During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), British people traveled around the whole world. They charted the seas, mapped out distant countries and studied plants, animals and people. They also claimed many lands for England. This kind of international travel was made easier by improved transportation and communication. New inventions such as steamships, trains, telegraphs and telephones made long distances seem smaller.
Of course, people had different reasons for going to distant lands. Some were businessmen who saw economic opportunities overseas. Soldiers wanted fame and a chance to enlarge the British Empire. Big-game hunters wanted to be the first to shoot strange animals and bring back trophies to England. Scientists intended to study unknown animals and plants. Missionaries planned to be the first to introduce Christianity to faraway people. In 1836 a young Scotsman called David Livingstone began to study medicine in Glasgow.
Livingstone intended to become a medical missionary. This means that he would be a doctor, as well as a preacher and teacher. Livingstone (1813-1873) came from a poor family. From an early age, he had worked 14 hours a day in a clothing factory for very little pay. But he was determined to learn. He took his books with him to the factory and read as he worked. Then, after work, he would go to his teacher to learn more. Livingstone’s goal was to teach faraway people about Jesus. However, unlike some missionaries, he was also interested in science, geography and exploring. He had planned to go to China in 1839, but because of the Opium Wars no missionaries were being sent there. Instead, he asked to go to South Africa.
Europeans had traveled around the coasts of Africa for hundreds of years. But very few white people had traveled inland. A missionary named Robert Moffatt who had begun a mission at Kuruman in the interior inspired Livingstone. Livingstone arrived in Kuruman in 1841. This was the farthest outpost of white settlement, and no one seemed to want to go further inland. Livingstone felt that the missionaries should go to the Africans, rather than waiting for the Africans to come to them. With a fellow missionary he set out. When they came to an African tribe, they would talk to the chief and ask permission to preach to his people.
Livingstone would also set up a tent and treat the people who had diseases. After a while, he would move on to the next tribe. Once Livingstone learned the Bantu language he would talk to many Africans. But sometimes he needed interpreters. There were many diseases, including malaria and sleeping sickness. Livingstone suffered much of his life from river fever. He was also so weak that he rode on the back of an ox.
Livingstone wanted to stop the slave trade. At this time, the slave trade was the most profitable business in Africa. Livingstone hoped that if other kinds of trade were developed, then slavery could be abolished. In order to open up trade, he wanted to find an easy route into the center of Africa. Livingstone kept going further into the interior. He was probably the first European to cross the Kalahari Desert before reaching Lake Ngami in present-day Botswana.
Not long after, he traveled further inland. He explored the sources of the Zambesi and Kasai rivers and eventually reached the west coast of Africa at Luanda, Angola. Livingstone was being criticized for neglecting missionary work in order to explore. Livingstone replied that he was opening up the continent for missionaries. Meanwhile, he was becoming famous as a great explorer. The British government commissioned him to explore the Zambesi River. They hoped that ships could sail up the river into the interior.
Unfortunately, the Zambesi had too many rapids. However, Livingstone did find a route up the Shire River to Lake Nyassa. He continued to struggle against the slave trade, which was now being taken over by Arabs. Livingstone died in Africa in 1873. He was the first white man to explore Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and surrounding areas. He was not only a great explorer, but also a fine doctor and a good missionary. Nowadays, the countries that Livingstone visited are nearly all Christian–just as he hoped they would be.