David Livingston Letter David Livingston Letter
Detail of David Livingston's letter to his son, Robert
Autograph manuscript, 1852
Lanarkshire explorer and missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) was born in Blantyre and spent his youth working in the mills to pay for his education. His early years were influenced by his father's strong religious beliefs and by the anti-slavery campaigners in Glasgow. He studied theology and medicine and decided to become a missionary doctor.
In 1840 he became an ordained missionary and spent several years in Central and Southern Africa. While in Africa in 1845, he married Mary Moffat, the daughter of a fellow missionary. Only after one child had died did he dispatch them back to Britain.
He returned to Britain in 1856, determined to highlight the inhuman cruelties of the slave trade, going back to Africa two years later to continue his work. He spent the years 1858 to 1864 on an expedition for the British Government but was order home after unimpressive results. It was during this expedition in 1862 that his wife Mary died which was a huge blow to Livingston; she had joined him for a short time in Africa while their five remaining children stayed in Britain.
After a number of years lecturing and publishing an account of his travels, he left again for Africa in 1868 on an expedition funded by The Royal Geographical Society but it was beset by ill-health, stolen supplies and desertion by the crew. Reports soon surfaced that Livingston had been murdered. However, an American reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, from the New York Herald, set out in 1871 to find him and, upon meeting him, reportedly uttered the famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume".
Livingston continued for another two years before dying, of dysentery, in May 1873. Two of his loyal servants preserved his body and carried it to the coast before it was returned to Britain by sea. He was interred in Westminster Abbey in April 1874.
This letter was written in Africa on the 18th May 1852 and sent to his wife and son before Livingstone set off on his expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast. The expedition lasted four years and during it, in 1855, he became the first European to encounter Victoria Falls, which he named after Queen Victoria. In his letter, he expresses his love for his family and commends his son to Jesus but also warns him that ‘Jesus does not like naughtiness'.
18th May 1852
My Dear Robert
Here is a little letter for yourself. I am writing it in the house in which you and I lived when we were all at the Cape. Do you remember the last time I saw you when you were looking out of the window of the ship and I was sailing away from you in the boat. You went away with Mamma to England and I hope Jesus has taken you safely all the way to England. I don't know yet but you must write me a letter and tell me. I am very sorry. I shall not see you again. You know I loved you very much. I like or love you still. Do you love me? Do you remember me sometimes? You may remember me but you need not call me your Papa any more. Jesus is your Papa. You must take him for your Papa. He is always near you and he loves you. Jesus lent you to me and now when I part with you for at least many long years, I have given you back to him again. Love him for you belong to him. You don't belong to the Devil or to the world. You must be on his side. Never be ashamed of him or of his people or of kingdom. Love and speak kindly to Mamma and Agnes and Thomas Steele and Zouga. Never vex or be naughty to any of them – for Jesus who died that your sins might be forgiven – does not like naughtiness.
I shall soon leave Cape Town and go away back to Sebitoane's country.
Sebitoane's country: an area north east of Lake Ngami in modern day Botswana. Sebitoane or Sebituane was chief of this area.
Agnes, Thomas Steele and Zouga are Robert's siblings. 'Zouga' is William Oswell who got the nickname Zouga after being born near the Zouga River in 1851. Another daughter, Elizabeth, had died shortly after her birth in 1850.