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Thursday 23 February 2017

News: The Legacy of David Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813-1873), the African explorer, is the most famous Scottish missionary and anti-slavery campaigner. His life story charts a journey from a Lanarkshire mill to medical school in Glasgow, to the Kalahari, the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls in Africa.

Following his return to London in 1856 he became a Victorian celebrity. He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal, appointed consul in central Africa, authored a best-selling account of his travels and embarked upon a speaking tour of Britain and Ireland. In addition, Livingstone was awarded an honourary degree from the University of Glasgow, elected Fellow of the Royal Society and granted an audience with Queen Victoria.

Two further expeditions to Africa in 1858-1864 and 1866-1873 were funded by the government and commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society. It was during the latter, after years of no contact, that the New York journalist H.M. Stanley is said to have greeted him with the famous words "Dr Livingstone, I presume?"



Portrait photograph of David Livingstone from a nineteenth century photograph album (NRS reference CH1/5/193).

The birth of David Livingstone

David Livingstone was born on 19 March 1813 in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, the son of Neil Livingston, tailor, and Agnes Hunter. Neil's father was a tenant famer on Ulva, an island off Mull, but left to find work in the lowland cotton mills, settling at Blantyre. Neil and Agnes were married there in December 1810. In these parish registers the family surname is spelt 'Livingston' without the 'e' (OPR Births 624/00/10/350, OPR Marriages 624/00/20/232). David himself doesn't seem to have signed his name as 'Livingstone' until the 1850's, the spelling also used for his book 'Missionary travels and researches in South Africa' in 1857. We don't have the record of his marriage to Mary Moffat in 1845 or his death because neither happened in Scotland. He died in Zambia, Africa, on 4 May 1873. Livingstone's body was interred at Westminster Abbey, London, on 18 April 1874, following a funeral befitting a national hero, paid for by the Treasury. His heart remains buried under a tree in Zambia.

Detail of Old Parish Register for Blantyre showing the birth of David Livingstone on 19 March 1813 (NRS reference OPR Births 624/00/10/350).

Testamentary inventory of David Livingstone

At the time of his death, Livingstone's estate was valued at £1145 the equivalent of about £82,900 in today's money. Although the testaments of Scots dying outside Scotland are normally found in the records of Edinburgh Commissary Office, Livingstone's testament appears in Glasgow Sheriff Court records (SC36/48/74 pages 705-707). This is not a will, in the popular sense, but an inventory of his estate in Scotland and England. His executor, his eldest son Thomas Steele Livingstone, stated that the estate abroad could not be ascertained. A digital copy and transcript of this testament can be seen free of charge in the Famous Scots section of the ScotlandsPeople website.

Detail of the testament inventory of David Livingstone, 1874 (NRS reference SC36/48/74 page 705).

Livingstonia mission and presbytery records

Named in honour of David Livingstone, the Livingstonia Mission was founded by Lake Malawi in 1875 by the Free Church of Scotland. One of the founding missionaries was Dr Robert Laws (1851-1934), a Scottish doctor and clergyman, the son of an Aberdeen cabinet-maker. In 1920 the Church of Scotland established the Presbytery of Livingstonia and in 1963 the General Assembly dissolved it following the transfer of its ministers to the United Church of Central Africa in Rhodesia. As the official custodian of the Church of Scotland archives, NRS holds a minute book, some correspondence and a set of nineteenth century lantern slides relating to Livingstonia (collection reference CH2/483).

Image from glass plate negatives relating to the Livingstonia Mission, depicting Marenga's School, Nyasaland  (NRS reference CH2/483/3/18).


Portrait photograph of David Livingstone from an album of cartes de visite photographs (NRS reference GD268/1045).


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