Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Happy Birthday Dr Livingstone!

It's the bi-centenary today of the birth of David Livingstone, one of the greatest Victorian explorers and one of my personal heroes.

He is a fascinating character from humble origins, largely self-educated while working in a Scottish mill, qualifying in medicine to achieve his aim of becoming a christian missionary in China, diverting his attentions to Africa after meeting the esteemed missionary and fellow Scot, Robert Moffat, (who's daughter, Mary, Livingstone later married). Moffat fired his imagination with tales of the untouched central region of Africa where the smoke of a thousand villages indicated a population where the gospels had not yet been preached.

A fiercely determined man driven by ambition to preach beyond every other man's line, successfully journeyed and mapped out vast parts of previously undiscovered Central Africa (to Europeans at least!), famously including the Victoria Falls which he named after his monarch, - ignoring its indigenous name of Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke that Thunders.

The impressive Ray Harryhausen designed Livingstone statue at Blantyre
(Mr Harryhausen's wife is Livingstone's Great Granddaughter!)

He denounced slavery and advocated new forms of health care, education and commerce with the aims of the African people trading on a level playing field, taking their place alongside 'developed' nations.

His ambition ultimately cost him and his family dearly with both his wife and subsequently himself dying in the Dark Continent but not before his fame and discoveries had ensured his legacy, one that continues today, particularly in modern Malawi where he is fondly remembered and celebrated.

I could say more but for a full insight into this remarkable man's life I highly commend Tim Jeal's excellent biography Livingstone, which has recently been revised and re-issued.

The 'single end' tenement birthplace of Livingstone at Blantyre, now run by The National Trust for Scotland, housing special exhibits and artifacts alongside a small learning centre, cafe and gift shop!

Also recommended are trips to his birthplace in Blantyre, (in the grounds of the now demolished mill) and Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland who currently have a special commemorative exhibition. We have been very lucky to visit both these special places recently and are well worth a look - noting though that the NMS's exhibition only runs for a few further weeks to April 7th.

For further information on the year long planned celebrations both in the UK and Africa, keep an eye on the interesting Livingstone 200 website.


  1. A really interesting character Colin, worthy of a comic methinks, and it's set in Africa, and has a Scottish element .. now who could produce such a comic .. hmmmmm ... let me think ....

    1. Aha Mr Holmes I see that you have been paying attention and maybe you saw this earlier post too?

      Comic Clue

      But it may not quite be time for the good doctor's story as there are two other little things brewing away, watch this space for more details!