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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Livingstone, for his part, was no less moved. “You have brought me new life,” he told Stanley between bites of stewed goat, curried chicken and rice.


Stanley had originally planned to depart quickly for Zanzibar, racing back to the outside world with news of his achievement. But in a rare departure from character, he set aside ambition to bask in his newfound friendship. He oversaw Livingstone’s return to health, then accepted his offer to explore the dark green waters of Lake Tanganyika. They spent a month traveling in a dugout canoe paddled by 20 of Stanley’s men. Though Stanley had proved adept at the fundamentals of African travel, Livingstone was giving him a tutorial on exploration.


They returned to Ujiji, where Livingstone vowed to continue searching for the source of the Nile, despite Stanley’s urgings that they return to London. Stanley traveled to Tabora with Livingstone and outfitted him with supplies and new porters. After five months together, the men parted ways on March 14, 1872. As a tearful Stanley left for Zanzibar, Livingstone said, “You have done what few men could do, and I am grateful.”


No less than James Gordon Bennett Jr. had hoped, Stanley’s finding of Livingstone—reported in the May 2, 1872, edition of the Herald under the headline “Livingstone Safe”—was an international sensation. Stanley returned to London, then New York, a hero. Bennett and the Herald milked the story for a year. The saga of Stanley and Livingstone sparked an unlikely turning point in history. Journalism’s growing power, America’s ascendancy and Britain’s eventual eclipse, one generation of explorer giving way to another, and the opening of Africa—all were foreshadowed or came about as a result of Livingstone’s love of Africa and Stanley’s march to find him.


Livingstone, worn down by disease, died in today’s Zambia, on May 1, 1873, a year and a half after his meeting with Stanley. His attendants mummified his body and handed it over to British authorities. His remains were buried in Westminster Abbey. Stanley was a pallbearer at Livingstone’s funeral. Afterward, he fulfilled a vow he’d made to the explorer to return to Africa to search for the source of the Nile. In his failed attempt, Stanley circumnavigated lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, then traveled the length of the Congo River to the Atlantic. Later, however, he besmirched his reputation by accepting money from King Leopold II of Belgium to help create the Congo Free State and promote the slave trade. Though he returned to Britain, married in 1890 (he and his wife, Dorothy, adopted a 1-year-old Welsh child in 1896), resumed his British citizenship in 1892 and served in Parliament, when he died at age 63, he was denied burial in Westminster Abbey because of his actions in the Congo Free State.



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