Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, by David Livingstone


Objects of the Expedition — Personal Interest shown by Naval Authorities — Members of the Zambesi Expedition.

When first I determined on publishing the narrative of my “Missionary Travels,” I had a great misgiving as to whether the criticism my endeavours might provoke would be friendly or the reverse, more particularly as I felt that I had then been so long a sojourner in the wilderness, as to be quite a stranger to the British public. But I am now in this, my second essay at authorship, cheered by the conviction that very many readers, who are personally unknown to me, will receive this narrative with the kindly consideration and allowances of friends; and that many more, under the genial influences of an innate love of liberty, and of a desire to see the same social and religious blessings they themselves enjoy, disseminated throughout the world, will sympathize with me in the efforts by which I have striven, however imperfectly, to elevate the position and character of our fellow-men in Africa. This knowledge makes me doubly anxious to render my narrative acceptable to all my readers; but, in the absence of any excellence in literary composition, the natural consequence of my pursuits, I have to offer only a simple account of a mission which, with respect to the objects proposed to be thereby accomplished, formed a noble contrast to some of the earlier expeditions to Eastern Africa. I believe that the information it will give, respecting the people visited and the countries traversed, will not be materially gainsaid by any future commonplace traveller like myself, who may be blest with fair health and a gleam of sunshine in his breast. This account is written in the earnest hope that it may contribute to that information which will yet cause the great and fertile continent of Africa to be no longer kept wantonly sealed, but made available as the scene of European enterprise, and will enable its people to take a place among the nations of the earth, thus securing the happiness and prosperity of tribes now sunk in barbarism or debased by slavery; and, above all, I cherish the hope that it may lead to the introduction of the blessings of the Gospel.

In order that the following narrative may be clearly understood, it is necessary to call to mind some things which took place previous to the Zambesi Expedition being sent out. Most geographers are aware that, before the discovery of Lake Ngami and the well-watered country in which the Makololo dwell, the idea prevailed that a large part of the interior of Africa consisted of sandy deserts, into which rivers ran and were lost. During my journey in 1852–6, from sea to sea, across the south intertropical part of the continent, it was found to be a well-watered country, with large tracts of fine fertile soil covered with forest, and beautiful grassy valleys, occupied by a considerable population; and one of the most wonderful waterfalls in the world was brought to light. The peculiar form of the continent was then ascertained to be an elevated plateau, somewhat depressed in the centre, and with fissures in the sides by which the rivers escaped to the sea; and this great fact in physical geography can never be referred to without calling to mind the remarkable hypothesis by which the distinguished President of the Royal Geographical Society (Sir Roderick I. Murchison) clearly indicated this peculiarity, before it was verified by actual observation of the altitudes of the country and by the courses of the rivers. New light was thrown on other portions of the continent by the famous travels of Dr. Barth, by the researches of the Church of England missionaries Krapf, Erkhardt, and Rebman, by the persevering efforts of Dr. Baikie, the last martyr to the climate and English enterprise, by the journey of Francis Galton, and by the most interesting discoveries of Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria Nyanza by Captain Burton, and by Captain Speke, whose untimely end we all so deeply deplore. Then followed the researches of Van der Decken, Thornton, and others; and last of all the grand discovery of the main source of the Nile, which every Englishman must feel an honest pride in knowing was accomplished by our gallant countrymen, Speke and Grant. The fabulous torrid zone, of parched and burning sand, was now proved to be a well-watered region resembling North America in its fresh-water lakes, and India in its hot humid lowlands, jungles, ghauts, and cool highland plains.

The main object of this Zambesi Expedition, as our instructions from Her Majesty’s Government explicitly stated, was to extend the knowledge already attained of the geography and mineral and agricultural resources of Eastern and Central Africa — to improve our acquaintance with the inhabitants, and to endeavour to engage them to apply themselves to industrial pursuits and to the cultivation of their lands, with a view to the production of raw material to be exported to England in return for British manufactures; and it was hoped that, by encouraging the natives to occupy themselves in the development of the resources of the country, a considerable advance might be made towards the extinction of the slave-trade, as they would not be long in discovering that the former would eventually be a more certain source of profit than the latter. The Expedition was sent in accordance with the settled policy of the English Government; and the Earl of Clarendon, being then at the head of the Foreign Office, the Mission was organized under his immediate care. When a change of Government ensued, we experienced the same generous countenance and sympathy from the Earl of Malmesbury, as we had previously received from Lord Clarendon; and, on the accession of Earl Russell to the high office he has so long filled, we were always favoured with equally ready attention and the same prompt assistance. Thus the conviction was produced that our work embodied the principles, not of any one party, but of the hearts of the statesmen and of the people of England generally. The Expedition owes great obligations to the Lords of the Admiralty for their unvarying readiness to render us every assistance in their power; and to the warm-hearted and ever-obliging hydrographer to the Admiralty, the late Admiral Washington, as a subordinate, but most effective agent, our heartfelt gratitude is also due; and we must ever thankfully acknowledge that our efficiency was mainly due to the kind services of Admirals Sir Frederick Grey, Sir Baldwin Walker, and all the naval officers serving under them on the East Coast. Nor must I omit to record our obligations to Mr. Skead, R.N. The Luawe was carefully sounded and surveyed by this officer, whose skilful and zealous labours, both on that river, and afterwards on the Lower Zambesi, were deserving of all praise.

In speaking of what has been done by the Expedition, it should always be understood that Dr. Kirk, Mr. Charles Livingstone, Mr. R. Thornton, and others composed it. In using the plural number they are meant, and I wish to bear testimony to the untiring zeal, energy, courage, and perseverance with which my companions laboured; undaunted by difficulties, dangers, or hard fare. It is my firm belief that, were their services required in any other capacity, they might be implicitly relied on to perform their duty like men. The reason why Dr. Kirk’s name does not appear on the title-page of this narrative is, because it is hoped that he may give an account of the botany and natural history of the Expedition in a separate work from his own pen. He collected above four thousand species of plants, specimens of most of the valuable woods, of the different native manufactures, of the articles of food, and of the different kinds of cotton from every spot we visited, and a great variety of birds and insects; besides making meteorological observations, and affording, as our instructions required, medical assistance to the natives in every case where he could be of any use.

Charles Livingstone was also fully occupied in his duties in following out the general objects of our mission, in encouraging the culture of cotton, in making many magnetic and meteorological observations, in photographing so long as the materials would serve, and in collecting a large number of birds, insects, and other objects of interest. The collections, being Government property, have been forwarded to the British Museum, and to the Royal Botanic, Gardens at Kew; and should Dr. Kirk undertake their description, three or four years will be required for the purpose.

Though collections were made, it was always distinctly understood that, however desirable these and our explorations might be, “Her Majesty’s Government attached more importance to the moral influence that might be exerted on the minds of the natives by a well-regulated and orderly household of Europeans setting an example of consistent moral conduct to all who might witness it; treating the people with kindness, and relieving their wants, teaching them to make experiments in agriculture, explaining to them the more simple arts, imparting to them religious instruction as far as they are capable of receiving it, and inculcating peace and good will to each other.”

It would be tiresome to enumerate in detail all the little acts which were performed by us while following out our instructions. As a rule, whenever the steamer stopped to take in wood, or for any other purpose, Dr. Kirk and Charles Livingstone went ashore to their duties: one of our party, who it was intended should navigate the vessel and lay down the geographical positions, having failed to answer the expectations formed of him, these duties fell chiefly to my share. They involved a considerable amount of night work, in which I was always cheerfully aided by my companions, and the results were regularly communicated to our warm and ever-ready friend, Sir Thomas Maclear of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. While this work was going through the press, we were favoured with the longitudes of several stations determined from observed occultations of stars by the moon, and from eclipses and reappearances of Jupiter’s satellites, by Mr. Mann, the able Assistant to the Cape Astronomer Royal; the lunars are still in the hands of Mr. G. W. H. Maclear of the same Observatory. In addition to these, the altitudes, variations of the compass, latitudes and longitudes, as calculated on the spot, appear in the map by Mr. Arrowsmith, and it is hoped may not differ much from the results of the same data in abler bands. The office of “skipper,” which, rather than let the Expedition come to a stand, I undertook, required no great ability in one “not too old to learn:” it saved a salary, and, what was much more valuable than gold, saved the Expedition from the drawback of any one thinking that he was indispensable to its further progress. The office required attention to the vessel both at rest and in motion. It also involved considerable exposure to the sun; and to my regret kept me from much anticipated intercourse with the natives, and the formation of full vocabularies of their dialects.

I may add that all wearisome repetitions are as much as possible avoided in the narrative; and, our movements and operations having previously been given in a series of despatches, the attempt is now made to give as fairly as possible just what would most strike any person of ordinary intelligence in passing through the country. For the sake of the freshness which usually attaches to first impressions, the Journal of Charles Livingstone has been incorporated in the narrative; and many remarks made by the natives, which ho put down at the moment of translation, will convey to others the same ideas as they did to ourselves. Some are no doubt trivial; but it is by the little acts and words of every-day life that character is truly and best known. And doubtless many will prefer to draw their own conclusions from them rather than to be schooled by us.


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