David Livingstone


The history books are peppered with details of British expeditions to the African lands south of the Sahara Desert, many of which remained a mystery until the 18th and 19th centuries.

Their quest, in the main, was to extend British imperial influence, gather scientific and geographical knowledge, and seek commercial opportunities. In the process, the adventures of these men and women who led the expeditions captured the public’s imagination.

Among those who set off from British shores was the Scotsman Mungo Park, who died in 1806, as he sought to explore the course of the River Niger.

John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton, names indelibly etched in the history of African exploration, grabbed the attention of Victorian Britain as they travelled, more than half a century after Park, from Zanzibar across large parts of the continent.

In the final years of the 19th century, the remarkable if controversial, Mary Kingsley travelled throughout much of west Africa studying local customs and natural history. By the time her first book was published in 1897, the “Scramble for Africa” was well underway.

While all of the above and many others from throughout Europe have earned their place in the annals of African exploration, the best-known of all African explorers is David Livingstone.

This Is His Story

David Livingstone was born, the second of seven children, on 19 March 1813, in a one room tenement in Shuttle Row, Blantyre.

To help supplement the family income David began his working life, at the tender age of ten, as a piecer at Blantyre Mills on the banks of the River Clyde.

Already marked out as a boy with an unwavering determination to escape his surroundings, he attended the company school in the evening. He went on to study medicine in Glasgow and completed his training as a missionary in London.

He arrived in Capetown, South Africa in March 1841 to begin his life’s work as a medical missionary, convinced that his three pillars of Christianity, civilisation and commerce were the key to success.

In 1845 he married Mary Moffat the daughter of a fellow Scottish missionary.

Livingstone, in a number of separate journeys, spent almost 30 years in Africa, exploring vast swathes of the continent. He was the first European to see the Victoria Falls but never found the source of the River Nile he searched so hard for.

It was November 1871 when Livingstone met journalist Henry Morton Stanley who, by tradition, greeted him with the now famous words, "Dr Livingstone, I presume?"

Following a long period of ill health, the pioneering Scotsman died in Chitambo (Modern Zambia) on 1 May 1873. While his heart was buried in Africa his body was returned to Britain and lies in Westminster Abbey, London.

Although once regarded as a Victorian hero, the legacy of this dedicated explorer and anti-slavery campaigner has, in the light of changing cultural and political attitudes, been re-evaluated by historians and social commentators. In the process a more balanced picture of this remarkable Scotsman has emerged.

You can learn more by visiting the Museum and reading our Blog.

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We are very grateful to our key funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government for their support in helping us deliver the Birthplace Project. Note: Please note that David Livingstone Birthplace (and the David Livingstone Trust) is no longer part of National Trust Scotland (NTS). NTS members will therefore no longer receive discounted/free entry to the Birthplace Museum.

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