It is one of the most famous and oft-repeated quotes in history: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
For Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the presumption was a reasonable one to make, given that he and David Livingstone were the only two Europeans to be found in Ujiji, a small village along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, on November 10, 1871.
At the time, the Welsh-born Stanley—who, at a young age, had immigrated to the United States, and served in both the Confederate and Union armies, as well as the Union Navy—was a respected journalist working for the New York Herald. He had been sent on assignment to locate the famous Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, explorer, and anti-slavery crusader who had captured the public’s imagination with his stories of the “Dark Continent.”
Livingstone first set foot on African soil in 1841, when he was sent to a remote missionary outpost in the British protectorate of Bechuanaland (what is today the Republic of Botswana). There he pursued what he felt was his divine calling—to promote Christianity and “legitimate trade” in the hopes of abolishing slavery. (During that first mission, a lion attacked the explorer as he tried to protect a village’s sheep, rendering his left arm useless for the rest of his life.)
On subsequent journeys in 1849 and 1851, Livingstone traveled across the Kalahari Desert, sighting the upper Zambezi River; in 1852, he set off on a four-year-long expedition to find a water route to the coast. During his explorations, he would become the first European to witness Mosi-oa-Tunya—“The Smoke That Thunders”—which he quickly renamed Victoria Falls in honor of Queen Victoria. (A statue at the falls honoring Livingstone is inscribed with his motto: “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization.”) He also was the first to cross the width of southern Africa, reaching the mouth of the Zambezi—which empties into the Indian Ocean—in May 1856.
Livingstone returned to Britain as a national hero, lecturing and publishing his best-selling book, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. A subsequent mission in 1858 took him across eastern and central Africa, ever in pursuit of finding new commercial routes. Back home, he continued to preach about the horrors of the slave trade even as he helped established Europe’s colonization of the continent, which came to be called the “Scramble for Africa.”
In 1866, David Livingstone embarked on yet another expedition to find the source of the Nile. It would prove to be his last. After he completely lost contact with the outside world for nearly six years, Henry Stanley was sent to find the famed explorer. Leading an expedition of some 200 men, the journalist set off for the African interior in March 1871; eight months later, he finally located the missionary and uttered his famous line.
Replenished with supplies, Livingstone continued his explorations with Stanley in tow; but his health had been failing for many years, and he died in a Zambian village on May 1, 1873. Livingstone’s body was brought back to England and laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Stanley would return to the African continent on a number of expeditions, most notably tracking the Congo River and claiming the Congo for King Leopold II of Belgium.