Victorian Literature David Livingstone
Kathryn Simpson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0193


David Livingstone was a Scottish doctor, missionary and traveler. He was born in 1813 in tied accommodation at the Monteith, Bogle & Co. Cotton Mill in Blantyre Scotland. David was the second child of Neil and Agnes (née Hunter). He worked up to fourteen hours a day from the age of ten in the mill, and at age 19 he had saved enough money to attend Anderson College in Glasgow. He joined the London Missionary Society (LMS) in 1838 and gained his medical license in November 1840. Livingstone was intending to go to China but this was prevented due the Opium Wars (1839–1860). He went to South Africa in 1841, having heard the famous Scottish missionary Robert Moffat speak of the opportunities for missionaries there. His first eleven years in inland mission stations were centered around his association with Sechele, the leader of the Kwêna. In February 1844 Livingstone was bitten by a lion after an ill-judged attempt to disperse a pride who were harassing the animals of a village he was working in. While recuperating at the Moffat mission station, he fell in love with Robert’s daughter Mary. He married Mary in Kuruman, in the northern Cape province of South Africa, in 1845. They went on to have six children. In 1852, after a few years of traveling with them, Livingstone sent his family to Britain so he would be free to travel in earnest. From 1852 to 1856 Livingstone roamed the Zambezi with the support of Sekeletu, leader of the Kololo; during this trip Livingstone walked across the continent. In 1857 Livingstone resigned from the LMS and became British Consul to the African interior. The second Zambezi trip, known as the Zambezi Expedition, was primarily funded by the British government, and built on Livingstone’s understanding that if he could find a navigable route along the Zambezi this would facilitate trade, no such route is possible due to the Cabora Bassa rapids. Livingstone’s final journey was to identify the source of the Nile. He died in Chitambo, present-day Chipundu in Zambia, in April 1873. His body was taken to the coast by his associates and returned to Britain; his funeral was at Westminster Abbey in April 1874. Livingstone and his legacy were central to British ideas of imperialism, and it is from him that the concept of the three C’s of colonialism came: Christianity, commerce, and civilization, the purported answer to stopping the traffic in enslaved people.

General Overviews

There is a vast pool of resources on Livingstone, his travels, and his sociocultural impact. Many works, though, are rehashes of Victorian and/or Christian literature. The most comprehensive source of contemporary scholarship on Livingstone is held by Livingstone Online. The site contains multiple peer-reviewed critical essays and provides access to all available extant Livingstone and Livingstone-associated texts. Livingstone 2013 brings together the work of the primary Anglophone Livingstone scholars and shows how “Livingstone studies” as a field is hugely interdisciplinary. As the essays in the volume attest to, research bounded by the life and work of Livingstone has been used as a way to bring forward marginalized voices and to engage with the cultural environment that led to the age of vociferous British imperialism. Finally, the volume also gives space to Livingstone as a focus for remembrance studies and the ways in which he and his reputation have been used for social and political ends. Worden 2012 is an excellent text that evidences all current strands of Livingstone scholarship. Of particular interest are the essays of Friday Mufuzi on the memorialization of Livingstone in colonial and postcolonial Zambia and Debbie Harrison on Livingstone’s work on tropical medicine. Pachai 1973 continues to be a vital reference work on Livingstone and little of the scholarship contained within has been challenged to date. Of particular note are the essays of Bridglal Pachai on the Zambezi Expedition and J. M. Schoffeleers on Livingstone and the Mang’anja Chiefs.

  • Livingstone Online. Directors: Adrian Wisnicki and Megan Ward.

    Comprehensive, rich, and authorial digital library of the writings of David Livingstone. Excellent peer-reviewed critical supporting materials and scholarly essays.

  • Livingstone, Justin, ed. Special Issue: Livingstone Studies: Bicentenary Studies. Scottish Geographical Journal 129.3–04 (2013).

    Stands as the most up-to-date scholarship on Livingstone, including work by key Livingstone scholars such as John M. Mackenzie, Adrian Wisnicki, Lawrence Dritsas & Joan Haig, Louise C. Henderson, and Felix Driver.

  • Pachai, Bridglal, ed. Livingstone: Man of Africa; Memorial Essays 1873–1973. London: Longman, 1973.

    Seminal collection of essays, which were the precursors to renewed contemporary critical attention on Livingstone and his legacy.

  • Worden, Sarah, ed. David Livingstone: Man, Myth and Legacy. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2012.

    Partner text to the National Museum of Scotland’s “Dr Livingstone, I Presume?” exhibition of 2012. Excellent resource containing essays from many contemporary Livingstone experts, including Adrian Wisnicki, Justin D. Livingstone, Lawrence Dritsas, and Clare Pettitt.

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