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

Foiled by the Slavers

L IVINGSTONE now made a second attempt to reach Lake Nyassa by the River Rovuma. The explorers started in rowing-boats with a party from the cruiser Gorgon,  and made their way up stream for many days without much adventure, though twice their right of way was disputed.

Once a tribe of natives crowded both banks, and, while fitting poisoned arrows to their bows, began the hideous antics of their war dance. Their chief hailed the boats, and ordered the explorers to stop and pay toll. After a parley, Livingstone gave him thirty yards of calico, and he promised in return that his tribe would be their friends. No sooner, however, had the first boat rounded the next bend of the river, than a cloud of poisoned arrows and a few musket-balls came whizzing and singing over the heads of her crew. The sail was cut and torn, but luckily no one was wounded, and a few rifle-shots from the second boat sent the natives flying through the bush.

Another time a surly hippopotamus tried to stop their way. He seemed to think they had no right to cross his favourite bathing-pool, and wake him out of his mid-day sleep. Diving under the water, he came up just under the boat, and rocked her to and fro as he tried to lay hold of her with his clumsy jaws. After grinding away at her planks for a while with his teeth, he at last made up his mind that she was too big and too tough for him to swallow, and then he plunged off in a fit of the sulks.

When Livingstone had taken the boats as far up the Rovuma as possible, he found that the river was divided into two branches, and the natives told him that neither of them came from the Lake Nyassa. Accordingly he returned to Shupanga, and then for the last time started up the Shiré in the Pioneer  with his own little steamer, the Lady Nyassa,  in tow.

It was not long before he began to see that, even in the short time he had been away, the deadly slave trade had come like a blight on the land. A half-bred Portuguese, named Mariano, and his brutal gang had deceived Tingané by calling themselves "Livingstone's children," and so were treated as friends. Thus, taking him by treachery, they killed him and many of his tribe, and dragged off all they could to slavery. Not content with this, they burnt the village and the stores of corn, destroyed the crops, and drove away the flocks. No more corn would grow for many months, and those who escaped were thus left to starve. Many of them clung to life by hunting game and digging up roots, but far the greater number of them died of famine.

When once Tingané was overcome, the work of the slavers was easier; for his tribe was the strongest, and had been the frontier guard. Village by village this foul and ruthless piracy spread up the river, till now Livingstone saw the whole face of the country changed.

The smiling valley he had found four years ago was now a land of death, strewn with black ruins and whitened skeletons. Even the song-birds were silent around the wasted homes, as though they could not bear to sing in the midst of such misery and desolation. Yet the inhuman Portuguese were paying Mariano for his slaves, and Livingstone had not the power to stop them. All he could do was to push on with his work, and publish all he saw, in the hope that the British Government would interfere.

But fortune was against him completely. On reaching the Murchison Cataracts the explorers unscrewed the Lady Nyassa to pieces, and then began to make a road over which they could take her, bit by bit, to the head of the rapids. Before the first mile of this road was finished, both Kirk and Livingstone fell dangerously ill, and Kirk had to return to England.


They burnt the village.

At the same time a despatch came from the British Government to recall the expedition. The Portuguese Government had forbidden all ships but their own to enter the Zambesi, and the British did not think it worth while to interfere. A bitter disappointment like this might well have broken his spirit, but Livingstone was too brave and too faithful to his cause for that. The Pioneer  must wait several months for the floods before she could go down the river, and meanwhile he would row round Nyassa in search of a way to the sea outside Portuguese country.

Once more his bearers started to carry a boat past the cataracts, and all went well till they came to a stretch of smooth but swift water below the uppermost rapid. Here, to save labour, the boat was launched and towed up stream with a rope from the bank. All their stores were put inside her, and also some of the Makololo, who kept her off the rocks with poles. After two miles the Makololo, who were splendid canoe-men, said the current was too swift and dangerous, and they brought the boat to the bank.

Then some conceited Zambesi canoe-men took hold of the poles and tow-rope, saying they would teach the Makololo how to take her up the rapid. Livingstone had moved on, away from the bank, and knew nothing of their intention till he heard loud shouts of distress. He rushed to the bank just in time to see his stores and the Zambesi men in the water, and his boat shooting keel uppermost down the river like a dart.

Some of the party gave chase, but the bank was too difficult for speed, and they never saw the boat again. The Zambesi men swam to shore and knelt down, with their foreheads touching the earth, at Livingstone's feet. He sent them down to the Pioneer  for more stores, and, nothing daunted by this new disappointment, started off to go round Nyassa on foot. But in spite of all his efforts he did not reach the end of the lake before it was time to return to the Pioneer  and make his last voyage down the Shiré.

The Universities' Mission also had come to an end for a while. The brave Bishop Mackenzie had lost his life from fever on a journey down the Shiré. The rest of the missionaries thought it best to move down from the highlands to the river bank, and one by one they died of fever. Livingstone now took the remnant of the mission away with him on board the Pioneer,  lest they should again fall into the hands of the slavers.

In February 1864 he handed the Pioneer  over to H.M.S. Orestes,  at the mouth of the Zambesi, while his own little steamer was taken in tow to Zanzibar by the cruiser Ariel.  Here he learnt that many people in England and at the Cape were blaming him for the failure of the Zambesi expedition, and also for the fate of the Universities' Mission. Livingstone felt this very keenly, for he knew that the chief blame lay with the slave trade. If the British Government had forced the Portuguese to put an end to slavery, there would have been no failure at all.

Defeated and disappointed as he was, Livingstone would not give in, for he knew that he was working in God's cause. He also firmly believed that, if he could only make his countrymen really understand the wicked cruelty and waste in Africa, they would come to the rescue. Clearly it was his duty to awaken their understanding and show them the way when they came. He determined to visit England, and publish all he knew about Africa and the slave trade; then he would return to his pioneering, and find out more.

To get money for the voyage he now tried to sell the Lady Nyassa,  but, on hearing that the Portuguese wanted her for a slave-boat, he decided to take her to Bombay.

This was one of the boldest feats he ever carried out. Taking with him a crew of three white men and nine natives, he started in the tiny little steamer to cross 2500 miles of the Indian Ocean with fourteen tons of coal. Two of his white sailors fell ill, and so for many days he and the third man shared the watch in spells of four hours. Then they lost the wind, and lay becalmed for twenty-five days, not daring to waste their coal. At last a breeze sprang up, and they were able to use their sails again; but they had to pass through two furious storms before their journey's end.

The good little Lady Nyassa,  however, came safely through everything, till strands of seaweed and green and yellow sea-serpents told them they were near the coast of India. They had then only enough coal to last twenty-eight hours, and their supplies were nearly done; but still they managed to hold out and reach Bombay after a voyage of forty-five days. The Lady Nyassa  was so small that no one noticed her arrival till Livingstone went on shore and made himself known.

In due time Livingstone reached England, and wrote an account of the expedition in a book called "The Zambesi and its Tributaries." He was sought out everywhere for speeches, lectures, and entertainments; but as soon as his work in England was finished he returned to Zanzibar to carry out the purpose of his life.

Before leaving England the Prime Minister sent to ask him if there was anything he wanted. Many men would have asked for money or a title, but Livingstone thought of nothing but his work. His only request was that the Government would make a treaty with Portugal to put down slavery and open the Zambesi to honest trade. He was then called before a committee of the House of Commons, who heard all his opinions about Africa and the slave trade. Yet all the Government did at the time was to give him £500 towards his expenses, and to make him Consul of Central Africa, but without a salary and without a pension. His friends in the Royal Geographical Society gave £1500 towards the new expedition, and Livingstone promised them to try and discover the true sources of the Congo and the Nile.

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