In a vague way, everyone "knows" that Henry M. Stanley found David
Livingstone in the African jungles and greeted him with the famous
remark, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
But ask people for more details --- such as when did this happen,
why was Livingstone in Africa, exactly where did they meet, who
were these two men anyway --- and you will most likely draw a
blank. Martin Dugard, described on the book jacket as "a lifelong
adventurer", tells the whole story in a work of historical
recreation that reads like an adventure novel. He puts the tale in
its historical setting, gives rounded pictures of the two men and a
cast of fascinating supporting players, and leaves the reader with
a strong sense of the incredible difficulties both men overcame on
their separate roads to the village of Ujiji in what is now
Tanzania on the day of their meeting in 1871.
Livingstone was already a famous explorer when he set out in 1866
to find the source of the Nile, a question that had agitated the
scientific community in England and elsewhere for many years. He
was "lost" for five years. His death was prematurely reported
several times --- and when he was finally found and returned to
civilization, the rejoicing was so great that no one seemed to have
minded his failure to solve the Nile question.
His rescuer was a relatively obscure journalist but a rather more
interesting character. Henry M. Stanley was not really Henry M.
Stanley at all --- his real name was John Rowlands. And he was not
an American, as he led the world to believe, but a Welshman, the
illegitimate child of a prostitute and one of her drunken
customers. Raised in a squalid orphanage, he had worked his way as
a youth to America, changed his name, fought on both sides in the
Civil War, failed at most everything he tried and then almost by
accident became a globe-trotting correspondent for James Gordon
Bennett's New York Herald.
Bennett, needing a sensational scoop to keep his paper afloat,
dispatched Stanley to find Livingstone. Others, including an
expedition financed by the august Royal Geographical Society in
London, were in Africa on the same errand. Stanley disguised his
mission with a cover story that he was exploring the headwaters of
an obscure river.
Dugard tells the story of these two men in alternating chapters
that track their separate progress through thick jungles,
suffocating swamps, parched grasslands, harsh mountains, vast
floods and other natural hazards. They battle bureaucratic
indifference, death-dealing animal life, debilitating disease and
the effects of hunger, thirst and heat. Both are at the mercy of
thieving native porters and extortionate local rulers --- and both
get caught in the savage battles between native tribes.
Livingstone, who was basically a missionary and a crusader against
slavery, had to finally cast his lot with traveling Arab slave
traders in order to survive. Both men came very close to death on
It is a fascinating story, drenched in blood and savagery. Dugard
has taken shrewd advantage of the fact that both men kept detailed
journals, but he does not take either man strictly at his word. His
secondary research is thorough; he is able to fill in the gaps and
sketch background not found in the written records of the
principals. Stanley, for instance, recorded the date of his meeting
with Livingstone as November 10, 1871, but Dugard concludes that
Stanley's sense of the passage of time was faulty --- and that the
true date was October 27!
The secondary cast of characters behind this story is equally well
drawn --- people like Bennett; Sir Roderick Murchison, head of the
Royal Geographical Society; John Kirk, the devious British consul
in Zanzibar; several raffish members of Stanley's exploring party;
and a resourceful veteran native porter with the delightful name of
Sidi Mubarak Bombay.
David Livingstone died in Africa less than two years after his
meeting with Stanley. His heart was removed and buried in the
village where he died, but his body was returned to England for a
state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. Henry M. Stanley,
workhouse brat and knockabout-journalist-turned-explorer, was one
of his pallbearers. This book is a worthy monument to both
Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on January 22, 2011