Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

The Date of the Livingstone-Stanley Meeting
For many years, scholars have debated the precise date of the celebrated meeting between Livingstone and Stanley in Ujiji 1871. Both travellers lost track of the date due to illness, as indeed explorers often did. As a result, Stanley gives the dates as 3 November or 10 November, depending on the source, while the only dating from Livingstone – ambiguous at best – suggests 28 October. The 1871 Field Diary does not resolve the issue, but it does provide crucial evidence for further analysis.
Scholars have already made several attempts to pinpoint the date. Much of this work depends on a note from Livingstone in the 1872 Journal. In that Journal, Livingstone records that he realized at the beginning of Ramadan (14 November 1871) that he had incorrectly dated his diary. Livingstone indicates that he deduced from Stanley's almanac that he, Livingstone, had run ahead by 21 days. So, for instance, when Livingstone wrote 23 October 1871 in his Field Diary (the day he arrived at Ujiji), it was actually 2 October.
Figure 1. Livingstone, 1872 Journal. The date 28 October 1871 appears in the margin and suggests that Livingstone believed the meeting happened on this date. The entry itself is continuous from the previous page, 24 October 1871. Stanley's middle name is given as "Moreland" rather than "Morton."
Cunningham (1985) uses this information to advance one of the most rigorous assessments of the situation. He concludes that Livingstone is only 20 days out and that the actual date should be fixed as 27 October 1871, not the 28 October as Livingstone's diary suggests (Cunningham 1985:37). Cunningham observes that in the final fragment of the 1871 Field Diary (16-1/172br), Livingstone writes that 1 November and 3 November were, respectively, Thursday and Saturday (Cunningham 1985:37). Although Livingstone may have been mistaken about the date, the Arabs with whom he travelled would still have known the day of the week, due to the need to observe Jumu'ah prayers.
If this hypothesis is correct, Cunningham argues, then 1 and 3 November are in fact 12 and 14 October, and so Livingstone is 20 days out. Although the evidence of the 1871 Field Diary does support such a reading, as described below, the key issue with Cunningham's argument lies in his numerical correction. If Livingstone was ahead by 20, not 21, days, then a day needs to be added – not subtracted – from 28 October, giving us 29 October 1871 as the day of the meeting.
Figures 2, 3. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297b/137 and 297b/144, details, spectral ratio. Livingstone's entries for 11 June and 10 July 1871, both of which record a new moon. The second also notes that it is the "7th month of Arabs."
Roy Bridges, in response to Cunningham, does argue for 29 October 1871. Bridges also observes that it is possible to trace the 20 day error as far back as the beginning of 1871. On 16 January (297b/76), Livingstone records that "Ramadan ended last night." Since Ramadan ended in 1870 on 24 December, Livingstone's comment indicates that he was at this stage 22 days ahead.
Bridges also sheds light on the confusion of Livingstone's dating by discussing later entries from June and July 1871 (Bridges 1982). In the 1872 Journal, notes Bridges, Livingstone writes that new Arab months began on 11 June and 10 July. Livingstone, adds Bridges, is mistaken about which Arab month it is in each case – in both instances Livingstone is three months ahead because he is counting from the end of the last Ramadan not from the beginning of the Islamic year. Once it becomes clear Livingstone counts Islamic months in this way, the evidence of the 1872 Journal does indeed suggest a 20-21 day margin or error, thereby confirming Livingstone's own statement.
The Livingstone-Stanley Meeting (cont)