Biography of David Livingstone

Photo of David Livingstone

David Livingstone was a Victorian explorer of Africa.

When and Where was he Born?

19th March 1813, Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Family Background:

David Livingstone was one of seven children of Neil and Agnes Livingstone and reared in a single room at the top of a tenement building for the workers at H. Montieth’s cotton factory. Neil was a Sunday School teacher and a teetotaler and handed out Christian tracts wherever her went.


Worked in the cotton mill from the age of ten and had school lessons in the evenings. Studies medicine and theology at Anderson’s College, Glasgow.

Timeline of David Livingstone:

1832: Livingstone reads the “Philosophy of a Future State” by Thomas Dick, a church minister, science teacher and amateur astronomer. His father had been deeply suspicious of science books as being unchristian but this work gave the reasoning he needed to reconcile science with his faith.

1837: He has his first dealings with the London Missionary Society in Essex.

1838: Livingstone starts working for the London Missionary Society.

1840: He moves to London to further his medical studies. He meets Robert Moffat who tells him about Africa and persuades him that is where his future lies and not China or the West Indies. After passing his exams he is ordained as a missionary.

1841: He arrives in South Africa at Cape Town and then moves on to the mission centre at Kuruman.

1842: Goes on two long journeys from Kuruman.

1843: Livingstone founds a mission at Mabotsa.

1844: He is attacked by a lion. He recovers but his arm was partially disabled for the rest of his life.

1845: He marries Mary Moffat, daughter of his friend Robert Moffat.

1846: Birth of his first son called Robert. He works at Chonuane.

1847: Birth of daughter Agnes. Family move to Kolobeng.

1849: Birth of his son Thomas. He goes on an expedition with William Cotton Oswell to Lake Ngami and travels across the Kalahari dessert.

1850: He takes the whole family on an expedition towards the north. Birth of his fourth child Elizabeth. She dies after six weeks.

1851: He finally reaches the Zambezi river with Oswell. Birth of his fifth child called Oswell in his honour.

1852: His wife Mary and the children set off back to England after the region is attacked by the Boers. Kolobeng is sacked.

1853: Livingstone sets off on a tour up the Zambezi river.

1854: He reaches as far as Luanda and starts to return.

1855: He reaches Linyanti. Then sets off on a second trip up the Zambezi and reaches the Mosi-oa-Tunya falls (literally “the smoke that thunders”) which he renames the Victoria Falls in honour of the Queen. There is now a statue to him at the falls which has his motto inscribed on the base “Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation.”

1856: He reaches the mouth of the Zambezi river on the coast of the Indian Ocean and was the first European to cross the full width of Southern Africa. He sails to Mauritius and returns to England in December.

1857: Livingstone writes about his missionary work in South Africa and resigns from the London Missionary Society as they said he was doing too much exploring and not enough missionary conversions.

1858: He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He leaves on another mission to the Zambezi region and sails to Cape Town with his wife and son Oswell who remain in the city with the Moffat family. Birth of his daughter Anna Mary in Kurman.

1859: Mary and Children return to Britain. Livingstone takes an expedition up the Shire River as far as Lake Nyassa.

1860: He makes another expedition up the Zambezi and returns to the East Coast of South Africa.

1861: Missionaries arrive from England to build a mission on the Shire.

1862: Mary joins the missionaries but by now is an alcoholic. She dies of malaria in April.

1863: Livingstone continues to explore Lake Nyassa. His attempts to sail the Ruvuma River fail because of the continual fouling of the paddle wheels of his boat with the bodies thrown into the river by the slave traders. Livingstone’s crew either died or left him. In desperation he uttered his most famous lines, “I am prepared to go anywhere as long as it is forward!” London recalls the Mission due to his failure to find a navigable route to the interior of Africa. He was widely criticised in the Newspapers which meant finding funds for future expeditions became difficult. He writes copiously on Africa and the Slave trade and leaves for India later in the year.

1866: He sails from Bombay to Zanzibar and then travels to the African mainland where he explores the Rovuma river valley and ultimately hopes to find the source of the Nile.

1868: Livingstone reaches Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweulu.

1869: He contracts pneumonia on his way to Ujiji. When he arrives he finds all of his supplies have been stolen. He travels up the Luama river and returns to Bambarre.

1870: He travels out from Bambarre but falls ill again and has to return.

1871: He finally reaches Bambarre and then returns to Ujiji where he is discovered by the journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley near the shores of Lake Tanganyika who utters the now famous phrase “Dr Livingstone I Presume”? Stanley was sent by the New York Herald newspaper in 1869 to find him.

1872: Livingstone takes a journey with Stanley to Uyanyembe where Stanley leaves him. Livingstone continues on to Lake Tanganyika.

1873: He reaches Chitambo’s village in a very poor state of health.

(1874): His body is carried back by his faithful attendants and then shipped back to Britain via Zanzibar and Aden.

When and Where did he Die?

1st May 1873, Village of local Headman Chitambo, Barotseland, Zambia from malaria and dysentery.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1865: “Narrative of an expedition to the Zambezi and its tributaries”


2nd January 1845 to Mary Moffat, daughter of his friend Robert Moffat. Dies 1862 and buried at Chupanga, Mozambique.

Site of Grave:

Westminster Abbey, London, England. Livingstone’s heart was buried under a Mvula tree near the spot where he died which is now the Livingstone Memorial.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


David Livingstone Centre, 165 Station Road, Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, G72 9BT. (National Trust for Scotland).