Henry Morton Stanley said his famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume!” on November 10, 1871, in the heart of Africa, at Ujiji. The meeting is recorded in Stanley’s own book, How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa (page 331).
Stanley is described as an “illegitimate son of Britain’s industrial masses”. Stanley was born John Rowlands on 28 January 1841 in Denbigh, Wales. His parents were not married so he was brought up in a workhouse.
In 1859, he left Britain for a new life in America, settling in New Orleans where he was befriended by a merchant named Henry Stanley. Rowlands took Stanley’s name as his own. Stanley fought for the Confederate army, was wounded, and taken prisoner during the Civil War. It is reported that he then fought on the Union side. Following the war he worked as a sailor and journalist.
In 1867 Stanley became special correspondent for the New York Herald. At that time the unexplored reaches of the world fascinated readers and so the paper decided to make much out of the disappearance of Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who had not been heard from since 1866. Stanley was sent to Africa in 1869 by the newspaper editor to find Livingstone and report if he had found the source of the Nile. Regular dispatches to the paper built up the drama of the search for the readers back home.
In January 1871 Stanley reached Zanzibar and then proceeded to Lake Tanganyika. Livingstone was last known to be in that vicinity and it was there, in November 1871, that Stanley found the sick explorer. Approaching the lone white man Stanley stretched out his hand and said, “Dr Livingstone, I presume!” Stanley’s eloquent reports on his fabulous expedition made as famous as the man he had found.
For four months Stanley lived with the great missionary, and he gives this assessment: “His religion is not of the theoretical kind, but it is a constant, earnest, sincere practice. It is neither demonstrative nor loud, but manifests itself in a quiet, practical way and is always at work… His gentleness never forsakes him; his hopefulness never deserts him. No harassing anxieties, distraction of mind, long separation from home or kindred, can make him complain. He thinks ‘all will come out right at last’, he has such faith in the goodness of Providence” (page 351).
Providence was the term for God’s care, used almost universally in previous generations.
Following Livingstone’s death in 1873, Stanley continued Livingstone’s exploration of the region, funded by the Herald and a British newspaper. Vast reaches of central Africa were explored by Stanley and he traveled the length of the Lualaba and Congo Rivers, reaching the Atlantic in August 1877. The later described his epic journey in ‘Through the Dark Continent’ (1878).
Stanley saw great potential for developing the Congo region but could not get British support for his plans. King Leopold II of Belgium was eager to tap Africa’s wealth and so in 1879, with Leopold’s support, Stanley returned to Africa where he built roads to open the lower Congo to commerce. He employed widespread use of forced labour and other brutal means to accomplish his work. Livingstone would not have approved.
French interests in the region competed with the Belgiums and helped bring about the Berlin Conference (1884-5) in which European nations sorted out their competing colonial claims in Africa. Stanley’s efforts paved the way for the creation of the Congo Free State, privately owned by Leopold.
Stanley returned to Europe and in 1890 married and then began a worldwide lecture tour, capitalizing on his international fame. He became MP for Lambeth in south London, serving from 1895 to 1900. He was knighted in 1899. He died in London on 10 May 1904.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.