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David Livingstone (1813-1873)
David Livingstone, born in Blantyre, Scotland and dying in Chtambo's village (in Zambia), was the most famous of all the Scottish missionary explorers who did so much to bring knowledge of Africa, the unknown continent, to the western world. What English-speaking child in what part of the world has not heard the words of Welshman Henry Morton Stanley, upon finding the Scot alive and well in the midst of "darkest Africa" after reports of his death had reached Europe and the Americas.

Regarded in his lifetime as a sainted figure, Livingstone is remembered as the first European to have gone to the heart of Africa and to have dispelled many erroneous notions as to the nature of the continent and of its inhabitants. In particular, his indictment of the slave trade did much to awaken the conscience of a nation and to demand the enforcement of anti-slavery laws. That the Scotsman left out of his reports facts which did not fit in with his purpose of attracting Christian traders to Africa and that he never acknowledged the help he had been given in his explorations, does not detract from his accomplishments. They simply make him more human, less saint-like.

Conditions were harsh on the Island of Ulva, where David spent his early years. He was later to state that the savagery of the Cape Caffres (Kaffirs) was similar to that of the Highlanders of his native region (The people of Ulva would drown a woman in a sack if she unintentionally killed a child). Working in a cotton mill from the age of 10, the young Scot earned some extra income by selling tea, travelling from farm to farm. An avid reader, the future missionary studied Latin and Greek on his own. After reading Dr. Thomas Dick's The Philosophy of a Future State which stated that science was not opposed to Christianity, and after he had heard the preaching of liberal Canadian theologian Henry Wilkes, he got over the fears instilled in him by his father that the sciences were directly opposed to the Word of God.

David then decided to become a missionary and underwent training at the London Missionary Society, specializing in medicine. He passed his exams at Glasgow and obtained his physician's license. He was ordained a missionary and left for South Africa in December 1840 on the steamer the George. His many expeditions from the missionary post he set up at Kuruman brought him fame as a surgeon and scientist over the next few years: his missionary efforts were not as successful. During his work, in which he sympathized with the plight of the indigenous peoples, he made many enemies among the white settlers, particularly the Boers, busy stealing land from the natives. It particularly galled many that the Scotsman learned the languages and the tribal customs of the people he hoped to help find salvation.

In 1853, Livingstone undertook a major expedition into the interior of the continent that lasted three years. During the arduous trip, he discovered Victoria Falls, a feat that led to his being feted in Britain upon his return in 1856. He did not discover Lake Victoria, however, the source of the Nile, which was found by English explorer John Speke in 1858. Livingstone then returned to Africa to organize an expedition to the Mambezi River but was recalled. His last expedition was a quest for the source of the Nile. It was begun in 1866. False reports of his death and an anxious public's need to know where the lost explorer was in Africa led to Stanley's mission to find him. It was Stanley who charted the course of the Congo.

For those interested in reading a work that debunks the Livingstone myth, an excellent account is found in Judith Listowel's Book, "The Other Livingstone" (1974).

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