The Scourge of the Slave Trade

When Dr. David Livingstone landed in Table Bay on 17 March 1841, he was coming to a continent plagued with problems. Although the Royal Navy vigorously patrolled the Atlantic intercepting slave ships and setting captives free, nothing was known of the far greater Islamic slave trade carrying on in the interior of Africa and across the Indian Ocean, to the Muslim middle East.



The general consensus of geographers was that the interior of Africa was one large desert. Most maps of Africa had unexplored, or unknown written across the vast hinterland of the continent.


Confronting Contracted Minds

En route to Kuruman, via Algoa Bay, Livingstone met the notorious John Philip, who Robert Moffat described as senile, autocratic and more interested in political rabble rousing than in converting the heathen. David Livingstone was shocked at the disunity and backbiting amongst the missionary community in Cape Town. He bluntly expressed his disappointment at their lack of missionary vision and Evangelistic zeal and made himself rather unpopular. So, it was said that when he left Cape Town, 16 April 1841, few were sad to see him leave.


Trekking into the Interior

From Algoa Bay he bought provisions and set off by ox wagon on the 530 mile trek to Kuruman. He described the countryside teaming with vast herds of animals, and an astonishing variety of reptiles, birds and insects. After the cramped conditions of home in Blantyre and the stringent routine of study in Glasgow and London, the vast open spaces of Africa was exhilarating.


Meeting the Murray's

He described Graaf Reinet as: "The prettiest town in all Africa", where he met "two Christians worthy of going 100 miles to make the acquaintance of." This was Rev. Andrew Murray and his wife,the parents of the famous Andrew Murray, who later became associated with the 1860 Revival.


Across the Orange River

At Colesburg they crossed the Orange River. Frequently Livingstone feared that their ox wagon would capsize and crush them all. Boulders and thorn bushes frequently blocked their path. All around they saw vast herds of antelope, wildebeest, giraffe and zebra, roaming undisturbed. He soon learned that missionaries had made an impact in Griqualand when a bushman rebuked him for walking to the river to fetch water on the Sabbath.



On 31 July 1841, he reached Robert Moffat's Mission station at Kuruman. After all that he had heard about the great work at Kuruman, he was disappointed to see that, out of a congregation of 350, only 40 received communion. The majority of the people had not even been baptized. David wrote to the Directors of the LMS informing them that Kuruman's population was decreasing and their most publicised Mission Station was an arid, under-peopled village that might soon be deserted. These critical observations were not appreciated by the Directors of the LMS!


A Critical Eye

Livingstone was concerned to see so many missionaries living in one safe and comfortable location while innumerable villages to the North remained unevangelised. He also irritated the established missionaries by proposing that more use be made of the African Christians, by training them as Evangelists and pastors. He was informed that Robert Moffat had ministered for 8 years before winning his first convert. As a young, inexperienced missionary he should keep his opinions to himself and rather learn from those who had been in the field much longer.


Healing the Sick and Preaching the Gospel

David proved tireless in caring for the sick, learning the local languages and sharing the Gospel with all the tribes he could reach amongst the Tswana people, he was known as Nyaka, (Doctor). He rescued young children who were being sold into slavery by their own parents. David proved himself to be a gifted linguist acquiring the local languages in a remarkably short time and proclaiming the Gospel, without any need of an interpreter. By March 1843, David had already translated several Hymns into Tswana as well as composed a Dictionary.


Change My Heart!

Chief Sekomi of the Bamangwatho, demanded of Dr. Livingstone: "I wish you would change my heart, give me medicine to change it, for it is proud, proud and angry, angry always." As David lifted up the Bible, the Chief responded: "Nay, I wish to have it changed by medicine, to drink and have it changed at once, for it is always very proud and very uneasy and continually angry with someone!" He then stood up and walked away, unwilling to hear what he had to do to change, demanding only some oral medicine to affect the change of heart!



When he overheard some of the Tswana people predicting that he would not make the long journey, Livingstone wrote: "This caused my Highland blood to rise, and made me despise the fatigue of keeping them all at the top of their speed for days together, until I heard them expressing proper opinions of my pedestrian powers."


Mission Impossible

The one way that one could motivate David Livingstone was to tell him that something was impossible. When Chief Sechele pointed to the great Kalahari Desert and declared: "You never can cross that country to the tribes beyond; it is utterly impossible even for us black men…" Livingstone became fascinated with the challenge of crossing this vast obstacle.


Compound Fracture

Coming down a steep pass, he lost his footing and suffered a compound fracture as his finger wedged between a rock. He had to tend the open wound himself, pushing the shattered bones back into place and splinting it, without any antibiotics to counter infection, or painkillers to relieve the suffering.


The Urgency of the Task

When one of his servants, Sehamy, died of what was believed to be poison from a tribe they were passing through, Livingstone wrote of his grief and questioned if he had done enough to explain the Gospel to him. "Let me not be guilty of the blood of souls." He was well aware of the urgency of the task. Within a week of proclaiming the Gospel to Chief Sebituane, his lungs became inflamed and he died.



Livingstone's favourite topics for sermons were: The Love of Christ, The Fatherhood of God, The Resurrection of Christ, and The Last Judgement. Robert Moffat described Livingstone's preaching as: "Simple, Scriptural, conversational, highly effective and held the attention of the people."


Lion Encounter

On 16 February 1844, Livingstone unwisely was convinced by local villagers to hunt a group of lions in the district. As they encircled and trapped the two lions, Livingstone fired two shots into one of the lions. While he was reloading, the critically wounded lion charged and crushed his left shoulder. Livingstone later described his action as "very imprudent." In his 26 years in Africa, he was never attacked by a lion, except on this one occasion, when he initiated the attack and trapped the lion, drawing first blood. His shoulder was crushed, his left humerus was broken, he had suffered 11 gashes and his injuries were extremely painful, taking a very long time to heal. For this incident he received stern criticism that a missionary's duty does not include engaging in a lion hunt! David himself advised his parents: "I do not think you ought to make any talk of this to anyone. I do not like to be talked about." For the rest of his life he tried to avoid and respect lions, leaving them alone.



While he was recuperating at Kuruman, he proposed to Mary Moffat. Mary was 23 at the time and having been born and raised in Africa, and having completed her education in London, she was considered ideally suited to being a missionary's wife. David energetically set about building a house for his wife in Mabotsa. On 2 January 1845, Mary and David Livingstone were married in Kuruman. In 1846, Mary gave birth to their first son, Robert. In their first 5 years of marriage, David built 3 new homes and moved the family further and further North.


Chief Sechele

Near his new Mission base at Mabotsa, he ministered to Chief Sechele, who responded with enthusiasm to his teaching. After Sechele's conversion, he said to Dr. Livingstone: "Do you imagine these people will ever believe by your merely talking to them? I can make them do nothing except by thrashing them; and if you like, I shall call my headmen and with our rhinoceros hide whips, we will soon make them all believe together!" Although many in Sechele's tribe made commitments to Christ, David Livingstone did not recognise their profession of Faith without fruits following, as they continued to practice polygamy. On 1 October 1848, Chief Sechele was baptized amidst a terrible drought. When one of Sechele's wives became pregnant, Livingstone was devastated and literally shook the dust off his feet to move further North.


Chief Sekomi

When one Chief Sekomi sent out two of his men to spread rumours that Livingstone's expedition was to plunder their tribe, his messengers were struck with fever and died. The people saw this as the judgement of God and responded to Livingstone's message.


Inhospitable Terrain

Livingstone described the "flies, fleas, lice, moths, vermin of all sorts". He worked many hours up to his waist in crocodile infested water making a raft out of rotten wood.He lost many oxen who fell into pits dug by tribesmen to trap game. Tsetse fly struck more of his oxen dead. Many of his men were stricken with malaria. All of his children came down with malaria. At one point Livingstone wrote that there was not a square inch on their bodies that was not covered with insect bites. Their fourth child, Elizabeth, was born on this expedition and died two weeks later. His wife was gripped by a mysterious fever. Livingstone determined to send his family back to Scotland where they would be safe.



"I hope to be permitted to work as long as I live beyond other men's line of things and plant the seed of the Gospel where others have not planted."


"I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had an only son, and He was a missionary and physician. A poor, poor imitation of Him I am, or wish to be. In His service I hope to live. In it I wish to die."


"I shall open up a path into the interior, or perish."


"Fever may cut us all off. I feel much when I think of the children dying. But who will go if we do not? Not one. I would venture everything for Christ."


"We have an immense region before us. Thousands live and die without God and without hope… Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."


"May He bless us and make us a blessing, even unto death."


The Zambezi

On 4 August 1841, he came to a magnificent river at Shesheke. This was the Zambezi. "We thanked God for permitting us first to see this glorious river… how glorious! How magnificent! How beautiful!..." He described the river 300 to 400 m wide, abounding in hippopotamus, crocodiles, fish and wild game coming to drink from its shores. He began to dream that this could be a navigable highway into the interior of Africa.


Confronting Slave Traders

"Shame upon us missionaries if we are to be outdone by slave traders!"


"If Christian missionaries and Christian merchants can remain throughout the year in the interior of the continent, in 10 years slave dealers will be driven out of the market."



Enroute to Cape Town, their son William Oswald was born. On 16 March 1852, the Livingstones arrived in Cape Town and on 23 April 1852, Mrs Livingstone and their four children, Thomas, William, Robert and Agnus bade a sorrowful goodbye to their father.


Crossing the Continent

David Livingstone was now in his 40th year and about to embark on the most strenuous expedition imaginable. "Let us do our duty to Christ and He will bring us through the world with honour and usefulness. He is our refuge and high tower; let us trust in Him in all times and in all circumstances." In his journal, he wrote: "Purify my motives, sanctify all my desires. Guide my feet and direct my steps, so that the Great and Glorious Jesus may be glorified."


Extraordinary Expedition

He left Cape Town 8 June 1852, on what has gone down in history as one of the most remarkable expeditions in world history. Livingstone set out with 27 porters, 3 muskets, a rifle and a double-barrelled smooth bore gun. His men carried spears. Ammunition was carefully packed and divided into small bundles to guard against any possible loss. He carried a magic lantern with Biblical scenes painted on glass slides to assist him in proclaiming the Gospel with visual aids. Unfortunately most of his medical supplies were stolen by one of the porters who deserted early in the tour. Batting incessant rains, chronic discomfort, rust, mildew and rot, totally drenched and fatigued, laid low by fever on many occasion, the travel wearied team tenaciously persevered across the continent. Every tribe demanded hongo (payment) for the right to pass over their territory. Normally they demanded an elephant tusk, a gun, an ox, or even a slave. Livingstone encountered many idols and evidences of human sacrifices in the jungle. Tense moments were stared down with firearms in hand. "Can the love of Christ not carry the missionary where the slave trade carries the trader?"


Faith Overcomes Fear

He wrote that he was "not fearing the encountering of difficulties and dangers in obedience to the prompting of the inward spiritual life, …but the acting without Faith, proceeding on our own errands, with no previous convictions of duty and no prayer for aid and direction." He declared: "If we serve God at all, it ought to be done in a manly way."


Cultivating a Taste for the Beautiful

"Missionaries ought to cultivate a taste for the beautiful. When necessarily compelled to contemplate much moral impurity and degradation, we are so often doomed to disappointment. We are apt to become callous or melancholy. …the constant strain on the sensibilities is likely to injure bodily health…the calm beauties of nature are… the benign smile of a fathers love. There is a governor among the nations, who will bring all His plans with respect to our human family to a glorious consummation."


A Vision for the Future

"We are like voices crying in the wilderness. We prepare the way for a glorious future in which missionaries telling the same tale of love will convert by every sermon." Livingstone wrote: "I hope God will in mercy permit me to establish the Gospel somewhere in this region that I may live to see the double influence of the spirit of commerce and Christianity employed to stay the bitter fountain of African misery." He regularly wrote against the scourge of Africans selling fellow Africans to Arab slave traders.


An Eschatology of Victory

On 11 November 1853, he and his men embarked on dugout canoes on the Zambezi at Shesheke to explore the magnificent Zambezi River. He wrote: "Future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom, with few cheering rays to cheer except such as flow from Faith in God's promises. We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see, the golden age which has not yet been, but will yet be. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break - the good time coming yet."


Extending the Kingdom of God

"The dominion is been given by the power of commerce and population unto the people of the saints of the most High. This is an everlasting Kingdom, a little stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which shall cover the whole earth. For this time we work."


Frequently his diaries record his prayer: "That the Gospel may be preached and believed in all this dark region."


Dr. Peter Hammond
The Reformation Society
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Tel: 021-689-4480
Fax: 021-685-5884

Email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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