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David Livingstone
David Livingstone.
National Galleries of Scotland.
Born into a fiercely Calvinist family on the banks of the Clyde, David Livingstone was a great champion of Victorian Imperialism. His trinity was Christianity, commerce and civilization, and his abiding hatred was slavery. In a period where the morality of imperialism was being questioned, he represented a figure of decency and integrity. Africa, the "dark continent," was seen as being the quintessence of barbarism; wild tales of barbarism and earnest studies of phrenology provided ample "evidence" of African inferiority. It was Britain's duty to offer civilization to these simpler peoples, and it is against this background that Livingstone's career launched him to the pinnacles of fame and adulation.

One of seven children raised in a single room, tenement Livingstone was sent to work aged 10. In 1836, after studying theology, medicine and Greek in Glasgow, he was accepted by the London Missionary Society. Livingstone arrived in Bechuanaland, on the Cape Colony border, in 1841, but he was soon looking towards the interior for fresh ground.

Between 1852 and 1856, Livingstone opened routes from the interior to the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans in an attempt to enable legitimate trade to undercut the Arab slave trade. He named Victoria Falls on the Zambezi after his Queen. On return to Britain, his discoveries revolutionized maps of Africa, and his book "Missionary Travels and Research in South Africa" launched him as the foremost explorer of his age.

In 1858, he was appointed Consul at Quelimane (now in Mozambique) and became commander of "an expedition for exploring eastern and central Africa for the promotion of Commerce and Civilisation with a view to the extinction of the slave trade."

In 1866, he embarked upon his most ambitious and final expedition -- to find the source of the Nile. Disaster struck. Many of his troops deserted, and to avoid punishment, they propagated the myth that Livingstone was dead. In 1871, a journalist for the New York Herald was sent to investigate. He found Livingstone at Ujiji, where he delivered his immortal line "Dr. Livingstone, I presume." On March 14, 1872, Stanley departed, and within two years Livingstone was found dead by his servants, knelt in prayer by his bedside. They buried his heart on African soil and carried his body through hostile jungle to the coast.

On April 28, 1874, with all the pomp of Victorian ceremony, David Livingstone was buried at Westminster Abbey. He had championed the causes of the church, science, anti-slavery, Africans and the Empire. He had revealed more than a million square miles of terra incognita and exposed the African heartland to the western world. In keeping with Victorian pathos, his death and the subsequent heroics of his devoted servants reflected all that was noble in the Empire.

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