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Stanley Meets Livingstone

The American journalist's harrowing 1871 quest to find England's most celebrated explorer is also a story of newfound fascination with Africa, the growing power of newspapers and the United States' emergence as a world power

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(Continued from page 2)

But Tabora was not a paradise to Stanley. To him, it was dusty and Spartan, with that hostility common to crossroads and border towns, and the curious stares of the locals made him uneasy. Nonetheless, he had come a long way in the year and a half since Bennett had called the reporter to Paris and ordered him to Africa.

 

Stanley had come far, period. His real name was John Rowlands, and he had been born in Denbigh, Wales, his father the town drunk and his 19-year-old mother a local prostitute. He was given up to a workhouse at age 5. He was released at 15 and at 17 fled to New Orleans where he started his life anew by erasing his past. John Rowlands had become Henry Morton Stanley, who began living a very American series of adventures: he fought for the Confederacy, was taken prisoner and, when offered the chance to switch sides, fought for the Union. He drifted west after the war to try to make his fortune mining gold and silver, and he became a journalist covering the American Indian Wars, rubbing elbows with Ulysses S. Grant and Wild Bill Hickok. There seemed no limit to the things he was willing to take on.

 

Africa, however, scared Stanley. The fear had set in as he sailed to Zanzibar to purchase supplies and hire men for the expedition. He had had nightmares and even pondered suicide to avoid traveling into the “eternal, feverish region.” Despite his anxieties, by March 21, 1871, he had managed to assemble one of the largest expeditions to ever set forth from Zanzibar—so big that Stanley was forced to divide it into five subcaravans and stagger their departures to avoid robbery. As Stanley set off, he heard rumors that a white man had been seen near Ujiji, some 750 miles inland.

 

During the march to Tabora, Stanley had written regularly in his journal but had sent nothing to the newspaper. On July 4, he penned his first dispatch to Bennett in the form of a 5,000-word letter—enough to fill the front page of the Herald. In it, Stanley told of his fears and even his contemplation of suicide. “I should like to enter into more minute details respecting this new land, which is almost unknown,” he wrote, “but the very nature of my mission, requiring speed and all my energy precludes it. Some day, perhaps, the Herald will permit me to describe more minutely the experiences of the long march, with all its vicissitudes and pleasures, in its columns, and I can assure your readers beforehand that they will be not quite devoid of interest. But now my whole time is occupied in the march, and the direction of the expedition, the neglect of which in any one point would be productive of disastrous results.” Stanley held back the information his audience wanted most until the final paragraph. Livingstone, he told them, was rumored to be on his way to Ujiji. “Until I hear more of him or see the long absent old man face to face, I bid you a farewell,” he signed off. “But wherever he is be sure I shall not give up the chase. If alive you shall hear what he has to say. If dead I will find him and bring his bones to you.”

 

Stanley sent his dispatch with a caravan going east with instructions to give it to the American consul in Zanzibar, who would then send it to New York by ship. But Stanley hadn’t told his readers everything. Afierce tribal war blocked the road to Ujiji, threatening to derail his entire expedition. Stanley would either have to embroil himself in the fighting or find an alternate—uncharted—route to the south.

 

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