Stanley finds Livingstone

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Stanley finds Livingstone

The 10th of November 1871 AD

The meeting between Henry Morton Stanley and Doctor David Livingstone is one of the moments of British imperial history that has entered the national psyche, partly because of the epic expedition that preceded it, but mostly for the words used by the American newspaperman to the Scottish missionary, a masterpiece of sangfroid.

The two players in the drama were very different, although both were of very humble origins. David Livingstone was a doctor of medicine and devout missionary, though until his mid-twenties he had been a labourer in a cotton mill. He was a national hero who had explored unknown areas of Africa, always with the aim of finding routes that other missionaries could use to reach those they wished to convert.

Livingstone believed in bringing the three Cs to Africa: civilisation, commerce and Christianity. Though physically an unimposing figure, and no great public speaker, he had captured the imagination of the British public by his travels and discoveries, including Victoria Falls . He had met Queen Victoria and other great figures of the day who supported him, and had been taken up as a national celebrity by the press in Britain and even in the USA.

When Livingstone disappeared during an expedition in the Lake Tanganyika region in 1866 he was presumed dead or held captive. The man sent in 1869 to find him was Henry Morton Stanley , financed by James Gordon Bennett junior, proprietor of the New York Times.

Stanley’s real name was John Rowlands. Born in Denbigh in North Wales , he was the illegitimate son of an alcoholic and a teenage mother, and had been placed in the workhouse aged five, leaving when 15. He was first a teaching assistant, and then worked his passage to New Orleans to start a new life at the age of 19.

This new life included taking the name of a local trader who helped him, fighting for the Confederate army in the American Civil War, then changing sides when captured, quickly either deserting the army or being unable to serve. He certainly deserted the Union navy shortly afterwards.

Stanley chose the path of newspaper reporting to win fame and fortune, reporting on the Indian Wars, a British expedition in Ethiopia, and other events in Africa. When the mystery of Livingstone’s disappearance became news he lobbied to be the man to find him. The story was huge, and Stanley was offered seemingly unlimited funds by his paper.

Stanley’s expedition used 200 porters, many of whom died or deserted, those captured absconding being flogged brutally at Stanley’s orders. It covered 700 miles through jungle, over deserts, through tribal lands where his diplomacy often failed and the party had to fight its way through. His horse died early in the expedition, victim of the tsetse fly that killed many of the porters too. Although Stanley was able to buy the best equipment then available the trek was difficult and dangerous from the outset.

On November 10 1871 Stanley’s remaining party arrived at the village of Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika, and were greeted by Livingstone’s servant, Susi, who assured them the good Doctor was in the village.

Stanley assured his fame with the words used to greet the man destined to become his friend: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” though these precise words were not noted in the Scot’s recollection of the event, and Stanley tore the relevant pages out of his own diary. The white-bearded Livingstone was given letters from his family, and the two men sat and talked of affairs in the world from which the missionary had been cut off for five years.

The journalist, who was supposed to return immediately to the USA on finding his quarry repaid his funders by delaying his return with the story for four months while he helped Livingstone with trying to find a source of the Nile further south than those yet known.

Stanley’s fame was made. He continued exploration in Africa, and later made another dashing rescue mission to Equatoria in Sudan to help Emin Pasha. He eventually became MP for Lambeth from 1895 to 1900, and was knighted in 1899, dying five years later. David Livingstone, exhausted by his work and the privations of his travels died in 1873.

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