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Blog: Looking for Mrs Livingstone


Oct 2013

Looking for Mrs Livingstone

Posted by / in Africa, Blog /

We’re delighted to have a guest blog post from journalist and author, Julie Davidson, on her return visit to the adrenalin capital of Africa, Livingstone in Zambia, and her research in to the explorer’s remarkable wife…

Statue of David Livingstone

“Blimey!” I mutter, as I step from the terminal building  into the brilliant light. ““They’ve put up another one.”  I pause before the new statue of David Livingstone in the little airport’s forecourt. It is flanked by the figures of Susi and Chuma, the followers who carried his preserved body 1500 miles to the Indian Ocean Coast after his death in northern Zambia in 1873. This is the fourth statue of the missionary-explorer to be raised since I was last here five years ago, when the civic authorities joined forces with the tourist industry to mark the 150th anniversary of his arrival at the Victoria Falls.

How did the tribal lands of the Toka-Leya and the old colonial settlement of a British land grab become Zambia’s most celebrated destination and the “adrenalin capital” of Africa? It’s all down to a phenomenal geological fault and the trail-blazing travels of a famous Scot, with a little unsolicited help from Robert Mugabe. Until the 1990s the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls was the honeypot for David Livingstone’s self-proclaimed “discovery”, but Zambia has been the beneficiary of Zimbabwe’s political instability. And the town named after the explorer wastes no opportunity to remember him with a bit of marketing.

I’m back for another anniversary – the bicentenary of his birth, honoured by a rolling programme of events throughout most of this year. And I’m here to remind the international scholars taking part in an academic conference that David Livingstone had a wife whose role in his early achievements has been undervalued. My book “Looking for Mrs Livingstone” tells the story of this forgotten woman through my travels to the places in South Africa and Botswana where she was born, raised and married. She twice travelled with Livingstone across the Kalahari Desert, and on her final expedition with him died on the banks of the Zambezi.

Mary Livingstone's grave, Chupanga

Julie beside Mary’s grave at Chupanga

Livingstone has the tomb of a national hero in Westminster Abbey. Mary Moffat Livingstone has a lonely, neglected grave in a remote region of Mozambique. But among many of the people of southern Africa the Moffat name is as much respected as the Livingstone one.

Looking for Mrs Livingstone by Julie Davidson was a Radio 4 Book of the Week.  The paperback edition (£14.95) has just been published by Saint Andrew Press.

Looking for Mrs Livingstone by Julie Davidson

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