“The Highest Will Lead Me Further”: The Life and Legacy of David Livingstone

His Alleged Illegitimate Son

  We must just pause for a moment to dispel the allegations which surfaced many decades after his death, regarding David Livingstone’s supposed “love-child”.  In the Victorian age and its aftermath, when many biographies were written about Livingstone by both Christians and others, any hint of him having fathered an illegitimate child in Africa would have destroyed his reputation; but no such scandal  was attached to him.  And this is not because his biographers would have wanted to cover up such a thing!  Christian men of that era would certainly not have upheld Livingstone as a Christian hero if he was truly guilty of fathering an illegitimate child.  It is only modern biographers, who love to cater to today’s sex-addicted society, who are always on the lookout for any whiff of sexual scandal which can be attached, however tenuously, to heroes of the past, especially Christian ones.  For in addition to an obsession with sex, many modern biographers so often have one other obsession: belittling and mocking Christianity.

  The 2003 biography entitled Into Africa: the Dramatic Retelling of the Stanley-Livingstone Story, by Martin Dugard, can be taken as typical in this regard.  Dramatic it certainly is, and the author inserts occasional “juicy” tidbits to appeal to modern readers who always want their books to contain some details of a sexual nature.  The modern mind simply cannot imagine it possible that a man could live for years without indulging in sexual activity.  In this book the author writes, “Livingstone, it was later documented, fathered at least one African child.”  Note the use of the word “documented”.  When people see this word, they usually read it as meaning “proved”, even though this is by no means automatically so.  It can simply mean a statement was committed to writing, as in this case.  And what was the documented “evidence” in this case?  Nothing more than what two Africans, in particular, claimed about him, many decades later.  One was Chief Chitambo’s nephew (Livingstone died in Chitambo’s village), who  swore in a deposition in the 1930s that when Livingstone came to Chitambo’s village, “He also had with him his son.  He was a half-caste.  The people said it was Bwana’s son.  He was respected by the others as the son of a chief.  I did not see the mother or any other woman with the Bwana’s people.”  And the other was a man named Mumana, who claimed to remember that “the Bwana had one son with him… his skin was quite white like a European child and his hair was fair.”  Dugard wrote: “The interviews of Chitambo and Mumana were conducted in October 1936.  Their signed affidavits are on file with the Royal Geographical Society.”[23]

  But these affidavits are not proof!  Firstly, they were made by two men, more than sixty years after Livingstone’s death.  Why did this “evidence’ not surface long before?  At such a distance of time, how can what these two men said be accepted as true, just because they said it?  Secondly, even if (and it is a big “if”) the men’s recollections of what they heard and witnessed were true, at least one of them (Chitambo’s nephew) was merely reporting what the people in the village had said about one of those accompanying Livingstone.  Village gossip is notoriously unreliable.  All it would have taken was for the local village “busybody” to whisper something, and the rumour would have spread.  We know there were men of mixed parentage travelling with Livingstone at times, but we cannot infer from this that he was the father of any of them!  Perhaps there was a fair-skinned person in Livingstone’s party at the time; perhaps not.  For all we know, the villagers saw an albino, and if they had never seen an albino before they might have assumed he was the son of a white man.  To imply, by the use of the word “documented”, that these affidavits are somehow real evidence for Livingstone having fathered an illegitimate child, as Dugard does, is preposterous.

  Stanley lived in close contact with him and got to know him better than anyone else; and his testimony to Livingstone’s character, which we have deliberately quoted at length here, coming as it does from such a close and intimate acquaintance and, moreover, one who was not himself a Christian man when he found Livingstone, carries far more weight than the dubious testimony of two men many decades after they had briefly met Livingstone and his party.

  The biographer Dugard reads into Livingstone’s journals a supposed fascination with sex and with African women.  Just because he described the beauty of some tribeswomen in his journals (which he did as an explorer, a close observer of all that he saw around him, whether people, flora or fauna), Dugard states that the widower Livingstone was a man yearning for the company of a woman in his isolation, a man “fond of women – and sex.”[24]  At one point he even claims that Livingstone, in a letter to a friend, admitted to having three hundred women as wives – even though he provides no context to what Livingstone wrote, nor mentions that his words are capable of another meaning entirely, nor allows that such a careful man as Livingstone was, so conscious of his good name and reputation and a man who was very much a product of Victorian society, would hardly have committed the admission of such a sin to writing in a letter that could be read by others one day.[25]  But this is all so typical of today’s authors, wanting their books to sell and therefore catering to a sex-saturated society, to readers who always want something “juicy”, especially if that something depicts Christians as sexually-frustrated hypocrites.

  Is it possible that David Livingstone could have fathered an illegitimate child?  Even godly King David, in a moment of weakness, committed adultery with Bathsheba and a child was conceived, and godly King Solomon certainly sinned by taking many wives, so of course we know that it is possible for true believers to commit sexual sin as well as others, and many have done so.  But in David Livingstone’s case there is simply no real evidence that he ever committed this sin.  Travelling as he did throughout central Africa, living in extremely close proximity to the natives day and night for months and even years at a time, any hint of impropriety would have not only become known, but the news would have spread rapidly, to the great detriment of his mission and reputation.  This never occurred.  He was under the minutest observation by the Africans at all times; they watched him eat, sleep, bathe, everything.  Yet never did they charge him with any such misconduct.  Consistently, the testimony of the natives was that this was a man of high moral conduct, who always conducted himself properly.  This fact alone speaks volumes, and we can let the man himself have the last word in this regard, for what he writes is utterly true:  “No one ever gains much influence in this country without purity and uprightness.  The acts of a stranger are keenly scrutinized by both old and young, and seldom is the judgment pronounced even by a heathen unfair or uncharitable.  I have heard women speaking in admiration of a white man because he was pure, and never was guilty of any secret immorality.  Had he been, they would have known it, and untutored heathen though they be, would have despised him in consequence.”

His Death

  As he waited for the porters Stanley had promised to send to him, he gave much thought to the slave trade.  He wrote in a letter to the New York Herald: “All I can say in my solitude is, may Heaven’s richest blessing come down on every one – American, English, Turk – who will help to heal this open sore of the world.”  These words were later to be inscribed on his tomb at Westminster Abbey.

  While waiting he read much and reflected much.  He wrote: “I would say to missionaries, Come on, brethren, to the real heathen.  You have no idea how brave you are till you try.” Very true words which every Christian should take to heart!  You have no idea how brave you are till you try.

  When the porters arrived he set off again, searching for the source of the Nile.  He suffered greatly from dysentery and from internal bleeding, and did not eat for days at a time.  As they travelled towards Lake Bangweulu, the rainy season set in and they had to wade through water day after day.  David had to sleep in wet clothes, and food was very scarce.  By January 1873 he was too weak to walk, and his faithful men carried him on their shoulders through water that reached their mouths.  At one point he wrote in his journal: “If the good Lord gives me favour, and permits me to finish my work I shall thank and bless Him, though it costs me untold toil, pain and travel; this trip has made my hair all grey.”  In March he wrote: “Nothing earthly will make me give up my work in despair.  I encourage myself in the Lord my God and go forward.”  In April they began to carry him in a wooden litter, he was so weak.  He was losing blood from an artery.  Even in the midst of this extreme suffering his sense of humour remained, for he wrote this masterly understatement: “it is not all pleasure this exploration.” 

  They finally reached Chitambo’s village in Ilala, where they laid him in a hut that was built for him.  “The imagination reverently dwells on every detail of the scene, for the old hero has made his last journey and is about to sleep his last sleep.  While he was lying on his litter outside and the rain was falling, curious villagers had gathered round…. This was the great chief who had come from far.  His fame they knew somewhat; they could not know that he was the best friend Africa ever had.  They gazed respectfully and wonderingly at the thin, pale, emaciated sufferer with the bloodless hands and lips, and the face distorted with sharp throes of agony.  Through the falling rain they watched him and in days to come would tell their children that they had seen Livingstone.”[26]

  And then came the morning when they found him kneeling at his bedside in an attitude of prayer.  He had died in the night as he was praying to the Lord.  It was the 1st or the 4th May 1873; the precise date is a little uncertain.

  And then began one of the most extraordinary journeys in recorded history.  This time it was only Livingstone’s body which made the journey, for his spirit was rejoicing with his Lord and Saviour in heaven.  But truly it was a journey as remarkable as any he had made in his adventurous life:

A Journey of Love

  His faithful men decided that his body must be buried in his own country.  But how could this be done?  They were in tropical central Africa, many hundreds of miles from the sea, and thousands of miles from Britain.  But they came up with a way.  First, they took out his heart and buried it in a tin box beneath a tree in Ilala; for they knew that his heart belonged in Africa.  Next, they dried the body in the sun for two weeks, in preparation for the journey they had in mind, wrapping it in calico and bark, and then sewing it into some sail-cloth.  His name and the date of death was carved by one of the men, Jacob Wainwright, on a nearby tree; for he could read and write.  And then, led by Chumah and Susi, his faithful men, they carried his body, bound to a pole, all the way to the east coast of Africa – a journey of something  like 1300 or 1400 miles!  And they did it by foot.  Such was the respect and admiration, nay love, which they had for this extraordinary man.

  “The procession of the body to the coast would mark the longest in history if completed and was not without its dangers.  Through forests, swamps, rivers and ravines they forged their way back… Sickness plagued many members of the cortege, which as a result was halted for over a month.  Ten men died during the march and many more were close to losing their lives when they had to fight their way out of a hostile village.”[27]

  It took them nine long months from central Africa to the coast.  But they made it.  After many adventures and dangers, they made it.  And on the 16th February 1874, Livingstone’s body was taken aboard ship, and eventually it reached England.

  And now came the reason for that lion attack so many years before, which had left Livingstone’s arm virtually useless.  In the providence of God, this was the very thing used by medical doctors in England to positively identify Livingstone’s remains!  There could be no doubt.  All things happen for a reason (Rom. 8:28).  Sometimes that reason is known only to God, and sometimes it becomes known to men long afterwards.  Such was the case with the lion attack.  It all made sense now.

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