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David Livingstone’s early missionary years and first expedition

David Livingstone’s early missionary years and first expedition

Part III of a six part series marking the bicentennial of the birth of David Livingstone.

Arriving at Kuruman in 1841 at the age of 28, Livingstone met his mentor Robert Moffat and, perhaps more significantly, also met Moffat's eldest daughter, Mary. David and Mary would fall in love and get married, setting up their own mission station at Mabotsa in southern Botswana where they lived and worked for ten years.

The Livingstone’s efforts were hampered by the nomadic nature of the people they were ministering to and David decided to relocate their mission station to Linyanti, a well watered area 200 miles to the north. At that time Linyanti was one of the most remote places on earth, cut off from the south by the Kalahari Desert which was un-crossable for most of the year.

Livingstone realised that the wide river he found at Linyanti was in fact the upper reaches of the Zambezi, the lower stretches of which had been known to Arab and Portuguese traders for several centuries. He was the first to make this connection, although many ‘armchair’ geographers back in London disputed his discovery at the time and suggested Livingstone’s river disappeared into the desert.

In order to establish a mission station at Linyanti Livingstone realised he needed to find a supply route, from either the east coast or the west coast, that would be accessible all year round. This was to be the true beginning of his career as an explorer.

In 1852, knowing the journey he was about to undertake was fraught with danger, Livingstone returned to Cape Town and placed his family aboard a ship bound for England. He then set off on a journey of discovery that would, quite literally, redraw the map of Africa.

Initially he traced the Zambezi to its source and from there travelled down to Luanda on the west coast of Africa, but this route proved brutally difficult. Recuperating in Luanda, he realized that what he should have done was follow the river downstream. He was now convinced that the Zambezi would prove to be “God's highway into the interior.”

Livingstone knew he could not sell this idea unless he was certain that the river was navigable, so once he had resupplied himself, he retraced his footsteps back to the Zambezi to follow it to the east coast.

In 1856 he emerged at the mouth of the Zambezi on the east coast of Africa, and returned to Britain to a hero’s welcome. In completing this journey he had become the first European to cross Africa coast to coast, along the way mapping the fourth longest river in Africa and stumbling across the greatest waterfall in creation.
In a journey spanning four years he had traversed over 6,000 miles of uncharted territory and mapped much of the course of the Zambezi River. As a result of these achievements, he was catapulted to fame, becoming one of the most influential men of his generation.

Read more on David Livingstone from the Zambezi Traveller:
The Life of David Livingstone - Part VI: David Livingstone – the final journey (ZT14, Sept 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part V: Dr Livingstone, I presume? (ZT13, July 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part IV: The dream to open up Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
Slavery – the scourge of Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part III: David Livingstone’s early missionary years and first expedition (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The ‘discovery’ of Victoria Falls (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part II: David Livingstone – the training (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The life and times of David Livingstone – the Sunday schoolboy (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part I: The ‘Scramble for Africa’ (ZT09, July 2012)
The story of quinine (ZT09, July 2012)