Front Matter A Little Old World Early Mariners Is the World Flat Herodotus the Traveller Alexander Explores India Pytheas Finds British Isles Julius Caesar as Explorer Strabo's Geography The Roman Empire and Pliny Ptolemy's Maps Pilgrim Travellers Irish Explorers After Mohammed Vikings Sail Northern Seas Arab Wayfarers Travellers to the East Marco Polo Mediaeval Exploration Ends Mediaeval Maps Prince Henry of Portugal Bartholomew Diaz Christopher Columbus A Great New World Vasco da Gama Reaches India Discovery of Spice Islands Balboa Sees Pacific Ocean Magellan Sails Round World Cortes Conquers Mexico Explorers in South America Cabot Sails to Newfoundland Cartier Explores Canada Search for a Northwest Passage Frobisher Searches for Passage Drake's Famous Voyage Davis Straight Barents Sails to Spitzbergen Hudson Finds His Bay Baffin Finds His Bay Raleigh Searches for El Dorado Champlain and Lake Ontario Discoverers of Australia Tasman Finds Tasmania Dampier Discovers a Straight Behring Finds his Straight Cook Discovers New Zealand Cook's Third Voyage Bruce in Abyssinia Mungo Park and the Niger Vancouver and his Island Mackenzie and his River Parry and Lancaster Sound The Frozen North Franklin's Land Voyage Parry's Polar Voyage The Search for Timbuktu Landers Discover the Niger Ross Discovers North Pole Flinders Names Australia Sturt's Discoveries in Australia Ross in the Antarctic Seas Franklin Discovers Passage David Livingstone Burton and Speke in Africa Livingston Traces Nyassa Expedition to Victoria Nyanza Baker Finds Albert Nyanza Livingstone's Last Journey Through the Dark Continent Nordenskiold's NE Passage The Exploration of Tibet Nansen Reaches Farthest North Peary Reaches the North Pole The Quest for the South Pole Dates of Chief Events

Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Livingstone's Last Journey

In the year 1865 "the greatest of all African travellers" started on his last journey to central Africa.

"I hope," he said, "to ascend the Rovuma, and shall strive, by passing along the northern end of Lake Nyassa and round the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, to ascertain the watershed of that part of Africa."

Arrived at Zanzibar in January 1866, he reached the mouth of the Rovuma River some two months later, and, passing through dense thickets of trees, he started on his march along the northern bank. The expedition consisted of thirteen sepoys from Bombay, nine negroes from one of the missions, two men from the Zambesi, Susi, Amoda, and others originally slaves freed by Livingstone. As beasts of burden, they had six camels, three Indian buffaloes, two mules, four donkeys, while a poodle took charge of the whole line of march, running to see the first man in the line and then back to the last, and barking to hasten him up.

"Now that I am on the point of starting on another trip into Africa," wrote Livingstone from Rovuma Bay, "I feel quite exhilarated. The mere animal pleasure of travelling in a wild, unexplored country is very great. Brisk exercise imparts elasticity to the muscles, fresh and healthy blood circulates through the brain, the mind works well, the eye is clear, the step firm, and a day's exertion makes the evening's repose thoroughly enjoyable."

But misfortunes soon began. As they marched along the banks of the Rovuma the buffaloes and camels were badly bitten by the tsetse fly, and one after another died. The cruelty of the followers to the animals was terrible. Indeed, they were thoroughly unsatisfactory.

One day a party of them lagged behind, killed the last young buffalo, and ate it. They told Livingstone that it had died and tigers had come and devoured it.

"Did you see the stripes of the tiger?" asked Livingstone.

Yes; all declared that they had seen them distinctly—an obvious lie, as there are no striped tigers in Africa.

On 11th August, Livingstone once more reached Lake Nyassa. "It was as if I had come back to an old home I never expected again to see, and pleasant it was to bathe in the delicious waters again. I feel quite exhilarated."

Having sent word to the Arab chief of Kota-Kota on the opposite coast, and having received no reply to his request to be ferried across the lake, he started off and marched by land round the southern end, crossing the Shire River at its entrance. He continued his journey round the south-western gulf of Lake Nyassa, till rumours of Zulu raids frightened his men. They refused to go any farther, but just threw down their loads and walked away. He was now left with Susi and Chuma and a few boys with whom he crossed the end of a long range of mountains over four thousand feet in height, and, pursuing a zigzag track, reached the Loangwa River on 16th December 1866, while his unfaithful followers returned to the coast to spread the story that Livingstone had been killed by the Zulus!

Meanwhile the explorer was plodding on towards Lake Tanganyika. The beauty of the way strikes the lonely explorer. The rainy season had come on in all its force, and the land was wonderful in its early green. "Many gay flowers peep out. Here and there the scarlet lily, red, yellow, and pure white orchids, and pale lobelias. As we ascended higher on the plateau, grasses which have pink and reddish brown seed-vessels were grateful to the eye."

Two disasters clouded this month of travel. His poor poodle was drowned in a marsh and his medicine-chest was stolen. The land was famine-bound too; the people were living on mushrooms and leaves. "We get some elephants' meat, but it is very bitter, and the appetite in this country is always very keen and makes hunger worse to bear, the want of salt probably making the gnawing sensation worse."

On 28th January, Livingstone crossed the Tshambezi, "which may almost be regarded as the upper waters of the Congo," says Johnstone, though the explorer of 1867 knew it not.

"Northwards," says Livingstone, "through almost trackless forest and across oozing bogs"; and then he adds the significant words, "I am frightened at my own emaciation." March finds him worse. "I have been ill of fever; every step I take jars in my chest, and I am very weak; I can scarcely keep up the march." At last, on 1st April, "blue water loomed through the trees." It was Lake Tanganyika lying some two thousand feet below them. Its "surpassing loveliness" struck Livingstone. "It lies in a deep basin," he says, "whose sides are nearly perpendicular, but covered well with trees, at present all green; down some of these rocks come beautiful cascades, while buffaloes, elephants, and antelopes wander and graze on the more level spots, and lions roar by night. In the morning and evening huge crocodiles may be observed quietly making their way to their feeding-grounds, and hippopotami snort by night."

Going westwards, Livingstone met a party of Arabs amongst whom he remained for over three months, till he could make his way on to Lake Meoro, reported to be only three days' journey. It took him sixteen days to reach it. "Lake Meoro seems of goodly size," he says, "and is flanked by ranges of mountains on the east and west. Its banks are of coarse sand and slope gradually down to the water. We slept in a fisherman's cottage on the north shore."

After a stay of six weeks in the neighbourhood, Livingstone returned to the Arabs, until the spring of 1868, when he decided to explore the Lake Bangweolo. In spite of opposition and the desertion of more men, he started with five attendants and reached this—one of the largest of the central African lakes—in July. Modestly enough he asserts the fact. "On the 18th I saw the shores of the lake for the first time. The name Bangweolo is applied to the great mass of water, though I fear that our English folks will bogle at it or call it Bungyhollow. The water is of a deep sea-green colour. It was bitterly cold from the amount of moisture in the air."

This moisture converted the surrounding country into one huge bog or sponge, twenty-nine of which Livingstone had to cross in thirty miles, each taking about half an hour to cross.

The explorer was still greatly occupied on the problem of the Nile. "The discovery of the sources of the Nile," he says, "is somewhat akin in importance to the discovery of the North-West Passage." It seemed to him not impossible that the great river he found flowing through these two great lakes to the west of Tanganyika might prove to be the Upper Nile.

It was December before he started for Tanganyika. The new year of 1868 opened badly. Half-way, he became very ill. He was constantly wet through; he persistently crossed brooks and rivers, wading through cold water up to his waist. "Very ill all over," he enters in his diary; "cannot walk. Pneumonia of right lung, and I cough all day and all night. I am carried several hours a day on a frame. The sun is vertical, blistering any part of the skin exposed, and I try to shelter my face and head as well as I can with a bunch of leaves."

On 14th February 1869 he arrived on the western shores of the lake, and after the usual delay he was put into a canoe for Ujiji. Though better, he was still very ill, and we get the pathetic entry, "Hope to hold out to Ujiji."

At last he reached the Arab settlement on the eastern shores, where he found the goods sent to him overland from Zanzibar, and though much had been stolen, yet warm clothes, tea, and coffee soon revived him. After a stay of three months he grew better, and turned westwards for the land of the Manyuema and the great rivers reported to be flowing there.

He was guided by Arabs whose trade-route extended to the great Lualaba River in the very heart of Africa some thousand miles west of Zanzibar. It was an unknown land, unvisited by Europeans when Livingstone arrived with his Arab escort at Bambarra in September 1869.

"Being now well rested," he enters in his diary, "I resolved to go west to Lualaba and buy a canoe for its exploration. The Manyuema country is all surpassingly beautiful. Palms crown the highest heights of the mountains, and the forests about five miles broad are indescribable. Climbers of cable size in great numbers are hung among the gigantic trees, many unknown wild fruits abound, some the size of a child's head, and strange birds and monkeys are everywhere."

With the Arab caravan he travelled almost incessantly zigzagging through the wonderful Manyuema country until, after a year's wandering, he finally reached the banks of the Lualaba (Congo) on 31st March 1871.

David Livingstone


It was a red-letter day in his life. "I went down," he says, "to take a good look at the Lualaba here. It is a mighty river at least three thousand yards broad and always deep. The banks are steep; the current is about two miles an hour away to the north." Livingstone was gazing at the second-largest river in the world—the Congo. But he thought it was the Nile, and confidently relates how it overflows all its banks annually as the Nile does.

At Nyangwe, a Manyuema village, Livingstone stayed for four months. The natives were dreadful cannibals. He saw one day a man with ten human jaw-bones hung by a string over his shoulder, the owners of which he had killed and eaten. Another day a terrible massacre took place, arising from a squabble over a fowl, in which some four hundred perished. The Arabs too disgusted him with their slave-raiding, and he decided that he could no longer travel under their protection. So on 20th July 1871 he started back for Ujiji, and after a journey of seven hundred miles, accomplished in three months, he arrived, reduced to a skeleton, only to find that the rascal who had charge of his stores had stolen the whole and made away.

But when health and spirit were failing, help was at hand. The meeting of Stanley and Livingstone on the shores of the Lake Tanganyika is one of the most thrilling episodes in the annals of discovery. Let them tell their own story: "When my spirits were at their lowest ebb," says Livingstone, "one morning Susi came running at the top of his speed and gasped out, 'An Englishman! I see him!' and off he darted to meet him. The American flag at the head of a caravan told of the nationality of the stranger. Bales of goods, baths of tin, huge kettles, and cooking-pots made me think, "This must be a luxurious traveller and not one at his wits' end, like me."

It was Henry Morton Stanley, the travelling correspondent of the New York Herald, sent at an expense of more than 4000 to obtain accurate information about Dr. Livingstone if living, and if dead to bring home his bones.

David Livingstone


And now Stanley takes up the story. He has entered Ujiji and heard from the faithful Susi that the explorer yet lives. Pushing back the crowds of natives, Stanley advanced down "a living avenue of people" till he came to where "the white man with the long grey beard was standing."

"As I advanced slowly towards him," says Stanley, "I noticed he was pale, looked worried, wore a bluish cap with a faded gold band round it, had on a red-sleeved waistcoat and a pair of grey tweed trousers. I walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?'

" 'Yes,' said he, with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly.

"Then we both grasp hands and I say aloud, 'I thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you.'

" 'You have brought me new life—new life,' murmured the tired explorer," and for the next few days it was enough for the two Englishmen to sit on the mud verandah of Livingstone's house, talking. Livingstone soon grew better, and November found the two explorers surveying the river flowing from the north of Tanganyika and deciding that it was not the Nile.

Stanley now did his best to persuade Livingstone to return home with him to recruit his shattered health before finishing his work of exploration. But the explorer, tired and out of health though he was, utterly refused. He must complete the exploration of the sources of the Nile before he sought that peace and comfort at home for which he must have yearned.

So the two men parted—Stanley to carry Livingstone's news of the discovery of the Congo back to Europe, Livingstone to end his days on the lonely shores of Lake Bangweolo, leaving the long-sought mystery of the Nile sources yet unsolved.

David Livingstone


On 25th August 1872 he started on his last journey. He had a well-equipped expedition sent up by Stanley from the coast, including sixty men, donkeys, and cows. He embarked on his fresh journey with all his old eagerness and enthusiasm, but a few days' travel showed him how utterly unfit he was for any more hardships. He suffered from intense and growing weakness, which increased day by day. He managed somehow to ride his donkey, but in November his donkey died and he struggled along on foot. Descending into marshy regions north of Lake Bangweolo, the journey became really terrible. The rainy season was at its height, the land was an endless swamp, and starvation threatened the expedition. To add to the misery of the party, there were swarms of mosquitoes, poisonous spiders, and stinging ants by the way. Still, amid all the misery and suffering, the explorer made his way on through the dreary autumn months. Christmas came and went; the new year of 1873 dawned. He could not stop. April found him only just alive, carried by his faithful servants. Then comes the last entry in his diary, 27th April: "Knocked up quite. We are on the banks of R. Molilamo."

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


They laid him at last in a native hut, and here one night he died alone. They found him in the early morning, just kneeling by the side of the rough bed, his body stretched forward, his head buried in his hands upon the pillow. The negroes buried his heart on the spot where he died in the village of Ilala on the shores of Lake Bangweolo under the shadow of a great tree in the still forest. Then they wrapped his body in a cylinder of bark wound round in a piece of old sailcloth, lashed it to a pole, and a little band of negroes, including Susi and Chuma, set out to carry their dead master to the coast. For hundreds of miles they tramped with their precious burden, till they reached the sea and could give it safely to his fellow-countrymen, who conveyed it to England to be laid with other great men in Westminster Abbey.

"He needs no epitaph to guard a name

Which men shall praise while worthy work is done.

He lived and died for good, be that his fame.

Let marble crumble: this is living-stone."

Susi, Livingstone's servant