Dr David Livingstone - An Introduction

David Livingstone

By Thomas Annan

The beginnings of an explorer
Livingstone arrived in Africa in 1841. An impression of his early years in Africa can be gained from a letter dated 17 July 1843 (now in the College archive) that he wrote to Alexander Brownlee in Glasgow. At that date Livingstone was at Lattakoo, South Africa and already displaying his restlessness in wishing to explore the country further. Finding the local language relatively easy to master he had spent some time away travelling into the interior of the country, a 'long & tedious' exercise using Dutch wagons drawn by oxen. On these journeys he saw 'tribes never before seen by Europeans & preached the Gospel beyond every other man's line of things'.

On his return to the UK, Livingstone wrote "Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa". Published by John Murray, the book went onto be hugely successful and cemented the popularity of Livingstone. The College library holds a first edition of this work.

Zambesi Expedition (1858-1864)
In February 1858, Lord Clarendon then Foreign Secretary invited Livingstone to lead an expedition to explore the Zambesi. The purpose was to investigate the navigability of the river for possible trade routes and to survey the network of tributaries branching off from the Zambesi's main stream. A shallow-draught, wood-burning paddle steamer, the Ma-Robert, was specially built at Birkenhead for the expedition.

In his work "Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries", Livingstone first describes his treatment for African Fever (Malaria). He returned to the UK in 1864 before embarking on his final expedition.

The source of the Nile (1866-1873)
In early January 1866 Livingstone was invited by the Royal Geographical Society to investigate whether the Rovuma River formed a route to the west coast and also whether it was possible to reach the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika and discover the source of the Nile. As Livingstone moved up the Rovuma, he was appalled by the horrific evidence of the slave trade. He planned to follow the Rovuma to its upper reaches and then cut across to Lake Nyasa, which he reached in August 1866. In April 1867 he reached Lake Tanganyika and in 1867 discovered Lake Moero and, in 1868, Lake Bangweolo.

Henry M. Stanley was sent by the New York Herald to Africa to find Livingstone who had not been heard of for over three years. Stanley eventually found Livingstone at Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania in November 1871. The famous words 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?' at the meeting of the two men are recorded in Stanley's work "How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa", published on his return. Livingstone himself refused to return to England with Stanley but the two had become firm friends and after Livingstone's death Stanley decided to devote his life to finishing Livingstone's work. He returned to Central Africa and discovered that the Lualaba, the river Livingstone had thought to be the source of the Nile, was in fact a tributary of the River Congo. He was instrumental in getting missionaries into Uganda and in setting up the Congo Free State, becoming its first Governor.


Missionary travels and researches in South Africa

Taken from: D Livingstone, Missionary travels and researches in South Africa. London : John Murray, 1857.

Frontspiece of the first edition of this book held in the College library.

This work, describing Livingstone's first African expedition was one of the nineteenth century's bestselling books. Not only did it make Livingstone's name as a great explorer but also firmly cemented John Murray's reputation as one of the foremost publishers of geographical works of the period. The first edition of 12,000 copies sold out immediately despite the price tag of one guinea.


Victoria Falls
Mary Livingstone's grave
Livingstone is carried to his hut
  • Victoria Falls
  • Mary Livingstone's grave
  • Livingstone is carried to his hut
  • Victoria Falls

  • Mary Livingstone's grave

    Taken from: D Livingstone and C Livingstone, Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries, and of the discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyasa, 1858-1864. London : Murray,1865.

  • Livingstone is carried to his hut

    H Waller, The last journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa, from 1865 to his death. London, : J. Murray, 1874.

    Years of fever, harsh conditions and often absence of proper sustenance had taken their toll on Livingstone, and he died at Ilala southeast of Lake Bangweulu in present-day Zambia in 1873.

    The picture above is taken from the College library's first edition of "The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa" by Horace Waller.

  • Victoria Falls
  • Mary Livingstone's grave
  • Livingstone is carried to his hut

Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries

Taken from: D Livingstone and C Livingstone, Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries, and of the discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyasa, 1858-1864. London : Murray,1865.

Front page from the first edition of this book which is held in the College library.


Pocket case of medical instruments owned by David Livingstone
Licentiates Diploma of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
Livingstone is mauled by a lion
Copy of cast of Livingstone's humerus
  • Pocket case of medical instruments owned by David Livingstone
  • Licentiates Diploma of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
  • Livingstone is mauled by a lion
  • Copy of cast of Livingstone's humerus
  • Pocket case of medical instruments owned by David Livingstone

    This pocket instrument case was carried by Dr David Livingstone on his African explorations. It was presented to Mr J.B. Hilliard of the firm of W.B. Hilliard and Sons, Surgical Instrument Makers, Glasgow by Livingstone's son, Dr W.O. Livingstone and was placed on display in Mr Hilliard's private office. In 1928 Mr Hilliard, with the approval of the Livingstone family, presented the case via Dr A. Freeland Fergus to the Faculty (now Royal College) of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

  • Licentiates Diploma of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

    The original copy of this certificate hangs in our David Livingstone Room within College.

  • Livingstone is mauled by a lion

    Taken from: D Livingstone, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. John Murray: London, 1857

    Sketches for illustrations in this book had to be sourced from a variety of places and Livingstone was not always pleased with the finished result. He took particular dislike to this image of himself being attacked by a lion which he described as 'abominable', complaining that '[e]very one who knows what a lion is will die with laughing at it'. Murray, however, decided to go ahead and publish in the knowledge that the majority of readers would never have the opportunity of verifying the exact accuracy of the representation.

  • Copy of cast of Livingstone's humerus

    Following Livingstone's death, his body was transported from Ilala in Central Africa via Zanzibar to London. On arrival in London the facial features could not be recognised but the state of the left arm proved that this was indeed Livingstone's body. The fracture of the humerus had been caused by a lion during Livingstone's very first African visit. Prior to burial a cast was made of the humerus and in 1973, the centenary of his death, a copy was presented to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow by the Livingstone Memorial Society.

  • Pocket case of medical instruments owned by David Livingstone
  • Licentiates Diploma of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
  • Livingstone is mauled by a lion
  • Copy of cast of Livingstone's humerus

Dr Livingstone, I presume

Taken from: HM Stanley, How I found Livingstone : travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa, including four months' residence with Dr. Livingstone. London : S. Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1872

First edition of Stanley's book held in the College library.


Missionary travels and researches in South Africa
Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries
Dr Livingstone, I presume
  • Missionary travels and researches in South Africa
  • Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries
  • Dr Livingstone, I presume
  • Missionary travels and researches in South Africa

    Taken from: D Livingstone, Missionary travels and researches in South Africa. London : John Murray, 1857.

    Frontspiece of the first edition of this book held in the College library.

    This work, describing Livingstone's first African expedition was one of the nineteenth century's bestselling books. Not only did it make Livingstone's name as a great explorer but also firmly cemented John Murray's reputation as one of the foremost publishers of geographical works of the period. The first edition of 12,000 copies sold out immediately despite the price tag of one guinea.

  • Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries

    Taken from: D Livingstone and C Livingstone, Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries, and of the discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyasa, 1858-1864. London : Murray,1865.

    Front page from the first edition of this book which is held in the College library.

  • Dr Livingstone, I presume

    Taken from: HM Stanley, How I found Livingstone : travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa, including four months' residence with Dr. Livingstone. London : S. Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1872

    First edition of Stanley's book held in the College library.

  • Missionary travels and researches in South Africa
  • Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries
  • Dr Livingstone, I presume

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