A  Missionary, doctor, explorer, scientist and anti-slavery activist, DAVID LIVINGSTONE spent 30 years in Africa, exploring almost a third of the continent from its southern tip almost as far north as the equator.

On the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the River Zambesi - a mile wide at this point - plunges into a narrow slot-like chasm lying at right-angles to the river's original course. This is the Victoria Falls - named by the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone after his Queen. On his return to Britain in 1856, Livingstone was greeted as a national hero. His 

(Livingstone travelled 29,000 miles in Africa, adding about 1 million square miles to the known area of the globe. The provincial capital of the region of Zambia immediately to the north of the Victoria Falls, still bears his name)

book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, was published the following year and became a bestseller. But instead of retiring on the proceeds, Livingstone was irresistibly drawn back, time and again, to the 'dark continent' - so named by the Victorians as vast areas were unmapped and its peoples were considered to be uncivilised.


David Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813, in Blantyre near Glasgow. His father, a tea merchant, did not earn enough to provide for his large family so, at the age of ten, David, like most other children in his village, went to work in a cotton mill. Work started at six in the morning and ended at 8 pm - when the children were expected to go to night school. They often fell asleep at their desks but David worked hard. He loved reading, especially books about travel and science. He was also drawn to nature and explored the area around his home in Scotland collecting flowers and shells. At 20 the young man became an earnest Christian, and when a missionary society opened in Blantyre, Livingstone became deeply interested in its work.

In 1833, Livingstone, who had studied theology and qualified as a doctor, read an article by Karl Gutzlaff, a missionary to China, which described his work in the Far East. It captured his imagination and he set his sights on going to China as a medical missionary. In 1838, he was accepted as a member of the London Missionary Society. But the first Anglo-Chinese war, better known as the Opium War (1839-42), put paid to any likelihood of Livingstone going to the Far East at that time.

Then a fellow Scot, Dr Robert Moffat, came home on leave from an African mission station at Kuruman. The base, 500 miles north of Cape Town, was as far inland as missionaries had penetrated into Africa. Listening to Moffat's plea for Africa's unexplored interior and how he had 'sometimes seen in the morning sun the smoke of a thousand villages' where the gospel had never been preached, Livingstone decided to apply for a posting to Africa instead of China. The London Missionary Society agreed and in 1840, Livingstone set sail.


On July 31, 1840, Livingstone reached the mission station at Kuruman in the modern Northern Cape Province of South Africa. In order to assimilate the language and understand the lifestyle of the local people, Livingstone spent several months in a native village miles away from Kuruman. He treated the people's illnesses and, later, did what he could to fight the slave traders.

"I shall either open up a path into the interior or perish in the attempt."

He worked alone for four years before meeting, working with and then marrying Robert Moffat's daughter, Mary. Together they had six children, one of whom died in infancy. Their first home was in a settlement north of Kuruman, where Livingstone had already opened a mission station. It was here that Livingstone was attacked by a lion, which injured his shoulder so badly that his left arm never fully recovered.

His missionary work involved venturing ever further into the wilderness. But it also allowed him to collate a wealth of geographical data: in his first phase of exploration, between 1841 and 1856, he discovered Lake Ngami in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, charted the middle and upper reaches of the Zambezi and discovered the Victoria Falls.

But life in Africa was not easy for a young family, and malaria was an ever-present threat. Livingstone grew increasingly worried about the welfare of his family and his children's education, and eventually he decided that he must continue his work alone and they must go to Britain. In April 1852 the family travelled to Cape Town where Mary and the children boarded ship. After 16 years in Africa, Livingstone made his first visit to England, in December 1856. He found himself thrust into a limelight which he did not enjoy. Societies and colleges vied with each other to honour him - the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Glasgow all gave him honorary degrees - but the London Missionary Society, which had sent him to Africa, felt that it was inappropriate for him to spend so much time exploring the country when he was there as a missionary. Livingstone was shocked, as he believed himself to be as sincere a missionary as ever. He withdrew from the society and joined the Royal Geographical Society, representing them as the Queen's consul.


The Zambesi Expedition, from 1858 to 1863, was the low point in Livingstone's career. In March 1858, with his wife and a team including his brother Charles, he sailed for the Cape. They were dogged by misfortune. The boat on which he had hoped to sail up the Zambesi proved useless; he called it 'an asthmatic tin can'. Livingstone could command and organise Africans but his management of colleagues and a large expedition was disastrous. Six years of disharmony and frustration followed. Team members were unhappy to be told what to do without consultation and his younger brother was not well suited to the work.

Mary Livingstone had become ill on the voyage from England. She was forced to stay in Cape Town while the expedition went on to the mouth of the Zambesi. She did not see her husband again for more than three years. When they were finally reunited, they had just three months together when, in April 1862, Mary died. She was buried under a great baobab tree at Shupange on the lower Zambesi. It was a terrible loss for Livingstone; the couple had been extremely close despite long periods of separation - in 18 years of marriage, they had spent fewer than nine years together.

For all its problems, the trip had yielded some important geographical findings, such as tributaries that led to the Zambesi from as far away as Lake Chilwa and Lake Malawi. Livingstone returned to Britain in July 1864 and stayed for a year during which he wrote his second book - The Zambesi and its Tributaries - and spent as much time as he could with his children. But he was eager to return to Africa and, in August 1865, he sailed for the third time.


This last journey which lasted for seven years, was commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society. They wanted Livingstone to explore the great African watersheds - and, in particular, to locate the source of the Nile. But he did not want to be a mere geographer; he wanted his improved geographical knowledge to result in the spreading of Christianity. His horror of the slave trade - which he described as 'that open sore of Africa' - had grown but it appeared that the governments of Christian nations actually wished to maintain it. Portugal protected the slavers; Britain talked but did nothing. Worst of all was the awareness that his own explorations had simply opened new avenues for slave traders. His own overland journey involved crossing country devastated by the slave trade, and Livingstone, being European, was often viewed with suspicion and hostility; it took grit and determination to keep going.

Livingstone's own physical health was also deteriorating. His damaged left arm caused him great pain; he also suffered from frequent bouts of malaria, dysentery and pneumonia. He was becoming deaf, and was plagued by piles that often bled profusely leaving him weakened by the constant loss of blood. His poor health obliged Livingstone to rest for long periods at a time, usually in the small settlement of Ujiji on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. He was obsessed with the idea of finding the source of the Nile but, though often convinced that he was almost there, the mystery eluded him. During one expedition, some of his followers deserted him taking with them provisions and, worse, the chest of medical supplies. To save their own skins, the deserters concocted the story that Livingstone had been killed - a story that made headline news in the Times on December 5, 1867. Despite rumours of his death, the explorer pressed on for four more years, eventually returning to Ujiji on October 23, 1871, utterly exhausted.

(On his final expedition, Livingstone was racked with pain. His dysentery attacks were almost continuous but he kept crossing the swamps and reached the southern side of Lake Tanganyika, still mapping to within a day of his death. When he became too ill to walk, he was carried on a litter)


Henry Stanley was born in 1841 in Denbigh, North Wales. illegitimate and unwanted, the baby was entered on the birth register of St Hilary's Church as 'John Rowlands, bastard'. At first, the young boy was looked after by relatives, but when he was six his grandfather died and he was consigned to a life in the workhouse.

At 17, Rowlands ran away to sea, working his passage to New Orleans as a cabin steward. There, he gave himself a new name - Henry Morton Stanley - after a cotton broker for whom he had worked. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Stanley enlisted, spending several years as a soldier and at sea. He then led a roving life in the United States, working as a freelance journalist.

In 1867, Stanley met James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, who gave him a job. He became Bennett's ace reporter, travelling to battlefields around the world. In 1869, Bennett got wind of a new story. The British explorer David Livingstone had been missing in Africa since 1866. In 1867, the British government had sent out a search party, which, although failing to find their man, did hear that he was still alive. Now the New York Herald decided to follow up the story, and sent Stanley - with no expense spared - to track down the elusive Livingstone.

The search was arduous - the terrain was difficult, the rainy season was just beginning and local tribes attacked the expedition. On November 10, 1871, the party arrived at Ujiji. It did not take Stanley long to find Livingstone. Coming face to face with a European whose body had become so emaciated that he resembled a skeleton, he uttered the legendary words, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'

Stanley's arrival was very welcome; he had brought medicines and provisions, and news and letters from home. Although Stanley was a good deal younger than Livingstone, the two men got on well and became good friends during the four months Stanley stayed at Ujiji. Stanley tried to persuade his friend to go back to Britain with him but Livingstone would not give up on his quest, having convinced himself that none of his friends would want to see him home before he had located the source of the Nile. He never did.

On May 1, 1873, he was found dead in an African native hut, kneeling beside his bed as if in prayer. His heart was buried under a tree in Africa. His corpse was embalmed and carried 1500 miles - a nine-month march - across Africa to be shipped home for a hero's funeral at Westminster Abbey, at which Stanley was one of the pall-bearers.

Exploring Africa

The Phoenicians

In 600 BC, the Phoenicians were the

first people to sail around Africa.

Ibn Battuta

From 1325 onwards, the Arabian traveller

travelled throughout north and east Africa.

Bartholomew Diaz 

From 1416, the Portuguese explored the West coast. In 1488 Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

Vasco da Gama

In 1497 Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India.

Leo Africanus

His famous account A Description of Africa appeared in 1550.