David Livingstone

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  • Topic: David Livingstone, Nile, Lake Victoria
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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David Livingstone was one of the most revered and respected African explorers of his time. He spent almost 30 years exploring a region little known to the outside world. He often put ambition before family and his own personal health in his quest to open the interior of Africa to “Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce.”(Hollett 236) Through his daring explorations into the unknown, he discovered and documented many new landmarks inside the dark continent, and at times became obsessed with his determination to find a single source of the Nile. He had a major impact on later expeditions into central Africa. .

Livingstone was born to a poor Scottish family in 1813. Starting at age ten, Livingstone worked in a cotton mill while pursuing his studies at night. He was an avid reader, and would often stay up until twelve or later, buried in a book. Livingstone enjoyed reading on a variety of subjects, but read mostly scientific works and explorer’s journals. As a boy, David made few friends. Others described him as quiet, sulky, and unremarkable. Yet despite this, David was a tireless worker, and extremely motivated toward his goals.

By age 17, Livingstone had decided he wanted to leave the mill and become a doctor. Livingstone’s father, a deeply religious man, wanted him to go into a religious field, and would not allow him to go. Livingstone eventually convinced his father to let him go to school and become a missionary in China. After finishing school, Livingstone had planned to go to China to perform his missionary duties, but because of the Opium War, Livingstone’s plans were altered. He continued his studies, and became a respected member of the medical community. Soon though, he offered his services to the London Missionary Society, and was assigned to a mission in Africa.

Early knowledge and exploration of Africa was confined to desert and coastal regions. The interior humid regions held many difficulties for prospective explorers. This included climate, vegetation, and hostile peoples and creatures. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, most of Africa was unexplored, and unmapped. The British were the first Europeans to make a serious attempt at exploration of the interior of Africa. Earlier European contacts were related primarily to the slave trade, which England opposed. This was reinforced in 1814-15, at the Congress of Vienna, when Britain and France continually acknowledged that the slave trade should be abolished (Hugon 21).

In 1841, at the age of 27, Livingstone sailed to Africa. After spending a month in Cape Town with the London Missionary Society Secretary of South Africa, Livingstone sailed to Algoa Bay. He then trekked 125 miles over land to a missionary camp to wait for Dr. Robert Moffat, a Scottish born missionary who had worked there for over 20 years. Livingstone was deeply disappointed in the mission, a small and very unkempt village. Despite Moffat’s years of work, only a few natives had converted and most of those had done so for material reasons. The thought of working at the mission for so long with nothing to show for it dismayed Livingstone. At the first opportunity he made excursions to the north with another missionary looking for a site for another mission. A new site was found near a region called Mabotsa. Once the mission had been established, Livingstone found the people of the region to be unresponsive to Christian teachings, and began to realize the enormous difficulties of missionary work.

After being attacked by a lion near Mabotsa, which severely damaged his right shoulder and inflicted a wound that would trouble him throughout his life, Livingstone returned to the main mission operated by Robert Moffat. Once there he married the Moffat’s eldest daughter, Mary. The marriage was done with little enthusiasm, and Livingstone carried almost...
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