Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

Livingstone in 1871
David Livingstone wrote the 1871 Field Diary during his final African expedition (1866-73). Sir Roderick Murchison, President of the Royal Geographical Society, set Livingstone’s primary objective for this expedition as determining the water system of Central Africa by exploring the region between Lakes Nyassa and Tanganyika. Murchison hoped that by this expedition Livingstone would "be paving the way for the introduction of social improvements among the natives, by the promotion of fair barter and commerce, to the exclusion of the trade in slaves" and that Livingstone would "act as a pioneer in removing those obstacles" that prevented Christian missionaries from traveling to these regions (Murchison 1864-65:264).
Figure 1. David Livingstone in 1865.
In other words, Murchison tasked Livingstone with realizing the latter’s grand vision of linking exploration with Christianity, commerce, and civilization, in the service of ending the slave trade in Africa. Livingstone had unveiled this vision in his best-selling Missionary Travels and Researches (1857), a book that made him a household name by detailing his arduous four-year coast-to-coast journey across Africa. Unfortunately, Livingstone’s first attempt to realize the vision, the ill-fated Zambesi Expedition (1858-64), had ended in failure and recall, due to problems caused by natural obstacles and personal conflicts among expedition members.
The 1866 expedition offered Livingstone a chance to redeem his reputation, while paving the way for a new era of British endeavor in Africa. The expedition would also tackle – Murchison hinted – the thorny and highly controversial issue of the Nile River’s ultimate source (Murchison 1864-65:264-65; for more on Livingstone’s objectives, see Bridges 1973). In the 1860s, the location of this source divided British geographers and explorers. Some believed that the Nile originated (as it does) in Lake Victoria, which the explorer John Hanning Speke had first sighted in 1858. Others argued that a river flowing out of the northern end of Lake Tanganyika gave rise to the Nile (this river, the Rusizi, in fact flows into the lake and has no connection to the Nile). But no one knew for certain. "Nothing short of actual exploration can determine these questions," stated Murchison (1864-65:265).
Livingstone’s final expedition took him over a wide stretch of East and Central Africa, through the areas that today constitute Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Livingstone – as he travelled and as he questioned other travellers – developed an elaborate theory of the Central African river system. He "came to the conclusion that there were three main interconnecting ‘lines of drainage’ in central Africa," all running north to south in parallel (Jeal 1973:323). All three lines, according to Livingstone, fed the Nile.
Figure 2. The Central African watershed as it is (left)
and as Livingstone believed it to be (Jeal 1973:324).
The eastern line (which ran through Lakes Tanganyika and Albert) and the central line (the Congo’s Lualaba River) both took rise – at least partly – in Lakes Moero and Bangweulu farther to the south. The central line and western line (the Congo’s Lomami River), however, also originated in a more exotic source. In one of his letters, Livingstone described it as "a remarkable mound" that "gives out four fountains not more than 10 miles apart," with the two fountains to the south giving rise to "the Liamba or Upper Zambesi" and "the Kafui" rivers. These four fountains, Livingstone concluded, were "probably the Nile fountains, which were described to Herodotus as unfathomable, and sending one-half of the water to Egypt, the other half to inner Ethiopia" (Livingstone [1870b] 1879:480; cf. Herodotus 1987:141-45).
During the final years of his life, Livingstone became obsessed with reaching this mound and proving his theory of the river system. In 1869, Livingstone’s explorations took him from Ujiji, an Arab trading depot on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, to the Manyema region west of the lake, which Zanzibari Arab traders had just begun to pioneer in their search for ivory. Livingstone intended to pass through Manyema rapidly, then strike the Lualaba River, which lay some 240 miles west of Ujiji (Livingstone estimated the distance at 300 miles), with the goal of exploring the river and resolving its mysteries. Did it feed the Nile (as Livingstone hoped) or was it part of the Congo River system (as Livingstone feared)?
The journey to the Lualaba, however, took much longer than anticipated. Livingstone departed from Ujiji on 12 July 1869. He did not reach Nyangwe, a small village on the right bank of the Lualaba, until nearly two years later, 30 March 1871. The delay in travel had partly to do with the "large belts of primeval forest" that lay between Tanganyika and the Lualaba, and partly because "irritable ulcers on the feet" and other issues had stopped Livingstone in the Congolese village of Bambarre for nearly seven months from 22 July 1870 to 16 February 1871 (Livingstone [1871i] 1872:2; 1870-71a:10703/10).
Due to these delays, Livingstone – now some 880 miles from the east coast of Africa – had run low on many essential supplies, including writing paper and iron gall ink. He did have a single eight-page copy of the Standard newspaper dated 24 November 1869, which he had received on 4 February 1871 along with letters and other materials from Horace Waller, his friend and future editor (see the section on Manuscript). Livingstone cut up the sheets of this newspaper and assembled two thirty-two page "copy-books" (Waller, in Livingstone 1874,2:114n.). Livingstone wrote his first entry in the first of these copy-books – now collectively known as the 1871 Field Diary – on 23 March 1871, just a few days before he reached the village of Nyangwe.
Livingstone in 1871 (cont)