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Livingstone's Letter from Bambarre

A Multispectral Critical Edition

All letter images and text published by permission of Peter and Nejma Beard. Licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. ©2010

*Beta Edition, 2010
*First Edition, 2011


David Livingstone to Horace Waller, 5 February 1871
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Bambarre = Manyema 5 Feb 1871

My Dear Waller – I yesterday recieved gladly your 3 
letters of Octr Novr Decr 1869
You repeat the dose which 
is like to break my heart – You "gave Kirk all the news and 
he would impart them to me"
but he had other matters to 
attend to and as usual I have to whistle for news – I am 
the man with too many friends – Oh says Muff No 1 such 
a nice book has come out – I would send it but you have so 
many friends I am sure that someone must have sent it 
already – N2 says I would have given you the news but 
you have so many friends &c &c – No 3 says our large 
national educational establishment in which I have the 
honour to free a chair ought to help if not take on them 
the education of your children – I would do it myself but 
you have so many friends &c – The upshot is I recieve nothing
Two great friends removed my three boys at my expense 
and against my wish from a healthy school in England 
to an abominable "Do the boys Hall" in Scotland & they were 
all home sick three months afterwards – ! I am glad of 
all you told me when you forgot the idea of others telling 
me and wrote naturally as a married man ought to do 

I did not know of Youngs trip up after me nor of Musas 
till now – The successful laying of the Atlantic cable 
I Enferred from my Canadian brother saying "last cable 
news told us you were alive & we put off our mourning" 
I infer that a new Government or ministry is in 
power because you speak of John Bright & Duke Argyll 
as ministers
– Well I am off in a few days to finish 
with the help of the Almighty new explorations – Ten 
men here come from Kirk who like the good fellow 
that he is worked unweariedly to get them & goods off in 
the midst of disease and death – one gang of porters died 
quite off and five of my men perished by cholera – We get that 
from Mecca – letters preceded it thence saying it was coming – 
We do nothing to stop its hatching in Mecca Medina & Judda 
which annually become vast cesspools of abomination 
because the new political economy says let everything alone 
Formerly it went along shore now it comes inland – In our 
small camp here we lost 30 & how many Manyema no one 
knows – All the able bodied all off ivory collecting – if it had 
continued three instead of two months the camp would have 
been desolate – Fowls & goats fell first then cattle shivered 
and died & then men. I quite expect to hear that it went to the 
Cape –
I got the copy of the Standard you sent – I have not seen 
the "Times" for an age – I differ from you for I am proud 
of our great Paper and only sorry when it admits the babble 
of the clubs
– Jupiter must be nodding when he admits Cooleys 
ill natured twaddle as "geography". I would not answer him 
why he boldly challenged me to argue the point whether the great 
Zambesi above the falls were a river – He maintained that it 
was "an undeveloped river" that went under the ground of 
the Kalahari and was lost, and in what he called a map 
put it down as ending in a pothook – doubtless meaning 
if the "learned" the "erudite" Cooley could be so low as use a 
hieroglyphic to say "here it hooks it" – that shut me up from 
answering for ever
My work leads me down Lualaba 
in canoes till it touches the head of the Nile probably near 
the Eastern arm followed down by Speke Grant & Baker 
then double back up the Western line of drainage to the 
fountains on the Watershead – on return I shall not 
go down the Western arm of the loop formed by the end 
of Bakers water and it – the Northern part of which 
again [word missing] Eithe[r] Bak[e]r i[s] a liar o[r] I am – This is


Critical Notes 
(keyed to passages in blue)

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Bambarre   Also Bambare, Kabambare, or Kabambarre. A village in Manyema, eastern Congo (see below). Livingstone stayed here from 21 September to 1 November 1869, 19 to 26 December 1869, and 22 July 1870 to 16 February 1871. During the last period he was confined to his hut from 22 July to 10 October 1870 because of what he describes as "irritable ulcers on the feet" (1870-71a:X). When Livingstone finally left Bambarre on 16 February 1871, he entrusted this letter to an Arab trader named Mohamad Bogharib, with whom Livingstone had previously traveled. Bogharib intended to return to Zanzibar in the near future (Livingstone 1870-71b:LXII). However, six months later, as Livingstone was again passing through Manyema on his way back to Ujiji, he heard that Bogharib was "still at Bambarre with all my letters" (Livingstone 1870-71a:18 Aug. 1871; 1874:2.151). Upon reaching Bambarre, Livingstone was able to confirm the truth of the rumor. In a later letter to Waller, Livingstone wrote: "I received two [sic] letters from you in February last and answered them, but in September I found them in the spot they were left – The Post Office authorities in Manyema had neglected to furnish the postman with velocipedes, and as I never saw these machines I could not urge their adoption and brought the answers to Ujiji myself" (Livingstone 1871d). Elsewhere, Livingstone provides more information on sending letters from Manyema at this time: "Manyema country is an entirely new field, and nothing like postage exists, nor can letters be sent to Ujiji except by large trading parties who have spent two or three years in Manyema" ([1871a] 1872:8). Although the subsequent fate of the letter is unknown, it is likely that Stanley – after his famous meeting with Livingstone in late 1871 – carried the letter back to England in 1872 where it was delivered to Waller (for a discussion of the letters Stanley delivered for Livingstone, see Clendennen and Cunningham 1979:325-28).

Manyema   Also Manyuema or Maniema. A region in eastern Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) roughly bordering the Lomami River to the west, Katanga to the south, Lakes Tanganyika and Kivu to the east, and the territory of Stanley Falls to the north (Cornet 1955:10). An ethnographic map of the region is in Raucq (1952:n.pag). 

Waller   Horace Waller (1833-96) was a missionary, priest, and abolitionist as well as a great admirer of Livingstone. He joined the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in 1859 and traveled to East Africa in 1861, where he first met Livingstone who was then in the midst of the ill-fated Zambesi Expedition (1858-64). The two soon developed a vibrant friendship because of their shared interest in abolition and their mutual regard. The men, writes Helly (1987:31), "talked for hours on end about the strategies Englishmen might use to bring about the regeneration of Africa." After Livingstone’s body and notebooks were brought back to England, Livingstone’s children asked Waller to edit the diaries for publication. These were published as Livingstone’s Last Journals (Livingstone 1874) and from Waller’s time to the present have played a major role in shaping the popular image of Livingstone as both "a gentle, saintly martyr" and abolitionist crusader (Helly 2008; for more on Waller’s strategic editing of the diaries, see Helly 1987).

your 3 letters of Octr Novr Decr 1869   Two of these letters survive, those of 25 October 1869 and 24 November 1869, and are held in the Waller Papers at the Rhodes House Library in Oxford (Waller 1869a, 1869b). Separately, the Waller Papers also include the envelope for the November letter (Waller 1869c; Marion Lowman, Rhodes House Library, Oxford, provided the above information). These details suggest that Waller either sent the December 1869 letter separately, or that there were only two letters (October and November) and Livingstone mentioned the third by mistake. In another letter (Livingstone 1871d; for the wording, see the note for "Bambarre" above), Livingstone only refers to two letters from Waller.

"you gave Kirk … to me"   Waller had written to Livingstone that "I shall let Kirk tell you all the news because I have written to him with that intent for I find it so likely you will come out viâ the Nile that one catalogue of items will do better for the purpose than two" (Waller 1869b).

Kirk   Sir John Kirk (1832-1922), doctor, naturalist, and later political agent. Kirk served as Livingstone’s chief assistant during the Zambesi Expedition, and was appointed Surgeon to the British Agency in Zanzibar in 1866 through Livingstone’s influence. During the period in question Kirk was acting Consul and Political Resident at Zanzibar (Jeal 1973:299, 322; McMullen 2004).

Muff   "A foolish, stupid, feeble, or incompetent person; spec. one who is clumsy or awkward in some sport or manual skill." Oxford English Dictionary (accessed 2 June 2010). 

Two great friends … afterwards   "Dotheboys Hall" is the brutal boarding school in Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby (1839), which is based on a school Dickens visited in Yorkshire where the children were bullied, flogged, and half-starved. Livingstone’s allusion to the schooling of his three sons – Robert, Thomas, and Oswell – refers to the period after the publication of Missionary Travels (1857), sales of which enabled Livingstone to deposit more than £9,000 with Coutts Bank by the spring of 1858 (Ross 2002:115). When Livingstone set out on the Zambesi Expedition, "the care of the children was shared by a board of trustees and Livingstone's spinster sisters in Hamilton" (Jeal 1973:279). The trustees included Livingstone’s friend James Young, a scientist and entrepreneur he had known since his schooldays (Ross 2002:189). An unofficial trustee was the Quaker Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, who lived in Kendal and was a barrister and legal adviser to Livingstone (Nicholls 1998:38). The boys attended Gilbertfield (near Hamilton) and the Quaker school in Kendal (Cumbria), among others. Neither the two friends nor the specific Scottish school referenced here have been conclusively identified, but in a letter dated 19 February 1862, Livingstone did express concerns about Thomas’s health while the latter was at Kendal (qtd. in Holmes 1993:206).

I am glad … to do   See Waller 1869a and 1869b. 

my three boys   Robert Livingstone (1846-64), Thomas Livingstone (1849-76), and William Oswell Livingstone (1851-92).

Youngs trip … Musas lies   Waller wrote that "The Geographical Society might in short be called the Livingstone Society for the last 2 years[.] The report of your murder, Sir Roberick's vehement denial, Young's most successful clear-up of Moosa's lie have all united to surround you with a halo of romance such as you can't imagine […]" (Waller 1869a). Musa was the leader of the ten men from Johanna (Anjouan), Comoros, who accompanied Livingstone during his last journey. In late 1866, while Livingstone’s party was just west of Lake Nyassa, they heard rumors that the country ahead had been overrun by hostile Mazitu (Ngoni). As a result, Musa persuaded his associates to desert Livingstone and the ten men returned to Zanzibar, where they announced Livingstone’s murder at the hands of the Mazitu. In response, in mid 1867 the Royal Geographical Society launched the Livingstone Search Expedition, headed by E.D. Young, who had previously been a member of Livingstone’s Zambesi Expedition. The expedition gathered ample evidence that Livingstone was alive and that Musa and his men had fabricated a series of lies (Jeal 1974:308; Bridges 1968:92-94; Young 1868a; 1868b; cf. Livingstone 1870-71b:XX; 1874,2:74).

successful laying of the Atlantic cable   After several unsuccessful attempts, the transatlantic telegraph cable was finally laid in 1866. Livingstone would not have this fact confirmed for him until his meeting with Stanley (Livingstone 1866-72:28 Oct. 1871; 1874,2:156).

my Canadian brother John Livingstone (1811-99).

"last cable news … mourning"   This "cable news" was probably based on the report of the recently completed Livingstone Search Expedition (Young 1868a; 1868b; see above). A letter to John Livingstone, composed before June 1869, was among the 42 letters allegedly destroyed by the Arab Governor Said bin Salem Buraschid (Livingstone [1870a] 1879:481; 1870-71b:XXXIII; 1874:280; and see below). Livingstone’s letter may have been written in response to the one cited here.

new Government … ministers   Waller had written to Livingstone that "By the slowest degrees people are beginning to learn there is a slave trade on the East Coast of Africa. We have just the right men in office to take it up and tho I do not like John Bright a bit, he and above all the Duke of Argyll will never let it drop if urged by you […]" (Waller 1869a). The First Gladstone Ministry (1868-74) came into power in December 1868, with John Bright serving as the President of the Board of Trade and the Duke of Argyll as the Secretary of State for India.

Ten men here come from Kirk   On 8 July 1868, while near Lake Bangweolo, Livingstone (1868a) had written to Kirk asking for supplies to be sent to Ujiji. Upon arrival at Ujiji in March 1869, Livingstone discovered that these goods had been pilfered. As a result, he wrote again (Livingstone [1869a] n.d.) to Kirk on 30 May 1869 asking for "fifteen good boatmen to act as carriers if required" as well as a variety of goods. In response, Kirk hired a group of Banian slaves to carry the required goods; the party left Zanzibar in October 1869. Following the example of their two leaders, the slaves then proceeded to plunder Livingstone’s goods and, as Livingstone ([1871b] 1872) wrote, "spent fourteen months between the coast and Ujiji, a distance which could have easily been accomplished in three." Seven of the slaves. along with another group of men returning to a camp near Bambarre, finally reached Livingstone on 4 February 1871.

in the midst … Cape   Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is found in water or food contaminated by the excrement of its victims. Symptoms include agonizing cramps, diarrhea and desperate thirst. Dehydration triggers medical shock causing heart attack and organ damage: "A toxin is released which sheds the layer of the outer bowel; death may occur within two hours of onset" (McLynn 1992:248). This fatal Asiatic "fecal-oral" disease originated in the Ganges River in India and was transmitted through the maritime trade of the East India Company to Persia (modern Iran), from where it spread via trade and pilgrimage routes to Mecca and Medina, and thence to Africa (Afkami 1998:206). In 1869 and 1870 the epidemic devastated Zanzibar. In his diary, Livingstone (1870-71a:LXXIX; 1874,2:96) elaborates on the information given here: "70,000 thousand [sic] victims in Zanzibar alone! and it spread inland to the Masai and Ugogo – cattle shivered, and fell dead [–] The fishes in the sea died in great numbers – Here the fowls were first seized and died then men – […] Formerly the pest kept along the seashore now it goes far inland and will spread all over Africa – This we get from Mecca filth – nothing was done to prevent the place being made a perfect cesspool of animals' guts & ordure of men."

Mecca Medina & Judda   Cities visited by large numbers of Muslims during the yearly Hajj (pilgrimage), with the first two named being, respectively, the first and second holiest cities in Islam. "Judda" is Livingstone’s spelling of Jeddah.

the new political economy … alone   Livingstone here critiques the economic and social doctrines of the so-called Manchester School of businessmen and politicians. This movement, an outgrowth of the Anti-Corn Law League of Richard Cobden and John Bright (the latter of whom Livingstone mentions elsewhere in his letter, see above), drew on the ideas of Adam Smith to advocate for "laissez faire as the prime determinant" of economic and social policy. The downside to this approach, as Victorian opponents were quick to point out, was that it could result in a variety of social ills, especially regarding working and living conditions (Altick 1973:128-39), a point to which Livingstone here alludes.

All the able bodied all off ivory collecting   Arab traders had only begun to explore the ivory-rich territories of southern Maniema and Legaland to the north in the previous decade or so. As a result, there was still a great deal of inexpensive ivory to be found. Livingstone ([1871c] 1872-73:70) wrote that the traders had "got into a sort of frenzy on finding that all ivory which has fallen for ages just lay in the dense forest where the animals had been slain; and if the people were civily treated, they brought the precious tusks to them for a few thick copper bracelets." The scale of Arab endeavor also caught Livingstone’s attention: "One trading party I met had 18,000 lbs. weight of ivory; another I came part of the way out with had 35,000 lbs. of it; none came empty home." 

the Standard   Waller sent Livingstone a copy of the 24 November 1869 issue of The Standard along with the three letters mentioned in the opening of Livingstone's letter. A note in Waller's hand on the back of the envelope that contained the letters (Waller 1869c) also mentions this issue: "I have sent you a newspaper too. HW." Later, when Livingstone ran short of paper, he wrote his diary for 23 March 1871 to 11 August 1871 across the pages of this copy of The Standard using ink made from the seeds of a local plant. All the pages of this diary (Livingstone 1870-71b), many now virtually impossible to decipher, are held at the David Livingstone Centre. For more on this diary, see Introduction.

I have not seen … clubs   Waller had written to Livingstone that The Times "hates everything African and is as infamous a publication as ever. It put in Cooly's [sic] letter making you out all that was idiotic and bombastic but shut me out when I answered the letter" (Waller 1869a). For the letter Waller cites, see Cooley 1869.

Cooleys ill natured twaddle as "geography"   William Desborough Cooley (1795?–1883), geographer and founder of the Hakluyt Society. Through his early work on mapping the interior of Africa (using classical sources and contemporary first-hand accounts), Cooley built his reputation as a geographical authority. Later critiques and "corrections" of leading nineteenth-century explorers, however, transformed Cooley into one of the most notorious "armchair geographers" of his day (Bridges 1976a, 1976b, 2004, 2007).

I would not answer … for ever   In an 1864 paper read before the Royal Geographical Society but never published in full, Cooley drew on the "accounts of several Portuguese travellers" to argue – in stark contrast to recent claims by Livingstone – for "the total separation of the rivers Liambeji and Zambesi (the upper and lower courses of the Zambesi)" and offered "a large map" to illustrate his views (Cooley 1864:256; cf. Bridges 1976a:38).

My work leads … [cont. to page 1v] … Zanzibar   As Jeal (1974:323-35) writes, "Livingstone […] came to the conclusion that there were three main interconnecting ‘lines of drainage’ in central Africa, running roughly parallel with each other from south to north. […] The central line itself ran from Lake Bangweolo, through Moero and then on north as the Lualaba. The eastern line […] began at a point just north of Lake Moero, where the Lualaba split in two, sending the main body of its water due north, to continue as the central line, and the rest of its water north-east into the western side of Lake Tanganyika." As a result, Lakes Tanganyika and Albert, which Livingstone believed to be "connected by a river flowing from the northern end of Tanganyika to the southern end of Albert," served as "the eastern line of drainage," or what Livingstone in the letter here calls "the Eastern arm followed down by Speke Grant & Baker." The western line took the most intriguing course, according to Livingstone’s theory ([1870d] 1873-74:265-66): "West of this Lualaba, the central line of drainage of the Great Nile Valley, there are two large rivers, each having the same native name Lualaba. These two unite and form a large lake, which I am fain to call Lake Lincoln. Looking back from this lake to the Sources on the watershed, a remarkable mound gives out four fountains not more than 10 miles apart. Two of these on the northern side form large rivers, which again form Lake Lincoln, and then the united stream coming out thence flows, I suppose, into the western arm of the Nile." The two fountains ten miles to the south, in turn, gave rise to "the Liamba or Upper Zambesi" and "the Kafui." Livingstone ([1870a] 1879:480; cf. Herodotus 1987:141-45) concluded from this analysis that the four fountains 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." Jeal (1974:324) includes comparative maps that show the hydrography of Central Africa as it is and as Livingstone believed it to be.

Speke Grant & Baker   John Hanning Speke (1827-64), explorer, hunter, and the first European to see Lake Victoria, now considered the "source" of the Nile. James Augustus Grant (1827-92), explorer, accompanied Speke on his second expedition to the African lakes region (1860-63). Samuel White Baker (1821-93), explorer, hunter, and the first European to see Lake Albert.



Note on the Text