Who is David Livingstone?
David Livingstone (/ˈlɪvɪŋstən/; 19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a British physician, Congregationalist, and pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. David was the husband of Mary Moffat Livingstone, from the prominent 18th Century missionary family, Moffat. He had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class “rags-to-riches” inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion.
Livingstone’s fame as an explorer and his obsession with learning the sources of the Nile River was founded on the belief that if he could solve that age-old mystery, his fame would give him the influence to end the East African Arab–Swahili slave trade. “The Nile sources”, he told a friend, “are valuable only as a means of opening my mouth with power among men. It is this power [with] which I hope to remedy an immense evil.” His subsequent exploration of the central African watershed was the culmination of the classic period of European geographical discovery and colonial penetration of Africa. At the same time, his missionary travels, “disappearance”, and eventual death in Africa—and subsequent glorification as a posthumous national hero in 1874—led to the founding of several major central African Christian missionary initiatives carried forward in the era of the European “Scramble for Africa“.
If you have ever heard the famous question, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” it is an alleged quote of a man named Henry Morton Stanley who was dispatched to Africa by The New York Herald to find Livingstone after he had gone missing. The question is allegedly how Stanley greeted Livingstone upon finding him there. Despite the quote’s fame, its veracity is heavily doubted.
The words of the quote are famous because of their perceived humor, Livingstone being the only other white person for hundreds of miles, along with Stanley’s clumsy attempt at appearing dignified in the bush of Africa by making a formal greeting one might expect to hear in the confines of an upper-class London club. However, readers of the Herald immediately saw through Stanley’s pretensions.