David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and one of the leading explorers of his time. His work filled huge gaps in western knowledge of central and southern Africa and he was also a pioneer by calling for the abolition of the slave trade.
Livingstone studied medicine and theology in Glasgow in 1836 and decided to become a missionary doctor. In 1840, David focused his ambitions on southern Africa inspired by fellow missionary Robert Moffat, the father of Mary Moffat, who David would later marry in 1845.
From 1841 until his death, David Livingstone was devoted to exploring southern and central Africa and aimed to introduce indigenous African people to ‘Christianity, Civilisation and Commerce’.
During his expeditions he charted numerous geographical features including, Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, and Lake Bangweulu as well as furthering knowledge on Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru and the course of many rivers, especially the upper Zambezi. His observations also enabled large regions to be mapped which previously had been blank.
His medical knowledge gained him the trust of many native tribes and he was known to heal their ailments on his journeys throughout the continent. Although he preached Christianity within the tribes, he didn’t force it on those unwilling to be converted.
In 1843 an encounter with a wounded lion is said to have injured Livingstone’s left arm and though it recovered it is said the encounter left him with pain in the arm for the rest of his life.
Between 1852 and1856 Livingstone concentrated his explorations on the Zambezi River which he believed would make a perfect Christian commercial highway into the interior of Africa.
In 1855 he is said to have been the first European to have seen the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall known locally as "the smoke that thunders". He re-named the waterfall Victoria Falls in the honour of Queen Victoria.
In 1856 he reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean becoming the first European to cross the width of southern Africa.
Returning to Britain as a national hero he gave many speeches and published 'Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa’ in 1857. The following year he went back to Africa, this time funded by the government, to further explore the Zambezi and its natural resources, however during the trip his wife Mary died of Malaria in 1862. By 1864, Livingstone was by this point nearly alone after his fellows had either died or deserted him and so he was called back by the government.
During this expedition Livingstone had documented the horrors of the slave trade and publicised these on his return which then became a source of inspiration for the abolition of the slave trade.
Livingstone went on his final trip to Africa in 1866 to search out the source of the River Nile and after many months of no contact with anyone, Henry Stanley, an explorer and journalist of the New York Herald was sent out to find him. When he encountered Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika in October 1871 he is reported to have uttered the famous words: “Dr Livingstone I presume?”
David Livingstone continued his research but was in poor health and died in Africa on 1 May 1873. His body was returned to England and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.