Remarkable People

ID #5275

David Livingstone 5 Source of the Nile.

In 1866, Livingstone returned to Zanzibar to seek the source of the Nile. Richard Francis Burton, John Hanning Speke and Samuel Baker had identified either Lake Albert or Lake Victoria as the source (which is partially correct, as the Nile "…bubbles from the ground in the Burundi mountains between Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria"). However, Livingstone believed the source was further south and assembled a team of freed slaves, Comoros Islanders, Sepoys and two servants, Chuma and Susi, to find it.

After setting out from the mouth of the Ruvuma River, Livingstone's assistants began deserting. The Comoros Islanders returned to Zanzibar and informed authorities that Livingstone had died. He reached Lake Malawi in August, by which time most of his supplies, including all his medicines, had been stolen. Livingstone then traveled through swamps in the direction of Lake Tanganyika. With his health declining he sent a message to Zanzibar requesting that supplies be sent to Ujiji and he then headed west. Forced by ill health to travel with slave traders, he arrived at Lake Mweru in November 1867 and continued on, traveling south to become the first European to see Lake Bangweulu. Finding the Lualaba River, Livingstone decided it was the "real" Nile, but in fact it flows into the Upper Congo Lake.

In March 1869, suffering from pneumonia, Livingstone arrived in Ujiji to find his supplies stolen. Coming down with cholera and tropical ulcers on his feet, he was again forced to rely on slave traders to get him as far as Bambara where he was caught by the wet season. With no supplies, Livingstone had to eat his meals in an open enclosure in return for food. Following the end of the wet season he returned to Ujiji arriving in October 1871.

Although Livingstone was wrong about the Nile, he discovered many geographical features, such as Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, and Lake Bangweulu as well as the Victoria Falls. He filled in details of Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru and the course of many rivers, especially the upper Zambezi, and his observations enabled large regions to be mapped. Even so, the furthest north he reached (the northern end of Lake Tanganyika), was south of the Equator and he did not penetrate the rainforest of the Congo River further than Ntangwe near Misisi.

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:24
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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