top of page
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.

May 1 The Death of David Livingstone

Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone was one of the most popular figures in Late Victorian Britain. His legacy is striking, it is claimed that he is the Westerner who did more to shape thinking about Africa then anyone else. Both a father of European Colonialism and a forerunner of African Nationalism. He died today in Zambia

from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His loyal attendants Chuma and Susi removed his heart and buried it under a tree near the spot where he died. This site, now known as the Livingstone Memorial that attracts thousands of visitors every year.


Livingstone exercised a formative influence on Western attitudes toward Africa. His discoveries were prolific and multifaceted—geographic, technical, medical, and social— and have provided the world with a complex body of knowledge that is still being explored. From a modern vantagepoint, many of his attitudes jar and are paternalistic, reflecting the Victorian prejudices of the time. However, it would be churlish not to accept that he believed wholeheartedly in the African’s ability to advance into the modern world. His 30 years of travel and Christian missionary work often in places where no European had previously ventured. At the time it was referred to ‘opening up Africa’ – a reflection of the Colonial mindset that was prevalent. He travelled northward beyond the frontiers of South Africa and into the heart of the continent and was motivated by the three C’s, Christianity, commerce, and civilization. It is now thought that Livingstone may have influenced Western attitudes toward Africa more than any other individual before him. Some historians now consider him, not only to be a forerunner of European imperialism in Africa but also of African nationalism. His story is rich and complex and even during his life he had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: The Protestant missionary martyr, a working-class "rags-to-riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British expansion. When he died, he was one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era.

Shocked by what he witnessed of the slave trade in East Africa, we have valuable first hand accounts in his journals We passed a slave woman shot or stabbed through the body and lying on the path: a group of men stood about a hundred yards off on one side, and another of the women on the other side, looking on; they said an Arab who passed early that morning had done it in anger at losing the price he had given for her, because she was unable to walk any longer. And Later - To-day we came upon a man dead from starvation, as he was very thin. One of our men wandered and found many slaves with slave-sticks on, abandoned by their masters from want of food; they were too weak to be able to speak or say where they had come from; some were quite young. Distressed by the widespread broken-heartedness that he came across in slaves and former slaves, Livingstone's letters, books, and journals stirred up public support for the abolition of slavery; however, he became dependent for help from the very slave-traders whom he wished to put out of business.

The journey that brought him to widespread attention of the public in Britain was when mapped most of the course of the Zambezi river, believing this would map the best "highway" into Africa. He became the first European to see the Mosi-o-Tunya ("the smoke that thunders") waterfall, which he named Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. Livingstone became the first European to cross south-central Africa and this accomplishment made him famous. He started to believe that he had a spiritual calling for exploration to find routes for commercial trade which would displace slave trade routes, rather than for preaching. He resigned from the London Missionary Society in 1857 and was appointed as Her Majesty's Consul with a roving commission. His most famous expedition was to seek the source of the Nile. We now know that the Nile begins in the mountains of Burundi but it was to be his last expedition, Livingstone proved to be an unsatisfactory leader with even his own physician writing that I can come to no other conclusion than that Dr Livingstone is out of his mind and a most unsafe leader. Having been abandoned by all his companions and assistants he was assumed lost – which lead to the famous encounter with the journalist, Stanley who was sent to find him, uttering the immortal words ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ (see pod of Mar 14th for more information)


bottom of page