Livingstone's Last Journey

... by Sir Reginald Coupland




Most of us when we think of Africa and African Adventures, we are presented with a picture shown countless times on the television of the swathing grasslands of the Serengeti, and a Safari which consists of a group of tourists in felt hats accompanied by several khaki clad game rangers all walking with intrepidation.





After a hair-raising escapade of coming close to a rhino where everyone seeks shelter behind clumps of thorn bushes, they all bale back into the landrover, head for the already pitched camp - to a hearty supper of exotic meat stew and steaming cups of coffee cooked for them while they were out jaunting by another crew of rangers skilled in the art of pyrotechnic bush-fare.


Taking away the sturdy landrover, you can stretch your imagination to putting the tourists on horseback, but still the 1950's style 'Big White Hunter's Bush Camp' remains, complete with low-tech sunloungers and after-dark gin and tonics.







For those of us who know that Africa is not all Serengeti grasslands and places exist where it is still wild, or who have visited game parks where trees outnumber the animals, we still fail to appreciate that these places have been somewhat culled of their vegetation over time. Ok so it may not be like the Amazon jungle where you have to hack every inch of your way with a panga - but in parts of Africa it comes close, and in the 1850/60s it was even closer -



Luangwa Valley Zambia




Sir Reginald Coupland description of the land in Livingstone's time ...


The Lakes of Albert Nyanza, Tanganyika and Nyassa lie in the Great Rift Valley where the vegetation is broadly uniform ... mostly savannah, rough, droughty, infertile. There are vast areas of poor grass interspersed with vast areas of poor woodland. 

There is an arid thorny region inland from Bagamoyo which presented a nasty obstacle to travellers.

Its explorers rarely had to hack their way through a jungle of poisonous thorns and strangling creepers.

The belts of rain-forest with gigantic trees and riotous undergrowth are few and narrow, and the woods through which Livingstone made his way were mostly little more than huge copses, growing to some 20 feet and looking in the dry season like an endless thicket of dead poles and sticks with now and again a solitary evergreen to break the dull monotony.




It is only in the wet season that this kind of country is difficult to cross on foot and becomes, in places, wellnigh impassable. The greater rains fall from March to May and the lesser rains in October/November.


The dry stream beds on the hillsides are filled with raging torrents. The rivers surge furiously along and overflow their banks. Great stretches of level land are waterlogged or transformed into shallow lakes.




But in the dry season the walker can make his way steadily along the paths that wind from village to village through the wilderness. It is only the hot sun that slows his progress.


The fauna of the country are not an impediment to travellers if left alone. Only at night were wild beasts likely to be troublesome, and only then if the camp fire was allowed to burn low.


The insects were a far more serious nuisance - the swarms of ants and flies and midges and mosquitoes, and in certain areas, the tsetse fly which brought death to baggage animals, and in all moist low-lying places, the anopheles mosquito which brought malaria to humans.




In all the area covered by Livingstone's explorations the native population belonged to the great Negro race, the Bantu, which inhabits most of Central Africa. In a few districts, present-day Uganda for example or Usambara, a relatively elaborate political and social system existed in the 1860s.


The natives were living as they had always done - a tribal life - with some of them in isolated groups, and other coalescing under some paramount chief.


Concentrations of population around such a chief might deserve the name of 'town' like, for example, Ujiji.


But the vast majority of Africans lived in innumerable villages - little huddles of small round huts of clay and wattle with low doorways surrounded by a stockade to keep the cattle and the children safe from marauders, and beyond - a green belt of cultivated ground.


Except along one track - the track followed by the German explorer Roscher, who reached the northern end of Lake Nyasa in 1859, a few weeks after Livingstone reached its southern end, and who was murdered on his way back to the coast - these African villagers had hardly, if ever, seen a white man. They were astonished by the white man's ablutions, especially his tooth-brushing. They were sometimes suspicious or frightened, but never normally hostile, provided that the white man behaved himself.




What did frighten them and make them hostile was the expanding slave-raiding. The actual raiders in the 1860s were either other African tribes or Arabs. And in a neighbourhood where raiders had once descended, any stranger, whatever his colour, was instantly suspect and the attitude towards him instinctively hostile.


In the rest of the country attitudes varied with the character and propensities of the local chief who himself might be arrogant and impudent. He might levy extortionate 'hongo' for permission to traverse his territory. He might fail to provide the food the traveller wanted or to furnish extra porters or a trust-worthy guide, but in most parts of the country such unfriendly reactions were unusual.


Most of the ports along the coast were little Arab townships, controlled and sometimes garrisoned by the Sultan of Zanzibar, and at all of them the local trade was mainly in the hands of Indians. However the Indian merchants rarely ventured far from the sea.


On the other hand, the Arabs had spread a network of trade far over the interior - northwards over the borders of Uganda - westwards across Lake Tanganyika towards the upper reaches of the Congo - southwards across Lake Nyasa to the fringe of the Katanga copper-belt close to the borders of present-day Zambia. They established a 'colony' at Unyanyembe where several trade-routes met, and between Unyanyembe, other little settlements and the coast, Arab caravans usually 200 strong were constantly on the move in the dry season. Sometimes they joined up with other caravans making 2000-4000 in all with a troop of gunmen for escort, and carrying the Sultan's scarlet flag at their head. Ivory and copper were what the Arabs sought after, but they also sought after slaves -



African Slave Trader - Tippu Tipp


The problem which confronted an explorer in Livingstone's day was not so much the problem of moving himself from place to place but the problem of moving other things as well - things that would be needed on the trip.


He had to carry with him not only his tent, his clothes, his firearms, his pots and pans, and such necessary luxuries as tea, coffee, sugar and above all, medicine; but also the bales of cloth and the bags of beads wherewith to purchase his supplies of fresh food and his right of way through the lands.



Henry Stanley is in charge of his African men: "If you drop that, I will shoot!".
He must have been really proud of himself as the drawing is from Stanley's own book "How I found Livingstone". His expedition was different. Stanley travelled with several hundred men, modern equipment, a ship(!) and weapons. He was still in competition with Cameron and other explorers, so he used guns to force his men forward at high speed. Livingstone didn't kill anyone on his expeditions, but Stanley destroyed everything in his way and fought wars with the local tribes. He managed to navigate on Lake Victoria and finally followed the Congo River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. He became the first European to map these areas. In 1878 he went back to Europe loaded with Ivory and eager to tell of his findings. 




Tribes exacted payment from travellers - trespass or non-payment could result in death if one fell foul of hostile tribesfolk or their chief. There was virtually no current coin amongst the African tribes, barter was with goods.


Baggage-animals were almost useless - they suffered too much from variations of climate and from marauding lions and leopards at night, while in areas infested by the tsetse fly they could not live.


Nearly all of these goods and chattels had to be carried on men's heads, so that the length of the traveller's journey was determined not only by the length of his purse in terms of cloth and beads, but also by the number of porters he could hire - and their efficiency.


A hundred porters might be of less use than ten, if they were lazy and disobedient, if they dawdled on the path, if they damaged or stole from their loads, if they distrusted their leader or shied from the dangers into which he led them, if in the last resort they simply ran away -


And that they should act otherwise was a good deal to expect of them however much they wanted their wages and desired to honour their bond. It meant confiding themselves, body and soul, to a strange white man who led them far from home into unknown places, for a purpose which they could hardly understand.


Could even his 'magic powers' be trusted to protect them from hostile tribes, to feed them when supplies ran short, to bring them back safely in the end to their wives and children'


Livingstone's previous experience in this vital matter had been highly encouraging, but the circumstances had been quite different from what they would be now.



Makolo Villagers


The men who had followed him so devotedly across Africa in the early 1850s had been from Makololand and his porters had been deputed by the tribal council to accompany him to the coast and back. On the Zambezi in 1858-1863 the long hauls had been made by water and most of the few porters he needed had again been the faithful tribesmen from Makololand.


This time however, his expedition would be from the coast and his recruits would not be from the tribesfolk he knew so well.




The Governor of Bombay, Sir Bartle Frere, was closely concerned with the Arab Slave Trade and ways of combating it, so he was keen to help Livingstone by supplying volunteers as though they were being dispatched on a military expedition overseas. Thus Livingstone's first recruits came from the Bombay Marine Battalion - 12 sepoys with a havildar in charge.


Livingstone next visited the school at Nassick which consisted mostly of African boys rescued from slavery who were being trained to earn a living as free men. Most of the boys however were content with their new lives and only 9 took the chance of going home.


Livingstone was also to take back with him the two young boys who had shared in his long and perilous voyage from Zanzibar - Chuma and Wikitani.





All that was needed now was some African porters, and Livingstone intended to obtain these at Zanzibar.


He also decided to make an experiment in animal transport by using Indian buffaloes as beasts of burden in the hope that they might withstand the tsetse fly, being characteristically akin to the wild buffaloes of Africa. The sepoys of the Marine Battalion, being Indian, would know how to manage them.


Zanzibar was chosen as the starting point and base as it was the nearest important town outside Portuguese territory and about 20 miles from the coast. It was also the station of a British Consul who was in regular communication with both the Bombay Government and with the London Foreign Office and who could be counted on to keep Livingstone in touch with the outer world by sending letters and supplies to him.


Zanzibar was also the seat of the Sultan's government who would be able to support Livingstone in his relations with the Arabs he might meet inland.


It chanced that, while Livingstone was at Bombay, Colonel Playfair, who held the Consular post at Zanzibar, had asked to be relieved of it on grounds of health. The Government decided to appoint the agency surgeon, Dr. G. E. Seward, to act in Playfair's place.


Livingstone had put forward the name of John Kirk, one of the men from the Mission who had accompanied him on a previous expedition, as a replacement. But instead Kirk got the now vacant job of agency surgeon.


Kirk was amongst the growing group of Britons who were crusading against the Slave Trade in East Africa. With Livingstone as its spearhead, penetrating the veil that still concealed so much of Africa and letting in the light of public knowledge, Kirk at his island base, and Horace Waller, another missionary and one of the closest of all the friends he had made in Africa, in London the crusade against the Slave Trade had all the makings of the humanitarian movement.


Livingstone sailed from Bombay in the Thule, a steamship which the Bombay Government was giving to the Sultan at Zanzibar.


The Sultan could scarcely have been pleased with Livingstone's return to East Africa and his openly avowed objective. Many of his subjects were deeply engaged in the Slave Trade. And a large part of his own revenue was derived from the customs dues it paid. But Majid did not underrate the value of British friendship, and his courteous reply to Sir Bartle Frere's request was all that could be desired. He gave Livingstone a signed document calling on any subject of his to render any assistance Livingstone might need.


While waiting for the HMS Penguin to take him to Rovuma Livingstone began to recruit men for his porters - 60 in all. Three of the men had worked for him on the Zambezi and who chanced to be at Zanzibar - Susi and Amado, from the Shupanga district; and Musa, a Johanna Moslem native of one of the Comoro Islands.


Besides the 3 buffaloes and a calf, Livingstone had bought 6 camels, 4 donkeys and 2 mules.


His new journey was not going to be a sequence of forced marches and he planned to establish an advanced post in the interior and work west from there. The site he finally decided on was Ujiji which lay on Lake Tanganyika at the head of a well-known Arab trade-route. The journey was 620 miles from the coast in a straight line and one which had taken Burton and Speke 8 months in 1857/58 to complete. Although long, it was well-known and at that time, relatively safe.


Ujiji was a bustling place with a good market and facilities that gave a choice of foods. For many years past the business of stocking the Arab caravans going inland had been in the hands of the Hindu firm of Jairam Sewji - a prosperous and highly respectable firm that had stores in both Zanzibar and Ujiji, and who were on good terms with the British authorities.


On March 24th 1866 the HMS Penguin departed from her anchorage off the mouth of the Rovuma River leaving Livingstone and his men and animals on the shore of Mikindani Bay.




The great adventure had begun ...


Two months into the expedition the porters he hired at Mikindani refused to go farther for fear of being captured. So Livingstone had no choice but to pay them off and send them back. But this meant that his transport was reduced by a third. The boys from Nassick began to tire and became lazy, refusing to carrying even their own belongings. The sepoys had little, if any, respect for him and ignored instructions. They dawdled and were constantly inciting the Nassick boys to desert. They further mistreated the animals by overloading them and overdriving them and soon the animals began to die one by one. Finally Livingstone had no choice but to dismiss the sepoys and send them back with a respectable Arab trader bound for the coast.


Descending from the highlands towards Lake Nyassa, Livingstone was happier and it felt as though he had come back to an old home. But his hopes of crossing the lake were disappointed. He was now on one of the main routes of the Arab slave trade. Rumours of his and Mackenzie's doings in the Shire highlands of Nyassaland (Malawi) had spread throughout the slave trading community and as he now approached the Arabs they fled into the wilderness. His English name being in their minds inseparably connected with the recapturing slaves, there was no dhow obtainable. He was obliged therefore to circumvent the lake on foot. The Arab aloofness also meant that he would not be able to transmit letters to the coast.


On September 13th he sighted the Shire, where 5 years before he and Kirk and their companies had been the first white men to navigate the waters of Nyassa. And 6 days later having crossed Lake Pamalombe in canoes, he arrived at Mponda's village. Here Wikatani left the caravan to be re-united with his family.




Occupational hazards of pioneer missionary activity in Africa during the 19th century included attacks by hippopotamuses.


On September 25th they came across an Arab who reported that the country in front was full of Mazitu - the Johanna men from the Comoros refused to go farther. Despite assurances from Chief Marenga that there were no Mazitu in the area the Johanna men walked off and left the goods on the ground.


All that Livingstone was left with was a remnant of unsatisfactory Nassick boys, Chuma, Susi and Amoda, and a few porters he was able to hire from village to village. Livingstone however was not daunted and in a way was relieved as the Johanna men had often pilfered from the supplies that they carried. And so, more or less cheerfully, he continued his march - past Mount Mulundini of Kirk's Range, on through what is now the district of Fort Jameson and over the bush-covered highlands of north-east Rhodesia and down into the valley of the Loangwa River in present day Zambia.


On October 29th the conditions of travel became to worsen. In his diary he noted: the first rain - a thunder shower - and a few weeks later the set-in rains were steadily falling, the paths were running with water. Level spaces were coated thickly with excessively adhesive mud and progress on foot became slower and slower. More serious, there was difficulty in getting food.


 The natives were suspicious of the strangers and disinclined to deal with them. The villages themselves were short of food. The Mazitu were plaguing all the country as their kinsmen, the Matabele, were plaguing it to the south.



Livingstone's old ailments from dysentery began to sap his strength. Another blow came when his medicine chest was stolen by two Waiyau men who had volunteered enroute to accompany the party. Without the medicines and good food he was certain to suffer from dysentery - he was certain to suffer from malaria wherever the country was low-lying and infested with mosquitoes.


But instead of turning back to Lake Nyassa and picking up an Arab caravan heading to the coast, Livingstone carried on. So far he had walked about 800 miles from Mikindani and had taken more than 9 months. What spurred him on was that in a few more weeks of endurance and he might cross at last the watershed and find a river-system draining north - and the source of the Nile.


Rain was now falling almost without a break, and food of any sort was almost unobtainable. He notched his belt up three holes to relieve the hunger -


Relief of sorts came on February 3rd 1867 when they encountered a party of Arab slave-dealers. He gave the leader a packet of letters for Zanzibar. In the one he wrote to Consul Seward he described the dismissal of the sepoys and the defection of the Johanna men, and asked for supplies to be sent to him to Ujiji.


Unlike all the other letters Livingstone had written since he left the coast, this packet reached its destination, but it took time - nearly a year from the date of its dispatch.


On February 17th Livingstone was laid up with rheumatic fever. Although he had rested for a few days, he could scarcely keep up the march, he had chest pains, was breathless, and had constant ringing in his ears. But still he struggled on -


On April 1st he reached the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. And his spirits raised again. But he was dangerously ill with fever and had to rest for a few weeks. He moved on again at the end of April - still without quinine. The fever which struck him intermittently took its toll on his mental state, it made him perplexed and wavering. He allowed himself to be diverted and obstructed as he never did in the old days. He resigned himself to prolonged delay and inactivity. His fatalism deepened.


He changed his mind about going directly to Ujiji and instead made towards Lake Mweru to ascertain where its waters flowed. This route was west and north along the heights above Lake Tanganyika, and then due west to Chitamba's village.


There he fell in with a large part of Arab traders who were impressed by the Sultan Majid's letter and were friendly. Their leader Hamees was kind to him and Livingstone allowed himself to be directed by the Arabs. Hamees warned him that he would be murdered if he continued his march to the west as a band of them had recently run foul of Nsama, a powerful chief who lived to the west of Chitamba's village and there had been fighting and bloodshed. They waited for some 3 months for peace to return to the area before heading off to Chitamba's. At Karungu's village which was only 100 miles from Chitamba's, the Arabs again delayed for 3 weeks finding authority in the Koran for not moving on.


On November 8th he was still in the Arab's company and they were now at Lake Mweru which straddles the border between Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and the Belgian Congo (Zaire).




On November 21st they reached Casembe's village, the headquarters of a powerful hereditary chief. They had passed the 'farthest west' and burial place of the Portuguese explorer, Lacerda. At Casembe's he found another Arab, Mohamad bin Saleh who was bound for Ujiji and decided to go with him. However they were delayed at Casembe's for a month by the chief who required many words and gifts before he would permit the departure of Mohamad with whom he cherished an obscure blood-feud.


Livingstone was still suffering again from fever but set off with Mohamad on December 22 splashing waist-deep through streams and plunging through swamps of foul-smelling black mud on the fringes of Lake Mweru.


On March 17th 1868 they arrived at Mpweto's village near the river named by Livingstone as Webb's River, but known to the natives as the Lualaba. In reality, the Livingstone was never to know it, it was the upper reaches of the Congo.


They were by now a third of the way from Casembe's to Lake Tanganyika. Heavy rains had flooded the country northward and it was impassable. However Livingstone was not content to wait for the floods to subside and against the wishes of Mohamad set off on a route that he had heard about at Casembe's  - towards Lake Bemba or Bangweolo, some 80 miles to the south which flowed out to the north-west in a river which linked it with Lake Mweru. Here then was an essential part of his river-system to be explored and mapped, and it was something to do while the floods on the northward road were falling.


With only 4 faithful men he set off alone - they passed by Casembe's village, crossed the hilly country beyond it, waded through marsh-land, escaped death from a body of hostile natives, floundered through tracts of spongy-ooze infested with leeches and finally arrived at Lake Bangwelo on July 18th.




In 1928 a European traveller could reach Lake Bangwelo in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in a little more than a week - by steamship, rail and motor-car; nowadays it would only take a few hours by air.


But Livingstone, in that summer of 1868, was utterly cut off from his own world. There was not a single white man between him and the coast; and to communicate with the coast took at least a year, if at all.


Back in May 1866 it seemed to his friends in Zanzibar and abroad as though he had set off on a sunny day and then a curtain had fallen behind him, only to be lifted at long intervals when one of his letters had the luck to reach its destination, or some trader from the interior reported having seen him. And later that year it fell again -


In an effort to exonerate themselves from blame and desertion charges, when Musa and the Johanna men arrived back in Zanzibar on December 6th 1866, they invented a story that Livingstone had perished in a Mazitu ambush. Flags were flown at half-mast and Seward duly wrote to Lord Stanley informing him of Livingstone's death.


At first their story was not fully believed and the men were questioned individually several times, but each time the story was collaborated amongst the Johanna men. John Kirk and the president of The Times newspaper, Sir Roderick Murchison, held on to the hope that Livingstone may have survived the attack. But another of Livingstone's friends, E.D. Young who had been in charge of some Johanna men including Musa and knew them to be liars, thieves and untrustworthy, refused to believe a word of the story.


In June 1867 a small expedition was arranged to travel to Lake Nyassa to made inquiries among the natives there. Evidence that Livingstone had been in the area abounded - and when Young saw Chief Marenga who had entertained Livingstone for two days, he described how the Johanna men had returned through his village soon after Livingstone's departure saying that they had decided to leave him because their term of service was up. He did however confirm Musa's story in that the Mazitu were on the rampage. Because fear of the Mazitu was so great, the expedition could not find willing helpers to search in the northern end of Lake Nyasa and had to turn back, finally reaching the sea in November 1867.


In the meantime, towards the end of September, a Swahili slave attached to an Arab party came to Zanzibar and told H.A. Churchill, the Consulate who had succeeded Seward, that he had seen a white man in the interior. His story was collaborated by two other eyewitnesses who also reported that Livingstone had given letters to an Arab trader to bring to Zanzibar. Three months later on January 24th 1868, the Arab trader arrived in Zanzibar and brought Livingstone's packet of letters to Churchill, a year after their despatch.


Musa was put in irons for 8 months ...



In the early autumn of 1868 Livingstone was back in the neighbourhood of Mpweto's where he found that Mohamed bin Saleh had made no move during Livingstone's 7 month absence, but he was talking now of going to Manyema, the country westwards of the northern part of Lake Tanganyika, to prove perhaps that the Lualaba was the Nile - Ujiji again fell into the background.


Livingstone however was running very short on trade-goods and when an argument broke out between the Arabs and natives over runaway slaves threw the country into such a ferment that it nearly caused out and out war, the plans were abandoned. On December 11th 1868 Livingstone joined the Arab caravan of Mohamad Bogharib and took the Ujiji road.



Their route lay north-west to the mouth of the River Lofuko on Lake Tanganyika, where they hoped to proceed by water to Ujiji. But before they were halfway to the Lake, Livingstone was incapacitated by the gravest illness that had yet attacked him. He went down with pneumonia, coughing day and night, and spitting blood. He was weak and near delirium and would almost certainly have died had it not been for Mohamad Bogharib.


He rigged up a litter and had Livingstone carried along with his caravan. He watched over him, cooked his food, treated him with Arab medicines.


On March 14th 1869 they reached Ujiji ...


A journey that takes a few hours nowadays by aircraft, in 1928 a week by ship, rail and car, and 8 months by Burton and Speke in 1858, took Livingstone 3 years to complete.


 But the story does not end there - Livingstone died in 1873, some 5 years later - and then there was that historical encounter with Henry Morton Stanley in 1872 -




Livingstone's Journeys 

Darkest Africa


Livingstone's journey was in fact one of several that he made. From the time he arrived in Cape Town in 1841 he spent over 30 years travelling the African continent. For the first 12 years his missionary travels took him up through the Cape and Bechuanaland (Botswana) to the Zambezi River. Then he spent 4 years crossing from Quelemaine on the east coast of Africa to Luanda on the west, mapping the great River itself along the way. He discovered the mighty Victoria Falls. And the next 4 years saw him travelling in Malawi, again preaching and trying to combat slavery.

He was a much loved character amongst the African peoples and is fondly remembered.




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