Uncovering the Truth - The Royal Geographical Society Silver Medal
For the last few months I have been conducting research for the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum, focusing on a particular series of events that happened after Livingstone’s death on 1 May 1873.
Livingstone died in the middle of the night in Chitambo, Zambia, and his body was found by a boy named Majwara. At the time of his death, he was being accompanied in his journey by sixty crew members , all of whom had been with him for approximately a year.
Despite the dangerous terrain and length of the journey, the sixty men and women made the decision to carry Livingstone’s body and possessions to the coast, from Chitambo to Bagamoyo (Tanzania) . This was a journey that took 1000 miles and 63 days, but when the crew reached their destination, they were sent away with their wages and nothing else to show for their efforts.
It was over a year later, on 22 June 1874, that the Royal Geographic Society finally decided that they should be rewarded, and the special silver medal, the primary focus of my research, was struck.
I was tasked with finding out whether Majwara, the boy who found Livingstone’s body, had been awarded and successfully received one of these special silver RGS medals. I was both nervous, and excited, as I had never even heard of this medal before and I was interested to find out more, and curious about the process my research would take me through.
When I began scouring books and articles, I was almost immediately confronted by my own incorrect assumptions. Several descriptions of Majwara call him a ‘boy,’ which led me to believe that he was a child living in Chitambo, who accidentally happened upon the body of David Livingstone. I learned that while Majwara may well have been young in age, he was a servant of Livingstone and had been for several years, so the possibility of him being one of the recipients for the medal immediately became more likely. It was a lesson for me about keeping my mind open, about not jumping to conclusions too early. When researching, I tend to reach too quickly for the end, to the final result of my research, but this was a quick reminder to take my time and be open to results that might not be what I expect.
For a long while, my research seemed to be getting nowhere. I was learning a lot about the David Livingstone’s death and the events that occurred after it, but less about the medals themselves. I learned that after his death, a lot of the sixty crew who carried Livingstone’s body accompanied another explorer – Henry Morton Stanley – on an expedition around the Great Lakes & Congo River. It turned out that very few men survived this expedition. I had found myself rooting for the men – Majwara in particular – but I was becoming more and more worried that these medals might have been struck in vain, as I could find so few of the recipients’ names.
In this slump, I decided I needed some help. After sending out some emails to experts, to other researchers, and to the Royal Geographic Society itself, I was finally able to start putting together story of the 60 men who carried David Livingstone 1000 miles to the coast, and figure out where Majwara sat within this story.
The first and possibly most useful piece of information I found was regarding a dispute over money. I had almost skimmed over the section, believing that disputes over pay could not hold the information I needed. But once again I was proven wrong when I spotted Majwara’ s name amongst the others.
The text stated that some of the crew, including Majwara, were owed 5 dollars per month, but had actually only been given 2½ dollars per month when they reached Bagamoyo. The man who had paid them was Captain W.F Prideaux, who was acting Consul of Zanzibar at the time and had been the one to send the men away because he was unsure of what else to do.
This information may not seem extremely useful immediately, but it allowed me to put several pieces together. Another text I had been reading earlier that day had stated that the wage list of Captain W.F Prideaux had been the list that was used by the Royal Geographic Society when the silver medals were struck. And so, I had just found proof that Majwara was on this list, and therefore had been awarded one of the medals. I was ecstatic. Not only because I was closer to my answer, but also because I was closer to the answer that I wanted.
After this, the process became easier. I just needed to find the list. It took me a while, and a lot of scouring through online journals, but I eventually found the full list of names in the Numismatic Circle Journal published in 1970. It listed Majwara as number 37 of 60 awardees for the Silver RGS medal, and confirmed that he was one of the 14 men that survived Stanley’s expedition and received their medal on 3 December 1877 – over 4 years after they made their journey to Bagamoyo.
In total, it is believed that less than half of the 60 crew members received their medal in the end, but Majwara was one of the ones who did, and I had found my answer. His story will feature within museum once it is open, and I am very happy that I was able to uncover this information for the display.
I would like to give a special thanks to Adrian S. Wisnicki (Livingstone Online) who was the biggest help with my research.