Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary, doctor, and explorer. He is best known for his work in exploring central Africa, spreading Christianity, and fighting the slave trade. Some recognize him as the greatest of all African missionaries, explorers, and antislavery advocates.
Livingston's work in Africa opened up an estimated one million square miles of previously uncharted land. He also searched for the source of the Nile.
Livingstone was born into a poor family in Blantyre, Scotland, in 1813. He had three brothers and one sister, which were crowded into a two-room house. While in school at age ten, he worked at a local cotton mill fourteen hours a day.
At a young age, Livingstone became fascinated with medical science and theology. He studied both of these areas and graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1838 with a degree in theology and medicine. After college, Livingstone traveled to London to train for missionary work. He tried to travel to China as a missionary in 1838, but the Opium War in China blocked his access.
The Missionary Society in London hesitated to sponsor Livingstone because they did not believe that his speaking style was polished enough. Livingstone soon met Robert Moffat, a missionary to Cape Town, Africa. While attending one of Moffat’s lectures, Livingstone was struck by Moffat's accounts of Africa. When speaking of Africa, Moffat stated that
“I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.”
It was at this time that Livingstone decided to go to Africa. In 1841, Livingstone traveled with Moffat back to his missionary base to help with his mission work. Livingstone began his work in Africa quickly; in 1842, he started a four-year campaign to find the route to the upper Zambezi River. His work here helped the Europeans commerce, which he believed was instrumental in bringing Christianity to the region.
He also started to push north to places that had not been explored by Europeans before. Livingstone also spoke against the slavery being carried out on the continent. As Livingstone traveled, he became convinced that his mission was to reach the people in the interior of Africa and introduce them to Christianity.
He married Moffat’s daughter, Mary, in 1845 and then settled north in Kolobeng.
African Expeditions and Missions
In 1843, Livingstone's left arm was rendered useless due to a lion attack. The next year, Livingstone and a friend began an expedition to cross the Kalahari Desert to discover what later began known as Lake Ngami.
The two famous explorers succeed and later, in 1851, discovered the Zambezi River. Because of the dangers of exploring, Livingstone sent his wife and four kids back to England. He set off again to discover more of central Africa. Because of the dangers that Livingstone had encountered, he was equipped with 27 men to do his exploring. As he traveled, he calculated the latitude and longitude of his area.
He also used his scientific knowledge to measure the temperatures of water and elevation. Livingstone discovered ‘Victoria Falls”, which he named after the English queen in 1855. In his travels, he became the first European to travel the distance across southern Africa.
He returned to Britain and Glasgow, Scotland, where he spent six months talking before the Royal Society, the Royal Geography Society, and the College of Physicians. 1856, he wrote a book documenting his discoveries entitled, ‘Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa.' The book sold over 70,000 copies and was a best seller.
In November 1857, he published his missionary travels, a book that thoroughly reflects the man and is delightful reading. A second edition was called for before the first of twelve thousand copies was issued, and the generous conduct of John Murray, the publisher, made the work a small fortune for Livingstone, who spent most of the money on exploration.
Livingstone returned to Africa in 1858. This time, along with his missions work, he carried out explorations in central Africa. In addition to his wife’s death from malaria in 1862, Livingstone was having a hard time in his exploration.
At one point, some European members of his exploration had a fight and nearly mutinied.
Dr. Livingstone, I Presume
He returned home in 1864 and began publishing material on the horrors of the slave trade.
After returning to Africa in 1865, Livingstone set out on a personal obsession of his, finding the source of the Nile River.
During his time exploring, his correspondence with Europe was cut short, and word spread that he had died. It was later found out that his crew had deserted him and lied about his death. An American Newsman for the New York Herald, Henry Stanley, was later sent out to find Livingston.
After eight months of searching, Stanley found Livingstone in the town of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on 10 November 1871, greeting him with the now-famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Livingstone responded, "Yes," and then, "I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you."
The two explored Lake Tanganyika together, and then Stanley returned and filed a report of his exploration. Stanley came to Africa as an atheist but was converted to Christianity.
He recalled his experience with Livingstone, “It was not Livingstone’s preaching that converted me; it was Livingstone’s living.” During Livingstone's time exploring, he had gotten ill, and Stanley left him with supplies when he returned to America.
Although Livingstone was offered to travel back to Europe, he refused to state, "Death alone will put a stop to my efforts!".
In April 1873, Livingstone wrote,
I am pale, bloodless, and weak from bleeding profusely ever since the 31st of March last. An artery gives off a copious stream and takes away my strength.
On April 27, 1873, Livingstone died while praying. Livingstone's heart was buried in Africa under a mvula tree. The rest of his body was buried in Westminster Abbey on April 18, 1874, after being shipped back to England by the HMS Vulture. In 1913, the Royal Geographical Society held a meeting to commemorate Livingstone, they stated,
In the course of his wonderful career, Livingstone served three masters. As a missionary, he was a sincere and zealous servant of God. As an explorer, he was an indefatigable servant of science. As the denouncer of the slave trade, he was a fiery servant of humanity
David Livingstone's life work as a missionary, explorer, and advocate against slavery had huge impacts on both Europe and Africa.
In 1893, Britain established its first colony in Africa, the British Central Africa Protectorate. Livingstone’s work was instrumental in this effort. He added to European knowledge of African geography about one million square miles, and his maps and information were used to help bring the Bible to Africans.
The effects of this can be seen today. As of 1990, in ten modern African countries in which Livingstone traveled, with a combined population of 140 million (125 million of that African-born), 75 million are Christians.
Livingstone's efforts fighting the slave trade later helped lead to its abolishment.
Livingston’s father-in-law, Robert Moffat, stated after Livingstone’s death,
He Sacrificed everything-home, Christian intercourse, lucrative prospects, and earthly honors, for one grand object: to carry the Gospel of the Son of God to the heart of Africa.
David Livingstone's work is still regarded as one of the greatest feats ever accomplished by a Christian missionary.