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Henry M Stanley, African Explorer

Updated on July 27, 2018

That's SIR Henry M. Stanley to you

Stanley the Explorer
Stanley the Explorer

Henry Morton Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley (28 January 1841 - 10 May 1904), was the Welsh journalist and intrepid, Victorian Age, African explorer famous for his search for and subsequent finding of, fellow explorer, Doctor David Livingstone. Their famous meeting was immortalized with the now legendary words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" One of the most oft repeated salutations in history. But did he really say this famous line? We'll find out below.

Stanley's fascinating safari into deepest Africa in search of Livingstone is only one of the many, thrilling adventures Stanley had throughout his life. He was, and still remains, an extremely controversial figure and debates still rage over a number of aspects of his life and his actions. Learn about the man, the myth and the legend here.

Order of the Bath

Ordder of the Bath
Ordder of the Bath


Formerly known as The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, the The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded in 1725 by King George I.

The Order's structure consists of:

The Sovereign (currently Queen Elizabeth II)
The Great Master (currently HRH The Prince of Wales)
And three Classes of members:
Knight Grand Cross (GCB) or Dame Grand Cross (GCB)
Knight Commander (KCB) or Dame Commander (DCB)
Companion (CB)

Stanley was a Knight Grand Cross (GCB)

African Explorer

Stanley African Explorer
Stanley African Explorer

Henry Was A Bastard

It says so right on his birth certificate.

Henry Stanley was actually born John Rowlands and his parents were unmarried. As was the fashion of the time, his birth certificate actually listed him as "John Rowlands, Bastard". The hard knocks didn't stop there. It appears that Henry didn't know his father at all and his young mother, Elisabeth Parry, who was only 19 at the time of his birth, soon abandoned baby Henry to the care of his grandfather. In keeping with his luck, Henry's grandfather passed away just a few short years later. Henry was shipped off to the Asaph Workhouse, a place that had an extremely nasty reputation.

Amazon Explorer

STanley Amazon Explorer
STanley Amazon Explorer

Call Me Henry

A new country, a new name and a new life.

When he turned seventeen, Henry (still known as John at this time), signed on as a cabin boy aboard an American freighter. When the ship docked in New Orleans, he quickly jumped ship and disappeared into the crowds of people, intent on making a new life for himself. He started by creating a new identity for himself and took the name Henry Stanley from a wealthy, local cotton merchant of whom he claimed to be the adopted son.

Under his new name, Stanley enlisted in the Confederate Army and fought at the battle of Shiloh. He was promptly captured and, ever the opportunist, switched sides to join the Union Army. He went on to serve in the Navy as a clerk on board the frigate Minnesota, but, you guessed it, he eventually deserted that too.


There is some controversy over the facts concerning Stanley's connection with this famous man, many believing that the two never even met!

Asian Explorer

Stanley Asian Explorer
Stanley Asian Explorer

Henry the Journalist

My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia.

It was about this time that Henry began his career as a journalist, touring the American Wild West, reporting on the frequent battles and skirmishes between the military and the American Indians.

He also managed to organize an expedition to Asia Minor and the famed Ottoman Empire in Turkey as a newspaper correspondent, covering Lord Napier's British military foray into Abyssinia. The expedition came to an abrupt end when Stanley was captured and imprisoned. He was eventually able to talk his way out of jail and even managed to secure some financial restitution for damages to his expedition's equipment!

After a brief stint working for Colonel Samuel Forster Tappan of the Indian Peace Commission, Stanley was retained by James Gordon Bennett, founder of the much lauded New York Herald. Bennett was impressed by Stanley's exploits and approved of his direct style of writing.

Read About Henry's Other Adventures

My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia, Volume 1
My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia, Volume 1

For more information on this early period of Henry's life read My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia.


Darkest Africa

Darkest Africa
Darkest Africa

In Search of Livingstone

Into Darkest Africa

In October 1869 Bennett charged Stanley with the history making mission "Find Livingstone." The Scottish missionary and explorer, David Lingstone was reported to be somewhere near Lake Tanganyika in Africa but had not been heard from in some time. When Stanley asked how much he was to spend on this expedition, the famous reply was "Draw £1,000 now, and when you have gone through that, draw another £1,000, and when that is spent, draw another £1,000, and when you have finished that, draw another £1,000, and so on - BUT FIND LIVINGSTONE!"


It is believed that Stanley had lobbied Bennett for several years to mount this expedition, assuming that it would bring him fame and fortune.

Suez Canal

Suez Canal
Suez Canal

Off to Adventure

Never one to miss a good story, Stanley stopped by Egypt to report on the opening of the Suez Canal before travelling through Palestine, Turkey and India to arrive on the east coast of Africa near Zanzibar. In March 1871, Henry Mortan Stanley, journalist, adventurer and explorer, mounted astride a thoroughbred stallion, began his 700 mile overland trek in search of Dr Livingstone. He was riding into history. A few days later, his horse died.

Traveling in Style

And then it all went wrong.

The expedition started off well enough with Stanley outfitting his expedition with the very best of everything. With an unlimited spending budget he bought so much equipment and so many supplies that it required no fewer than 200 porters to carry it all. Stanley himself cut a resplendent figure, dressed as he was in dazzling white and sitting atop a magnificent stallion. But the hardships of the undertaking soon made themselves evident.

Just a few short days into the journey, Stanley's thoroughbred horse was bitten by the nefarious African tsetse fly and died. This event heralded the coming nightmare that was travelling the dense, African jungles. Vital supplies were lost when many of his native bearers deserted him. Those that stayed were decimated by a host of exotic, tropical diseases.

In an almost unbelievable twist that could come right out of the pages of a pulp fiction era comic, Stanley's group was beset by marauding tribes of flesh-starved cannibals who showered them with deadly spears and poisoned arrows, all the while shouting "niama, niama" which means "meat, meat" in their native tongue. Apparently these savage tribesmen think human flesh makes a tasty dish when boiled and served with rice!


To keep the expedition together, Stanley was forced to take stern measures that included brutalizing his bearers.

Finding Livingstone

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Despite the extreme hardships and ever present perils of the trip, on 10 November 1871, in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania, Stanley found Livingstone and greeted him with the salutation "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" The ailing Livingstone was remarkably delighted to greet him, answering "Yes! Yes, that's my name!" And offering Stanley a warm and hearty handshake.

Famous Explorer

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer
Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer

In this sympathetic biography of Henry Morton Stanley, who famously asked, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?', Tim Jeal takes issue with the portrayal of Stanley as a cruel racist who tricked the Congolese chieftains into giving their lands to the Belgians. He argues that Stanley was a gentle and courageous if insecure man, who respected Africans and would not have been able to succeed in his expeditions without native support.



The famous phrase "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" may be a fabrication. Stanley tore out the pages of his diary that relate to his first encounter with Livingstone.

Dr David Livingstone

Doctor David Livingstone
Doctor David Livingstone

Exploring Together

Exploring Africa with Dr Livingstone

In search of Livingstone, Stanley's expedition had travelled 700 miles in 236 days and battled many challenges but Stanley was far from finished with adventure. He joined Livingstone, who had been extensively exploring that region for of Africa for years, and together they established for certain that there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the River Nile.

Stanley later authored a book based on the experiences he had with his friend Livingstone, How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa.

The Death of Livingstone

The passing of a legend.

In 1873, on the shores of Lake Bagweulu, Dr Livingstone, Missionary, explorer and adventurer, set out on his final safari into the unknown when he died.
The british government requested of the tribal chief that Livingstone's body be sent back to England for the proper ceremonies and eventual burial in Westminster Abbey.
The chief relented but cut out Livingstone's heart! He pinned a note to the body that read "You can have his body, but his heart belongs to Africa."

At Livingstone's funeral, Stanley acted as one of the pall-bearers.

Dark Continent

Through the Dark Continent:Volume 1
Through the Dark Continent:Volume 1

Perhaps best known as the intrepid adventurer who located the missing explorer David Livingstone in equatorial Africa in 1871, Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) played a major role in assembling the fragmented discoveries and uncertain geographical knowledge of central Africa into a coherent picture. He was the first European to explore the Congo River; assisted at the founding of the Congo Free State, and helped pave the way for the opening up of modern Africa.

In this classic account of one of his most important expeditions, the venerable Victorian recounts the incredibly difficult and perilous journey during which he explored the great lakes of Central Africa, confirming their size and position, searched for the sources of the Nile, and traced the unknown Congo River from the depths of the continent to the sea. Accompanied by three Englishmen and a crew of Africans, Stanley left Zanzibar in 1874. He traveled to Lake Victoria, which he circumnavigated in his boat, the Lady Alice. Almost immediately, illness, malnutrition and conflicts with native tribes began to decimate his followers. Nevertheless, the explorer pushed on, also circumnavigating Lake Tanganyika, which he determined to be unconnected with the Nile system. Finally in 1876, Stanley was ready to undertake "the grandest task of all" — exploring the Livingstone (Congo) River. He sailed down the vast waterway to the lake he called Stanley Pool, then on to a series of 32 cataracts he named Livingstone Falls. Unable to go further by boat, Stanley continued overland, reaching the Atlantic Ocean on August 12, 1877. Mishaps, hostile tribes, and disease had killed his three white companions and half the Africans, but Stanley had attained his objective.

His tremendous perseverance (his persistence led his men to nickname him Bula Matari — "the rock breaker") was complemented by Stanley's abilities as a keen observer and accomplished prose stylist. These talents are fully evident in this exciting narrative. It offers not only the action and adventure of a life-and-death struggle to survive in the African wilderness, but detailed descriptions of native peoples, customs, and culture; the flora and fauna of central Africa; and a wealth of geographical, ecological, and other information. Supplemented with 149 black-and-white illustrations and a foldout map, this monumental narrative will be welcomed by anyone interested in the European exploration of central Africa during the nineteenth century, the exploits of one of the great explorers of all time, and a breathtaking story of human endurance and achievement in the face of immense odds.


Into the Congo

A journey into Hell.

In 1874, financed by a partnership between the New York Herald and Britain's Daily Telegraph, Stanley started his second African expedition. This trek into central Africa was a living nightmare, a gruelling, savage, 7,000 mile long test of will power and determination that saw all of Stanley's European travelling companions perish.

Yet, despite it's great hardships, the expedition also yielded great rewards such as circumnavigating Victoria Nyanza, proving it to be the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, and the discovery of the Shimeeyu River.

Another of the missions Stanley was charged with on this adventure was to solve one of the last great mysteries of African exploration by mapping the course of the Congo River. In 1887, after 999 excruciating days, Stanley reached a Portuguese outpost at the mouth of the River Congo. Starting with 356 people, only 114 had survived of which Stanley was the only European. He wrote about his trials in his book Through the Dark Continent

Belgian Congo

Belgian Congo
Belgian Congo


In later years, Stanley spent a lot of time and energy defending himself against charges that his African expeditions had been marked by callous violence and brutality towards the native population.

The Congo Free State

In 1876 the ambitious Belgian king Leopold II formed a private holding company which disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society. The king declared his intentions to introduce Western civilization and bring religion to that part of Africa. He 'forgot' to mention that he also wanted to claim the lands and exploit them. As he said privately to Stanley, "Prove that the Congo basin was rich enough to repay exploitation".

Stanley returned to the Congo, established trade stations, negotiated with tribal leaders, built roads, and obtained concessions, all of which ultimately lead to the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885. King Leopold%u2019s aggressive exploitation of the country's natural resources was dubbed "the rubber atrocities" by the international community of the time.

Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness (AmazonClassics Edition)
Heart of Darkness (AmazonClassics Edition)

River steamboat captain Charles Marlow has set forth on the Congo in Africa to find the enigmatic European trader Mr. Kurtz. Preceded by his reputation as a brilliant emissary of progress, Kurtz has now established himself as a god among the natives in “one of the darkest places on earth.” Marlow suspects something else of Kurtz: he has gone mad.

A reflection on corruptive European colonialism and a journey into the nightmare psyche of one of the corrupted, Heart of Darkness is considered one of the most influential works ever written.


Emin Pasha

Emin Pasha
Emin Pasha

Heart of Darkness

Stanley's legacy of death and destruction in the Congo region is widely considered to be the inspiration behind Joseph Conrad's gripping novel Heart of Darkness, detailing atrocities inflicted upon the natives.

Emin Pasha Relief Expedition

Men at their very worst.

Stanley's third and final great African adventure 1887-1889 was a shocking and disgusting example of men at their very worst. This expedition would tarnish Stanley's name and he would expend considerable effort to defend himself against the numerous accusation. The reason for the expedition was rescue Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria in the southern Sudan who was beset by hostile Mahdist forces.

The trail of death, horror and bloodshed left in the wake of this journey is hard to describe but included such atrocities as James Jameson, heir to the Irish whiskey empire, giving a young, native girl to a tribe of cannibals so he could document their...preparation ad consumption of her.

Stanley's Grave

Stanley's Grave
Stanley's Grave

Stanley's Death

By 1890 Stanley had finished his lecture tours of America and Australia and settled in England, was knighted in 1899 and died in London on 10th May 1904. He is buried at Pirbright, Surrey, England.

The life and adventures of this incredibly driven and complex explorer is a fascinating tale of discovery, hardship and the force of human will. While he wasn't perfect, he was intriguing and few characters in history can provide a more exciting and perilous saga.

He was a man of a different time, in dangerous circumstances, constantly beset by the threat of death, yet he always survived. Henry Morton Stanley was a true explorer and a real life action hero.


Dr Livingstone
Dr Livingstone

The Meeting Place

Below is something pretty cool that I just found. A Wisconsin man’s video of his journey to the monument where Henry Morton Stanley first greeted Doctor David Livingstone and saluted him with “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

Where Stanley Found Livingstone

Did You Know?

Did you know about Stanley before?

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    • GetitScene profile imageAUTHOR

      Dale Anderson 

      14 months ago from The High Seas

      Exciting times and interesting people back then. Very romantic stories but I sure bet it was pretty hard living that kind of life. Still, I never get tired of hearing about their adventures!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      14 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Interesting...we just watched a documentary on him. We really can't judge the explorers from our present perspective. He did with his courage contributed to human knowledge and we do appreciate this.

    • GetitScene profile imageAUTHOR

      Dale Anderson 

      4 years ago from The High Seas

      Wait till you read my hub about william henry bully hayes!

    • aethelthryth profile image


      4 years ago from American Southwest

      I always wondered what the answer to that famous question was. Interesting life story; now I want to know more about him.


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