March 21, 1871: Stanley Begins Famous Trek to Find Livingstone

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A Brief History

On March 21, 1871, New York Herald journalist Henry Morton Stanley set off on his famous African expedition to find missionary and explorer David Livingstone who had not been heard from in years.  When the pair finally met, Stanley uttered his famous quote, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Digging Deeper

Livingstone was a Scotsman of humble origins.  His thirst for knowledge led him to study medicine and religion as well as the natural sciences.  He became a missionary and explorer, going to places largely unknown to Europeans such as Africa and “discovering” and “naming” the Victoria Falls there.  Although lauded for his discoveries, he certainly was not much of a family man, having virtually traded his family for his African adventures.  After his wife died of Malaria in 1862 trying to follow him to Africa, Livingstone’s adventures eventually brought him into a series of misadventures that put him out of contact with civilization and in dire straits, facing danger, disease and starvation.

Stanley was a Welshman who had changed his name from John Rowlands upon moving to the United States.  Interestingly, during the American Civil War, Stanley served in the Confederate Army, the Union Army and the Union Navy before ending up in the Merchant Marine!  After the war he became a journalist, which put him on course to making his famous expedition.

Like Livingstone, Stanley was beset by thefts, desertions, disease and hunger but, unlike Livingstone, was reportedly harsh in his treatment of hired natives.  It was said that, “Stanley shoots Negroes as if they were monkeys.”

The tropical environment (Rift Lake area) explored by these two men was harsh indeed, with dangerous animals, brutal slave traders, duplicitous natives and incessant disease-carrying insects.  Still, their discoveries and reports shed considerable light on “Dark Africa” that Europeans had previously known little about.

After their famous meeting, Livingstone stayed in Africa despite Stanley’s urgings to return with him to civilization.  He died aged 60 in what is now Zambia in 1873, probably of dysentery and malaria, having been left weakened after being mauled by a lion years before and by disease.  Numerous streets, buildings, geographical features and places bear Livingstone’s name.

Stanley returned to a hero’s welcome and became quite a celebrity, writing books about his adventures.  Stanley did not stay out of Africa for long and in 1874, went to the Congo and later claimed it for the King of Belgium.  Another African expedition cast Stanley in a poorer light when the cruelty of his fellow Europeans was reported which included the “gift” of an 11-year-old girl to cannibals in order to document the killing and cooking procedures they followed!  (Supposedly Stanley did not know of this until afterwards.)

In relatively recent music, Livingstone and his adventures have been sung about by the Moody Blues and Abba (see below).

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone (Paperback)


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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.