Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

Livingstone's Discoveries in Central Africa

"Away—away in the wilderness vast,

Where the white man's foot hath never passed."

— Pringle

T HE settlements of the Dutch beyond the Orange river and beyond the Vaal had added considerably to the area of exploration in South Africa. Still little enough was known of the interior. Bruce had explored the sources of the Nile, Mungo Park had found the Niger, a young Englishman had revealed Lake Chad, and a famous Frenchman had explored Timbuctoo; otherwise, little had been done in this direction. Central Africa was a blank, or a "maze of nonsensical geography," until Livingstone, a young Scottish doctor and missionary, opened up a pathway through the mysterious country.

A small mission-station stood at Kuruman, in the heart of Bechuanaland, under the direction of a Scotsman, Dr. Moffat. To join him, young Livingstone landed at Algoa Bay in the year 1841, and after a slow ox-waggon journey of 700 miles, he joined his friends. Not long after, he was sent to form a new mission-station at Mabotsa, now included in the Transvaal territory.

Now Bechuanaland, like the rest of South Africa at this time, was infested with lions. One day a troop of lions suddenly appeared, and the young missionary joined the natives in a lion-hunt. Seeing one of the largest sitting on a piece of rock, some thirty yards off, Livingstone fired.

"He is shot! he is shot!" cried the natives; but Livingstone turned round to see the lion in the act of springing on him. It caught him by the shoulder, dragged him to the ground, and crunched his arm into splinters.

The mission-station thrived for a time under Livingstone and his wife, Moffat's daughter, until constant Boer raids made it no longer possible. Fleeing from British rule in Natal, the Boers now looked towards Bechuanaland for the extension of their boundaries. In one raid, they plundered Livingstone's settlement, carried the little black children off as slaves, and the young missionary determined to move farther inland, where white men had never yet been. In June 1849, with his wife, three children, and some natives, he started with oxen and waggons to trek northwards. Journeying through the desert,—a hopeless wilderness of rocks and sand and grey lifeless scrub,—he reached the river Zambesi. But finding no healthy spot for a settlement, he determined to send his wife and children to England and continue his explorations alone.

It was the summer of 1853, before he reached the Zambesi river once more. The journey, even without a wife and family, was tedious and slow; but he was more determined than ever to open up a path to the interior.

"Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave trade carries the trader?" he would say. "I shall open up a path to the interior, or perish."

He made friends with the Makololos, who lived about the shores of the Zambesi; and with their help he slowly made his way up the river in a canoe, on and on into the unknown country. Leaving the Zambesi, the little party struck across vast flooded plains, on their way westward to the coast. Food grew scarce, until they were glad enough to eat moles and mice; they had to swim deep rivers and fight their way through dense forests: but Livingstone's resolution never failed. At last, fever-stricken and utterly worn out, he staggered into Loanda, the Portuguese settlement near the mouth of the Congo, to find an Englishman, and once more to lie upon an English bed.

The temptation to sail to England was great, but he felt his work unaccomplished; and after four months' rest, he plunged back once more into the heart of Africa, intending to reach the eastern coast by the Zambesi river. It took nearly a year to reach the Makololos, at Linyanti, once again, and another rest was sorely needed by the exhausted explorer.

His discovery of the Victoria Falls is interesting. The natives had talked to him of some wonderful waterfalls on the Zambesi, near which they had never ventured, on account of "smoke that sounds." Livingstone approached them awestruck, for truly this huge river, nearly half a mile broad, rushed through a narrow crack, and the angry waters foamed and roared a hundred feet below, throwing masses of white spray high up into the sunlit air.

"Being persuaded that we were the very first Europeans who ever saw the Zambesi in the heart of Africa, I decided to name them the Falls of Victoria," says Livingstone in his wonderful journals, which may be read to-day.

With a party of Makololos, Livingstone now started for the last thousand miles to the eastern coast, to the mouth of the Zambesi, Vasco da Gama's River of Mercy. Through rich country and beautiful scenery they passed, as they wended their way through the land since claimed by the English as Rhodesia, till they reached Portuguese territory, and reached the Portuguese settlement of Quilimane by the sea. Here, after four years' wandering, he took ship for England.

The grief of his black attendants at his departure was pitiful. "Take us," they cried; "we will die at your feet."

He agreed to take the chief; but the sea was wild and stormy, huge waves broke over the ship, and the terrified native threw himself overboard and was drowned.

Livingstone landed in England after an absence of sixteen years. He had opened a path right across Africa from coast to coast, and gratefully his country acknowledged his services. He had done much, but much remained yet to be done; and the summer of 1858 found him in the Dark Continent, ready for further exploration.

His faithful Makololos rushed to the water's edge to meet him.

"They told us you would never come back," they cried; "but we trusted you."

Hearing of large lakes to the north, he made his way up the river Shire in a steam-launch, which he had brought from England. Such a snorting and groaning she made, ascending the river, that Livingstone christened her the Asthmatic; but she bore them safely at last to the beautiful mountain-lake, Shirwa, and a few months later to the larger lake, Nyassa, which now forms the boundary between Rhodesia and Portuguese Africa.

"How far is it to the end of the lake?" Livingstone asked one day.

"Why, if one started, a mere boy, to walk to the other end, one would be a grey-haired man before one got there," was the native answer.

Time passed on, and Livingstone discovered Lake Bangweolo, to the west of Nyassa, now included in the territory of Rhodesia. Still, though beset with many hardships, weak from fever, faint for want of food, the undaunted explorer pushed onwards to find the lake Tanganyika, already discovered by Englishmen, while searching for the source of the Nile. Onward he struggled, attended by two faithful black men, Chuma and Susi, like the travellers of old, determined to accomplish or die. Sometimes, too weak to walk another step, he was carried on Chuma's back. News reached the coast that he was dead. It was years since he had been heard of alive.

One day, he was sitting in his hut on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, when Susi came running to him crying: "An Englishman! I see him!" Incredible as it seemed, it was indeed true. America had sent out Henry Stanley, afterwards a distinguished explorer himself, to search for Livingstone, and the two men had met in the very heart of Africa.

"You have brought me new life—new life!" murmured the tired old explorer, as Stanley told him all that had happened, during his long absence from news of home and country.

He grew rapidly stronger, and after a time the two explorers started forth together, and completely surveyed the north of Lake Tanganyika.

On Stanley's return to America, Livingstone, turning his back once more on comfort and luxury, set out on his last heroic journey, never to return. He grew weaker and weaker; the crossing of streams chilled him to the bone; tropical rains turned the country into a vast swamp; and, despite the attentions of Chuma and Susi, it was evident the old explorer was dying. One night they went into his hut, and by the light of a dim candle they found Livingstone kneeling by his bedside, his head buried in his hands—dead. Then the faithful negroes buried his heart on the spot where he died—Ilala, on the lake Bangweolo—under the shadow of a great tree in the still forest, after which Chuma and Susi carried the body of their beloved master over hundreds of miles to the coast, braving hardships, hunger, and thirst for his sake, until they could give it into the hands of the English settlers at Zanzibar.

So died one of the greatest modern explorers of Central Africa. The whole Lake region, which he discovered, is now under British protectorate, and civilisation is rapidly being carried forward, for the good of mankind.

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