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David Livingstone explored Africa as a Scottish medical missionary for the London Missionary Society. His extreme fame stemmed from his working-class background, his dedicated missionary exploration, and his fierce support of ending slavery. His anti-slavery sentiments drove his desire to discover the source of the Nile River to earn enough fame and respect to influence the end of the slave trade.

Youth and Education

Dr. David Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813, and grew up in a single tenement room in Blantyre, Scotland. Born to cotton mill worker parents Neil and Agnes Livingston, he was the second child out of seven. Livingston began working in the local cotton mill in Blantyre Works owned by Henry Monteith and Company at 10 years old. He worked as a piecer twelve hours a day and attended the local school in his off hours.[1]

In 1836, Livingstone started attending Anderson’s College in Glasgow, where he studied different technologies and sciences. He also took theology and Greek classes through the University of Glasgow from 1835 to 1837.[2] David Livingston then attended Charing Cross Hospital Medical School and received his degree in November 1840.[3] He studied at the London Missionary Society (LMS) after deciding to become a medical missionary.[4]


David Livingstone’s father, Neil, taught Sunday school and helped Livingstone cultivate an interest in traveling, theology, and missionary work.

David Livingstone’s academic religious pursuits combined with his work in the cotton mills made him a persistent, well-educated, compassionate missionary.

His father grew concerned about the young Livingstone’s fascination with science and nature and attempted to limit his readings to theology, but he felt obligated to seek a connection between science and religion.[5] He read Thomas Dick’s book Philosophy of a Future State in 1832 and it reconciled the struggle between religion and nature for him.

When Livingstone turned 19, he and his father chose to attend a different church from the Church of Scotland with preachers who rejected the view of salvation being predetermined.[6] The First Opium War began in September 1839 and Livingstone was still studying and just starting his missionary career. He met Robert Moffat, an LMS missionary, in London during his medical studies who worked in Kuruman, South Africa. Moffat dreamed of continuing missionary to the North in Africa and Livingston wanted to join.[7]

Exploring Central and Southern Africa

David Livingston journeyed north of his assignment in Kolobeng three times between 1849-1851. He believed the best way to open up the rest of Africa to missionary work involved exploring and mapping rivers to navigate the interior. So from 1852 to 1856, Livingstone explored central Africa and documented almost the entirety of the Zambezi. He stumbled upon Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall during his journey and renamed it, Victoria Falls.[8] Dr. Livingstone crossed Africa from the Atlantic, in Luanda, to the Indian Ocean, in Quelimane, one of the first Europeans to do so, between 1854 and 1856.[9]

Livingstone left the London Missionary Society in 1857 when they rejected his plan of opening new missions in Zambesi.[10]

The London Missionary Society could not reconcile David Livingstone’s desire to end slavery by opening trade routes while still evangelizing.

The British government chose to sponsor his idea and he started on his Zambezi Expedition from March 1858 to 1864. He discovered the river to be impassable due to severe rapids.[11] During this expedition, he stated one of his most famous quotes, "I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward."[12]

Dr. Livingstone returned in January 1866 to explore Zanzibar and discover the Nile River’s source.[13] He spent the subsequent years, prior to his death in 1873, discovering new geographical locations, falling extremely ill, being captured and put on display in Bambara, and eventually the July 15, 1871, massacre of 400 Africans by slavers near the Lualaba River.[14] Livingston returned to Ujiji disheartened and ill.

On November 10, 1871, Henry Morton Stanley said the most famous of quotes about David Livingstone when Stanley approached him and inquired, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” The New York Herald sent Stanley in 1869 to track down Dr. Livingstone. This may be a fictional account as Stanley ripped the pages from his journal, but the quote ran in the Herald’s editorial on Livingstone.[15]

Personal Life and Death

Dr. David Livingstone sacrificed much of his personal and family life to achieve his goals. He married Mary Moffat, daughter of his friend Robert Moffat, in 1845. The couple bore six children whom he did not see grow up due to his long missionary trips to Africa. Only three of their children, Agnes, William Oswell, and Anna Mary, survived to marry and have children of their own. His wife died on April 27, 1862, from malaria while visiting him in Africa.[16]

David Livingstone died on May 1 or May 4, 1873, in a village in present-day Zambia. He died of dysentery related internal hemorrhaging and malaria. Livingstone’s attendants Susi and Chuma removed and buried his heart under a Mulva tree, now known as the Livingstone Memorial.[17]



Blaikie, W. G. (2004, August 23). The Personal Life of David Livingstone. Project Gutenberg.

Jeal, T. (2013). Livingstone: Revised and Expanded Edition. United States: Yale University Press.

Roberts, A. D. (2004). Livingstone, David (1813–1873), explorer and missionary. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Ross, A. (2002). David Livingstone: Mission and Empire. New York: Hambledon and London.

Wright, E. (2008). Lost explorers: Adventurers who disappeared off the face of the earth. Sydney: Murdoch Books.


  1. Ross, 2002
  2. University of Glasgow. University of Glasgow: Story: Biography of David Livingstone. The University of Glasgow Story.
  3. Wisnicki, A. S. Livingstone’s Medical Education. University of Maryland Libraries
  4. Jeal, 2013
  5. Ross, 2002
  6. Jeal, 2013
  7. Blaikie, 2004
  8. Jeal, 2013
  9. Blaikie, 2004
  10. Jeal, 2013
  11. Camerapix (1996). Spectrum Guide to Zambia. South Africa: Struik Publishers.
  12. Wright, 2008
  13. Dugard, M. (2003). Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone. Doubleday Books.
  14. Wright, 2008
  15. Jeal, 2013
  16. Wilson, S. (2007, June 2). Livingstone Relations: Descendants. ancestry.com.
  17. Livingstone, D. (2011). The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa, from 1865 to his Death: Continued by a narrative of his last moments and sufferings, obtained from his faithful servants, Chuma and Susi, volume 2. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

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