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Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Part 5 of a 6 part series marking the bicentennial of the birth of David Livingstone

In January 1866 David Livingstone arrived in East Africa to head up the Royal Geographic Society’s expedition in search of the source of the Nile. Livingstone had accepted the assignment to focus public attention on the slave trade in East Africa. It was now impossible to travel unless you were part of a large convoy of caravans, so he joined his modest caravan with one of these larger affairs and marched into the interior.

The slave trade was on his doorstep every morning and he was powerless to do anything to stop it - all he could do was keep a detailed record of every atrocity he witnessed, and write letters to influential men back in Britain pleading for them to take up this cause.

To get the letters to the coast he entrusted them to these same slave traders, who were under no illusion about the threat he posed to their livelihood. They destroyed the letters, isolating Livingstone in the interior of the continent, where they could keep an eye on him.

For several years this state of affairs continued and Livingstone was content to bide his time, certain that eventually someone would come looking for him. The stage was set for the most publicised meeting in Africa’s history. On 10 November 1871 an unknown journalist marched into the village of Ujiji and also into the pages of history - his name was Henry Morton Stanley.

Stanley proved a godsend to Livingstone since as a journalist he could put the East African slave trade on the front page of every major newspaper in the western world. As Livingstone had predicted, the British public were outraged and would force their government to pass legislation to close the slave markets of East Africa for ever.

These articles would also lead to a remarkable resurgence in Livingstone's popularity, but tragically he would never become aware of this. He had chosen to remain in Africa to set off on one final epic journey to explore the East African watershed, but it was a journey he would not survive.

John Rowlands was born in Denbigh, Wales, on 28 January 1841, the illegitimate offspring of an alcoholic farm hand and an under-age barmaid. When his father died he was deposited in the workhouse but ran away to sea at the age of 15, boarding a ship bound for America where he claimed to have been adopted by a wealthy American named Henry Stanley, and changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley.

The story of his adoption did not stand up to scrutiny and is just the first of many such occasions where he was caught out being thrifty with the truth. Perhaps the most famous incident was the quotation from his meeting with Livingstone where he claimed to have greeted the Dr.with the stilted and formal “Dr Livingstone I presume?”

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that he never said such a thing, but unfortunately his greeting became the punch line to a thousand jokes. It is ironic that Stanley is remembered more for this than for his own feats of exploration, since he is probably the only one of the African explorers whose epic journeys rivalled, and possibly even surpassed, those of Livingstone.

More on early explorers at the Falls:
Terror and awe sublimely mingled (ZT14, Sept 2013)

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (ZT13, June 2013)

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)