The Original Doctor Livingstone

Dr. Livingstone was a Christian missionary, physician, explorer and emancipationist. Walking from the west coast to the east coast of central Africa, his exploits included incredible drama and have been documented in a plethora of literature. Often loathed by whites, he was admired by Africans, and his hatred of the slave trade was intense.

David Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Scotland on March 19, 1813. He began earning a living at an early age and taught himself Latin and English and other subjects while working in a tweed factory from 6 am to 8 pm 6 days a week. He obtained a degree in medicine, nearly failing the medical exam, because he believed in using a stethoscope, contrary to his examiners’ opinion. His religious faith drew him to a career as a missionary, training at the London Missionary Society. When he stood up to preach his first sermon, he was so frightened that after he read the title, he bolted out of the church.

Encouraged by friend, Robert Moffat, his first trip to South Africa began in December of 1840. The Moffats had even greater influence, in 1844 he married Robert Moffats’ daughter, Mary.

Although popular among African natives, he made enemies of some of the white settlers because he learned African languages and had an unusually keen understanding and sympathy for the native cultures. In 1843, while settling the Mabotsa valley, Livingstone shot a lion, but before it died, it managed to bite and tear up his left arm, leaving it nearly useless. He used live maggots on the open wound to eat the dead flesh.

Dr. Livingstone fought malaria constantly resulting in him being the first known person to use the thermometer to measure body temperature. He discovered the use of Canaan in the treatment of malaria, (but mixing it with jalap as he found that Quinine was the most constipating of drugs)- thus the Livingstone "rouser" saved many lives.

Livingstone’s travels in Africa made him the first white man to see Victoria Falls, and also an esteemed visitor among the natives. According to one biographer, "the great Scotsman" added approximately one million square miles to the known portion of the globe. He received a gold medal from the London Royal Geographical Society for being the first to cross the entire African continent from west to east. He crossed the Kalahari desert reaching Lake Ngami in 1849. He discovered the Zambezi River in 1851, and eventually followed it to Victoria Falls in 1855. His Missionary Travels in South Africa (1857) is an account of that journey. He was given command of an expedition to explore the Zambezi region(1857-1863). He returned to England in 1864 and with his brother, Charles, wrote The Zambezi and It’s Tributaries (1865). In 1866, he returned to Africa to seek the source of the Nile.

Remembered as an explorer, Dr. Livingstone is still more distinguished for his humanity. At the same time that slavery was taken for granted, he condemned the slave trade, and alerted his countrymen of the abhorrent practice. He hoped to abolish the slave trade by opening Africa to Christian commerce and missionary stations.

While he was in "darkest" Africa, at home and in America he was feared lost or possibly dead due to lack of any communication. Sir Gordon Bennet of the New York Herald sent Henry Morton Stanley, a staff reporter, to look for the explorer and gain the "scoop" of the century. It took over a year for Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone, finding him in 1871 in the small village of Ujiji. Here, the famous phrase "Doctor Livingstone I presume" was asked by Mr. Stanley. Livingstone had suffered serious health problems, and when Stanley found him he was at one of the lowest points of his life, yet he refused to turn back, maintaining his desire to find the source of the Nile. Stanley joined him on a journey to the north end of Lake Tanganyika in 1872..

Livingstone’s health continued to worsen in the months before his death in May of 1873. His crew had gone to get supplies, and came back to find him in a kneeling position, apparently praying when he died. His death resulted in the longest funeral march in world history. His loyal followers carried his remains 1500 miles to the coast, taking five months for the journey, believing that he would want to be buried in England. ( His heart was buried in Zambia beneath a tree, where there is a memorial to this great Scotsman) Ten men died on the journey before surrendering his remains to the British Consulate at a place, Bagamoio, which literally means "lay down the burden of your heart." His body was buried at Westminster Abbey. His last journals were edited by Horace Waller in 1874.

Livingstone died a pauper, yet he left a huge legacy. There is hardly a country in Southern and Central Africa where his name is not upheld. Buildings and streets bare his name, and statues of him stand tall, including one next to the president’s office in Harare, Zimbabwe.