My Favourite Expeditions: David Livingstone


Born 1813 in Lanarkshire, in a block for workers of the cotton mill. He started working in the mill at 10yrs old. 

In the 1830s he decided to be a medical missionary and started training in Glasgow.  By 1940 he was qualified and supported by the London Mussionary Society he was sent to Kuruman, north of the orange River in South Africa. He was there as a missionary and campaigner against the slave trade that still actively had Arab traders.


As he learned local languages and gained a understanding of the cultures and customs, his enthusiasm moved from his missionary work to Exploartion. In 1849 he set of on an extended journey which took a whole year. He was the first European to see Lake Ngami and for this he received a prize from the Royal Geographical Society. This convinced him that exploring would open the region up.

The First Great Journey

His first great journey was between 1853-6. From Linyanti near the Zambezi, he headed northwest, getting to the coast of the Atlantic in Angola May 1854.

Then from Linyanti again, he headed east following the Zambesi to the Mozambique coast at Quelimane, getting there at May 1856.  In 1855 on this trip he came across A waterfall locally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (smoke that thunders), where the Zambesi at 1mile wide plunges around 108m, he named this the Victoria Falls. After this he returned to England. His urge to make the Zambesi the gateway to central Africa led to his over ambitious next trip.

The Hunt For The Source

He returned to Africa after a year in England, with a small expedition to find the source of the Nile. Setting of from (now) Southern Tanzania, he was the the only European leading the expedition.  After four months of problems with porters and horses not liking Tsetse flies they reached Lake Nyasa. On this route he recorded s evidence of Africans brutally killed by slave traders. 

By 1867 his Chronometers had been damaged and a deserter had taken the party’s medicines. His hopes of making it to Lake Bangweulu were tarnished by the rainy season. So he traveled to Lake Tanganyika. He was the first European to sea Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweulu. In 1869 he was struck with illness and made it across lake Tanganyika to Ujiji. Then with some help from Arab traders he traveled to Lualaba River, a previously unknown mighty river. 1871 he reached the most West Point any European had been. He hoped to canoe down the river to prove it was part of the Nile. 

After five months he returned to Ujiji. This point he was almost killed by a spear fisherman mistaking him for a slave trader. The situation was resolved with the appearance of H.M.Stanley, the Welsh born American raised adventurer who had been sent to find Livingstone by Gordon Bennett the editor of New York’s Herald. So in November 1871 on the shore of Lake Tanganyika that the famous greeting ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ was uttered. The pair of them established the lake did not feed Lake Victoria or Lake Albert. They parted company in March 1872. 

He continued to searched for the Nile, by hunting the source of the Lualaba. 

On the 1st of May he died of ill health in a Village called Chitambo, now in northern Zambia. Five members of his original party remained, and they arranged for his body to be embalmed and brought back to the coast, reaching Bagamoyo in February 1874. From there his body was returned to the U.K and a service was held in Westminster Abbey on 18 April 1874.

He was an intellectual explorer who recorded in great detail the life and geography of central Africa. 

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