|Livingstone's original gravestone in Westminster Abbey|
Livingstone's last epic journey began in early May 1873 at Chief Chitambo's village at Ilala southeast of Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. He endured a trek of over 1400 miles on foot to the Tanzanian coast, arriving at Zanzibar on the 16th February 1874 and from there travelled onto England in relative comfort, his ship docking in London in early April. It had been a journey fraught with danger and difficulties, his African companions were often ill and only walked with difficulty. Within a few days of setting out two of the women died. There were more deaths to come. When the expedition crossed the Luapala river a lion appeared and seized one of the donkeys, dragging it off into the bush never to be seen again. A few days later one of the bearers carelessly picked up a gun after he had been smoking and accidentally discharged it, shooting another bearer in the leg. Later, the exhausted party approached the village of Chawendi where the chief's son was drunk and fired an arrow at them, setting off a pitched battle between Livingstone's men and the villagers which saw casualties on both sides and the village put to the torch. They passed lake Tanganyika and met up with a friendly Arab trading party who gave them news of a relief expedition looking for Livingstone, commanded by Lt Verney Lovett Cameron RN. The two parties finally met on the 20th October. Cameron wanted to carry on into the interior but Livingstone's party was determined to carry on to the coast. Cameron detailed two of his men, Dr Dillon and Lt Murphy to accompany Livingstone and the two parties went their separate ways. On the 18th November Dr Dillon, ill and unable to deal with the rigours of the journey, shot himself. He was buried and the party moved on and eventually managed to reach the African coast close to Zanzibar.
|A sick Livingstone being carried on a litter shortly before his death. After he died and his body had been dried and smoked after the removal of several pounds of internal organs, he would have been a considerably lighter burden for his men.|
|Jacob Wainwright with Livingstone's coffin on board ship, dreaming of his master perhaps, or of booze and loose women?|
Abdullah Susi and James Chuma did not accompany Livingstone's corpse back to England but did follow on shortly afterwards. They stayed with the Reverend Horace Waller, who was editing Livingstone's 'Last Journals', at the Rectory in Leytonstone where Waller was the vicar. The photo below was taken at Newstead Abbey and shows Tom and Agnes Livingstone, son and daughter of the explorer, Susi on the left and Chuma on the right and Waller seated on the ground.
The fact that Livingstone was able to make this journey dead raises serious questions about the role of his African companions during the journeys he made when he was alive. The image of the intrepid white explorer striking out into the heart of the dark continent at the head of a column of black bearers and servants is certainly completely inaccurate. The Africans on these expeditions protected their employees, looked after them during their frequent bouts of sickness, negotiated with local tribes, scouted out routes, arranged supplies and generally kept the nominal head of the expedition alive and well. A dead explorer was probably a lot less work for them to travel with than a living one and probably only marginally less useful. For anyone interested Donald Simpson's book “Dark Companions” is a fascinating introduction to the subject.