Reign of Queen Victoria - M. B. Synge

Preparing the Empire

Livingstone and Stanley in Central Africa

While Captain McClintock was bringing home the last news of Sir John Franklin to England, another of Britain's bravest sons was preparing the way for civilization in Central Africa, enduring untold hardship for the sake of his high mission.

A few years after the Queen's accession, David Livingstone, a young Scotsman, started on a five months' voyage to the Cape of Good Hope to take up missionary work among the natives of South Africa. Landing at Algoa Bay, after a long ox-wagon journey of 700 miles he arrived at the Mission-station, in the very heart of the country now known as British Bechuanaland. There he gained a knowledge of native languages, native customs, and laws, which enabled him to do much good work later on. But the Boers, who had recently trekked to the Transvaal, looked toward Bechuanaland for the extension of their boundaries, and they raided the little Mission-station, carrying off the little black children as their slaves.

So Livingstone started northwards; he crossed the Kalahari Desert—a great wilderness of rocks and sand and lifeless scrub—and discovered the Lake Nyami, for which the Royal Geographical Society voted him twenty-five guineas.

David Livingstone


The discovery of the Zambesi—the largest river in South Africa—added to his fame. While performing the unparalleled feat of crossing Africa from ocean to ocean, east and west, he discovered the great Victoria Falls in the country now known as Rhodesia. Then, after years of hardship, he took ship for England. The grief of his black attendants was pitiful. "Take us; we will die at your feet," they cried. Finally he agreed to take the chief, but the sea was wild and stormy, and the terrified man threw himself overboard and was drowned.

Zambesi River


It is hard in these days, when books of travel are so common, to realize the immense interest created in England by the publication of Livingstone's Journals in 1857.

Englishmen had been interesting themselves more of late in the great African continent, that was to play so large a part in her history. Natal had been added to the Empire, the independence of the Transvaal had been recognized by this country. Lake Tanganyika and Victoria Nyanza had been discovered by Englishmen.

Livingstone's next achievement was the discovery of Lake Nyassa, now forming the boundary between Rhodesia and Portuguese Africa. He opened up the new country of Nyassaland, which to-day is the heart of the Central African Protectorate, administered by a British commissioner under our Colonial Office. It would take too long to follow the missionary explorer on his travels through Central Africa. Strong in purpose, high in courage, his toil was incessant, his industry unflagging.

Victoria Falls


In 1867 news reached England of his discovery of Lake Bangweolo, now included in Rhodesia and the waters of the Upper Congo, though he did not realize it was the Congo at all. Time passed on, and a rumour reached England that he was dead. The last letter from him bore the date 1867. There was a repetition of that silence which surrounded the fate of Franklin. The silence was broken by H. M. Stanley, a journalist sent by the New York Herald  to discover whether Livingstone was alive or dead. How the two men met in the very heart of Africa, forms one of the romances of history.

Livingstone was one day sitting in his hut on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, when news arrived that a white man had made his way from the coast, and was searching for a friend. Soon the two English-speaking men were face to face.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" said Stanley, as he looked at the old man before him with long white beard and tired face, his form reduced to a mere skeleton for want of proper food. He wore an official cap with faded gold band, a red-sleeved waistcoat, and much-patched tweed trousers.

"Yes," answered the old explorer.

A warm grasp of hands followed.

"You have brought me new life—new life," murmured Livingstone, as the two men compared experiences. But in vain Stanley begged him to return to England; the old man resolutely turned away from home, with its well-earned comforts and honours; he could not rest till he had cleared up the mystery of the Lake Tanganyika watershed. Stanley accompanied him some little way on his last heroic journey, and then turned sadly back.

Sir H. M. Stanley


Two years after this Livingstone died. He died kneeling by his rough camp bed in the attitude of prayer.

His faithful black servants buried his heart in the still forest near the shores of Lake Bangweolo, and carried his body to the coast, through swamp and desert, whence it was taken to England to be laid in Westminster Abbey, with a simple record of his great work.

The death of his friend Livingstone before the completion of his life-work made a deep impression on Stanley, and he resolved to follow in his steps and carry on the work.

In the year 1874 he started for Zanzibar, bound for the great African lakes. As yet little was known of Victoria Nyanza, and most of Central Africa was blank upon our maps. The expedition, numbering some 356, started inland on November 17, carrying a cedar canoe, the Lady Alice, in sections, to explore the lakes. It was the end of February when, after 740 miles of marching, the first sight of Victoria Nyanza came into view, and the men burst into cheers of delight. The little canoe was soon afloat and the lake was circumnavigated.

Having proved that the Nile left the northern end of the lake, and for 300 miles raced between high rocky walls over rapids and cataracts till it flowed through Albert Nyanza to Khartum, Stanley made his way to the famous region of Uganda—the "Pearl of Africa"—where he was warmly received by the black king, Mtesa. He was greatly struck by the intelligence of the king, and grasped the possibilities of Uganda as a centre of civilization. "With the aid of Mtesa the civilization of equatorial Africa becomes possible"; he wrote home begging that missionaries might be sent at once to carry on the work which he himself had begun.

Congo River


Stanley now turned his attention to the watershed between the Nile and the Congo, making his way south to Lake Tanganyika, which he completely explored. Yet greater discoveries were before him as he now started on his eventful journey. His wanderings had already lasted two years, and his men were reduced to less than half the original number, when he turned westward through dense jungle to the still unknown basin of the Congo, at this time known as the River Livingstone, and supposed to be the Nile. Great were the obstacles; fierce tribes attacked the little party, and sickness broke out in their midst.

On Christmas Day, 1876, a crisis arose. Stanley's resolution alone saved the situation.

"My children, make up your minds as I have made up mine: we shall continue our journey and toil on and on by this river till we reach the great salt sea."

So the twenty-three canoes started off on the unknown river, heading for the equator. A weary twenty days followed, cannibals appeared on the banks, the stream grew wild and turbulent, cataracts abounded, and at last the river suddenly narrowed and flung its waters over a wide precipice—the Stanley Falls. Then the river widened, and Stanley knew he must be sailing down the great Congo River. All through the months of February and March he struggled with the raging waters—day after day it seemed as if the little canoe must be dashed to pieces—until in August 1877 the coast was reached.

Stanley had explored the whole course of the Congo—a river 3,000 miles in length—the second largest river in the world.

Women making pottery


Such men as Franklin, Livingstone, and Stanley were not only makers of history and pioneers of civilization: they were very giants of perseverance and endurance—scorners of that luxury which tends to sap away the strength of our manhood and weaken our national character.