Gateway to the Classics: The Story of David Livingstone by Vautier Golding
The Story of David Livingstone by  Vautier Golding

From Coast to Coast

L IVINGSTONE took his family to Capetown, and saw them safely on board a ship bound for England. War was going on at the time with the Kaffirs, and he soon found that the white folk at the Cape looked on him with mistrust and dislike. They accused him and other missionaries of stirring up and helping the natives to rebel, and they even tried to prevent him from buying gunpowder for use on his journeys.

There were many, however, who believed in him, and amongst these was Maclear, the Astronomer-Royal. From him Livingstone had more lessons on "taking his bearings," and also learnt the use of an instrument for telling exactly how many feet any place stood above the level of the sea.

On his return northwards Livingstone was delayed by feeble oxen and a broken wheel, and thus he reached Kuruman only in time to learn that his home, the last he ever had, was in hopeless ruin.

Six hundred Boers under Pretorius came to Kolobeng, carried off everything of value in his house, and wrecked the rest. Even the leaves of his precious diaries and notebooks were torn and scattered to the winds. Moving onward to the native village, the Boers went morning and afternoon to the mission service and heard Mebalwé preach. After service they told Sechélé, the chief, that they had come to fight because he let Englishmen pass through his country. Surrounding the village, they fired the huts, and with long-range swivel-guns shot down sixty of the men, women, and children, who were huddled together on a hillock in the blinding smoke.

When the flames were spent the Boers closed in to finish their brutal work; but Sechélé held them at bay till nightfall, and sent them back to count their dead. Thirty-five Boers paid the price of this needless cruelty, while Sechélé and his remnant escaped under cover of the night.

To avoid the Boers, Livingstone passed well to the west of Kolobeng, and reached Linyanté after much hardship. The rainy season had flooded the land between the rivers, and his hands and knees were cut and torn from wading through reeds and pushing his way through the thorny bush. Sekelétu, the son of Sebituani, was now chief of the Makololo, and he soon grew fond enough of Livingstone to say "he had found a new father." With an escort and supplies from his "new son," the missionary made a tour through the Barotsi country, but could find no place fit for a settlement. The whole district was too unhealthy for white men, and the natives were unpromising.

Plunder and tyranny seemed the custom of the country. Here, for the first time in his life, Livingstone saw a string of slaves trudging along in hopeless misery beneath their chains. Once a mother was leading her little boy by the hand along the track, when suddenly a man pounced upon the child, and dragged him away shrieking to lifelong slavery.

Accordingly, in November 1853, Livingstone left Linyanté to carry out his plan of finding a way to the west coast. He set out with an escort of twenty-seven Makololo, and went by canoe up the Zambesi and Leeba, till some falls in the latter stopped him. From this point he went forward on ox-back, and, steering by compass as best he could, reached Loanda, in Portuguese country, in May 1854.

The troubles and difficulties of the journey were great. His medicine-chest was plundered, and his portable boat was lost. He was twice thrown from his ox, once on his head upon the hard ground, and once in the middle of a ford. He had thirty-one attacks of fever, and had to be his own doctor and nurse. His Makololo were cowards, and often wanted to go back, but Livingstone's patient courage turned them into men. Many of the tribes were very troublesome when he asked leave to pass their borders. One chief refused to let him go by unless he gave up a riding-ox, a gun, or a male slave; but Livingstone's wonderful force of character overcame his demand. At Chiboqué the natives refused to sell him food, and threatened to kill him if he did not give them an ox. They crowded round him, yelling and waving their spears and clubs over his head. Livingstone stood his ground with unflinching eye, and his fearless spirit utterly quelled them.

Another chief demanded his riding-ox or his life, and got the reply that he might kill him if he liked, but God would judge. The savage felt that he was in the presence of a greater chief than himself, and quailed before him. So great, indeed, was the power of Livingstone's presence that he once released a string of slaves by merely ordering their captors to let them go. A magic-lantern, with pictures from the Bible, helped him much in the management of the natives. They flocked to see it, though many were in terror lest the figures moving off the screen should enter into them as evil spirits. Livingstone humorously said that this was the only service they ever asked him to repeat.

When almost at his journey's end a party of natives stopped him at a ford on the Quango, in Portuguese country. Livingstone had little left to give away, so he handed over his razors and then his shirts, while the Makololo parted with their copper ornaments. This, however, was not enough; and Livingstone was just giving up his blanket and coat when a Portuguese sergeant came up and drove the natives away.

At last they reached Loanda, and the Makololo, who had never seen the ocean, were filled with delighted wonder. The houses in Loanda were strange and interesting to them, but most amazing of all was the British cruiser which lay in the harbour. The captain of this ship begged Livingstone to sail back with him to England. But Livingstone, though ill and weary and longing for his home and family, refused to go. He had promised to take the Makololo back to Linyanté, and he would not break his word to these black men who trusted him. So he sent off his letters and scientific notes in the Forerunner,  and then started for Linyanté. The Portuguese had given his men bright-coloured suits, and had sent a uniform for Sekelétu.

They had not gone far when news came that all Livingstone's papers had been lost in the wreck of the Forerunner.  He had to write the notes again, and this kept him from reaching Linyanté till September, 1855.

On their arrival, Sekelétu and his whole tribe turned out to meet them, and the party entered the town in triumphal procession, with the red and blue uniforms of the Makololo bearers in the van. Livingstone then held a service of thanksgiving, but the attention of his congregation was hopelessly upset by the glory of Sekelétu in the dress of a Portuguese colonel.

Livingstone did not remain long at Linyanté. The route to Loanda was too difficult and unhealthy for general trade, so he decided to follow the Zambesi down to the east coast, in the hope of finding a better. Sekelétu gave him a new escort of one hundred and twenty Makololo, and also supplied him with three riding-oxen, and ten more to be used for food.

In November 1855 he found the waterfall that Oswell and he had marked on their charts from hearsay, but had never seen. Here the great Zambesi, more than a mile wide, plunged "like a downward smoke" 300 sheer feet into a chasm, and then went seething and swirling away through a narrow zigzag rift. Twice as large as the Canadian Niagara, its spray darkened the sun above it, and its thunder boomed for miles. And, as in reverent silence he watched this mighty force flow on, Livingstone felt—

"These are Thy wondrous works, Parent of good,"

and he longed more than ever to see this lovely land in freedom and at peace.

Before leaving the "Mosi-oa-tunya," or the "Sounding Smoke," Livingstone changed its name to the Victoria Falls; but he little thought that in less than fifty years a railway bridge would span the gorge down which its waters swept.

Keeping mainly to the north bank of the Zambesi, he made his way to Teté, with much the same experience as usual. While his men and stores were crossing the Loangwé, he kept some unfriendly natives quiet by amusing them with his watch and burning-glass till all were safe. Once he was mistaken for a half-caste Portuguese slaver, and only saved his life by showing the colour of his breast and arms. His riding-ox took a determined dislike to his umbrella, and would not permit him to use it; so he suffered much from the rain, and even had to carry his watch in his arm-pit to keep it dry. At Teté he left his Makololo bearers, and, promising to return to them some day, made his way on to Quilimane.


The Victoria Falls.

In one respect his great journey was a failure: he had not found a really good route to the sea. Nevertheless he had found out two facts unknown to the world before. First, Central Africa was not a desert, but could produce metals, coffee, cotton, oil, sugar, corn, and many other things needed for the world's use. Second, the natives were capable of being taught by gentleness and justice to make good use of their lives.

These facts he wrote to the King of Portugal, telling him also that canals and roads could be easily made by the natives under good white leaders: then he set out for England to publish his knowledge in a book which he called "Missionary Travels."

He reached London in December 1856, and was at once lionised all over the kingdom. People were so full of encouragement that he felt it his duty to go on with the career he had begun. Even Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort, and Lord Palmerston sent for him to praise his work, while the Royal Geographical Society and other public bodies held meetings in his honour.

Livingstone was not at all spoiled by all this praise. He never liked much to talk about himself and the things he had accomplished, but he was glad that he could interest people in his beloved Africa.

He believed more and more that the best way to help the black millions of Africa was to open up their unknown country. This could only be done by exploring the rivers and making paths through the forests. Along these roads and waterways trade could be carried on and Christian people could travel over them, and so bring the light of civilisation into the heart of Central Africa.

So Livingstone was glad when the British Government offered to send him back to Africa as the leader of an expedition to explore the valley of the Zambesi. He was given the authority of Her Majesty's Consul, and a proper amount of money, supplies, and helpers.

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