DEAD: David Livingstone

DEAD: ON THIS DATE

David Livingstone (aged 60)
Scottish explorer and missionary

David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist, and pioneer Christian missionarywith the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. He had a mythical status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class “rags-to-riches” inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of commercial and colonial expansion.

His fame as an explorer and his obsession with learning the sources of the Nile River was founded on the belief that if he could solve that age-old mystery, his fame would give him the influence to end the East African Arab-Swahili slave trade. “The Nile sources,” he told a friend, “are valuable only as a means of opening my mouth with power among men. It is this power which I hope to remedy an immense evil.”:289His subsequent exploration of the central African watershed was the culmination of the classic period of European geographical discovery and colonial penetration of Africa. At the same time, his missionary travels, “disappearance”, and eventual death in Africa‍—‌and subsequent glorification as a posthumous national hero in 1874‍—‌led to the founding of several major central African Christian missionary initiatives carried forward in the era of the European “Scramble for Africa”.

DEATH: David Livingstone died in 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His loyal attendants Chuma and Susi removed his heart and buried it under a tree near the spot where he died, which has been identified variously as a Mvula tree or a Baobab tree.:147 That site, now known as the Livingstone Memorial, lists his date of death as 4 May, the date reported (and carved into the tree’s trunk) by Chuma and Susi; but most sources consider 1 May—the date of Livingstone’s final journal entry—as the correct one.

The rest of his remains were carried, together with his journal, over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by Chuma and Susi to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, where they were returned by ship to Britain for burial. In London, his body lay in repose at No.1 Savile Row, then the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, prior to interment at Westminster Abbey.

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