Publicly, David Livingstone wished to venture into darkest Africa in order to find navigable rivers by which to promote “Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization”.
In private, however, it appears he was as touched as anybody else by the natural wonders of the virgin territory he found himself exploring. A commentator of the time, George Thornton, wrote to his brother: “Livingstone’s books have a wonderful sale – the pictures did it – but I have never met with anyone who read the book through.”
“The pictures did it.” It was inevitable that, in a nation where only a small percentage of the population was literate, the inclusion in his books of a mass of illustrations and sketches would broaden their appeal, thereby making them more accessible to many. His books were big sellers; his writing and illustrations were reprinted in newspapers, and after his death he featured in 19th. Century magic lantern shows and 20th. Century films. His fame endured – through pictures.
The “pictures” are a visual record of Africa as Livingstone and his team saw it. On his Zambesi Expedition, he was accompanied by Dr. John Kirk, a botanist and naturalist who, although not the official photographer (that position was held by Livingstone’s brother, Charles, who sadly was not up to the task) is responsible for a great many photographic images which were an invaluable record of their travels. On the same expedition, the artist Thomas Baines produced many watercolours; in fact, in his career as an artist based in Africa, Baines made thousands of sketches, drawings and paintings of African landscape, people and wildlife, one of his most notable being a book of lithographic plates depicting Victoria Falls.
A key figure in the production of Livingstone’s work was his publisher John Murray III. Already established as Britain’s leading publisher of travel books, he paid Livingstone an advance of 2,000 guineas and promised him two-thirds of the profits from his books; “Missionary Travel and Researches in South Africa “ (1857) was hugely successful , eventually selling over 70,000 copies. In this book, Livingstone describes Victoria Falls as the most beautiful and impressive sight in Africa, and suggested the name be changed from the African Mosi-oa-Tunya (“The Smoke that Thunders”) to Victoria Falls, after his queen.
Livingstone had enormous admiration for all things African and immersed himself in the country’s culture, learning customs and languages. He despised slavery and campaigned tirelessly against it, with the result that some of the most enduring images in his work represent the treatment of slaves. From his humble beginnings in a Blantyre mill, he became a national hero, largely thanks to the visual record of Africa he had helped to create in his lifetime.
SPEAKER David McClay, Curator of the John Murray Archive at the National
Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.
AT: Howden Park Centre Auditorium
DATE: Wednesday 9th. October
TIME: 7.30 pm