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David Livingstone

"I shall open up a path to the interior or perish." Such were the words of one of the greatest explorers of Africa in the nineteenth century. Determination was the keynote of his character even as a young boy.

"I shall open up a path to the interior or perish." Such were the words of one of the greatest explorers of Africa in the nineteenth century. Determination was the keynote of his character even as a young boy. At the age of ten he was at work in a cotton factory in Scotland: with his first week's wages he bought a Latin grammar. Fourteen hours of daily work left little time for reading, but he educated himself, till at nineteen he was resolved to be a medical missionary.

"In the glow of love which Christianity inspires, I resolved to devote my life to the alleviation of human misery." He was accepted for service by the London Missionary Society, and in the year 1840 he sailed for South Africa. After a voyage of three months he arrived at Cape Town and made his way in a slow oxwaggon seven hundred miles to Kuruman, a small mission station in the heart of Bechuanaland where Dr. Moffat had laboured for twenty years. He did well, and two years later he was sent north to form another mission station at Mabotsa (Transvaal). Having married Moffat's daughter Mary, he worked in these parts till June 1849, when, with his wife and three children, he started with oxen and waggon for a journey northwards. Across the great Kalahari Desert moved the exploring family, till they came to the river called Zouga, which, said the natives, led to a large lake named Lake Ngami. In native canoes, Livingstone and his little family ascended this beautifully wooded river, "resembling the river Clyde above Glasgow," till on 1st August 1849, Lake Ngami appeared, "and for the first time," says Livingstone, "this fine sheet of water was beheld by Europeans." The lake was two thousand eight hundred feet above the sea, but the climate was terribly unhealthy. The children grew feverish, and mosquitoes made life a misery to them, while the tsetse fly made further exploration for the moment impossible. So the family journeyed back to headquarters for a time. But Livingstone was unsatisfied, and once more in 1851 we find him starting again with wife and children to seek the great river Zambesi, known to exist in central Africa, though the Portuguese maps represented it as rising far to the east of Livingstone's discovery.


From Livingstone's Missionary Travels.

"It was the end of June 1851," he tells us, "that we were rewarded by the discovery of the Zambesi in the centre of the continent. This was an important point, for that river was not previously known to exist there at all. As we were the very first white men the inhabitants had ever seen, we were visited by prodigious numbers of Makololo in garments of blue, green, and red baize." Livingstone wanted to know more of this unknown river, but he now decided that exploring with a wife and family was not only perilous, but difficult, so he returned to the coast, put them on a homeward-bound ship for England, and returned to central Africa to continue his work of exploration alone.

It was 11th November 1853 when Livingstone left the town of Linyanti in the very heart of central Africa for his great journey to the west coast to trace the course of the Zambesi.

"The Zambesi. Nobody knows Whence it comes and whither it goes." So ran an old canoe-song of the natives.

With twenty-seven faithful black Makololos, with "only a few biscuits, a little tea and sugar, twenty pounds of coffee and three books," with a horse rug and sheepskin for bedding and a small gipsy tent and a tin canister, fifteen inches square, filled with a spare shirt, trousers, and shoes for civilised life, and a few scientific instruments, the English explorer started for a six months' journey.

Soon his black guides had embarked in their canoes and were making their way up the Zambesi. "No rain has fallen here," he writes on 30th November, "so it is excessively hot. The atmosphere is oppressive both in cloud and sunshine." Livingstone suffered badly from fever during the entire journey. But the blacks took fatherly care of him. "As soon as we land," he says, "the men cut a little grass for my bed, while the poles of my little tent are planted. The bed is made and boxes ranged on each side of it, and then the tent pitched over all. Two Makololos occupy my right and left both in eating and sleeping as long as the journey lasts, but my head boatman makes his bed at the door of the tent as soon as I retire." As they advanced up the Barotse valley, rains had fallen and the woods had put on their gayest hue. Flowers of great beauty grew everywhere. "The ground begins to swarm with insect life, and in the cool, pleasant mornings the place rings with the singing of birds." On 6th January 1854 they left the river and rode oxen through the dense parts of the country through which they had now to pass. Through heavy rains and with very little food, they toiled on westward through miles and miles of swamp intersected by streams flowing southward to the Zambesi basin. One day Livingstone's ox, Sindbad, threw him, and he had to struggle wearily forward on foot. His strength was failing. His meagre fare varied by boiled zebra and dried elephant, frequent wettings and constant fever, were reducing him to a mere skeleton. At last on 26th March he arrived at the edge of the high land over which he had so long been travelling. "It is so steep," he tells us, "that I was obliged to dismount, and I was so weak that I had to be led by my companions to prevent my toppling over in walking down. Below us lay the valley of the Kwango in glorious sunlight." Another fortnight and they were in Portuguese territory. The sight of white men once more and a collection of traders' huts was a welcome sight to the weary traveller. The commandant at once took pity on Livingstone, but after a refreshing stay of ten days the English explorer started off westward to the coast. For another month he pursued his way. It was 31st May 1854. As the party neared the town of Loanda, the black Makololos began to grow nervous. "We have stood by each other hitherto and will do so to the last," Livingstone assured them, as they all staggered into the city by the seashore. Here they found one Englishman sent out for the suppression of the slave trade, who at once gave up his bed to the stricken and emaciated explorer.

"Never shall I forget," he says, "the luxury I enjoyed in feeling myself again on a good English bed after six months' sleeping on the ground." Nor were the Makololos forgotten. They were entertained on board an English man-of-war lying off the coast. Livingstone was offered a passage home, but he tells us: "I declined the tempting offers of my friends, and resolved to take back my Makololo companions to their Chief, with a view of making a path from here to the east coast by means of the great river Zambesi." With this object in view, he turned his back on home and comfort, and on 20th September 1854 he left Loanda and "the white man's sea," as the black guides called the Atlantic Ocean that washes the shores of West Africa. Their way lay through the Angola country, rich in wild coffee and cotton plantations. The weather was as usual still and oppressive, but slowly Livingstone made his way eastward. He suffered badly from fever as he had done on the outward journey. It had taken him six months to reach Loanda from central Africa; it took a year to complete the return journey, and it was September 1855 before Linyanti was again reached. Waggons and goods left there eighteen months before were safe, together with many welcome letters from home. The return of the travellers after so long an absence was a cause of great rejoicing. All the wonderful things the Makololos had seen and heard were rehearsed many times before appreciative audiences. Livingstone was more than ever a hero in their eyes, and his kindness to his men was not forgotten. He had no difficulty in getting recruits for the journey down the Zambesi to the sea, for which he was now making preparations.

On 3rd November he was ready to resume his long march across Africa. He was much better equipped on this occasion; he rode a horse instead of an ox, and his guide, Sekwebu, knew the river well. The first night out they were unfortunately caught in a terrific thunderstorm accompanied by sheet-lightning, which lit up the whole country and flooded it with torrents of tropical rain.

A few days' travelling brought the party to the famous Zambesi Falls, called by the natives "where smoke sounds," but renamed by Livingstone after the Queen of England, Victoria. The first account of these now famous Falls is very vivid.

"Five columns of vapour, appropriately named smoke, bending in the direction of the wind, appeared to mingle with the clouds. The whole scene was extremely beautiful. It had never been seen before by European eyes. When about half a mile from the Falls, I left the canoe and embarked in a lighter one with men well acquainted with the rapids, who brought me to an island in the middle of the river and on the edge of the lip over which the water rolls. Creeping with care to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambesi. In looking down into the fissure one sees nothing but a dense white cloud; from this cloud rushed up a great jet of vapour exactly like steam, and it mounted two or three hundred feet high." THE SMOKE OF THE ZAMBESI (VICTORIA) FALLS THE "SMOKE" OF THE ZAMBESI (VICTORIA) FALLS.

After a drawing in Livingstone's Missionary Travels.

Livingstone now continued his perilous journey with his hundred men along the Zambesi, the country once densely populated, now desolate and still. The Bakota tribes, "the colour of coffee and milk," were friendly, and "great numbers came from all the surrounding villages and expressed great joy at the appearance of a white man and harbinger of peace." They brought in large supplies of food, and expressed great delight when Livingstone doctored their children, who were suffering from whooping-cough. As they neared the coast, they became aware of hostile forces. This was explained when they were met by a Portuguese halfcaste "with jacket and hat on," who informed them that for the last two years they had been fighting the natives. Plunging thus unconsciously into the midst of a Kafir war rendered travelling unpleasant and dangerous. In addition, the party of explorers found their animals woefully bitten by the tsetse fly, rhinoceroses and elephants were too plentiful to be interesting, and the great white ant made itself tiresome.

It was 3rd March before Livingstone reached Tete, two hundred and sixty miles from the coast. The last stages of the journey had been very beautiful. Many of the hills were of pure white marble, and pink marble formed the bed of more than one of the streams. Through this country the Zambesi rolled down toward the coast at the rate of four miles an hour, while flocks of water-fowl swarmed upon its banks or flew over its waters. Tete was the farthest outpost of the Portuguese. Livingstone was most kindly received by the governor, but fever again laid him low, and he had to remain here for three weeks before he was strong enough to start for the last stage of his journey to the coast. He left his Makololos here, promising to return some day to take them home again. They believed in him implicitly, and remained there three years, when he returned according to his word. Leaving Tete, he now embarked on the waters of the Zambesi, high with a fourth annual rise, which bore him to Sena in five days. So swift is the current at times that twenty-four hours is enough to take a boat from Tete to Sena, whereas the return journey may take twenty days.

"I thought the state of Tete quite lamentable," says Livingstone, but that of Sena was ten times worse. "It is impossible to describe the miserable state of decay into which the Portuguese possessions here have sunk." Though suffering badly from fever, Livingstone pushed on; he passed the important tributary of the Zambesi, the Shire, which he afterwards explored, and finally reached Quilimane on the shores of the Indian Ocean. It was now 20th May 1856, just four years after he had left Cape Town on his great journey from west to east, since when he had travelled eleven thousand miles. After waiting six weeks on the "great mud bank, surrounded by extensive swamps and rice grounds," which form the site of Quilimane, Livingstone embarked on board a gunboat, the Frolic, for England. He had one Makololo with him—the faithful Sekwebu. The poor black man begged to be allowed to follow his master on the seas.

"But," said Livingstone, "you will die if you go to such a cold country as mine." "Let me die at your feet," pleaded the black man.

He had not been to Loanda, so he had never seen the sea before. Waves were breaking over the bar at Quilimane and dashing over the boat that carried Sekwebu out to the brig. He was terribly alarmed, but he lived to reach Mauritius, where he became insane, hurled himself into the sea, and was drowned! On 12th December 1856, Livingstone landed in England after an absence of sixteen years. He had left home as an obscure missionary; he returned to find himself famous. The Royal Geographical Society awarded him its gold medal; France and Scotland hastened to do him honour. Banquets and receptions were given for him, and finally this "plain, single-minded man, somewhat attenuated by years of toil, and with his face tinged by the sun of Africa," was received by the Queen at Windsor. The enthusiasm aroused by this longest expedition in the history of African travel was unrivalled, and the name of Livingstone was on every lip. But meanwhile others were at work in central Africa, and we must turn from the discoveries of Livingstone for the moment.

Reference book: A Book Of Discovery

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