Sunday, August 9, 2015

Guts, intelligence and industry. Richard Thornton - The Zambezi Expedition (8)

Richard Thornton, was the second-youngest of twelve children and born at Cottingley, Yorkshire, in 1838 and he demonstrated early ability at school and deep interest in the natural world.
Richard Thornton

A prizewinning graduate of the London School of Mines, he was about to take up a position as geologist with an Australian government survey when he was presented with the opportunity to join the Zambezi Expedition and he sailed on the Pearl together with several of the other participants including Baines, Bedingfield, Sir John Kirk and Livingstone’s brother Charles.

As has been described earlier in this series of posts, the seeds for future personality conflicts were sown on that voyage. Thornton clearly upset Charles Livingstone for some reason. Possibly his keen intelligence, youthful enthusiasm and a mind open to the exciting opportunities ahead had all or something to do with it. 

As it turned out, Thorntons youth (barely twenty) and life inexperience were no match for a hardened, stressed and morose David Livingstone, who accused him and Thomas Baines (see earlier post) of laziness, “skylarking”, drinking too much brandy and colluding with the Portuguese: 
Thornton evidently disinclined to geologize and has done next to nothing for the last three months. Gorges himself with the best of everything he can lay hands on. …” and Thornton doing nothing: is inveterately lazy and wants good sense.
George Martelli in his book Livingstones River details that Livingstone’s fault was to leave this willing and able, but totally inexperienced, young man: ... to his own devices in a savage country, without proper instructions, supervision or any provision for medical care.

When the majority of the expedition was away up-country, Thornton was left behind at Tete (Mozambique) and told to find any coal seams in the area. Although he was equipped with guides, he did not understand any of the languages and the workers soon took advantage of his youth, indulged in pilfering and refused to obey his orders. Thornton did find a coal seam, but was already suffering from serious bouts of malaria, prickly heat and badly festering mosquito bites. There were days when he could barely stand upright, he was so ill.

From Thornton’s many letters to family members and his diaries which were crammed full of geological and topographical information, it was clear he wasn’t lazy, but he was sacked by Livingstone anyway without even being paid his due salary.

Following his dismissal and partial recovery from the fever, Thornton travelled with Portuguese traders up along the Zambezi and through what is now Zambia to East Africa where he joined up with the German explorer, Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken and accompanied him on an attempt to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Thornton thus became the first Englishman to view the mountain and also to confirm that the summit did indeed have snow and ice.
Mt Kilimanjaro c 1869

David Livingstone clearly regretted his hasty dismissal of the young man, partly because he needed Thornton’s maps and geological surveys for his own reports on the Expedition. 

Thornton was  invited to rejoin the Zambezi Expedition, but by now the young man’s days were numbered and he died on 21 April, 1863, after an heroic journey in bringing food to his companions. Livingstone must have realised that his treatment of Thornton had been harsh and approved the payment of arrears of  his salary - albeit less expenses - to Thornton’s estate. Livingstone never gave any public acknowledgement of his culpability in sending the young man to an early grave. As with the case with Baines, he never forgave Thornton being friendly with the dreaded Portuguese.

Martelli sums up this able young man as follows: 

Thornton had all the qualities necessary to success in the career he had chosen; guts, intelligence, industry, independence of spirit and but for his tragic death he might well have achieved eminence in the geological exploration of Africa. It was a defect of Livingstone’s leadership that he failed to bring out these qualities, although Thornton had already shown them in his excellent survey of the River Zambezi, and that they only emerged after he had escaped from the Expedition and the baneful influence of Livingstone’s brother.

Thornton is buried at Maganga village, Malawi, and his grave is still cared for today.

The grave today. See Blogging from Blantyre

Thornton is also recorded on this family tombstone in Shipley, Yorkshire. Find-a-Grave

Links to other webpages that give details of the short life of Richard Thornton, the talented young geologist for the Zambezi Expedition:

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Renaissance Man, Thomas Baines - The Zambezi Expedition (7)

Another member of the Expedition to fall seriously foul of David Livingstone’s inability to lead, or even communicate properly at a personal level with people of his own kind, was Thomas Baines.

Described in an obituary as brave and distinguished, Thomas Baines (1820-1875) was a man of many talents but is primarily remembered as an artist. His personal story deserves far more than a few lines.  (See below for the Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry and other links.)

Baines was the subject of an excellent biography Thomas Baines of Kings Lynn by J P R Wallis, published in 1941, but he deserves a modern reappraisal not just of his art, but because of his passion for wild life and the natural landscape, for his perceptiveness, good nature and tolerance in his dealings with his fellow travellers, people of other races and nationalities.

Baines at the time of his departure in SS Pearl

As an artist he is mainly remembered for his African scenes, but prior to joining the Zambezi Expedition, he took part in an expedition to Northern Australia with Augustus Gregory, travelling much of the Gulf of Carpentaria in a long boat. His art works hang in several Australian galleries and institutions. Mount Baines and Baines River in the Northern Territory are named after him.

Watercolour, Baobab in Africa

Baobab in Australia

Baines sailed together with other members of the Zambezi Expedition from England in SS Pearl in March 1858. It was at some stage on that voyage that the rot set in with most of the relationships that would only get worse with time. (The stories about Bedingfield and Rae featured earlier in this series of posts.) 

Charles Livingstone, David’s brother, took his role as “moral agent” to the extreme and it only needed a minor slip-up in what he considered to be proper Christian behaviour for the men to get on his wrong side. Like David, he was racially arrogant towards the Portuguese, thinking them immoral and degenerate, so when men like Baines displayed friendliness towards officials of Tete Province in Mozambique, who had only shown consideration and courtesy in return, Charles thought they were off having “orgies” together. He whispered his opinion of these wicked doings to his brother who accepted them as truth. David must surely have known in his heart-of-hearts what sort of man his brother really was, yet he allowed important and often fateful decisions to be governed by this vicious gossip.

The biography by Wallis describes how the many natural specimens Baines collected were treated:
 “[They] were denounced, he does not say by whom [again most likely Charles Livingstone] as trash, lumber, stinking things and thrown overboard at the first opportunity” … “and he became tired of collecting. He felt he was looked upon more as a storekeeper and handyman than as an artist and there was no disposition to admit him to the liberal side of the expedition’s work.”
Baines had involved himself in every aspect of the Expedition, including woodworking and boat building, but was laid low several times due to fever - as were most of the participants. The crunch came when he was accused by Charles of being free and easy with the stores and “having given away the property of the Expedition in such a manner as to lay himself open to prosecution”.

While in a delirious state caused by his fever, Baines responded to this accusation by Charles with some no doubt ill-chosen words that were interpreted as a confession of sorts, and his fate was further sealed when he was accused of “skylarking”, ruining a whale boat and wasting his “time and materials in painting Portuguese portraits”. Baines was primarily an animal and landscape painter and not many portraits exist, if any, as he abandoned many of his paintings and drawings when he was forced to leave the Expedition. 

One of the few portraits known by Baines
Wife of Capt. Drysdale, Royal Geographical Society, 1856
Baines in later life, National Library of Australia
Although David Livingstone and Baines seem to have discussed in person the matter of the misappropriation or outright theft of Expedition supplies, it is the official letter of dismissal that David Livingstone handed to Baines in which the whisperings of his brother Charles can be detected. David even questions Baines’ artistic ability, which hardly reflects well on Livingstone. This letter is fully reproduced in all its sniping officiousness in the biography and makes for sad reading. As with Bedingfield, Baines was written out of the official Journal published by the Livingstone brothers, although some of his illustrations were included without accreditation.

Thomas Baines did not let the disappointing and unpleasant ending to the Zambezi Expedition impinge on the rest of his life and he went on to have great influence in the development of Southern Africa until he died in 1875.

In an article written on the centenary of his death that can be read in the JStor Archives, the author states that his ability was outstanding:
... that he probably approached the ideal of Renaissance Man more nearly than anyone in Africa at the time. Besides being a proficient handyman, able to shoe a horse, mend a wagon wheel, or repair a rifle, he was an accomplished astronomer, navigator and cartographer, and a very competent botanist, entomologist (several plants and one insect were named after him following their discoveries) and he possessed a most intelligent and enquiring mind.
The increasingly endangered Black Rhinoceros
The beetle - Bolbotritus bainesi

The bizarre Welwitschia bainesii


Baines, (John) Thomas (1820–1875), artist and explorer, was born on 27 November 1820 at King's Lynn, Norfolk, the second son and one of three surviving children of Mary Ann Watson and John Thomas Baines, a master mariner. His father and maternal grandfather were amateur artists, his brother Henry a professional. His mother strongly encouraged his artistic endeavours and was his chief publicist in his lifetime and after his death. After education at private schools in King's Lynn he was apprenticed to a painter of heraldic arms on coach panels, also in King's Lynn, but began sketching marine subjects. In 1842 he sailed for Cape Town, where he practised his trade until, in 1845, he became a marine and portrait painter. In 1846 he began his career as a traveller, using his writing and painting to finance his explorations. In the late 1840s he started to sketch the battlefield scenes which some regard as his most memorable work, and between 1851 and 1852 he was the official war artist to the British forces during the Cape Frontier War.

In 1853 Baines returned to England and worked for the Royal Geographical Society, on whose recommendation, in 1855, he joined Augustus Gregory's expedition to north-west Australia. Many fine paintings and sketches survive from his journey and the Baines River was named after him. His energy and judgement won him special thanks from the colonial government and the freedom of his native town. In 1858, again on the recommendation of the Royal Geographical Society of which he had been elected a fellow in 1857, he was appointed storekeeper and artist to David Livingstone's expedition to open up the Zambezi for trade. It was an unhappy expedition, from which Baines was unjustly dismissed for allegedly misappropriating stores after a disagreement with Livingstone's brother Charles. His paintings from the Zambezi were exhibited in London and Dublin and his manuscript map of the river (D. Middleton, ‘The doctor who loved Africa’, Geographical Magazine, 45/8, 1973, 596) lodged in the Royal Geographical Society. In 1861 he joined James Chapman on an expedition from the south-west coast of Africa to the Victoria Falls; he made a complete route survey, having been taught how to use surveying and astronomical instruments by Sir Thomas Maclear, astronomer royal at the Cape. He also collected scientific information and botanical specimens—the latter now at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—and made many sketches and paintings, which were published as coloured lithographs in 1862. He returned to England to write and lecture before going back to southern Africa to lead an expedition which successfully secured concessions for a gold mining company, although the company failed to take advantage of his achievement. He mapped and wrote a valuable description of the route from the goldfields of the Tati to the capital of the Transvaal republic. In 1873 he was awarded a testimonial gold watch by the Royal Geographical Society. He continued to travel in southern Africa, surveying, drawing, and painting what he saw. On 8 May 1875 he died of dysentery at Durban and was buried in the old cemetery there.

Baines never married but his pleasant manner and faithful nature secured him many friends. He was energetic and active, despite his limp which resulted from the ill setting of a fractured femur and which earned him the nickname Cripple Thigh. Although largely self-taught and working under very difficult and, in the case of his war sketches, dangerous conditions, he produced technically accomplished and sympathetic sketches, watercolours, and oils, which were highly regarded in his own lifetime and were later much prized, especially in southern Africa and in Australia.

Elizabeth Baigent


M. Diemont and J. Diemont, eds., Brenthurst Baines: a selection of the works of Thomas Baines (1975) · R. Braddon, Thomas Baines and the north Australian expedition (1986) · L. W. Bolze, Thomas Baines centenary, 1875–1975: a tribute to southern Africa's renowned artist-explorer (Johannesburg, 1975) · J. Carruthers, Thomas Baines: eastern Cape sketches, 1848–1852 (1990) · J. P. R. Wallis, Thomas Baines of King's Lynn: explorer and artist, 1820–1875 (1941); repr. (1982) · H. Luckett, Thomas Baines, 1820–1875 (1975) · Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 46 (1876), 141–4


 Brenthurst Library, Johannesburg, corresp., notebooks, diaries, and papers · Lynn Museum, King's Lynn, sketchbooks and paintings · National Archives of Zimbabwe, Harare, corresp. and papers · NHM, paintings and drawings · NL Aus., journal · RBG Kew, botanical specimens · RGS, papers and journals of African expedition |  NL Scot., corresp. with Dr David Livingstone [microfilm] · RGS, letters to Royal Geographical Society

Antiquarian Booksellers 

Australian National Herbarium

South African History Online

African Paintings

Australian Exploration

Saturday, June 20, 2015

One of the last "Nightingales" - The Zambezi Expedition (6)

Anyone who was born in 1831 and died in 1933 at the ripe old age of 102, would have been witness to some of the most remarkable developments in human history. They would have seen the worldwide expansion of the railways, motor cars and commercial air flight. And then there were the amazing inventions of electric lighting, telephones, radio and motion pictures, as well as the great medical advancements, including the discovery by Dr Ronald Ross that the malaria which had so blighted the Zambezi Expedition was caused by mosquitoes. Jessie Lennox was one such person, and her story rounds out those of the women of the Expedition. 

Initially, most of what I was able to find out about Jessie followed on from newspaper obituaries and this one from the British Nursing Journal of February 1933. As will be seen, her experiences on the Zambezi are not really detailed and it is mostly about her later career in nursing and her friendship with Florence Nightingale.
THE PASSING BELL [British Journal of Nursing, February 1933] 
Miss Jessie Lennox, who was a personal friend of Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale, has died in Edinburgh at the age of 102.
She first went to Africa as a missionary in 1858, and after a period in England, she went out again in 1862. She then accompanied Mrs. Livingstone from Durban to the mouth of the Zambesi, and witnessed the meeting between the great missionary and his wife there.
Returning again to England, Miss Lennox was associated with the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London and became a close friend of Florence Nightingale. She was one of the first six Army Sisters appointed by the War Office to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley. These Sisters were received by Miss Nightingale, that she might give them parting instructions. She lay in bed, pencil and paper always beside her, that everything of interest might be noted down. Miss Lennox described her bedroom as a large, airy room - “with plenty of ventilation, even in those days!” In giving the Sisters advice, Miss Nightingale exhorted them that they were never to say they were unable to do anything!
For 18 years she was matron of the Sick Children’s Hospital in Belfast, and after her retirement she was honorary matron for ten years of the epileptic colony at Bridge of Weir, Scotland.
When the Scottish War Memorial was opened in Edinburgh in 1927, Miss Lennox was an honoured guest wearing a nursing uniform similar to the first issued to the British Army, and she was presented to the King and Queen and the Prince of Wales.
Miss Lennox has related the circumstances which brought about her first visit to Miss Nightingale’s house. From all over the world she was receiving applications for advice and assistance in nursing matters. On that occasion the German Empress - mother of the ex-Kaiser - had requested that a complete set of probationer’s uniform be sent to Germany as a model, and Miss Lennox was the nurse deputed to convey it to Miss Nightingale’s house in Park Lane.
After years of devoted service the pioneer “Nightingales” are passing to their rest.
Florence Nightingale surrounded by some of her nurses
While searching for images online of Jessie Lennox, I was very pleased to come across the Hole Ousia blog which carries a post about a family connection to her and adds much more information from private sources. It states that Anne Mackenzie, to whom she was maid-companion in Durban, had this to say about her:
Alice [sister of Anne Mackenzie] has brought us a treasure in Jessie, who is the brightest creature I have seen for many a day ...
Jessie is a perfect delight, so ready to make herself useful, and she has volunteered how very happy she is already.
Anne Mackenzie encouraged Jessie into nursing after their African experiences and she had a long career. References to her progress and also extracts from her letters appear in the Collected works of Florence Nightingale but they also indicate there were periods when she was sick. She had to resign from Netley in 1870 due to ill health and again from the Belfast Children’s Hospital in 1891 for the same reason. Although she lived to a great age, even by today’s standards, one wonders if the deprivations and malarial fevers that she and the other women suffered all those years earlier on the Zambezi may have been a contributing factor to those episodes of ill health. 

One newspaper reported that Jessie was buried in the North Merchiston Cemetery, now in a sad state of disrepair, but I have been unable to discover whether she has a traceable tombstone.

Jessie Lennox - these images from Hole Ousia


There is one other white woman who journeyed up the river with Jessie, Anne Mackenzie, Emily Burrup and Mary Livingstone, who remains a mystery. All the published sources and references on the Expedition only ever refer to her as "Sarah". Unlike her companions she does not seem to have left her mark in any way and, like mist over the Zambezi, has simply evaporated into history.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The "Blythe Spirit" - The Zambezi Expedition (5)

Much of what is known about the ladies of the Expedition comes from a book by W. Cope Devereaux, who had been Assistant Paymaster on HMS Gorgon, the Royal Navy vessel that was cruising the coast of East Africa as part of the suppression of the slave trade and was given orders to assist Livingstone. Unlike more formal, often censored, accounts and biographies, Devereaux has a wry, if somewhat condescending masculine superiority, and while not all that he writes is completely trustworthy or accurate, the book gives the detached outsider's view of several individuals of the Expedition. 

HMS Gorgon

Published in 1869, a copy of Devereaux's book found its way into a library in Durban, South Africa (the Campbell Collection), and there at some time in the next year or so was annotated by a woman with the initials of E.M.B. - possibly late in December, 1870, when she was en route to a completely new life in Australia. (For the full article see The Society of Malawi Journal, January 1977)

She seems to have been known as "Emily", possibly because of her E.M. initials, although she was born Elizabeth Mary Tudway in Gloucestershire in 1840 and married Reverend Henry de Wint Burrup in 1861 shortly before he embarked on his travels with Bishop Mackenzie. 

Her annotated comments next to Devereaux's passages about the ladies indicate something of her character. She is not at all impressed at his suggestions they were "helpless" or "fond of dress". Examples include:
The author speaks of what he does not understand. It is easy to criticize others' actions when one is not in the field! Things were done with much prayer and consideration and not "foolishly" and "conceitedly".
All is an invention of Mr. D[evereaux]. The "poor creatures" were by no means as unfortunate as he represents.
Although E.M. was devoted to the idea of being a missionary alongside her husband, she also seems to have had great energy and sense of fun, and adds comments about the food, including eating sweets, about her hair being long enough to sit upon, and the horrific mosquitoes that plagued them incessantly. 

E.M.'s world was soon changed forever when she learned she was a widow at the age of 22 and, suffering greatly from boils and ulcers, she was cared for by Mary Livingstone until she and Miss Mackenzie could be repatriated to their safer lives.  

Curious as to what happened to E.M. after her sad experience in Africa, I was surprised to discover that she had strong links to Australia. She was married again in 1870, to ironmonger merchant, James Levick, who had homes both in England and in Sydney. James was a widower, nearly 25 years older than E.M. and with several grown children.

The Victorian Public Record Office passenger lists show that E.M. arrived in Australia with her new husband and some of his children on the ship Queen of the Thames (see note below) in January 1871. Tragically, her first child, Lawrence Burrup Levick, died in August of that year, but she went on to have several more children in Sydney before James Levick died in 1879 and she returned to England a few years later.

My investigations led me to contact one of her great-granddaughters in Australia. She told me that there is still in existence an old trunk full of family memorabilia that belonged to one of E.M.'s sons, Lionel Levick, who died at sea on his way home to Australia in 1913, leaving his three daughters orphaned. The trunk spent much of the past century in an old country barn but apparently it contains letters, journals and even photographs of individuals unknown to the present generation of Levicks. Some of them include black people.

E.M.'s great-granddaughter had only limited knowledge of the Zambezi Expedition, although the names "Burrup" and "Tudway" were familiar to her. It seems several of E.M.'s female descendants were strong women who overcame hardships and challenges and were known for their "fervour" in whatever paths they chose in life. They have included an artist, a sufragette and a university professor.

Perhaps some day, someone in the family will investigate that trunk in greater depth and more historical records or facts could come to light - maybe even photographs of E.M. or others involved in the Expedition. It is possible that new information could be added to the historical records and it would be wonderful if this does happen as there is still so much that is unknown about the experiences of the women in particular during this early thwarted attempt to bring Christianity and civilization to Central Africa.

E.M. died in 1907 and here is her obituary from The Cheltenham Chronicle, also an earlier article in which her son tells the story of her hair and how an African chief offered to buy her with oxen (this episode is also covered in Devereaux's book).

Note:  In another of those odd quirks of history, the vessel that took E.M. to Australia, The Queen of the Thames, was wrecked at South Africa on her return voyage in 1871. On board was geologist, Richard Daintree, after whom the Daintree Forest of North Queensland is named. Most of his collection of rare geological and other specimens was lost in the wreck, but he managed to save his valuable photographic plates. Read about them here.  

The Queen of the Thames, wrecked Overberg Coast, 1871

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Bishop's Sister - The Zambezi Expedition (4)

Conditions were horrendous enough even for the toughest and hardiest of men, and the last thing David Livingstone would have wanted on the Zambezi Expedition was a group of white women. But when one of them happened to be his wife, the long-suffering Mary, who was tired of years of enforced separation from her husband, he had to give way.

He also had pressures being exerted on him by the leaders of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) to bring out their womenfolk, being Bishop Charles Mackenzie's sister, Miss Anne Mackenzie, and the wife of Reverend Henry de Wint Burrup - nee Eizabeth Mary Tudway - who will be the subject of another post.

At least with her background, Mary Livingstone was probably the only woman in the group who knew exactly what she was getting herself into, unlike the others.

From the various accounts relating to her, the character of Anne Mackenzie suffers from two extremes. She comes across as either a gossipy, complaining and ageing hypochondriac - with a touch of the racist thrown in - or a good-humoured, sturdy and sensible Scotswoman, prepared to put up with anything. So which was she? Or did she start out as one and turn into the other as a result of her experiences and extreme privations up the Zambezi?

A short biography entitled An Elder Sister written in 1877 is available at Internet Archive, but Anne is a second-fiddle subject and most of this book is really about her baby brother, Charles, who was to become the Bishop.

In modern eyes, Anne's obsessive devotion to Charles might seem to border on the unhealthy, but she was a typical ultra-religious, dutiful and high-minded Victorian who had accepted that her main purpose in life was to dote on, guide, and generally look after this youngest brother who had many noble and admirable qualities but was unworldly and impractical as well and whom she thought was easy prey for exploitation by sharp or unscrupulous individuals. She was probably right to some extent, given the general folly and blunders that attach to the UMCA's first attempts to found a mission. 

Anne and another sister, Alice, had travelled to South Africa to help Charles with teaching girls at the church school and keeping house when he was the Rector of Durban and later Archdeacon. What now seems rather strange terminology, Charles called Alice his "black sister", on account of her enjoying her work with Africans while Anne was called the "white sister", as she preferred European colonials, although she eventually overcame her difficulties relating to black people and in fact spent the latter years of her life supporting schools in Zululand and in raising funds for them.

Alice never made it to the Zambezi Expedition as she decided to get married in Natal. Anne was said to be terrified of all the deadly creatures, savages and discomforts she would encounter, but went along out of duty and worry over her brother. But she made sure she packed lots of home comforts, including arm chairs and a donkey called Katie who would be used to carry her over the rough ground when necessary.

Like the other women on the journey, Anne was to suffer terribly from the prevalent fevers and skin diseases and was lucky to survive, especially given her age and semi-invalid status. One can't imagine how she felt early in March, 1862, when so desperately ill herself she discovered that her precious brother had succumbed several weeks earlier and that they had unknowingly passed by his grave as they sailed up the river intent on the great reunion. But despite this shattering blow, Anne proved her fortitude and recovered; enough, according to some reports, to still find time to gossip about Mary Livingstone's behaviour with the Reverend James Stewart. 

Meanwhile, David Livingstone made the comment that Anne "... bears up very well: people who have a competence hold out wonderfully ..." only to be followed by remarks about Bishop Charles' "lack of control" and that:
"... this sad loss will have one good effect: better men will be sent out and no-one hereafter come for a lark or to make a good thing of playing the missionary for a few years and then reaping laurels."
Livingstone was never one to mince words or avoid calling a spade a shovel if need be, so one wonders what Anne thought of this opinion of her adored brother Charles being on a "lark"? Maybe privately she had to agree.

The original cross on Mackenzie's Grave placed there by David Livingstone.
From sketch by Dr. Mellor. Drawn by Mrs. R. Mountain. Bowells Anactastic Press, Ipswich. [c.1863.]

When Anne finally returned to England, she became a writer and editor of a religious newspaper called The Net Cast in Many Waters and she devoted all her energies in supporting the missions in Africa. She died aged 64 in 1877 and had lived most of the fifteen years after her brother's death at Woodfield House, Havant, which still stands today but has now been subdivided into flats

Woodfield House as it is today

Bishop Charles Mackenzie

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blaming the engineers - The Zambezi Expedition (3)

David Livingstone’s attempts to open up the heart of Africa involved the navigation of two other rivers apart from the Zambezi, being the Rovuma (Ruvuma) and Shire (pronounced either shee- or chee-ray). All of this would depend on reliable steam vessels and the calibre of the men to operate them.

The first vessel ordered by the Admiralty was built during the winter of 1858/59 at the Birkenhead yard of Macgregor Laird for the modest cost of £1,200. This steam paddle wheeler was named Ma Robert, after Livingstone’s wife Mary, in the traditional African fashion of Ma for mother and Robert her eldest child.
Ma Robert, Royal Museums Greenwich

At Laird’s own suggestion, her hull was constructed of a new type of thin steel plating but unfortunately untested for the conditions she would face. She had three watertight compartments which could be taken apart or bolted together. Her boiler was designed to burn wood but in fact coal was used in her trials on the Mersey which was to be the root of another problem later.

With feed pipes that choked easily and cylinders and boilers that gave constant trouble, Ma Robert soon proved next to useless. She needed several tons of hardwood every day just to get up steam. The acquisition and haulage of wood to the river was another tough and tedious process and more time was spent chopping wood than it took for the vessel to consume it. Compounded by this was an often recalcitrant and inexperienced native crew who didn't like the job of stoking. Livingstone was disgusted with himself when he lost control on one occasion and beat one of them, a rare occurrence indeed.

Another major geographical consideration hadn’t been taken into account; the seasonal fluctuations in river levels of Central Africa. There was often insufficient water to float the vessel when fully loaded with people and equipment plus the massive quantity of wood fuel. The last straw came when the revolutionary thin hull started to disintegrate and the holes had to be stopped up as best they could with plugs of clay.  "Asthmatic" as Ma Robert came to known, finally fell apart completely and sank into the sands of the Zambezi in December 1860.

Livingstone was furious and put the blame personally on John Laird, openly accusing him of incompetence, greed and deceit and it is no wonder that Ma Robert's chief engineer, and Livingstone’s fellow Glaswegian, George Rae, would feel the brunt of his wrath. 

But although the two men were at loggerheads many times, their common roots gave Rae a major advantage in his dealings with Livingstone as the other relationships around them turned sour. It was Rae whom Livingstone relied on and trusted to take on the responsibility of building Mary Livingstone’s coffin after her death at Shupanga.

George Rae’s story is worthy in its own right. Born in 1831, the son of a master joiner, he worked for a millwright in Perth before receiving an apprenticeship with Laird’s. He later moved to the firm of Tod & McGregor

Rae went on to serve in transports employed during the Crimean War and survived a shipwreck off Cadiz. In 1856, he joined the Zambezi Expedition as engineer in charge of the Ma Robert and in 1860 he was sent by Livingstone back to Scotland to oversee the construction of the next vessel, the Lady Nyassa to be built by Tod & McGregor using Livingstone’s own funds drawn from royalties on his book.

The prefabricated Lady Nyassa being loaded at Birkenhead for the Zambesi
Mary Evans Picture Library
 Rae was lucky to get home at all, as he was involved in another shipwreck en route. The brig Guide of Salem, Massachusetts, sailed from Zanzibar on 30 August 1860, with a company that included twenty Americans as well as Rae and three Spanish ladies. At midnight on 4 September the vessel struck and went ashore near Rass Hafoon (Ras Hafun) in what is now Somalia near the Gulf of Aden. 

The Gulf of Aden, German map, printed 1860. 

In the morning, all on board were able to reach the shore, but they had been seen and were swiftly robbed of everything they possessed by local tribesmen. There was no fresh water to be found and five crewmen who went in search of some were later found murdered. By now the survivors were in extreme distress, almost unable to speak from thirst. The captain’s dog was killed as a source of nourishment and by the fifth day ashore, the group had decided it would be wiser to return to the safety and whatever supplies remained on the wrecked ship where they would hope and pray for rescue. This came a few days later in the form of a chief’s headman from the interior who had said he had orders from his Sultan if there were any Englishmen among them, they were to be protected until the arrival of the chief. (This was probably one occasion when a Scot like George Rae would willingly have admitted to being English.)

A few days later the chief made good on his promise and Rae was despatched with the ladies in an open boat to Makullah (Al Makulla). The Sultan provided them with another boat which reached Aden on 25 October and Rae was finally able to secure further passage to Southampton, where he arrived on 17 November. What happened to the Americans left on Guide is a mystery and no doubt another interesting story.

In February 1862, Rae returned to Africa with the prefabricated Lady Nyassa. This vessel would have another chequered history and Livingstone was to have no better opinion of it than the last but which, in spite of its deficiencies, was to carry the Expedition over 2,500 miles before it, too, lost its bottom and sank. In Rae’s absence, Livingstone had use of the Royal Navy survey vessel HMS Pioneer with engineer Charles Hardisty in charge. This also had trouble and was aground more often than not.

Illustrated London News images of Pioneer being loaded and towing parts of Lady Nyassa

The practicalities and frustrations in constructing and sailing Lady Nyassa can be found in the various Livingstone biographies and will not be detailed at length here, save to say that the conflicts that hounded the Expedition just continued, exacerbated by episodic mania caused by fevers as well as religious and class-divisive clashes with new missionary arrivals on the scene. 

Rae’s character is difficult to gauge. His second engineer, Charles Hardisty, was unhappy serving under him and some of Hardisty's letters to his wife that survive are vitriolic, while Rae in turn accused him of incompetence in allowing the pipes of HMS Pioneer to become blocked. Then Livingstone himself wrote,“Rae has behaved with great duplicity, accusing [the artist Thomas] Baines of having stolen his goods, then giving him a certificate that he had no reason to believe he had stolen any public property. I shall use him but be wary of trusting to him in the least degree”.

Others in the Expedition also accused Rae of being an inveterate gossip, stating that he was the original source of the suggestion of gross impropriety between Mary Livingstone and the Reverend James Stewart after he saw Stewart entering Mary’s cabin at night on the brig Hetty Ellen which had brought them out to join the Expedition at the Zambezi delta.

The brig Hetty Ellen was almost identical to this, her sister ship,
Clara Novello built at Llanelli, Wales
At least Livingstone endured these slurs on his wife's reputation with circumspection and ultimately disregarded them. Stewart maintained he was giving her spiritual comfort as she verged on total abandonment of her religious faith, while Rae took a different viewpoint. He detected a more temporal abandonment, given that Mary had turned into an alcoholic after long and difficult years apart from her husband. Rae added fuel to the fire by declaring Stewart to be a bogus missionary and was really a rogue trader and a libertine. While the self-righteous Stewart was appalled at the accusation against him, Sir John Kirk was to write in his journals that Rae's own morals were suspect as he had an eye for the native women and that he had actively pursued an adulterous liaison with the wife of a Portuguese official.

Whom to believe? Without Rae’s own defence in the written records, this is just another example of the mud-slinging that went on between the individuals and no-one emerges from this Expedition without serious stains on their character. At this distance in time it is impossible to know the truth.

After Rae finally had enough and resigned in 1863, he went to Johanna (Anjouan) in the Comoro Islands and was engaged in sugar planting with William Sunley, the British Consul. He erected a sugar engine for the Sultan of Johanna then returned to Zanzibar where he was retained by the British trading firm of Smith, Fleming & Co. With a view to purchasing some sugar-crushing machinery for his employers, Rae returned to Scotland, arriving 10 October, 1865.

Rae decided to combine business with personal affairs and arrangements had been made for his marriage the following day, Tuesday 11 October, to Ann Dalgleish, a daughter of Walter Dalgleish of Holylee, Selkirkshire, a farm manager for the Ballantyne family who owned the Holylee estate. The circumstances of their courtship or how long the couple had known one another are not known.

Although quite hale and hearty in the morning, at around noon George Rae began to complain of a pain in his stomach but it eased enough for him to go through with his marriage to Ann at 3 o’clock. Shortly afterwards, his pains returned and he was put to bed in his rooms at 69 Abbotsford Place. By the evening he was insensible and although consciousness returned by the morning, he failed to rally and died within hours.

Abbotsford Place, Glasgow, where George Rae was married and died was demolished in the 1970s
One can hardly imagine the shock this would have had on his poor bride, Ann. If she ever expressed her feelings in any way, they are long lost to history. Ann later remarried and had two children, although she did not forget her husband of less than a day, and a purse that she owned and which was originally given to Rae by David Livingstone was later donated to the David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre by one of her descendants

Rae’s death certificate states it was a perforation of the stomach. The curse of the Zambezi Expedition had done for Rae in a most dramatic way - poor diet, shipwrecks, intermittent fevers and ulcers all added to the stress on his body. Although he was only around 30 when this photograph was taken, he looks twice that age.

George Rae. c. early 1860s. David Livingstone Centre
Contrary to what his fellow travellers on the Expedition had said about him, the newspapers reported that “Mr Rae was a gentleman of amiable and kindly disposition and much beloved and respected by all who knew him”.

Charles Hardisty (or Hardesty) the second engineer, was born in Leeds in 1830, the son of another engineer. It was his alleged neglect or incompetence in looking after the engines of HMS Pioneer that had prevented the party leaving the fever-ridden delta of the Zambezi on schedule, contributing to the death of Mary Livingstone. Whether Livingstone went so far as to accuse him openly, we can't know for sure, but Livingstone's correspondence carries much bitterness over the delays.

Although he also suffered from the fever, Hardisty managed to survive but was then sacked from his job. Whether he bore the cross of Mary Livingstone's death on his own shoulders or blamed everyone else (and primarily George Rae) is impossible to know. His letters to his wife include phrases like “[Rae] is a Thing and no better than a crawling two faced mischief making man” and “[Livingstone] is only putting up with him until he can do without him, then he will spurn him like a dog

Hardisty married young, as the 1851 Census in Yorkshire shows him already having a wife and two year old son. Interestingly, the 1861 Census return has him listed living in Southwark, London, with the occupation of “Engineer, chief. Absent on Livingstone Expedition” - no doubt a bit of boasting on part of his family. However, by the Census of 1871 he is back in Yorkshire and seems to have slipped in occupation to a mere “labourer in foundry iron” and in 1891 he is described as an “engine fitter”.

Hardisty’s life seems to have gone largely unrecorded after his expulsion by Livingstone, apart from being called as a witness in a coronial inquest into a fatal explosion of a boiler at Bradford in 1867 - a common occurrence throughout much of that century - although given the accusations levelled against him previously it is curious that his name appears in another controversy over poor boiler maintenance.

Photograph by Sir John Kirk of the fated Ma Robert, nicknamed the "Asthmatic"

All information in this series of blogs is taken from my extensive personal collection of books, journals and documents relating to David Livingstone in addition to general history publications, archive newspapers and genealogy sites. If more specific detail is required, please contact me.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A soothing aperient (laxative) needed ... The Zambezi Expedition (2)

The Zambezi Expedition was fraught with much more than problems with equipment and badly-built vessels or serious errors in navigation and exploration. There were all the other dangers of mid-19th Century Africa by way of diseases, accidents, wild animals, slave traders, unfriendly or warring locals and competing colonisers (in this case, mostly the Portuguese). 

Add to the mix personality clashes and big egos and trouble was inevitable. What began as a petty argument could often blow up into a blazing row within minutes. There were outbursts of temper followed by sulks, accusations, slander, lies and even bouts of hysteria among the participants. Highly-educated and normally reasonable British men [more about the women later], to use modern parlance, totally "lost it" or behaved irrationally. As a result most of them ended up being sacked by Livingstone or resigning under the pressure.

One of the first to go was Livingstone's second-in-command, Commander Norman Bernard Bedingfield of the Royal Navy (1824-1894).

Livingstone had met him at the conclusion of his famous crossing of Africa in 1854 in Luanda, Angola, where Bedingfield was in command of HMS Pluto, a steam gunvessel of the West Africa Squadron and Livingstone had been much taken with him at the time [see note below], also his impressive career in the navy. While based on the west coast of Africa, Bedingfield was much lauded for his skills in river navigation and in negotiation with warring chiefs. He seemed the ideal man to help Livingstone explore the Zambezi.

What was not known to Livingstone then was that although he'd had many recommendations to the Admiralty for promotion, Bedingfield had a short fuse in that he had twice been court martialled, once for being contemptuous and quarrelsome towards a senior officer.

This did not augur well. Bedingfield was used to be in charge. So was Livingstone. There was a class and cultural divide between the men as well - the haughty English naval man vs. the blunt Glasgow Scot. 

Their clashes came quick and fast and although none of the biographies suggest they actually gave each other bloody noses, they took their vitriol to print rather than facing off in person. The final straw for Bedingfield was being told by Livingstone that his tantrums were due to constipation: 
"There is often a peculiar condition of the bowels which makes the individual imagine all manner of things of others. Now I earnestly and most respectfully recommend you to try a little aperitent medicine occasionally and you will find it more soothing than writing official letters".

Nothing like a good old "Livingstone Rouser" to cure your ills!
From the Livingstone Centre, Blantyre.

Bedingfield replied that his letter was "the most insulting I have ever received" and quit.

Livingstone was later to say "I never before met such a bare-faced dirty hypocrite as he [Bedingfield]. He suffered from a venereal bladder.

To prove the destructiveness of his experience with Bedingfield, Livingstone deliberately wrote him out of his own Narrative on the expedition and so he doesn't rate a single mention in that official account.

Bedingfield returned to his Royal Naval career and retired as a Captain in 1877, but he still received periodic promotions to Rear Admiral and then Vice Admiral, possibly as a means of helping to boost his pension. He was married but does not appear to have had children or lived in a grand house. In both the 1881 and 1891 census returns, the couple were shown as lodgers in fairly modest surroundings in Dulwich. Bedingfield died in February 1894 and left an estate of just under £3,900 to his wife, Catherine Caledonia. 

The autocratic stance in the portrait gives a good indication of Bedingfield's character. Apart from his unfortunate association with David Livingstone, he is also remembered for his actions in Nigeria with the Lagos Treaty of Cession.

Copyright Illustrated London News (3 April 1858)

Note: When ill health forced Bedingfield away from West Africa in 1854, the steam-packet in which he was travelling, Forerunner, was wrecked at Madeira and he is credited with saving several lives including that of the Governor of Western Australia, Arthur Kennedy.  The vessel was also carrying Livingstone's original journals, maps and other papers from his famed earlier crossing of the continent and that meant he had to re-write everything from memory (with some resulting errors). Given his later experience with Bedingfield, no doubt Livingstone might have wished he'd gone to the bottom as well!

All information in this series of blogs is taken from my extensive personal collection of books, journals and documents relating to David Livingstone in addition to general history publications, archive newspapers and genealogy sites. If more specific detail is required, please contact me.