Places to Visit in Scotland
- David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre
When special effects Oscar-winner Ray Harryhausen decided to sponsor a massive new sculpture at the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, he said that he had wanted to do so because he "wanted to bring heroes back into fashion. Heroes are inspirational figures and David Livingstone was certainly one of those." The sculpture depicts an actual incident in the life of the missionary/explorer. In his journals Livingstone describes how he and his servants had been attacked by a lion in the African jungle and "shaken as a terrier does a rat." They managed to drive it away - but not before its jaws had broken the explorer's arm in two places. A cast of the arm bones in the Livingstone Centre shows the fractures clearly.
When Livingstone became the first European to explore large areas of Africa between 1841 and 1873, his exploits reported in his journals were as avidly followed as the first journey to the moon 100 years later - and were just as hazardous. The David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre successfully conveys the heroic nature of his life from his earliest days to his funeral in Westminster Abbey. In addition to having many papers, photographs and artefacts belonging to the explorer, the Centre has created many visual presentations based on his life - some of these illustrate this article.
David Livingstone's Birthplace
Shuttlerow in Blantyre was built as a cotton mill, powered by the river Clyde. It was created by a group of entrepreneurs including David Dale who was also responsible for the model village of New Lanark (now a World Heritage Centre). David Livingstone was born there on 19 March, 1813. A room in the Livingstone Centre is furnished as it was in his childhood.
Livingstone had to leave school at the age of 10 to earn money for the family and went to work in the cotton mill. The Livingstone Centre has a full-size loom, with a model of Livingstone working at it. Despite the early end to his formal education, Livingstone's enquiring mind and dedication ensured that he educated himself to a standard which allowed entry to Glasgow University. He studied medicine and theology in order to become a missionary doctor.
Livingstone in Africa
Livingstone arrived in what was known as "the Dark Continent" in 1841 and moved to a place called in Kuruman where another Scottish missionary, Robert Moffat, was established. He found difficulty settling in South Africa and obtained set off to establish another missionary station further north where there was a larger population. On this first journey, north of the Kalahari Desert, he was exploring areas never seen by Europeans. He used the Zambezi river as a way of moving across the continent and when he saw the might falls on that river named by natives "the smoke that thunders" he named them after Queen Victoria.
It was during this expedition that the incident with the lion which is the subject of the sculpture at the Livingstone Centre occurred. As a result of the damage inflicted by the lion, Livingstone lost the power of his left arm.
On his return to Kuruman he married the daughter of the missionary Robert Moffat. They were married for eighteen years and had five children (one died in infancy in Africa). The Livingstone Centre has some interesting exhibits related to the family, including details of one son who died fighting in the American Civil War.
His wife and family often accompanied him on his expeditions into the interior. It was on one such trip in 1862 that his wife died of complications related to African fever. Livingstone writes graphically of his devastation at her death.
Livingstone's critics say that he was not perhaps the best of missionaries, spending more time on exploration than converting the native population to Christianity. But in one respect his Christian values achieved a considerable amount. He was appalled by the slave trade and the miserable conditions in which the slaves were moved by Arab traders to the coast. It is estimated that 20 million Africans were sold as slaves between 1450 and 1880. Four times as many were killed during the hunt for slaves all over the continent. Livingstone's journals were printed in newspapers in the English-speaking world and he wrote many books also. While he was not the only voice calling for an end to slavery, his ideas of replacing slavery with "Christianity, Commerce and Civilization" did much to bring it to an end.
The Livingstone Centre displays the shackles, chains and yokes used at that time. As part of the efforts to keep younger visitors entertained, the Centre has some of these for the children to try out!
"Dr Livingstone, I Presume?"
By now Livingstone was famous and the Royal Geographical Society planned and sponsored his last expedition, which was from 1866 to 1873. His main aim was to find the source of the Nile (an objective he just failed to achieve). After three years out of contact with European civilisation, rumours began to circulate that he had died. A young and very ambitious American journalist on the New York Herald, Henry Morton Stanley, set out to find him. They eventually met in November 1870 in the present-day Tanzania. Stanley's first words, when approaching the only other white man in this part of Africa, were the legendary "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
The Last Journey
After Stanley departed (with his "scoop") Livingstone continued to explore central Africa but now aged sixty and having suffered from various tropical illnesses over many years, Livingstone eventually died in what is now Zambia in May 1, 1873. His loyal African servants carried his embalmed body back to the coast and eventually to England where he was buried in Westminster Abbey (though it is said that his heart had been buried at the foot of a mulva tree). The Livingstone Centre has a wonderful carving (made from Scots oak) representing that final journey and a duplicate of the Westminster Abbey tombstone. The words are of the Victorian age but they sum up his life:For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, to abolish the desolating slave trade of Central Africa where with his last words he wrote, "All I can add in my solitude is may Heaven's high blessing come down on every one, American, English or Turk who will help to heal this open sore of the world."
How to Get There
Blantyre is 8 miles south-east of Glasgow. Whether coming from Glasgow or Edinburgh or further south, most people will find that the best way of reaching the David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre is via the M74 motorway, leaving at junction 5. Thereafter, the roads are well sign-posted. See also the David Livingstone Centre Location Map (you can change the scale of this map, if required).
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