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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As he pondered his course of action, he encountered a far more lethal obstacle. On July 7, as Stanley sat in the shade in Tabora’s afternoon heat, drowsiness washed over him like a drug. “The brain was busy. All my life seemed passing in review before me,” he wrote. “The loveliest feature of all to me was of a noble and true man who called me son.” Stanley’s intense visions evoked long-forgotten emotions: “When these retrospective scenes became serious, I looked serious; when they were sorrowful I wept hysterically; when they were joyous I laughed loudly.” In fact, Stanley was suffering from dementia brought on by cerebral malaria, the often fatal strain of that disease.


Nyangwe, Congo, July 15, 1871—Livingstone took his usual seat in the shade to observe the marketplace. Soon, slave traders arrived and started squabbling with the Africans. Suddenly, the slavers began firing their guns into the crowd. A horrified Livingstone watched as the villagers fled and more Arabs joined the slaughter. “Men opened fire on the mass of people near the upper end of the marketplace, volleys were discharged from a party down near the creek on the panic-stricken women who dashed at the canoes,” Livingstone wrote. “These, some 50 or more, were jammed in the creek and the men forgot their paddles in the terror that seized all.”


The Arabs stood along the riverbank, calmly aiming and firing, then reloading to kill again. When the villagers leapt from their canoes and began swimming, the Arabs picked them off. Livingstone had run out of paper, and was writing his journal on any scrap he could find—old checks, magazine pages. Livingstone’s supply of ink was gone too. Instead, he was using a red dye he had made from roots; the color brought a graphic realism to the tales of murder: “As I write I hear the loud wails on the left bank over those who are there slain, ignorant of their many friends who are now in the depths of the Lualaba. Oh, let Thy kingdom come!” he implored God.


Livingstone fled Nyangwe for Ujiji a few days after the massacre. The path he took was new to him, and in the heavy equatorial heat, his dysentery returned. His feet had swollen; his shoes were falling apart. “The mind acted on the body,” he wrote. “And it is no overstatement to say that every step of between 400 and 500 miles was [taken] in pain.”


Near the MalagarasiRiver, Tanganyika, October 7, 1871—Stanley was barely in control of the caravan. The cerebral malaria that had nearly killed him in Tabora had been followed by a bout of smallpox. It was a tribute to Stanley’s constitution that he was still searching for Livingstone. It had been nearly three weeks since he’d left Tabora. The caravan had traveled hundreds of miles out of its way, through uncharted terrain, to avoid the tribal fighting taking place between Tabora and Ujiji. Food had been scarce, and hunger had slowed the caravan’s pace. Now, Stanley’s men were pushing to reach the MalagarasiRiver, a wide, powerful flow that fed Lake Tanganyika. But the men were weak. The expedition was less than a hundred miles from Ujiji, but it might as well have been ten times that distance.



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