Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Rocks in God's Highway - The Zambezi Expedition (1)

David Livingstone is a name that needs no introduction. There are so many journals, letters and books written by the man himself, one wonders how he ever found the time to travel and explore as much of Africa as he did. Subsequent to his death in 1873, numerous biographies, articles and dissertations have been published about him, one of the best being Livingstone by Tim Jeal. This book is no hagiography and exposes his many flaws as well as his positive attributes.

The famous classic image. Photo Thomas Annan, National Galleries of Scotland

Many people associated with Livingstone are moderately famous in their own right, such as his missionary father-in-law, Robert Moffat, his early travelling companion William Cotton Oswell, his childhood friend James "Paraffin" Young and the philanthropic Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. Others have been overlooked altogether and don't even warrant Wikipedia entries, yet they all did some remarkable things in helping to imbue Livingstone with his legendary status.

Even in his own lifetime, Livingstone tarnished his own halo. The Zambezi Expedition of 1858-1864 showed him in the worst light possible and it might be argued quite a number of people were humiliated or traumatised and some even lost their lives due to the disastrous way in which the Expedition was handled by him. Gruff and dour, he was fine with Africans but was useless managing those of his own race. But his major fault was in assuring those in power in Britain that the river was navigable from the Indian Ocean up to the Victoria Falls. He had in fact not personally travelled its full length himself, choosing to cut a vital corner thereby missing the notorious Kebrabasa (Cahora Bassa) rapids which rendered the river useless for commercial purposes. The repercussions can be imagined when huge sums of money were invested in the Expedition.

Kebrabasa, Thomas Baines

Here is a selection (in no particular order) of some names associated with that Expedition which may mean little to anyone who is not a Livingstone aficionado or scholar, but deserve having their individual stories better-known and a few of them will be the subjects of upcoming posts.


Norman Bedingfield, Royal Navy commander
Thomas Baines, storekeeper and artist
Richard Thornton, geologist
Charles Hardesty, engineer
George Rae, engineer
Charles Livingstone, brother of David
John Kirk, botanist and explorer
Edward D Young, gunner
James Stewart, missionary
Charles Meller, doctor
Horace Waller, anti-slavery activist


Elizabeth M Burrup, wife of Reverend Henry de Wint Burrup
Anne Mackenzie, sister of Bishop Charles Mackenzie
Jessie Lennox, companion to Miss Mackenzie
Mary Livingstone, wife of David (see earlier blog here)

Plus ... there will be special mention of some of those unheralded and long-forgotten Africans without whom none of Livingstone's explorations or discoveries would have been possible. 

(A link to a special Pinterest board of images is being created and will be added to the blog entries.)

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