David Livingstone is one of the most famous British figures from the 19th century and played a significant role in early efforts of European exploration in Africa. For example, he was a Christian missionary and travelled extensively throughout the African continent in the timeframe of the Age of Imperialism. Historians compare his actions with other famous figures, such as Henry Morton Stanley, and consider him an influential person in the outbreak of the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century.
DAVID LIVINGSTONE'S EARLY LIFE
David Livingstone was born on March 19th, 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland. His father, Neil Livingstone, was a tea salesman and Sunday school teacher. His mother, Agnes, raised seven children, including David. As a child, David Livingstone, worked in textile factories in Scotland. At the time, Scotland was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and child labor was a common aspect of daily life. Regardless, Neil’s devout faith in Christianity left an impression on young David and inspired him to read more about faith and science.
As a young man, David, studied at Anderson's University in Glasgow, as well as at the University of Glasgow. His education eventually led him to medical school, when he applied to the London Missionary Society. This allowed him to train at the Charing Cross Hospital Medical School from 1838 until 1840. At the time, David Livingstone’s dream was to serve as a missionary in China, which was under imperialistic pressure by the British Empire and the other major European powers. However, the First Opium War made this an impossibility and eventually led to Livingstone turning his focus to Africa.
DAVID LIVINGSTONE IN AFRICA
As stated above, David Livingstone played a significant role in early European explorations of Africa in the 19th century. For this reason, historians consider him to be an important person in relation to the eventual European colonization of Africa, and the events of the Scramble for Africa. For example, he first went to Africa in the early 1840s. More specifically, he visited tribes people in Mabotsa, Botswana, which is in the northern section of modern South Africa. While there, Livingstone helped carry out a lion hunt but was seriously injured on his left arm. His arm eventually healed, but left him with permanent struggles for the rest of his life. He left Botswana in 1845 in order to carry out other missionary ventures in other regions of Africa.
Livingstone travelled throughout south and central Africa in the late 1840s and early 1850s. During this time he went to several different villages in hopes of converting the African chiefs and people that he encountered. While several of these proved unsuccessful, he also gained recognition during this time for his explorations and discoveries in Africa. For instance, with the help of some African guides, Livingstone arrived at the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in November of 1855. He was the first European to arrive at the falls, which are located in the modern country of Zimbabwe, and named them after Queen Victoria. Following this, he continued to travel along the Zambezi River and mapped out much of central Africa. In fact, Livingstone is considered to be one of the first Europeans to reach central Africa, and certainly the most famous. As such, he was celebrated in his own lifetime for his explorations in Africa.
He returned to England after these expeditions to write about his discoveries and promote European expansion in Africa. In fact, he is credited with promoting the idea of ‘Christianity, Commerce and Civilization’. Livingstone was in favor of European trade in Africa and believed that European values could help bring about change to the region that would improve the lives of the African people. For instance, he was openly opposed to the slave trade in Africa. The Atlantic Slave Trade had been a major economic driver for European nations such as Portugal well into the 19th century. Livingstone opposed the slave trade on moral and religious groups and argued in favor of its end.
After a falling out with the London Missionary Society in 1857, he took up further expeditions of Africa for the British government and the Royal Geographic Society of Britain. For example, Livingstone undertook the Second Zambezi Expedition in March of 1858 and it lasted until 1864. The goal of the expedition was the explore the interior of Africa along the Zambezi River in search of natural resources. The expedition was largely a failure due to Livingstone’s poor leadership and hardships faced by the team in terms of navigating the harsh terrain. He returned to England in 1864 with few successes from the voyage.
David Livingstone returned to Africa in 1866 when he attempted to find the source of the Nile River in Zanzibar, which is a region in eastern Africa. He suffered terrible setbacks on the expedition when members of his team abandoned the mission, and due to ongoing health issues. More specifically, one of the major issues for European expansion in Africa during the Age of Imperialism, was the struggle to overcome African disease such as a malaria. For instance, Livingstone suffered a number bouts with malaria during his time in Africa. However, on his 1866 expedition to eastern Africa he also suffered from both pneumonia and cholera. As such, he was forced to abandon the expedition in October of 1871. While he never found the source of the Nile River, he is credited with making several other geographic discoveries that had previously been unknown to Europeans. These discoveries included: Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, and Lake Bangweulu.
It was also in 1871, when David Livingstone had his famous meeting with Henry Morton Stanley who was also an accomplished explorer of Africa. Stanley arrived in eastern Africa in 1871 and found Livingstone living in the town of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. At the encounter, Stanley supposedly greeted Livingstone by stating: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” At the time, Livingstone was suffering from illness and refused to leave Africa despite Stanley’s hopes that he would. In fact, Livingstone remained in Africa for the rest of his life.
DAVID LIVINGSTONE'S DEATH & LEGACY
David Livingstone died on May 1st in 1873 at the age of 60 in a small village in eastern Africa. Today the region is in the country of Zambia. At the time, he was ill with both malaria and dysentery, and suffering from very poor health. When he died, his heart was removed and buried under a local tree, while the rest of his body was returned to England, where he was eventually laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.
Regardless of his failures, David Livingstone was a celebrated figure for his expeditions to Africa. For instance, the Royal Geographic Society of London awarded him the gold medal for his efforts. As well, he remained a famous figure in British society for his efforts as a Christian missionary. Today, he is considered to be one of the most significant figures in early European explorations of Africa, which laid the framework for the later events of the Scramble for Africa. As such, historians consider him to be a vitally important figure in both European and World history.
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