"missionary, traveler, philanthropist" - David Livingstone's 200th birthday in 2013

"And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together."  (Livingstone in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald)

19 March 1813 - Today, 200 years ago, David Livingstone, "missionary, traveler, philanthropist"  - as the marker in Westminster Abbey reads - was born in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

"Dr Livingstone, I presume?"


Livingstone spent 25 years of his life exploring in East and Central Africa, from the northern fringes of the Kalahari to the Victoria Falls of the Zambezi he discovered, Lake Tanganyika and the source of the Congo River. He never reached one of the great mid-19th century mysteries, the source of the River Nile though. He abandoned the search on the banks of the Lualaba River when he witnessed the massacre of a village by Arab slavers in July 1871.

But his actual aim was never to make actual discoveries anyway, but to spread the gospel and fight slavery in Eastern Africa and set a good example in the treatment of native members of his expeditions, in contrast to worthies like Morton Stanley whom he famously met while presumed lost in November 1871.

And while his explorations and setting up of his missions and mission schools as well as furthering agriculture and cotton production opened up Central Africa for European colonisation in the second half of 19th and early 20th century, the same institutions were centrepieces in inspiring the process of decolonisation.