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David Livingstone – the training

David Livingstone – the training

Part II of a six part series marking the bicentennial of the birth of David Livingstone – we look at the childhood which moulded the man.

The story of David Livingstone’s childhood unfolds against the grim backdrop of the Industrial Revolution. He was born in poverty and obscurity in a Glasgow slum called Blantyre on 19 March, 1813. The seven members of the Livingstone family lived in a single room that measured just 12 feet x 14 feet.

In order to make ends meet, it was normal for the working classes to enroll their children in factories from a very young age. At the age of ten, young David was sent to work in the local mill, working a 12-hour shift, six days of the week under brutal conditions. Most of the children working in these factories were not getting an education and the Scottish church decided to address this by offering classes in reading, writing and arithmetic for five hours on Sunday.

This was the origin of ‘Sunday School’ and was where young David would get most of his formal education. So determined was he to educate himself that he took his books to work, propping them up on the frame of the spinning jenny where he was working so he could continue his studies during his back-breaking 12-hour shift. We can only marvel his single-mindedness, that in the bedlam of that factory, this rather extraordinary child is teaching himself… Latin!

By the age of 19 he was richly rewarded for his dedication as he qualified to go to university. His chosen field of study was medicine because he planned to become an overseas missionary; he attended Anderson College, which is today the University of Glasgow, and qualified, in due course, as a medical doctor.

He was subsequently recruited by the London Missionary Society, trained further as a missionary and was dispatched to Africa’s shores. He arrived in Algoa Bay, the modern day Port Elizabeth, in 1841, from where he journeyed overland to Kuruman. After the years of hard labour of his youth and the strict routine of study, we can imagine that the freedom of travel in Africa on that journey would be intoxicating. 

I cannot help but think that the excitement and sense of freedom on that first journey planted seed, that in time, would flourish and drive him to become one of the greatest travellers the world has ever seen; but all that lay sometime in the future for first he had to prove his mettle as a missionary.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 10, Sept 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

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)