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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On November 1, after two weeks of searching, Stanley finally reached the MalagarasiRiver. Villages lined its banks, and fish-eating birds could be seen in the shallows. The caravan restocked with food and water, but the Malagarasi offered up another challenge. Crocodiles dotted the surface as far as the eye could see, and the only way to cross was to hire locals to ferry the caravan. By sunset, all were across except the donkeys, which were to swim alongside the canoes, held by their halters. The first donkey to go was a favorite of Stanley’s named Simba—“lion” in Swahili. Halfway across, to Stanley’s horror, crocodiles attacked Simba and dragged him underwater. That night, sadness permeated the caravan. Simba’s gruesome death was a reminder that the same could happen to any of them. All traces of melancholy vanished the next morning, however, when a passing traveler told of seeing a white man in Ujiji.


Lake Tanganyika, October 8, 1871—Livingstone’s endurance was remarkable, but by the time he had reached Lake Tanganyika, his will was shattered. Describing the moment, he wrote, “I was reduced to a skeleton.”


The continued failure of his mission was breaking Livingstone. He set off by canoe to cross to Ujiji, hoping to find supplies from the British Consulate waiting for him. But when he reached Ujiji, there was nothing. Livingstone now faced the desperate choice of becoming a beggar or starving to death. He spent his days in Ujiji praying for deliverance. “I made up my mind to wait until men should come from the coast,” he wrote, still hoping the British consul would send help. “But to wait in beggary was what I never contemplated, and now I felt miserable.”


Rescue looked bleak. Both to the east and to the west, Arabs and Africans were fighting. “I felt, in my destitution, as if I were the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. But I could not hope for priest, Levite or good Samaritan to come by on either side,” Livingstone wrote.


London, England, October 20, 1871—In his prime, Sir Roderick Murchison had been the consummate outdoorsman. The tall, dramatic former president of the Royal Geographical Society had ridden to hounds as a country squire, trekked the Alps and roamed the countrysides of England, Scotland and Russia in the name of geology. But at 79, just two years after the death of his wife, Charlotte, and two months after his second stroke, Murchison now rarely ventured from his storied mansion at 16 Belgrave Square, where Victorian England’s mighty once mingled with her bravest explorers. He had recently regained his ability to speak and swallow, however, and longed to venture outside. And so, on this fall day, he impulsively took the carriage ride that would give him pneumonia and kill him two days later. 



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