received those first impressions of Christian life and duty which bore such good fruits in after years. Here also he took the temperance pledge which in all his travels and trials he did not fail to observe most rigidly.

It would seem that David Livingstone, from his early childhood, was cool and self-reliant. John used to tell how it was his father’s custom to lock the door shortly after dusk, by which time all the members of the family were expected to be indoors. One night his brother happened to be later than usual, and when his father heard his footsteps approaching he bolted the door and quietly awaited the result. Instead of the seven-year-old going into fits, he coolly took in the situation, went off to a baker’s shop, purchased a penny bun, and then returned and sat down on the door-step as if quite resigned to his fate. When his mother opened the door and inquired, ” What’re ‘e daein’ there, Davie?” he calmly replied, ” I’m haein’ my supper, faither’s barred me oot.”

As boys, John and David worked together as piercers in the cotton factory of Monteith and Co., Blantyre, from 6.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. John took great pleasure in telling how that David, on going home with his first earnings, laid them in his mother’s lap with an air of triumph and how that he used to fix his lesson book upon the spinning jenny so that he could catch sentence after sentence as he passed. He also related that it was David’s custom to sit up at night reading and studying when all the others were fast asleep. Sometimes his mother would hide his books, and at other times she would come slipping in and take away the candle, so that David was under the necessity of creeping into bed.

Speaking of his mother’s appreciation of her famous son, he told how that a neighbour when visiting her during her last illness, hazarded the opinion: “You’ll be real proud ‘o ‘er son, noo, Agnes.” To which came the unexpected reply, showing that she had known his worth long before the world had found it out: ” I’m nae prooder ‘o him the day than I was when he put the first half-crown he ever earned in ma lap.”

John was in the habit of accompanying his brother in his botanical and geological excursions. Sometimes their younger brother, Charles, was allowed to go with them. These were always happy times. They, however, according to John, did not always confine themselves to ferns and stones, but now and again picked up a salmon or hare by the way. On one of these occasions they bagged a goodly sized fish and made Charles carry it in his trousers, and on their way home laughed no little at his swollen leg. This sort of thing, in our day, would savour of poaching, but in those days nothing was thought of it, indeed it was regarded as a right belonging to the rank and file of the people.

Charles LivingstoneThis younger brother, Charles, and the loved companion of his boyhood, educated himself for the ministry, and for a good many years was pastor of a New England Presbyterian Church. He shared in the adventurous spirit of his brother, and accompanied him on his record expedition to the Zambezi. On returning to this country he was appointed Her Majesty’s Consul to the West Coast of Africa, a position he filled with great credit and turned to account in doing much good to the heathen. In 1873 his health broke down, and he started for Scotland, but died on the passage home.

According to John Livingstone, David was a favourite with all in his home. They would have made any sacrifice for him. It gave them intense satisfaction when he got promotion in the factory, and was able from his summer’s earnings to attend the University of Glasgow during the winter. To the end John retained distinct recollections of the family gatherings round the fireside on Saturday nights whilst David related the experiences and incidents which had happened to him during the week in the great commercial city.

The last time John saw his brother was when on a visit to this country in 1857. Livingstone was home for the first time, and all the world was speaking of his remarkable explorations and adventures. He, however, maintained a regular correspondence with him and received many letters from him till near the time of his death. Most of these were given to friends or autograph collectors, and many a time John regretted having parted with them, as some were amongst the most valuable communications that ever came from the pen of the hero of Africa.

After his retirement John Livingstone visited the land of his birth several times, so that he might see his sisters face to face. The death of Agnes in 1896 at Kendal, and of Janet in 1897 at Edinburgh, was a great blow to him. Their end seemed to him to be the last breaking of the last link with the dear homeland.

Both sisters died in the homes of Livingstone’s daughters, who are in possession of many precious relics of the great missionary and traveler. The most prized of those is his note-book with faint pencil writing of the last words put down by Livingstone’s dying hand on the banks of the Molilamo, and his Bible which has been prominent recently at several missioners exhibitions.

The Bible is a thick octavo volume from the Oxford University Press, dated 1836, and has the famous explorer’s name clearly written across the title-page. There is also written from top to bottom of the page the words: “The Bible which went with me in all my wanderings in Africa. – David Livingstone, February 1858.”

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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