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

The Upper Shiré and Lake Nyassa

O N his return from Linyanté to Teté, Livingstone once more went on board the Asthmatic,  and started to meet his new steamer at the mouth of the Zambesi. Some of the Makololo had refused to go back to their native country, and Livingstone was thus able to have a few of these faithful men with him still.

The poor Asthmatic,  however, did not reach her journey's end. Her steel plates were rotten with rust, and she leaked in all directions. Her cabin floor was flooded, her bridge was broken down, and her engines groaned aloud. In this water-logged and rickety state she touched a sandbank, turned on her side, and sank, after giving her crew just enough time to save themselves and their stores in canoes.

A few weeks later, in June 1861, the new steamer, called the Pioneer,  reached the mouth of the Zambesi. At the same time, there came a party of missionaries under the brave Bishop Mackenzie, who had been sent out by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to settle in the Shiré valley. Livingstone would have taken the mission party up the Shiré at once, but he was ordered by the Government to look for another way to Lake Nyassa, along the River Rovuma.

Taking the Bishop with him, he started immediately to carry out his orders, but the new steamer upset all his plans. The Pioneer  was a splendid little vessel, but she lay two feet deeper in the water than she ought, and so kept running aground on the sandbanks. After struggling a short distance up the Rovuma, Livingstone gave up the attempt, and returned with the Pioneer  to take the mission party up the Shiré. Landing at the Murchison Cataracts, they made their way towards the Manganja highlands on foot.

The party had not gone very far before they learnt from the natives that gangs of slavers had been seen passing through the country with their captives. This was distressing news, and Livingstone now found out how false some of his Portuguese friends had been. The Portuguese had helped and encouraged Livingstone to make friends of the natives; then, as soon as he had gone, they had sent their servants on his tracks to make slaves. These brutal ruffians said they were "Livingstone's children," and so the natives let them pass into the heart of the country in peace. Then the slavers bribed a strong tribe to attack a weak tribe, and after the fight they made slaves of the captives. Livingstone's unexpected return caught some of these villains in the very act.


A long file of slaves.

He had halted his party in a village for rest and food, when suddenly a long file of eighty-four slaves came round the hillside towards them. The captives, mostly women and children, were roped together with thongs of raw hide, but some of the men had their necks fixed in a "goree," or forked slave-stick. The back of the neck was thrust into the fork, and the two prongs were joined by a bar of iron under the chin, while a slaver walked behind, holding the shaft of the stick, ready to wring the poor slave's neck at the first sign of escape. Worn out with pain, misery, and fatigue, the hapless slaves limped and staggered beneath their loads. The slavers, decked out with red caps and gaudy finery, marched jauntily along, blowing tin horns and shouting as though they had just won a noble victory.

At the first sight of the little English party, these braggarts fled headlong into the bush; but one of the Makololo was too quick for their leader, and caught him by the wrist. Dragging him by the arm, and driving him with the terror of a spear-point, the Makololo brought the chief of the slave gang to Livingstone, who at once recognised him as a servant of the Portuguese chief officer at Teté.

The inhuman wretch said he had bought the slaves, but his prisoners told a different tale. They had been captured in war by the slavers, who had burnt their village, murdered their tribesmen, and marched them off in bonds towards Teté. On the way two of the women had tried to loosen the thongs that cut their flesh, and were instantly shot by their captors. One of the men sank down with fatigue, and was killed with an axe as a warning to the others. Another woman became too exhausted to carry her load as well as her baby. The heartless slavers tore the child from her arms and killed it with terrible cruelty.

Livingstone and his friends quickly set themselves to the work of cutting the thongs and sawing the slave-sticks off the captives, and while they were thus busy, the chief of the slavers escaped.

Continuing the journey, the Englishmen set free several parties of slaves in the next few days before reaching the village of Magomero. Here Chigunda, the chief, invited Bishop Mackenzie to settle; and, as the spot seemed a good one, Magomero was thus made the station for the Universities' Mission. All the freed slaves were joined to the mission, and the work of building was going on quickly, when word came that a tribe from the neighbouring Ajawa country were raiding slaves from a village close by. Livingstone and the Bishop thought that a friendly talk might win the Ajawa over to better ways, and a small party at once left the mission station to make the attempt. It was not long before they saw the smoke of a burning village, and then, hurrying forward over a hillside, they came upon the raiders making off with plunder and captives.

The Ajawa leader sprang on an anthill to count the missionary band, and Livingstone at once shouted that he had come in peace for a friendly talk. Unluckily, some Manganja followers called out the name of their great warrior, Chibisa, foolishly hoping to frighten the raiders away.

At once the Ajawa leaders raised the cry of "Nkondo! Nkondo!—War! War!" and all the raiders dashed to the attack. Keeping at a distance of about a hundred yards, they began to surround the little band. Some of the Ajawa danced like madmen, with hideous grimaces meant to strike terror into the white men's hearts. Others played clownish antics with their weapons to show how they would treat their foes. Others shot poisoned arrows from shelter behind trunks and stones, and wounded one man in the arm.

Still Livingstone tried bravely and nobly for peace, but in vain: the savages were like wild beasts thirsting for prey. Then some more of the raiders came up and began to fire with muskets. Livingstone was unarmed, but some of the party had rifles, and fired a few shots in reply. As soon as the Ajawa heard the sing of the rifle-bullets, they fled in a panic. Some of them shouted back that they would track the white men down, and kill them where they slept, but they never dared to return.

This was the first time that Livingstone had failed to make peace, and it was through no fault of his own. But for the foolish cry of the Manganja, he would most probably have succeeded.

He stayed at Magomero till he was obliged to return to the Pioneer;  and his parting advice to the Bishop was never to interfere with the quarrels of the natives, and also to keep on the highlands, so as to escape the fever near the river.

Livingstone and Kirk now started to explore Lake Nyassa. A four-oared boat, fitted with a sail, was slung on poles, and carried to the head of the Murchison Cataracts by native bearers. Here they launched her, and with oar and sail passed along the smooth waters of the Upper Shiré, till they reached the lake. Keeping to the eastern coast, they passed bay after bay on a beautiful and fertile shore, backed by a grand range of purple hills. Cotton and corn grew well, and the explorers often saw men spinning, weaving, and sewing in the huts, while the women hoed the corn. The natives were great fishermen, and caught all kinds of fish with fine woven nets and ivory hooks of their own making.

The lake was subject to heavy storms, and once the explorers were caught a mile from shore by a furious squall. They could not land, for in a few minutes the billows ran so high, and broke upon the beach with such force, their little boat would have been dashed to splinters on the stones. All they could do was to hold her bows to the wind with their oars and try to outride the fury of the storm. Up on the crest, down in the trough, they fought it wave by wave for many hours, while every moment a chance of death went speeding by. As the white lip of each roller curled over, they held their breath, in doubt lest the threatening mass should break over the little boat and swamp her. Yet breaker after breaker went hissing and gurgling past on either hand, but not a single one struck her. At last, when the storm sank down, they were able to land with stiff and aching muscles, but with thankful minds.

After following the shore for nearly two hundred miles, the explorers were almost at the head of the lake when they had to turn back. Livingstone had arranged to go down the Zambesi to meet a ship from England which was bringing his wife to join his labours once more, and on board the same vessel were supplies for the Pioneer,  and also the little steamer he had bought for use in putting down the slave trade on Lake Nyassa.

On their way down the Shiré, the Pioneer  struck on a shoal, and there she had to stay for five weeks, till the river rose enough to float her again. At length Livingstone reached the sea, and found his wife on board the cruiser Gorgon,  but the joy of their meeting was not to last long. A few weeks after her arrival, she was seized by fever at Shupanga. Day and night Livingstone nursed and tended her with his utmost skill and care, but all in vain. In April 1862 she died, and this was a sorrow that lasted all his days.

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