The 19th century has been characterized by great explorations in Africa. Names like Speke and Burton or discoveries like the source of the Nile make us dream about magical times during which brave men faced impossible trips, looking for new geographical revelations or new cultural issues.
Even if he hasn’t been the most successful nor the most elastic in his views, David Livingstone will remain forever the archetype of the Victorian explorer, the one who makes our imagination go wild.
David Livingstone was born poor in 1813, but with an incredible willpower that allowed him to save sufficient money for attending university and taking a medecine degree.
He then made an encounter that changed his life: faith, together with an obsession that never abandoned him to convert African tribes to Christianity.
This was his starting point and he arrived in Africa full of good intentions.
Unfortunately, the job didn’t reveal itself as easily paid as he had tought. The native peoples weren’t so much interested in changing their lives or abandoning their customs and beliefs.
And there was more: illnesses and wild animals. Malaria or infectious fevers didn’t help. There’s a well-known anecdote about him facing a lion and ending up badly injured.
He founded a small mission with his wife and started to think he could navigate the Zambesi River, but this was a challenging undertaking so he decided to send his family back to England and try alone.
He managed to organize a massive expedition during which he had the rare opportunity of meeting and being in touch with many local tribes.
When he reached the Mosioatunya Falls he changed their name into Victoria Falls to honour the queen of England.
Back home, he was welcomed as a hero and the English Government together with the Royal Society decided to finance another expedition and sent him back to Africa where he started a series of disastrous trips and wrong conclusions on the source of the Nile and the name of Congo River.
He arrived at the city of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, but his health was suffering cruelly from malaria and lung problems. For years he didn’t send news of himself back home: everybody was convinced he was dead until the journalist Henry Morton Stanley found him in Ujiji and pronounced the famous sentence:’Doctor Livingstone, I presume’.
He died after a few years. His servants Susi and Chuma brought his body through a trip 1.500 kilometers long from the inlands to the coast. They stopped in Bagamoyo at the Mission of the Holy Spirit waiting to send their master back to England where he was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1874.
David Livingstone has been probably the most famous explorer of his time, even if not the best, and he has remained a symbol of his era since then. A great man in a period in which not everything was certain, when ‘discovery’ was still a word with a deep meaning.