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Livingstone's legacy

Updated on April 5, 2015

The power of a Book

Books have power. They have a power that we don't fully realize, the power to change a life, not just one life but the lives of all that those who come into contact with the reader of the book as well. I've come across a book like that, this time I'm not speaking of my Bible (that too is a powerful book that changes lives) but a book that made me want to be like that.

Books were not that big a deal in our family when I was growing up. Dad was never really a big reader (The newspapers was about all he would read). When I was eight Dad's cousin (we called him 'uncle') bought me a book. The story of an explorer, just the kind of book that young boys should read.

Man had just landed on the moon and up until then my only thoughts had probably been of wanting to be an astronaut, a life of adventure, then I started to read. and discovered all the adventure that I could ever imagine and it was right here on earth.

That book was to change my life. It was the life of David Livingstone

The statue of Livingstone situated at Victoria falls in Zimbabwe. At the Livingstone memorial
The statue of Livingstone situated at Victoria falls in Zimbabwe. At the Livingstone memorial | Source

A life lived at the edge

This isn't really a hub telling the history of a man, but wanting to look at the legacy of what his life's work has come to mean and see how it affects our world today, and Livingstone's life and legacy affect our world in a profound way.

I suppose the reason it had such an effect on me was that I could see myself in the hero, and that hero was a real live (or at least he lived) person, real flesh and blood whose life made a difference to so many people.

A Working class boy
Not had the best start in life? From a poor Scottish family, David's schooling (the little that he had) finished when he was ten. he had ambitions, but they had to take second place to earning a living.

Ever tried to study with the racket of a whole factory clattering in the background? Factories in the early part of the nineteenth century weren't the quietest of places and Livingstone was working twelve to fourteen hours a day. (and we think we've got it hard). It helped that he had a family that believed in study and education but even that can only go so far.


Livingstone inspires me simply for the hurdles he overcame to make his mark. Even if he hadn't become famous the story would still be such an inspiration to us

Tools of the Medical trade

Just some of the instruments that they used in the 19th Century
Just some of the instruments that they used in the 19th Century


One thing that amazes me about the story of David Livingstone is he didn't let little things like expense and the cost of studying medicine get in the way. He worked in the cotton mill to raise the funds to study at the university of Glasgow by working those fourteen hours a day six days a week! Nothing was going to stand in the way of what he felt he was meant to do.

I'm use the phrase 'little things' not to belittle the cost of studying at university and especially not to run down the cost of studying medicine, but to me what he really says (you might call it part of the legacy he left us if we'll look for it) is that if you really want something then nothing will stop you from pursuing that dream.

Livingstone's Africa

An illustration of Cape Town taken from the diary of Thomas Graham
An illustration of Cape Town taken from the diary of Thomas Graham | Source

Africa. The first time

Livingstone made three trips to Africa in total. A continent he was to become famous for the exploration of, but when he first went there it wasn't as an explorer but as a Medical Missionary with the London Missionary Society. He hadn't intended to go to Africa, he wanted to go to China but the first Opium war changed all that.

The Opium war was a pretty bad time in British History when British merchants growing Opium in India wanted a market for their wares and chose China. There was a market for the product, but there was a problem, the Chinese government didn't want Opium as they saw it as evil. The result was a series of wars to force the Chinese to take the product (and we wonder why the Chinese distrust the West!)

The door opened for Livingstone after a talk with a Dr Robert Moffatt . Moffatt had wanted to send Missionaries further north from where they were in the Southern Cape area. There were so many tribes yet to hear. "One more village" was to literally become Livingstone's way of life, almost a "Mantra" as he constantly pushed the boundaries. He's remembered in the West for his exploits as an explorer, but that was never his driving force.

The Missionary Explorer

The difference

There were others doing the same work that Livingstone was doing. Others exploring Africa but Livingstone was different in the way he approached things.

The average explorer in the 19th Century would set out with a huge retinue porters, servants and even heavily armed guards to carry out the expeditions, in many ways they were an intimidating sight and they were meant to be. The idea was to portray power and subdue the local tribes they met.

Livingstone's approach was totally different, he took as few as he possibly could and often came with the message that he wasn't a threat to the locals, he didn't want to intimidate but to meet with them as equals.

I don't think that Livingstone intentionally set out to do things differently but some of the things that he'd had to deal with growing up in poverty had probably left their mark on him and the idea of hiring so many others to help him in the task just wouldn't have entered his mind! Livingstone read the Bible and read that in the New Testament both Jesus and the Apostle Paul carried out their trips with only a few people with them, why couldn't he?

Sadly this isn't an approach that many explorers and people who followed in his wake were to follow, even some Missionaries carried on as if they were superior to the African. Livingstone got as far as the border of the Kalahari Desert and even made a transit across the Kalahari (the first white man to do so).

Watch his journeys

How many cows does she own?

There's a story that when Livingstone was talking with one African Chief he was trying to explain that he was there as a representative of the British Government when the chief asked him who their Chief was.

"Our chief lives in a place far away" Livingstone explained. In a place called England.

"What's he doing there?" the chief was surprised that a ruler would live far from the land they ruled.

"Our great chief is a Queen" Livingstone patiently explained, "She rules a great many people, in many places"

"I too am a great chief" the chieftain replied. "I have over a hundred cows in wealth, How many does your chief own?"

A somewhat different way of explaining wealth, To the African at the time money was just bits of metal with no value, or paper that had pictures on it but no real value where you could milk a cow and it's young would provide you with food when you needed it!

The second and third trips

The first Missionary trip and his speaking engagements when he got back to Britain made Livingstone a household name, but there were some things he'd seen in Africa that disturbed him and to him there was only one solution.

In 1809 The British had outlawed the slave trade and the Royal Navy had been given the mandate to hunt down the slave ships transporting slaves to the Americas.

Contrary to popular belief this wasn't because of conscience, it was political expediency. France was funding their wars with England through the slave trade, Britain had evidence that they were sending ships under the flags of other nations so in order to deny France the funds Britain passed the law to abolish the slave trade (Wilberforce and his friends had campaigned on this for years with no effect, but when they made this tactical change the British government changed the rules overnight!) they also gave the Royal Navy the right to board and take prisoner any ship under any flag that was trading in slaves and the slaves were to be returned to West Africa to be released in the new nation of Sierra Leone. That was West Africa

In East Africa the Portuguese and Arabs were still trading in slaves and no one was there to stop them, even the Royal Navy didn't have the mandate for that part of the world.

Livingstone saw that the Africans themselves were trading in slaves (selling people captured in raids and wars) so if he could get them to trade in other things instead of slaves then the source of the slave trade would be broken.

The second and third trips were paid for as exploration but the difference was that Livingstone saw them as a chance to take the gospel and trade further into the heart of Africa when the real goal of those paying for the trips was to find resources and then ways to exploit both the land and the people there.

Remember this Movie clip?

Livingstone's view of slavery

And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.

—Livingstone in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald (Taken from Wikipedia)

"Dr Livingstone I presume"

It was the third trip that Livingstone is reputed to have been 'lost' (though he knew exactly where he was and how far it was to civilization) for about five years. He'd set out to map the course of the Zambezi river with the hope that if he traced it back to it's source in the African highlands it would lead him to the source of the Nile. He never found the source of the Nile.

Even after the encounter with Stanley Livingstone continued on with his work teaching the locals about the Jesus whom he loved and who loved them. It's said that in his whole life he only led one or two Africans to faith in Christ, it just so happened that one of them was the chief of the tribe who then brought the rest of the tribe with him to faith.

Livingstone's legacy

He may not have led many to Christ but he did open the door for others to walk through and for the gospel to be planted in Africa in a way that the local people could understand and respond to in their way. He openly combated slavery wherever he found it and actively sought to bring something to replace the misery created by that vile trade. Yes some of the things he brought were to be hijacked by later exploiters of the African but some of the things he brought endure even to this day.

May 1st 1873

The village was awake as normal but David hadn't been seen that morning so some of his local helpers went to check on him as his health hadn't been good for a while. They found him kneeling by his bedside, he was dead.

Livingstone literally died in prayer for Africa. His one wish that he'd told the locals was that if he died then he wanted his heart to be buried in Africa. They actually did this before transporting his body to the coast to for shipping back to England.

A HERO'S welcome

The "HERO" is in capital letters because he was such a hero not just to the little boys and girls he inspired to make a difference with their lives but the other little boys and girls he saved from a horrible life at the hands of slave masters in Arab and eastern countries.

His dying wish had been to have his heart buried in Africa and the locals loved him so much that they carried that wish out and his heart was buried where he asked it to be buried.

On return to England the nation had lost such a great hero that the humble man who worked to pay for his own education and worked for the good OF Africa was buried not in a church yard but in Westminster Abbey among the great of the English nation.

Today as we look at Africa many of the places that were named by the white settlers have changed back to their original African names, but there's something so special about David Livingstone to the African that many of the places he named and is associated with have kept the names he gave them.

His legacy lives on in the thousands of schools educating those who can't afford to pay for their own education. It lives on in an Africa that loves Jesus as much as he did.

Just a little about the man

This hub was inspired by a documentary I was watching the other day about the British Empire and the way it behaved in Africa. To me Livingstone was a hero who did things for the betterment of others. He didn't get it right all the time, but that doesn't mead we can't celebrate what he did get right.

I feel I've only 'scratched the surface' of what he did, but I hope its someone you've enjoyed reading about.

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think




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    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Aestal 1

      So true. Livingstone is a shining example of following the call and what can happen.


    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Such a great man indeed. He responded to the call and lived it fully.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I read Livingstone's story as an eight year old and I've never lost the wonder of the story. Some of the things in the story were almost taken right out of Hollywood but the difference is Livingstone lived a long time before Hollywood and maybe they took the story from him? Really pleased you liked the story



    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Those are the kind of books that stay with a boy all his life. Reading about the lives of the men and women who explored that continent and were often the first Westerners that the Africans had seen. Enjoy reading them again and be inspired.



    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I loved this hub Lawrence, the very first history book I ever read as a child (well it was actually a comic book which was part of a series about famous people) was about Stanley's search for David Livingston. I was enthralled with his story after that. I remember watching the movie too. You told me a lot of facts in this hub that I hadn't been aware of however, including that his heart was buried in Africa. Well written and very interesting. Voted up.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      3 years ago from San Diego California

      In my youth I read a great many books about African exploration, The Blue Nile and The White Nile in particular. I found it fascinating. Your hub makes me think it's time to go back and reread them. Great job!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You made so much sense of this man's life in such a short space. Nice job, and I hope to hear more about the "famed, " and know exactly who they were. Well done!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Still pretty awesome

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, but I think it's him and not me. He's a special kid (not really a kid at 37 but he feels like my kid anyway). Very special indeed.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I think it's an amazing testimony to the man and to you that your son picked up on that.

      How amazing would it be to talking to our father only to look up to see Jesus welcoming us home! Pretty special

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      What a wonderful legacy and a wonderful way to go. Kneeling in prayer. My son once told me that he was most impressed walking in on me one morning to find me kneeling in prayer for the family. I had no idea he saw that but he says it shaped his future. He is now a pastor of a church in Indiana. I think I want to go the way Livingstone went, in prayer.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I didn't remember that bit until I watched a BBC documentary that covered his life.

      You're right about the wealth coming from the slave trade and slavery. That's what made men like Wilberforce and Livingstone unpopular in some circles

      Glad you enjoyed the hub


    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Lawrence. Spot on. A really interesting hub. I did not know he died in prayer at his bedside. I knew his views on the slave trade. It is something all to easily forgotten that Britain grew wealthy from the slave trade. A really good presentation all round.

      voted up and all.


    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Livingstone is a fascinating character not just for his exploration of Africa but also the fact that he was willing to take on the slave traders and the way he was willing to work with the locals instead of 'Lording it over them' Glad you found the hub interesting


    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      This was enlightening. I've heard of Dr. Livingstone but didn't really know anything about him. Thanks for the history lesson. It was interesting.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I just wanted to be like Livingstone. I can remember sitting in front of our TV at home heating of far away places and thinking 'one day'

      I did get to travel and that's when I discovered the way Livingstone did things turned a trip into an adventure and locals into friends

      I also discovered the way he interacted with people was as an equal

      When I was at college webinar students from Africa who loved Livingstone. I asked them why as we thought they saw him as part of the imperial past but they simply said 'because he treated Africans as equals'

    • stevarino profile image

      Steve Dowell 

      3 years ago from East Central Indiana

      I've always been enthralled with the stories of European explorers in Africa, in addition to Livingston, Samuel Baker and his wife, Mungo Park, John Speke, to name a few, and my favorite of all, Sir Richard Francis Burton.

      Thanks for the interesting article and for rekindling my interest on the topic!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I enjoyed reading this. It is interesting how one book could inspire you to uncover this man's life and work. He lead a remarkable life and a remarkable study of human beings. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      A fascinating explorer and a wonderful article,

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm heard of him, of course. It seems like I've known of him since I was a little kid...but I knew practically nothing about him. Thanks for sharing this....really very interesting. Now you've got me curious and I'll have to do some more research.


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