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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“I feel thankful,” Livingstone said with typical understatement, “I am here to welcome you.” 



London, England, October 27, 1871—On a cool autumn morning, under a sky that threatened rain, a procession of 13 mourning carriages rolled through the north entrance of Brompton Cemetery moving toward the grave site of Sir Roderick Murchison. He would be buried next to his wife. Prime Minister William Gladstone and a host of dignitaries stepped from their carriages and solemnly walked to the grave. Murchison was a conservative, and Gladstone the day’s preeminent liberal, but the two men had crossed paths for a lifetime. “Went to Sir R. Murchison’s funeral; the last of those who had known me from infancy,” Gladstone wrote in his journal. “And so a step toward the end is made visible.”


Stanley’s and Livingstone’s journals show that both men had lost track of time, and their journals were off by days—in Stanley’s case, as much as two weeks. The date on which Stanley actually found Livingstone was not November 10 but October 27—two years to the day since Bennett had bestowed the Great Commission upon Stanley. It was also the very day of Murchison’s burial. In fact—given that Murchison’s funeral ran from 11:00 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon, and taking into account a two-hour time difference, Murchison would have been lowered into the ground only after his long-lost friend had been found by Stanley.


In the hours after their meeting, Stanley and Livingstone forged a profound bond. “I found myself gazing at him,” Stanley wrote of that afternoon on Livingstone’s veranda when the two men sat eating and drinking until well into the evening. “Every hair of his head and beard, every wrinkle of his face, the wanness of his features, and the slightly wearied look he wore, were all imparting intelligence to me—the knowledge I craved for so much.”



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