OOH, the woke will be interested in this one. But I fear they’ll find naught for their comfort. For David Livingstone, while he “opened up” Africa to the West, with all that entailed, was much motivated by a fervent desire to end the “immense evil” of the Portugese and Arab slave trades.

Named in 2002 as one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a UK-wide vote, Livingstone was born on 19 March 1813 in a one-room flat on the top floor of a tenement for cotton mill workers in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire. He was one of seven children. His father hailed from the island of Ulva, his mother from a Lowland family with a Covenanting history.

David started work in the mill at the age of 10, tying up broken threads 12 hours a day. With his first week’s wages, he bought a Latin grammar. As for the work, it taught him endurance. While at toil, he hummed the Burns lines: “That man to man, the world o’er/Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

And that wasn’t a’. Encouraged by his family, he attended Blantyre village school and also, in the wake of his evangelising father, got religion, leaving the Church of Scotland at 15 for a local Congregational church which denied predestinarian limitations on salvation. I see.

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The education continued, with his chosen field medicine, at Anderson’s (now Strathclyde) University, and he attended Greek and theology lectures at Glasgow. A local Roman Catholic, Daniel Gallagher (later founder of St Simon’s church, Partick), tutored him in Latin, as required for medical school and, as if that weren’t enough, David attended divinity lectures by preacher Ralph Wardlaw, a leading anti-slavery campaigner.

Livingstone’s zeal was fuelled after reading an appeal for medical missionaries to China, though fate was to lead him elsewhere. After being accepted for training by the London Missionary Society, he met Robert Moffat (later his father-in-law) and was excited by his missionary work in South Africa.

He was also taken by MP and social reformer abolitionist T.F. Buxton’s belief that African slavery trade might be destroyed through “legitimate trade” and the spread of Christianity. So off he set for the Dark Continent, where an ill-advised fight with a lion (you can take the boy out of South Lanarkshire …) left him badly wounded in the arm.

He was also wounded by the locals’ evident indifference to the Gospel, but remained hopeful of success if he could get ahead of commercial interests in uncharted territory. With 27 African guides, he went up the Zambezi, nearly dying of fever in the process. Then, with 114 men, he went down the Zambezi, becoming the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) waterfall. As this was clearly not a very exciting title, he renamed it Victoria Falls, after Britain’s wee fat queen.

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The following year, 1856, he reached Quelimane and the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean, having crossed the width of southern Africa and mapped most of the river’s course and becoming the first European to cross the width of southern Africa. Lest ye think this an exercise in mere geography, a key aim of Livingstone’s efforts remained abolition of the Portugese and Arab slave trade through “Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation”. In 1857, he returned to Britain to get support for his ideas, in the process publishing Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, which quickly sold more than 70,000 copies and cemented his fame as a leading explorer.

But he wasn’t done yet. The British Government agreed to fund a second Zambezi expedition. Alas, it wasn’t a success. Fellow expedition members found Livingstone difficult, and even inept. His physician John Kirk described him as “out of his mind”. Worse still, his wife Mary, who had come out to join him on Lake Malawi, died of malaria.

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Needless to say, this was a bitter blow, and not just for obvious reasons. Mary had been born in South Africa and spoke several African languages. She was weel kent and respected, with David indeed often introduced as “the husband of Mary Moffat”. Her selfless and courageous life is recounted by Herald journalist Julie Davidson in her book Looking for Mrs Livingstone, an impassioned account that gives Mary her full due in the Livingstone story.

In 1864, the Government recalled Dr Livingstone’s expedition because of its increasing costs and failure to find navigable routes. Newspapers criticised the expedition, but it was later acknowledged as having provided a mass of useful scientific information.

Undaunted, Livingstone returned to Africa in 1866 to seek the source of the Nile. His assistants deserted him, his supplies and medicines were stolen, and soon he became very ill, losing contact with the outside world for years.

In 1869, the New York Herald sent Henry Morton Stanley (currently the subject of critical reassessment for cruel treatment of native Africans) to find the explorer, which he did on 10 November 1871, greeting him with the famous words: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

Livingstone joined Stanley in further exploring but refused his pleas to leave Africa with him. On 1 May 1873, at Chief Chitambo’s Village, near the Bangweulu Swamps, in what is now Zambia, Livingstone’s servants found him apparently kneeling by his bedside in prayer. He was dead.

His heart was buried under a nearby mpundu tree and, after a long and difficult journey, his body was returned to Britain and interred at Westminster Abbey. The boy had come a long way from Blantyre. Though some missions failed, his geographical discoveries were immensely valuable, and his first-hand accounts of slavery helped to inspire abolitionists seeking to eradicate that scourge.

As for Christianity, alas, he made only one convert, King Sechele of the Kwena people of Botswana who, nevertheless, retained his beliefs in rainmaking and polygamy.

As for statues and memorials, they’re all over the place, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Africa, and the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre. Though a discussion about colonialism might be had, I suspect they’ll all be staying up.