Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Livingstone Traces Lake Shirwa and Nyassa

Burton and Speke had not yet returned from central Africa, when Livingstone left England on another expedition into the interior, with orders "to extend the knowledge already attained of the geography of eastern and central Africa and to encourage trade." Leaving England on 10th March 1858, he reached the east coast the following May as British Consul of Quilimane, the region which lies about the mouth of the Zambesi. Livingstone had brought out with him a small steam-launch called by the natives the Ma-Robert  after Mrs. Livingstone, the mother of Robert, their eldest child. In this little steam-launch he made his way up the Shire River, which flows into the Zambesi quite near its mouth. "The delight of threading out the meanderings of upwards of two hundred miles of a hitherto unexplored river must be felt to be appreciated," says Livingstone in his diary. At the end of this two hundred miles further progress became impossible because of rapids which no boat could pass. "These magnificent cataracts we called the Murchison Cataracts, after one whose name has already a world-wide fame," says Livingstone. Leaving their boat here, they started on foot for the Great Lake described by the natives. It took them a month of hard travelling to reach their goal. Their way lay over the native tracks which run as a network over this part of the world. "They are veritable footpaths, never over a foot in breadth, beaten as hard as adamant by centuries of native traffic. Like the roads of the old Romans, they run straight on over everything, ridge and mountain and valley."

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

On 18th April, Lake Shirwa came into sight, "a considerable body of bitter water, containing leeches, fish, crocodiles, and hippopotami. The country around is very beautiful," adds Livingstone, "and clothed with rich vegetation, and the waves breaking and foaming over a rock, added to the beauty of the picture. Exceedingly lofty mountains stand near the eastern shore."

No white man had gazed at the lake before. Though one of the smaller African lakes, Shirwa is probably larger than all the lakes of Great Britain put together. Returning to Tete, the explorer now prepared for his journey to the farther Lake Nyassa. This was to be no new discovery. The Portuguese knew the locality of Lake Shirwa, and at the beginning of the seventeenth century Nyassa was familiar to them under another name. Landing at the same spot on the Shire banks as before, Livingstone, with thirty-six Makololo porters and two native guides, ascended the beautiful Shire Highlands, some twelve hundred feet above sea-level, and crossed the range on which Zomba, the residence of the British Commissioner for Nyassaland, now stands. When within a day's march of their goal they were told that no lake had ever been heard of in the neighbourhood, but, said the natives, the river Shire stretched on, and it would take two months to reach the end, which came out of perpendicular rocks which towered almost to the skies.

"Let us go back to the ship," said the followers; "it is no use trying to find the lake."

But Livingstone persevered, and he was soon rewarded by finding a sheet of water, which was indeed the beginning of Lake Nyassa. It was 16th September 1856.

"How far is it to the end of the lake?" he asked.

"The other end of the lake? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, if one started when a mere boy to walk to the other end of the lake, he would be an old grey-headed man before he got there," declared one of the natives. Livingstone knew that he had opened up a great waterway to the interior of Africa, but the slave trade in these parts was terrible, gangs being employed in carrying the ivory from countries to the north down to the east coast. The English explorer saw that if he could establish a steamer upon this Lake Nyassa and buy ivory from the natives with European goods he would at once strike a deadly blow at the slave trade. His letters home stirred several missionaries to come out and establish a settlement on the banks of the Shire River. Bishop Mackenzie and a little band of helpers arrived on the river Shire two years later, and in 1862 Mrs. Livingstone joined them, bringing out with her a little new steamer to launch on the Lake Nyassa. But the unhealthy season was at its height and "the surrounding low land, rank with vegetation and reeking from the late rainy season, exhaled the malarious poison in enormous quantities." Mrs. Livingstone fell ill, and in a week she was dead. She was buried under a large baobab tree at Shapunga, where her grave is visited by many a traveller passing through this once solitary region first penetrated by her husband.

The blow was a crushing one for Livingstone, and for a time he was quite bewildered. But when his old energy returned he superintended the launching of the little steamer, the Lady Nyassa. But disappointment and failure awaited him, and at last, just two years after the death of his wife, he took the Lady Nyassa  to Zanzibar by the Rovuma River and set forth to reach Bombay, where he hoped to sell her, for his funds were low.

On the last day of April 1864 he started on his perilous journey. Though warned that the monsoon would shortly break, he would not be deterred. And after sailing two thousand five hundred miles in the little boat built only for river and lake, "a forest of masts one day loomed through the haze in Bombay harbour," and he was safe. After a brief stay here, Livingstone left his little launch and made his way to England on a mail-packet.

But no one realised at this time the importance of his new discoveries. No one foresaw the value of "Nyassaland" now under British protectorate. Livingstone had brought to light a lake fifteen hundred and seventy feet above the sea, three hundred and fifty miles long and forty broad, up and down which British steamers make their way to-day, while the long range of mountains lining the eastern bank, known as the Livingstone range, testify to the fact that he had done much, even if he might have done more.


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