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Henry Morton Stanley was one of the greatest explorers of all time.
Throughout his incredible life, which was packed with adventure and conflict,
he served as a soldier, a sailor, a journalist, an explorer, an empire builder,
a statesman, author, politician, and lecturer and finally,
he was even knighted by Queen Victoria.
“Dr. Livingstone I Presume?”
Stanley is most famous for having found missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone after he had been out of contact with the outside world for many years. His calm and most understated of comments, after having crossed half the continent: “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” must be one of the most famous statements in popular memory worldwide.
Triumph After Tribulation
Throughout his life, Henry Morton Stanley experienced brutality, cruelty, starvation, disease, poverty, affliction, treachery, betrayal and ultimately great honour, success and wealth. Of all the great explorers of Africa, David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley stand head and shoulders above all others. Stanley and Livingstone were very different men, but both of them made spectacular contributions to the development of Africa.
Against All Odds
Stanley stands out as the only journalist who founded an Empire. Although his primary occupation was meant to be recording history, he is most famous for having made history. Stanley stands out as extraordinarily tough and persistent, a model of perseverance. Yet, before his 24 th birthday, Stanley had a long track record of frustration and failure, defeat and desertion. No one could have predicted how this extraordinary man would develop and rise above all others in his achievements, especially in bringing civilisation to the Dark Continent.
The life of Henry Morton Stanley is full of surprises. The first surprise is that he wasn’t born with the name Henry Morton Stanley, but was baptised John Rowlands. That was believed to be the name of his father. Stanley was born in disgrace, the illegitimate child of Miss Elizabeth Parry. Shortly after his birth, 28 January 1841, his mother abandoned him in the hands of her father, Moses Parry, and ran off to London. Economic disaster had reduced this old gentleman to living with his sons in a small cottage and working in a butchery.
Abandoned in an Orphanage
When John was just 4 years old his grandfather died. His two uncles were unwilling to care for this illegitimate nephew, so he was taken by the hand and walked to a huge stone building surrounded by massive iron fence. At the door John was astonished to be seized and dragged inside. The door slammed and he soon learned that he was now an inmate of St. Asaph Union Workhouse – an orphanage to confine unwanted children. This work house was to be John Rowland’s home for over 9 years. No time was wasted for sympathy for the homeless and unwanted. The life in St. Asaph was hard and grim. It was described as “charity with a vengeance.”
The rigid routine began at 6am each morning and continued until 8pm in the evening, when they were locked in their spartan dormitories. In between there was work. The boys swept the grounds, scrubbed the floors, and worked the fields, shivering in thin, inadequate clothes. The meagre meals consisted of bread, gruel, rice and potatoes, in small rationed portions. Saturdays they were scrubbed and Sundays provided the only relief with two services and no work. The school master was an ex-miner, James Francis, who having lost his hand in a mining accident, had developed “a vicious temper and a callous heart.”
James Francis apparently took savage pleasure in punching, caning, kicking, whipping and beating the children entrusted to his care. John Rowlands received his first flogging for failing to pronounce a word correctly. The institution averaged 30 boys at a time, averaging from 5 to 15 years. The curriculum was described as “primitive”. John vividly remembered the day when a young 11 year old boy, Willie Roberts, strikingly handsome, with curly hair and a delicate face, was beaten to death. It was rumoured that he was the illegitimate child of a nobleman. John saw his corpse in the “dead house”. Willie was covered with dark bruises and deep gashes. All were convinced that James Francis had murdered Willie Roberts.
John recalled that he never missed his mother. In fact he was 12 years old before he even learnt that every boy had a mother. Yet, even in this unforgiving and depressing environment, John managed to distinguish himself with his drawings, mostly of cathedrals which, when presented to the bishop, earned him commendation and a Bible. John was selected to lead the Work House Boys Choir and, because of his exceptionally good memory, he was pronounced the most advanced pupil in St. Asaph by the school inspector. One man who later remembered him described John Rowlands as “stubborn, self willed… uncompromising… unusually sensitive… particularly strong…”
Crisis of Decision
When John was 15 years old, an event occurred that changed the whole direction of his life. Recalling it later, he observed: “But for the stupid and brutal scene that brought about, I might have eventually been an apprentice at some trade or another, and would have mildewed in Wales.” The sadistic tyrant, James Francis, demanded to know who had scratched a certain table. When no one confessed, he seized a cane and announced that he would beat the entire school. As they were commanded to strip, John refused to obey. Francis erupted in a rage: “How is this? Not ready yet? Strip, sir, this minute; I mean to stop this abominable and bare faced lying.”
“I did not lie, sir, I know nothing of it.”
“Silence, sir. Down with your clothes!”
“Never again!” John was determined. At that Francis assailed and beat him mercilessly, lifting him up and throwing him against a bench with such force that he feared his spine had shattered. As Francis lay into him, John aimed a kick into the schoolmaster’s face, breaking his glasses and knocking him unconscious as he fell backwards onto the stone floor.
As horror swept over the school, John fled over the fence to his paternal grandfather, a prosperous Welsh farmer. After hearing his story he ordered his grandson to leave and never come back. His uncles were also hard-hearted. His cousin, Moses Owen, a school master in Brynford, gave him some board and lodging, but his aunt Mary berated the cousin for taking John in. Moses Owen inspired John with his love for books and learning, but the other boys at school were merciless in teasing and bullying him as an outcast. After 9 months of schooling, he was taken to Liverpool and placed under the care of another aunt, Mary Morris. There he was given a job as a storeman in a Haberdashery.
Across the Ocean
After two months, he was fired and wandered the streets looking for opportunities of employment. One of these jobs led him to carry provisions to a Captain David Harding of the Windermere ship. The captain spoke kindly to him and offered him a job as a seaman. Once on board and sea sick, he learned that the captain’s promise of him serving as a cabin boy was only a scheme to obtain cheap deck hands. He experienced further abuse on board the ship and at the first opportunity in New Orleans, he jumped ship. As the sights and sounds of America fascinated John, he met a kind looking gentleman in front of a store.
A New Life in America
“Do you want a boy, sir?” The man was startled by the question. The businessman was Henry Stanley, cultured, intelligent, prosperous, happily married, but childless. Although John Rowlands was asking for work, the gentleman began to question him closely. He determined to adopt John Rowlands. Mr. Stanley took him off for breakfast, followed by a haircut, kitted him out with decent clothes and employed him as an apprentice to Mr James Speak, merchant. For the first time in his life, John was free. He had money in his pocket, room and board, a good job and he began to add books to the bishops’ Bible that had been his only possession up till then. He started to construct bookcases in his room out of old packing boxes. He spent all his free time reading books.
The beatings and rejection that he had experienced throughout his upbringing had made him something of a social outcast, hypersensitive and uncertain how to behave in any social context. The first friendship he developed was with Alice Heaton, a runaway girl of 16 years old from Liverpool, who had managed to maintain her disguise as a sailor boy, long enough to reach America, as well as Stanley. When Mrs Stanley fell ill, John left his job at the store and devoted every minute to the care of his patroness, the only woman who had shown him any affection. As Mr. Stanley was out of town on business, John was the only person beside her as she died.
Detour up the Mississippi
Feeling dejected, John obtained temporary employment as an attendant for a sick sea captain and then went up the Mississippi to find Henry Stanley in St. Louis. However, he had already departed. John worked on a flat boat back to New Orleans, which was an adventure, avoiding sand bars, steam boats, storms, dangerous currents and whirlpools.
In New Orleans John was reunited with Mr Stanley and in the first tender action he had ever experienced, was embraced by Mr Stanley. The next day Mr. Stanley declared: “As you are wholly unclaimed, without a parent, relation or sponsor, I promise to take you for my son and to fit you for a mercantile carrier. In future you are to bear my name, Henry Stanley.” This was the beginning of what Stanley later described as “The golden period of my life.”
For the next two years, the Welsh boy was educated and mentored by this kind gentleman. He was provided with his first toothbrush, his first nightshirt and his first suits. He was taught table manners, frequent baths and intelligent conversation. The young Henry Stanley was expected to read constantly, often aloud and to discuss what he had read with his father. His father lectured him on morality, faith, work, culture and customs. He taught his son how to think clearly and to live uprightly. He taught him to be alert and observant. He would propose hypothetical problems and challenge Henry to suggest the correct solution.
Henry Stanley proved to have a phenomenal memory and soaked up all the teaching offered him. One night in 1860, as they were travelling down the Mississippi River on a steam boat, Henry was on deck when he saw a man enter his father’s cabin and threaten him with a knife. Henry leapt at the man and grappled with him, putting the, would be, robber and murderer to flight, suffering only a gash in his coat.
Business required Mr Stanley to travel to Cuba. His last words to Henry were to hold fast to Christian principles and to be “fearless in all manly things.”Working in Arkansas, the young Henry was laid low with malaria and fever. At about this time the War between the States was erupting and he received a parcel addressed by a feminine hand containing a petticoat. Stunned by the implication of cowardice, he took immediate action by joining the Confederate Army to resist the coming Yankee invasion.
Life as an Infantryman
In July 1861, Stanley joined other confederate volunteers in Arkansas as they were issued flintlock muskets and embarked on a steamboat bound for Little Rock. During his time in Little Rock, he bought a colt revolver and a bowie knife. When the day came to march out, with the bands playing and the women cheering, Stanley was exuberant and eagerly looked forward to battle. Soon, with aching shoulders, blistered feet and sweat-soaked body, he began to discard half the contents of his pack and learned the elementary rule of the infantryman, to carry only what is absolutely essential. For the first nine months of his military service, Stanley’s regiment marched across Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. In April 1862, after marching for days in the rain, they arrived at what was to become the bloodiest battlefield of the American War between the states: Shiloh. Confederate generals Johnston and Beauregard were about to throw 40,000 exhausted troops against 50,000 fresh Union soldiers under General Grant. Most of the Southerners were armed with old flintlock muskets, whereas the Northerners had modern breach-loading rifles with cartridges.
Soon Stanley’s regiment, the 6 th Arkansas Regiment, was ordered to march straight towards the centre of the Union lines. The sound of musketry increased in volume and intensity and artillery shells were soon flying overhead bringing down branches and debris on their heads. Soon they could see nothing in front of them but the enemy. The order was given: “Fix bayonets! On the double quick!” The men in grey gave a great battle cry and surged forward. As the blue figures began to flee before them, Stanley experienced the exhilaration of victory. He thought the battle won. Actually it had only begun. Soon they encountered even more Yankees. Volleys of deadly fire tore through the grey ranks. The ground seemed to erupt beneath him. The roar of gunfire was so intense he could barely make out any of the orders being shouted. The air was filled with flying metal. The sound of ricochets was all around. It did not seem possible that anyone could survive in the face of such a deadly barrage of lead. The command to dive for cover was given and Stanley saw many of the men around him mangled and mutilated by the bullets and bombs. Then the officers ordered the men to stand and charge. The Confederates leapt to their feet and with a great battle cry surged forward. Although pounded by artillery and decimated by rifle fire, the men in grey charged on, sweeping through a second Union regiment.
Prisoner of War
Then Stanley was knocked to the ground. When he had recovered his breath, he discovered that his belt buckle was bent and cracked. It had stopped a Union bullet, but he was not injured. Many more charges were ordered and time and again the Arkansas volunteers sent the Yankees reeling back in retreat. Then torrential rain fell upon the battlefield. As they took stock of their situation, they realised that there were barely 50 men left in their Regiment. As another advance was ordered, Stanley found himself isolated and surrounded by Union troops who took him prisoner. He was startled by the wild-eyed hatred and fury of the Yankees who cursed and threatened to bayonet him. He ended up in a boxcar shipped to Camp Douglas, on the outskirts of Chicago. The camp was a disgusting disease factory, more like a great cattle pen where wounded and malnourished men were left to die in the filth. The prisoners were denied even the most basic of hygiene and medical needs. Fleas, flies and rats infested the filthy barracks. He saw vast numbers of prisoners debilitated, dying of dysentery, typhoid and fever without the slightest aid from their heartless captors.
The Commissary, Mr Shipman, persuaded Stanley to save his life by enlisting in the Union army. This he did, but three days after his release from prison on 4 June 1862, he came down with fever so severely that he was discharged for health reasons.
Across the Ocean
He walked to the coast and worked on farms, and on a ship bound for Liverpool. Then he set out to find his mother, who told him that she wanted nothing to do with him! His mother’s cold hostility left him in even darker despair than her abandonment of him as a child. Stanley worked his way back across the ocean to try to find his adoptive father in Cuba. There he was devastated to learn that his father had already been dead nearly two years
Stanley’s situation could hardly have been worse. He was homeless, penniless, without friends or relations. Afflicted by parasites he had picked up in prison, he did not even have a country. Stanley determined that he would never again consciously seek, or expect, human affection. Stanley enlisted as a sailor and worked on merchant ships, travelling to the West Indies, to Italy and Spain. He survived a shipwreck off Barcelona.
In the US Navy
On 19 July 1864, Stanley enlisted in the United States Navy in New York. The Navy records describe him as 5 feet, 5 inches in height, with hazel eyes, dark hair and birth place, England. He served on board the USS North Carolina and the USS Minnesota. As he was given the task of being the ship’s writer, he kept the log and wrote reports on land and sea battles, some of which ended up being published in the newspapers. His vigorous eye-witness accounts of action and his attention to detail was remarkable. Due to the positive comments he received and the success of having these reports published, Stanley began to think of becoming a journalist. On 10 February, 1965, Stanley deserted the Navy and became a roving reporter in the Wild West.
A Trail of Defeat and Desertion
It is remarkable that a man who throughout the rest of his life developed the reputation as the most persistent and relentless of explorers, the man who never gave up, no matter what, against all odds and in the face of any danger, that before he was 24 years old, Stanley had run away from school, jumped ship, deserted the Confederate cause by changing sides, and deserted the United States Navy in a time of war. No one at this stage of his life could have anticipated what he would accomplish in later life.
Adventures in the West and the East
He travelled to Missouri, Salt Lake City, Denver and Omaha. He built a flat bottom boat, which capsized twice. He experienced some of the Indian wars. Then, in July 1866, Stanley set sail for Smyrna in Turkey. There he was betrayed by a treacherous guide into the hands of thieves who severely beat him and stole all his money and papers. After being arrested for not having his papers, Stanley wrote an account of the abuse he experienced in the Orient.
In the Wild West
Then, returning to the United States, he joined the expedition into Indian country by General Winfield Hancock. He was impressed at how Hancock negotiated with the Comanche and Kiowa Indians in Nebraska and Kansas. He had expected to see the Indians severely dealt with after the atrocities they had committed against settlers. Instead, he saw how General Hancock sought peaceful resolutions and negotiations to extend civilisation, rather than to punish the savages.
At one point Stanley met Wild Bill Hickock and interviewed him. When he asked how many men he had killed, Wild Bill replied that he had killed“considerably over 100 white men” to his certain knowledge. He added that: “I never killed one man without good cause.” Hickock and Stanley became friends and when another made an insulting remark to Stanley, Wild Bill picked the man up and threw him over a billiard table.
Stanley also reported on General William Sherman’s dealing with the Indians in Omaha and Kansas. He later reported that he learned a great deal about how to deal with primitive people from Hancock and Sherman. He noted that they dealt with them as both warriors and as children, who must be taught and corrected. Stanley noted that he learned to do the same when dealing with savage tribes in Africa.
While being the special correspondent of the Missouri Democrat, Stanley also contributed articles to the New York Herald, the New York Times, the Chicago Republican and the Cincinnati Commercial. He also noted that despite frequenting bars and taverns where drunkenness was common, he remained true to his pledge of abstinence, with only one exception which he bitterly repented of. He also lived a very disciplined life and saved most of what he earned. Hearing of the upcoming British war with Abyssinia, Stanley persuaded James Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald to hire him as their special correspondent to Africa.
The Abyssinian Expedition
Stanley joined the British Expeditionary Force at the Red Sea port of Zula, Eritrea. King Theodoro had killed the former king and had provoked the kingdom to rebellion through his cruelty and tyranny. Then he antagonised the British Empire by assaulting their Consul Cameron and an English Missionary, Stern. When envoys carried letters of protest from Queen Victoria, Theodoro threw the envoys into prison. The English diplomats were tortured and treated in most horrendous ways. After unsuccessful attempts to ransom the prisoners, Britain declared war on King Theodoro. In 1869, Britain dispatched an Expedition Force of 12,000 troops of the Indian Army under Sir Robert Napier, to secure the release of the hostages, and to suitably punish Theodoro. It was a 400 mile march to Theodoro’s stronghold at Magdala. Stanley wrote of the colourful sight of English and Irish Regiments of weather beaten veterans in red coats, colourful regiments of Punjab’s, Sepoys, Indian cavalry, English sailors with rockets and horse-drawn artillery, elephants, camels, horses and mules.
The Battle of Magdala
On 9 April, the Abyssinian Expeditionary Force arrived at Magdala, thefortress capital of Abyssinia. Apparently undaunted by the impregnable appearance of this stronghold perched on the top of a granite mountain, the British military marched across a river and proceeded up the mountain. Theodoro launched 3,500 well-armed warriors down the slopes in a wild charge against the British. Calmly Napier ordered the naval brigade to take their positions: “Action front!” The naval brigade launched their rockets into the midst of the charging Abyssinians who were thrown into terror and confusion by these strange weapons. Then 300 men from the Fourth were ordered forward and the command was given: “Commence firing!” The British surged forward. The Abyssinians attempted a flanking movement, but they were wiped out by the bayonets of the Sepoys. At the end of the day 560 dead Abyssinians were counted on the field, but not a single British soldier had been lost, although 32 were wounded.
Theodoro, now terrified of the British firepower that he had witnessed destroying his best troops the previous day, attempted to appease the British by releasing all of his prisoners. Stanley noted with surprise the lack of emotion expressed by both the captives who had endured years of torment, and their liberators who also seemed amazingly calm about the whole matter. The next morning the British marched up the mountain and began an artillery barrage on the stronghold. This was followed with an assault and soon British flags were hoisted on the walls and the bands were playing: “God save the Queen!”
Incredibly no British soldiers died in this final assault either. Two days later, Magdala was blown up by the engineers and on 18 April 1868, the British Expeditionary Force started back to the coast. “And thus the modern Crusade became numbered with past events, to be remembered of all men, in all lands, among the most wonderfully successful campaigns ever conducted in history.” wrote young Stanley. When Stanley arrived in Suez, he had his story wired to London and then on to the New York Herald. It was the first news story of the campaign to be published and it established his reputation world wide. Stanley was made a journalist of the New York Herald with US$2,000 a year salary.
War in Spain
Stanley’s next assignment was to cover the rebellion in Spain. From there he was tasked to find the great African explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingstone. No word had been heard of him since he last entered the Dark Continent, on what became known as his third missionary journey.
Books, Duty and Action
Stanley noted that the thing he hated the most was waiting. “The more tasks I receive, the happier is my life. I want work… so that there will be no time for regrets, and vain desires, and morbid thoughts. In the interval books come in handy.” Although Stanley loved absorbing knowledge, he admitted that he also had “a craze for action”. He observed that his sufferings drove him to prove himself on the path of success. Stanley noted that “By intense application to duty, by self-denial,” he drove himself “that I might do my duty thoroughly.”“Stern duty commands me…”
Stanley had come through the fires determined to succeed, no matter what the odds. He had a tenacious and insatiable desire to succeed. With his quick mind and retentive memory, languages came easily to him. He taught himself French, Swahili, some Arabic and dozens of African dialects.
The Most Extraordinary Assignment
On 27 October 1869, he received one of the most extraordinary assignments ever entrusted to a newspaper reporter. James Gordon Bennet, Jr., of the New York Herald, commissioned Stanley to go to central Africa and to learn anything and everything that he could about Dr. David Livingstone and to find him. But first, he tasked Stanley to go and cover the Inauguration of the Suez Canal, and then to proceed up the Nile and find out about Sir Baker’s expedition. To travel to Jerusalem, and to Constantinople, to visit the Crimea, the Caucasus, Baghdad and Persepolis, and after that to India. Then to go to Zanzibar and from there to find Dr. David Livingstone.
“Draw a thousand pounds now; and when you have gone through that, draw another thousand, and when that is spent, draw another, and when you finished that draw another thousand, and so on, but find Livingstone.
Stanley declared that he would do everything that a human being could possibly do and beyond that he would trust in God to enable him to do even more. Stanley immediately, that night, set out on his whirlwind tour of the Middle East, covering the opening of the Suez Canal at Port Said, the Holy places in Jerusalem, he walked over the old battlefields of the Crimean War, reported on the Russians’ civilising mission in Baku. Then to the exotic bazaars of Teheran in Persia, to the ruins of Persepolis, to India and then off to Zanzibar in Africa.
To the Dark Continent
Throughout this incredible journey, Stanley read everything he could find about Livingstone and other explorers of Africa. He arrived in Zanzibar on 6 January 1871. Despite the tremendous discoveries of Dr. David Livingstone, the vast interior of the continent was still mostly unknown at that stage. Most of its mountains, lakes, rivers and forests were unexplored. Most of the tribes inhabiting the interior of Africa were still unknown. Many maps of that time had words like Unknown and Unexplored territory written across huge sections of the interior of Africa.
Slaves and Ivory
Stanley immediately saw that slaves and ivory were the primary export of Africa being brought out of the interior by unscrupulous Arab traders. The Arabs on Zanzibar regarded Africa as a source of seemingly unlimited numbers of slaves and elephant tusks.
Speke, Burton and Grant
In June 1856, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke had set out from Zanzibar to find the source of the Nile. When Burton had fallen sick, Speke set out on his own and discovered, and named, Lake Victoria as the source of the Nile. Burton became Speke’s bitter enemy and disputed his findings. Therefore Speke set out with James Grant in 1860, to confirm that Lake Victoria was indeed the source of the Nile. Burton, Speke, Grant and Baker had all established their reputations as African explorers, but the explorer that had surpassed them all was the Scottish Missionary, Dr. David Livingstone.
For over 20 years, he had walked across Africa, from coast to coast, crossing the Kalahari dessert, discovering Lake Ngami, Victoria Falls, one of the greatest cataracts in the world, Lake Malawi and many other previously unknown features of the continent. Dr. Livingstone was a tireless crusader against the slave trade. At 52 years old Livingstone had left England for the last time, 14 August 1865. Starting from Zanzibar, he proceeded to the mouth of the Rovuma River and from there went up to explore Lake Malawi. In December 1866, some deserters from his porters returned to Zanzibar with news that Livingstone was dead. The world mourned his passing, although some doubted the reports. When letters from Livingstone, dated February 1867 and July 1868 were brought out of the interior, it created a sensation. James Gordon Bennet believed that it would be a tremendous news story if this famous missionary explorer could be found and interviewed.
Preparing the Expedition
Henry Morton Stanley was only 29 years old when he began the expedition to find Livingstone. He had never before led, or organised, an expedition. Nor had he ever been a leader, or an employer, of men. Yet his wide reading and varied experiences and travel all seemed to have prepared him for this challenge. He spent over $20,000 on the expedition including purchasing millions of beads, and miles of wire and cloth needed for payment to cross tribal territories and to barter for food and other items in the interior. He located 6 Africans who had served explorers Burton, Speke and Grant, including Mabruki and Bombay, who was made captain of the askaris. Stanley purchased 20 donkeys, two boats, and tents, vast quantities of food, medicine, clothing, arms and ammunition.
Supplies for Africa
The supplies were packed in bails, bags and boxes, each weighing no more than 30kg. As everything had to be carried by porters, and as the supplies needed to last for at least two years, great pains and foresight was shown in every aspect of the preparation. Six tonnes of material needed to be carried into the interior. Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, over 742 miles inland from the coast, was the last location where Livingstone had been heard from, that was Stanley’s first target. Stanley recruited two other white men, 23 askaris, 157 pagazis (porters), 4 chiefs and 5 additional men with different duties, such as cook, Arabic interpreter, etc. A total of 192 men. At the beginning there were 2 horses and 27 donkeys. The baggage was: 116 loads. The weaponry was: 1 shot gun, 2 carbines, 4 rifles, 8 pistols, 24 flintlock muskets, 2 swords, 2 daggers, 2 axes, 24 hatchets, and 24 long knives.
At first the terrain was rough savannah. The climate was hot and humid with temperatures over 128°F. As the rainy seasons came the rivers swelled and animals and men bogged down in marsh and mud. Every river crossing required much ingenuity and hard work. Tsetse flies, mosquitos and every other kind of insect afflicted the men and animals of the column. In the 13 months of the expedition Stanley was laid low by fever on 23 occasions. Dysentery, smallpox, malaria and many unknown fevers afflicted all on the expedition. The first casualty was one of the white team members: William Farquhar, who died early on the expedition.
Leadership on the March
Every day presented new problems to be solved. Stanley soon learned that leadership required discipline, organisation, morale, motivation, conflict resolution and much communication. Many of the men contracted as porters deserted, stealing, or losing, the goods they were carrying. It was a never-ending struggle to keep the column together and to keep them moving forwards. Every chief demanded tribute for the travellers to pass through their territory. Yet, despite the many frustrations and delays, Stanley’s column achieved a rapid advance twice as fast as the column of Burton and Speke.
Conflict and Mutiny
There was a battle at Mirambo and most of his men were so frightened that they refused to go any further. The other white man on the expedition, Shaw, became demoralised and completely worthless at this point. Many men deserted the column. Mutiny erupted. Stanley loaded both barrels of his shotgun, adjusted his revolvers for ready action and walked towards the rebellious men who had picked up their muskets in a threatening way. Stanley raised the shotgun, aiming directly at their heads and commanded them to instantly drop their weapons. Asmani did not obey and Stanley knocked him to the ground. In this way the mutiny was quelled. Stanley compelled all those who would remain with him to swear a solemn promise to remain faithfully under his command until they found Livingstone. Despite many other troubles and starvation which plagued the expedition, the men remained faithful to this thereafter.
A Promising Report
Then they met a native caravan coming from Ujiji. They spoke about a white man with grey hair who had just arrived at Ujiji. “Was he ever at Ujiji before?” Stanley asked.
“Yes, he went away a long time ago.”
Stanley was overwhelmed with excitement and impatience.
A Date with Destiny
Stanley pulled out his new flannel suit, had his Wellington boots polished and his helmet chalked, and then folded a fresh puggree around it. On Friday 10 November 1871, on the 236th day of his expedition, after having departed from Bagamoyo, on the coast, Stanley ordered the flag unfurled. With Asmani leading with the American flag, Stanley ordered guns fired to announce their arrival. Susi and Shumah, the faithful servants of Livingstone, met them on the path and ran back to inform Dr. Livingstone that a white man with a strange flag was coming to see them.
“Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”
As the only two white men in all of Equatorial Africa, from the Zambezi to the Nile, met, Stanley walked deliberately towards the older man, took off his hat and said: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” “Yes,” replied Livingstone with a smile. He lifted his cap slightly, and then Stanley shook hands declaring: “I thank God, Doctor that I have been permitted to see you.” Livingstone replied: “I feel thankful that I’m here to welcome you.”
Catching up on News
Stanley offered Livingstone a packet of letters from his family and friends at home, expecting him to read them immediately. However, Dr. Livingstone put them to one side and said: “As I have waited years for letters, I have been taught patience. I can surely afford to wait a few hours longer. Now, tell me the general news: how is the world getting along?” Stanley gave him an update on the opening of the Suez Canal. General Grant was now President of the United States. The Pacific railroad across the continent of America had been completed. The Spanish Revolution had driven Queen Isabella from the throne. Prussia had defeated Denmark and France in war. The first transatlantic cable had been laid, permitting immediate communication between North America and Europe.
A Most Opportune Time
From his side, Dr. Livingstone reported that Henry Morton Stanley had arrived at a most opportune time. Arab slavers had robbed him of all his supplies. Livingstone was desperate, sick and destitute. The friendship which began so formerly grew and deepened over the next four months as they were in daily contact.
Stanley later reported that he was surprised and captivated by the courtesy, dignity, patience and high morals of Dr. David Livingstone. Writing of Livingstone later in life, Stanley noted: “Lowly of spirit, meek in speech, merciful of heart, pure in mind and peaceful in act… during health or sickness… he was, consistently noble, upright, pious and manly, in all the days of my companionship with him.” Livingstone’s patience and perseverance impressed Stanley the most.
A Firm Resolve
Stanley felt convicted of the fact that up until then he had tended to solve his problems by running away from them. However, this time, he had succeeded in facing his difficulties boldly and overcoming them. Stanley determined to never again run away from anything.
Exploring Lake Tanganyika
Together Livingstone and Stanley undertook an expedition by boat around the Northern shores of Lake Tanganyika. Finally when Stanley had to return, Livingstone entrusted him with a box filled with his letters, diaries, scientific and geographical research, and many other papers. On 14 March 1872, they parted.
After resupplying Livingstone with all the trading goods he could need, Stanley’s column had much less to transport back to the coast. They marched in rain, trudged in mud up to their knees, crossed innumerable rivers and streams, and finally on 6 May, only 54 days after leaving Tabora, they reached Bagamoyo on the coast. Stanley had walked 2,250 miles in 411 days. 20 members of the expedition had died during this epic journey. At the coast Stanley met Lt. William Hen of the Royal Navy, leading the Livingstone Search and Relief Expedition, sent out by the Royal Geographic Society. This expedition was abandoned before it even began.
Praise and Criticism
Stanley was completely unprepared for the responses he would receive in Europe. The Paris Geographical Society condemned him as an imposter, but many French newspapers hailed his achievement in extravagant terms, comparing it to Napoleon’s march through the Alps! The people in England responded to Stanley’s exploits with intense interest and excitement. The Standard and the Spectator expressed suspicions and misgivings over the genuine-ness of his report. Some claimed that Stanley had not even been to Africa at all! Sensational stories and speculations abounded. The sudden fame, unexpected suspicions and vicious attacks upon his character, and unfair criticism of David Livingstone, disillusioned Stanley and made him want to recoil from society even more. Stanley wrote that his belief: “that toil, generosity, devotion to duty and righteous living would receive recognition at the hands of my fellow creatures…” was “shattered”.
Honours and Awards
However when Livingstone’s family confirmed beyond question the authenticity of the letters and papers which Stanley had brought back, all charges of forgery were withdrawn and the Times, the Daily News, the Daily Telegraph and Punch declared Stanley a true hero. Lord Granville, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented Stanley with a gold box with five dozen diamonds as a gift from her Majesty Queen Victoria “In recognition of the prudence and zeal displayed by him in opening communication with Dr. Livingstone.” He was later received by Queen Victoria. He was also honoured by the Royal Geographic Society, presented with the Victoria Medal, and offered public apology for their earlier conduct towards him.
In Scotland, Stanley was awarded another medal and made an honorary citizen. The completion and publication of Stanley’s book: How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa, was achieved only three months after his arrival in Europe. It became an instant bestseller. Stanley began to receive a flood of letters from strangers, relatives and acquaintances from his early years, who were suddenly affectionate towards this orphan whom they had once spurned.
Fame and Jealousy
Sailing into New York, Stanley was received with great fanfare and warm welcome by the entire staff of the Herald. The only person missing from the welcome was the proprietor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the one who had actually sent Stanley to Africa. His reporter’s fame provoked a deep displeasure which developed into jealousy and later hatred as Stanley returned from other expeditions and achieved even greater exploits. Bennett’s hatred lasted as long as Stanley lived.
Tour of America
Receptions, banquets, cheers and applause resounded throughout Stanley’s triumphal procession through the United States. Dr. Livingstone’s elder brother, John, came from Canada to New York, to thank Stanley personally for what he had done for his brother. Author Mark Twain praised Stanley extravagantly, even comparing him to Christopher Columbus.
War in Spain
When Bennett sent Stanley to cover the war in Spain he found it a welcome relief from the round of banquets, lectures, receptions, honours, controversy and criticisms, which had come at him relentlessly since his return from Africa.
The Ashantee Campaign
Then England embarked on another military expedition to Africa, this time to punish the Ashantees who had massacred 600 British citizens. Major General Sir Garnet Wolsely was in command of this expedition to what is today, Ghana. The year was 1873 and Stanley wrote: “The people are as barbarous, untutored and superstitious, as wild in appearance, as naked in body, as filthy in their habits as any tribe of savages I have ever seen.” Stanley described the grisly march, encountering human sacrifices and severed heads on poles in every village they passed through.
At Coomassie, Stanley located the killing fields of King Coffee of the Ashantee, a sacred grove where prisoners and slaves had been sacrificed. The terrible stench of decomposing corpses was overwhelming. Thirty, or more, decapitated bodies in the last stages of decomposition were immediately visible. Skulls were piled high and Stanley calculated that the grove contained the skulls of over 120,000 people.
Commendation from General Wolsely
The British Army fought three battles against the Ashantee, but while nothing in Stanley’s account of the expedition indicates that he took any personal share in the fighting, Lord Wolsely’s Memoirs described Henry Stanley: “A thoroughly good man, no noise, no danger ruffled his nerve, and he looked as cool and self-possessed as if he had been at target practice. Time after time, as I turned in his direction, I saw him go down to a kneeling positing to steady his rifle as he applied the most daring of the enemy with a never failing aim... the close shut lips and determined expression of his manly face… told plainly… no danger could appal… his cool unflinching manliness (gave) fresh courage. I’d been previously somewhat prejudiced against him, but all such feelings were slain and buried at Amoaful, ever since I have been proud to reckon him among the bravest of my brave comrades.” Stanley published his account of the British Military Campaigns in Abyssinia and Ashantee under the title: Coomassie and Magdala.
The Death of David Livingstone
It was while returning from the Ashantee war that Stanley heard of the death of Dr. David Livingstone. He wrote: “Dear Livingstone! Another sacrifice for Africa! His Mission, however, must not be allowed to cease; others must go forward and fill the gap. ...may I be selected to succeed him in opening up Africa to the light of Christianity… may Livingstone’s God be with me… may God direct me as He wills. I can only vow to be obedient, and not to slacken.”
Dedication to Livingstone’s Mission
Stanley saw Africa as a challenge, Livingstone as his example and inspiration. Stanley dedicated his life to serving Africa by developing Christianity and civilisation throughout its vast and unexplored interior. On 18 April 1874, Henry Morton Stanley was one of the pallbearers for the funeral of Dr. David Livingstone at Westminster Abbey. Stanley was given the foremost position on the right. Shortly after that the Daily Telegraph of London and the New York Herald united to fund an expedition to Central Africa under the leadership of Henry Stanley: “To complete the work left unfinished by the lamentable death of Dr. Livingstone; to solve, if possible, the remaining problems of the geography of Central Africa; and to investigate and report upon the haunts of the slave traders…”
Through the Dark Continent
On 15 August 1874, Stanley and three volunteers set sail from England for Zanzibar. He sought the men who had served him on the Livingstone Search Expedition, or who had served with Livingstone. Ultimately he selected 356 carriers and soldiers. On 12 November 1874, loaded with animals and supplies, they set sail for Bagamoyo, on the coast of East Africa. Immediately he had to deal with those of his men who began stealing from and assaulting the local inhabitants! Then when he found that some had kidnapped women he forced them to set them free. He then faced down a mutiny. Then there were desertions. They passed through areas of severe famine. Their guides deserted. New guides got them lost.
Heat, Famine and Pestilence
January 1875, began with a series of severe hardships and catastrophes. Men died from the heat, from lack of food and from exhaustion. Local inhabitants were hostile and severely overcharged the expedition for food. Sickness plagued the men. In the first two months, 20 people died and 89 deserted – one third of the expedition!
The First of Many Battles
Then the Ituru natives attacked the expedition. In just one battle the expedition lost 21 askaris. When Stanley reached Lake Victoria, he called on volunteers to man the boat, the Lady Alice. Not one, stepped forward. The men declared that they were “cowards on the water.” Thereafter Stanley dispensed with asking for volunteers and selected and ordered his men.
Beginning on 8 March 1875, Stanley explored Lake Victoria - establishing it as the largest lake in Africa, covering 26,000 square miles. Stanley sailed along, and mapped, its 2000 miles of shoreline, recording every cove, river and island connected with it. Frequently he faced savages, often drunk, screaming their intention to kill him. His calm and confident demeanour frequently prevented conflict.
In April he met with Mtesa, the Kabaka (or king) of Uganda. John Hanning Speke had written of Mtesa. Mtesa claimed to be a Muslim having been converted to Islam by an Arab, Muley Bin Salim. Stanley determined to destroy his belief in Islam and teach the Doctrines of Christ. For 12 days Stanley instructed the king from the Old and New Testament, and at the end Mtesa announced that he would follow the Christian Sabbath, and he would instruct that the Ten Commandments be written on a board where everyone could see and study them everyday. Mtesa loaned Stanley canoes and men to explore the Western shores of Lake Victoria.
Missionaries for Uganda
Colonel Linant de Bellefonds was sent out by General Charles Gordon, Governor of Sudan, to establish communications with Uganda. Stanley entrusted him with a letter to the Daily Telegraph appealing for missionaries to be sent to Uganda. De Bellefonds was murdered in Sudan, but Stanley’s letters were discovered concealed in his boot. When they eventually found their way to England and were published by the Telegraph, a huge fund was collected and missionaries were sent out to Uganda where Christianity began to flourish.
Later Stanley was confronted by hundreds of well-armed warriors in war costume. Only the protection of Mtesa prevented a fight on this occasion. Later as they discovered half-decomposed bodies with axe wounds, Mtesa’s escort of canoes deserted Stanley. Within days the expedition came under sustained attack. Stanley wrote of “a scene of rampant wildness and hideous verbosity beyond description.” The boat was surrounded by a forest of spears, over 50 bows were bent nearly double, with levelled arrows. Over 200 “stalwart demons” contended as to who should deliver the first blow. Stanley had to fight his way out of this desperate situation with his Winchester repeater rifle and shotgun. As they sought to row to safety, war canoes pursued them. With his elephant rifle, Stanley sunk boat after boat of their pursuers.
Fever and Famine
For over 76 hours they were without food before finding refuge. Upon completing their circumnavigation of Lake Victoria, they were welcomed back to their base camp only to discover that another of the Europeans had died and many more of the expedition were suffering from dysentery. Attacks of fever reduced Stanley to a mere 108 pounds in weight. As they attempted to progress further to the Congo, several of their canoes proved to be rotten and sunk. The expedition lost 5 canoes, a case of ammunition, 1,200 pounds of grain and 5 guns.
Conflict and Conversion
The treacherous Bumbireh attacked their party and killed a number of men. Stanley launched a counter attack. Then Mtesa asked for Stanley’s support in dealing with the rebellious Wavuma. By innovation and audacity, Stanley intimidated the Wavuma to surrender without any further bloodshed. He then persuaded Mtesa and his whole court to completely convert to Christianity. Mtesa gave him an army of 2,000 warriors to escort his expedition to Lake Edward.
After this Stanley marched to Lake Tanganyika and completed the circumnavigation of the lake in 51 days, proving it was the longest fresh-water lake in the world. Stanley had now been in Africa for two years and had accomplished two great geographical objectives, exploring and mapping both Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Now he prepared for the most audacious of all, the exploration of the Congo River.
To the Congo
At this point, Stanley had already accomplished much and could have returned home with honours. However the fascination of the unexplored Lualaba River drew him. Was it part of the Congo? The Niger? Or the Nile River? No explorer had dared enter into that notorious cannibal country. Stanley was convinced that the fast flowing, broad Lualaba must empty into the sea and therefore could only be one of those three great rivers.
Dealing with the Devil
Stanley was convinced that exploring the Lualaba River would be what Livingstone would have wanted him to do. Yet he did not have a single canoe to supplement the Lady Alice. He would have to supplement his expedition with a force strong enough to give him a fighting chance of succeeding. To do so, he would have to deal with Hamid Bin Mohammed, known as Tippu Tib. A notorious slave trader, Tippu Tib was shrewd, unscrupulous, ruthless and cruel. His slave raiders had killed many thousands and enslaved countless more. Tippu Tib and 700 of his men gave confidence to Stanley’s expedition, who were threatening to mutiny, rather than go down the dreaded Heart of Darkness River.
Into the Heart of Darkness
So, on 5 November 1876, Stanley marched out of Nyangwe, at the head of an expedition of nearly 1,000. By the second day they were hacking their way through thick dense jungle, which made every step painful. After a week of marching they had covered only 40 miles. The terrain became even more difficult as the dense jungle shut out every ray of sunshine. When they finally reached the Lualaba River, the Lady Alice was assembled. While Stanley and his crew went by river, Tippu Tib and the bulk of the expedition continued parallel on land. Each village they passed seemed eerily empty. The inhabitants had apparently fled, but the rows of skulls lining the streets and human bones littering huts and yards spoke eloquently of the depraved nature of the inhabitants.
Confronted by Cannibals
Where the Ruiki River empties into the Congo River, Stanley’s path was blocked by war canoes filled with, what he described as, “hostile savages” who poured spears and arrows into his people. As Stanley fired back the attackers fled. Smallpox broke out amongst the expedition and soon they had buried 12 of their number. When they discovered that cannibals dug up the bodies and ate them, they began practising burial in the Congo River.
When they came across six old broken and abandoned canoes, these were repaired and used to transport the sick and wounded. Rapids overturned one of these canoes, and four precious Snider rifles were lost. Despite difficulties on land and river, sickness and hostile attacks, the expedition pushed on. Tippu Tib and others pleaded with Stanley to turn back before it was too late, but Stanley was determined.
At Vinya-Njara on 18 December, the expedition came under sustained attack. They constructed a barricade of logs and bush and beat off the savage attacks time and again. The yells of their attackers, the booming of their war horns, the crack of the rifles and muskets and the screams of the wounded created an unnerving and chaotic din. For two hours they fought desperately before the attackers fled. Poisoned arrows continued to drop into the camp throughout the night. Sleep seemed impossible, but even under those conditions, many of the exhausted men dozed on and off. The next morning Stanley set out in the Lady Alice to scout the area, and discovering a series of villages only a quarter of a mile down the river, he decided to capture the nearest village of their attackers. Seizing it, he fortified it and beat off several wild and determined attacks. A mass of arrows flew into the village from the jungle. 800 men in war canoes attempted to rush them.
After beating off both land and river attacks, Stanley determined to make a night attack and take their canoes. This would not only deprive their attackers of their mobility, but enable his expedition to all travel on the river. That night, under cover of darkness, they cut loose 8 long canoes from one encampment and 26 canoes from another. Some of these canoes were 50 feet long. By five in the morning they were all safely back in camp with 38 liberated canoes. At sunrise they could hear the cries of rage from the savages who had been deprived of their most cherished possessions. Now they were ready to accept Stanley’s offer of peace terms. Stanley returned 15 of their canoes and paid them what he considered a fair price for the one’s he kept. He also released their prisoners.
However at this point, Tippu Tib had had enough. He and his followers would go no further and they determined to return east. He would also take back all the sick and wounded. Now that Stanley had 23 canoes, he felt that they could survive on their own. He made a speech to inspire his expedition: “Into whichever sea this great river empties, there shall we follow it… you have seen that I have saved you a score of times when everything looked dark and dismal for us. If I risk your life, I risk mine. It may be we shall meet a hundred wild tribes yet who, for the sake of eating us, will rush to fight us. We have no wish to molest them. If they fight us, we must accept it as an evil, like disease, which we cannot help. If we fight, we fight for our lives. We shall continue our journey that we shall toil on and on, by this great river and to the salt sea!”
Stanley then declared a three day holiday in honour of Christmas 1876, with feasting, dancing and canoe races. Each of the captured canoes were given names such as: Livingstone, Herald, Telegraph, Mtesa… Then with the entire expedition on the river they rowed forwards. Soon drums and war horns warned them of imminent attack. Eager young warriors with painted bodies and grotesquely adorned with the skins of wild animals screamed “Meat! Meat!” as they massed for attack. Stanley wrote that it must have appeared that they were a herd of ownerless cattle straying amongst the starving. He described their attackers as “the living embodiment of hatred”.
Shields for the Fight
In order to protect his people, Stanley instructed his men to collect shields after every battle. These were used to bulwark the canoes making them look something like the galleys of the ancient Vikings. By this stage all distinctions between pagazi (carriers) and askari (soldiers) had vanished. Every man both rowed and fought. Those who did not have guns captured spears and threw them back at the next hostile tribe that attacked.
At one point the expedition was attacked from both sides of the river simultaneously. The attackers were painted half white and half red with broad black stripes. One war canoe was 85 feet long. As they targeted the Lady Alice, Stanley had his men fire a volley into the attackers. As the survivors leapt overboard, this massive canoe was captured and incorporated into the expedition’s transport. Amidst the pounding of the drums, the screaming of the attackers and the noise of battle came the ominous roar of a waterfall ahead. Attacked from both sides, and with an obviously high waterfall ahead of them, they were faced with a dilemma: drowning, or being eaten by cannibals.
Stanley determined to establish a beachhead and fight. They built a stockade and fought until sunset and through the night. Stanley scouted ahead and established that this was only the first of a series of cataracts. (The seven cataracts were later called Stanley Falls.) It took a month of hard fighting to carry their canoes and kit past each of the waterfalls, fighting off hostile attacks in the dense jungle. By a series of bold attacks and outflanking manouvres Stanley required his men to sometimes be fighting for 72 hours straight without respite. At one point Stanley surprised the attackers by capturing their village and holding their chief hostage, until peace had been established.
Hunted by Cannibals
Stanley described the Iron Age culture in the Congo at that time: baskets, fishnets, bundles of wooden spears with iron points. Human skulls ornamented the village streets and human ribs, thigh bones and vertebrae lay scattered around the huts. At one point they found themselves surrounded by a huge net and a mass of men with spears, hunting them like game. Sometimes their path had sharp pointed traps designed to injure or cripple them. The prisoners they captured had the filed sharpened teeth of cannibals and rows of ugly tattoo marks on their foreheads. He learned that when these cannibals were unable to capture strangers, they ate their own old men and women.
Overcoming all Obstacles
Attacks came thick and fast and sometimes with such intensity, and in such huge numbers, that, had they not been prepared, they would have been overwhelmed. Savage screams filled the jungle and the drums were seldom silent. Finally, after a torturous month, the seventh and last waterfall was bypassed and with the Congo River a mile wide, they re-launched their boats. There was tremendous exhilaration amongst the expedition as they felt that the worst was behind them, but they were soon to learn that the worst was still ahead.
In the Shadow of Death
Attacks increased in intensity, poisoned arrows were shot at them at any time of the day or night. They felt like hunted animals. Stanley rose to the occasion, clear-headed and calm in battle, confident that God was protecting him and that he was destined to complete his mission of ending the slave trade in Africa. By now his men had been hardened by travel and conflict and united into an effective fighting force and efficient team. After a long series of battles and skirmishes, they faced one of their most desperate battles on 1 February 1877.
Warned by great shouting and thunderous beating of drums they came around a bend, close to where the Aruwimi River joins the Congo. A fleet of gigantic canoes, bigger than anything they had ever seen before, blocked their way. He formed up his boats in a battle line and with the Lady Alice 50 yards ahead they confronted 54 battle canoes. The largest canoe had 80 paddlers. As the monster canoe aimed straight for the Lady Alice, Stanley encouraged his men: “Be firm as I am. Wait until you see the first spear, and then take good aim. Do not fire all at once. Keep aiming until you are sure of your man.”
Charging the Enemy
As the monster canoe discharged a broadside of arrows, Stanley and his men opened fire. The enemy retreated out of range to re-form for another attack. Stanley decided to pre-empt them by launching his own attack. In hot pursuit Stanley’s men forced their attackers’ withdrawal into a rout. When the attackers made for shore, Stanley’s men pursued them and chased them through their village and into the jungle.
Idolatry and Cannibalism
At the village they found a Meskiti, temple, where the large circular roof was supported by 33 tusks of ivory erected over an idol four feet high and painted bright red. This was the focus of worship of the Basoko Tribe. There were numerous skulls mounted on poles, a half-eaten human forearm and ribs on the fire.
By this point the expedition had travelled 340 miles north since leaving Nyangwe. This battle at the Aruwimi River mouth was their 28th battle in the Congo. 79 people had died on the expedition, so far. They were still in the middle of the continent and the exploration of the Congo River was not close to half completed. They still had a very long way to go, but Stanley was determined to never turn back. He kept up all details in his journal, writing “I persist…trusting events to an all gracious providence.”
Storms threatened the canoes with destruction. A chronic shortage of food threatened starvation. However, at this point they found friendly natives in the region of Rubunga, who were willing to trade food for wire and beads. Like the other tribes they encountered in the Congo, these people were elaborately tattooed. They had never seen a white man before, but they had in their possession 4 antique Portuguese muskets which had been traded for slaves. This greatly disturbed Stanley, as it indicated that he may begin encountering hostile tribes armed with muskets. His expedition’s 20 rifles and 20 muskets would be inadequate if confronted by a large number of hostiles armed with firearms.
The next tribe down the river, the Urangi, were also friendly and willing to trade so that the men of Stanley’s expedition began to hope that they were emerging from the heart of darkness and entering into the outskirts of civilisation. However, shortly after this a shot rang out from an Urangi canoe and one of Stanley’s men from Zanzibar fell dead from a ball fired from a musket. A few days later on 14 February, the expedition was attacked by the most militant tribe on the Congo, the Bangala. The Bangala were the most brilliantly decorated warriors they had yet encountered. Their war cries resounded as their canoes advanced towards Stanley’s men. Holding cloth in one hand and a coil of brass wire in the other, Stanley offered trade and peace. He had been told that the Bangala liked to trade, but they actually liked to fight more. The battle continued throughout the afternoon. Stanley counted 63 war canoes opposing them, each with an average of 5 muskets. That was over 300 guns against 40. The Bangala were skilful and aggressive. However, after a 5 hour battle, the Bangala retreated.
Through the Fire
This was Stanley’s 31st battle on the Congo. Very few professional soldiers have fought as many battles in a lifetime as Stanley fought in just 4 months. Incredibly, although Stanley was in the forefront of every battle, standing in the prow of the Lady Alice, he came through every battle unscathed.
Three day later they reached a lake which was named Stanley Pool. At this point they had travelled 1,235 miles since leaving Nyangwe. Ahead of them were 32 cataracts. Many canoes were lost and injuries incurred as the boats were laboriously hauled overland past each cataract. At one point Stanley fell 30 feet into a chasm, but miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. Their largest canoe, the Crocodile, was swept over a waterfall with the loss of 7 men, including his adopted son, Kalulu. This cataract was then named Kalulu Falls.
The cataracts and rapids were so numerous that the team developed a standard routine for transporting canoes and kit past them. A dangerous whirlpool was only narrowly escaped. When the Lady Alice survived going over a waterfall and somehow remained afloat, this was named the Lady Alice Rapids. From 16 March to 21 April the expedition travelled only 34 miles in 37 days.
At one point, local, until then friendly, natives advanced on the camp with muskets, spears, poisoned arrows and shrill war cries. Stanley asked them why they approached in such an aggressive fashion? Their reply was that they had seen the white man writing in a book. They demanded that he destroy his book because it was a bad omen and it meant that their goats would die!
To Burn or Not to Burn
As Stanley had filled his journal with invaluable geographical calculations, sketches, and details on tribes, languages and villages encountered, he could not sacrifice the fruit of all their trials and exploration. Nevertheless he was compelled to agree to burn the offending book. Stanley went to his tent and pulled out his well worn edition of Shakespeare. As this was a similar size and had the same cover as his journal, the natives did not realise the switch. They left with satisfaction when the book was burned to ashes.
By now their shoes were worn through and Stanley and the sole remaining European on the expedition, Frank Pocock, were reduced to wearing makeshift sandals. Ulcers and sores had developed on the souls of their feet. At another waterfall the last remaining European team member of Stanley was lost. Trying to steer around a treacherous whirlpool, Frank Pocock was lost.
Most of the men on the expedition fell into dark despair after this accident. After all the diseases, battles, struggles against nature, heat, exhaustion and strain, the men threatened mutiny. 31 attempted to desert, but local chiefs would not allow them to pass through their territory. Soon the mutineers had to return and Stanley attempted to inspire his tired, hungry and discouraged men.
In the next month they travelled only 3 miles. Another 3 cataracts remained ahead. The tribes were sullen and uncooperative, unwilling to trade any food. All on expedition were wasting away for lack of nourishment. There were only 116 people left on the expedition and 40 were seriously ill. As they were apparently only a few miles from Boma, where there were European settlers, Stanley sent messengers ahead requesting emergency food supplies. Two days later this messenger returned with pagazis bearing food and a message of welcome from the Europeans at Boma. This gave them strength to walk the remaining 3 days.
On 9 August 1877, 999 days after their departure from Zanzibar, they were welcomed back to civilisation by 4 white men who treated them to a banquet in Boma. They were then transported to Cabinda and a ship carried them to Luanda, where they boarded another ship to Cape Town. There Stanley was welcomed and honoured while his ship anchored in the bay. A British warship then carried the explorers from Cape Town to Zanzibar.
Against All Odds
Of the 359 people who had left Bagamoyo, with Stanley three years before, only 82 returned to Zanzibar with him. 58 had been killed in battles with cannibals in the Congo. 49 had died from smallpox. 9 had starved to death. 14 had drowned. Typhoid, fever, crocodiles and other causes accounted for the rest. Never before, nor since, has any African expedition accomplished so much. Stanley had surveyed the great lakes of Victoria and Tanganyika, and the world’s second longest river, the Congo. He had succeeded in exploring and mapping more territory than the explorations of Burton, Speke, Grant, Baker and even Livingstone. The political and commercial implications of his geographical discoveries were immense. Stanley was only 37 years old when he completed his expedition from coast to coast, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean across the heart of Africa.
Commerce and Civilization
Of all the great explorers, Stanley alone followed up his explorations by developing an empire. He determined to “pour the civilisation of Europe into the barbarian of Africa.” Commerce would be used to bring Christianity and culture to the Congo. He described isolation as the great curse of Central Africa. European missionaries and businessmen needed to open up the great continent to civilisation and free the Africans from animism, superstition, slavery, intertribal wars and cannibalism. The 1,425,000 square miles of the Congo River basin were comparable to the Mississippi and the Amazon. The 3,000 miles of the Congo River poured 12 million cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second. It had a tremendous potential for hydroelectric power. Africa could be freed by civilising the Congo.
Honours and Awards
In January 1878, Stanley was welcomed to Europe by representatives of King Leopold II, of the Belgians. King Umberto of Italy sent him an award. The Khedive of Egypt sent him a medal. All the geographic societies awarded Stanley gold medals. The Prince of Wales paid him tribute. Governments throughout Europe honoured him and the Congress in the United States passed a unanimous Vote of Thanks for his achievements. Stanley was now the most famous African explorer alive. Just 4 months after his return he submitted his manuscript for Through the Dark Continent, which, in more than a thousand pages, catalogued his incredible journey.
Establishing the Congo Free State
In November 1878, King Leopold of the Belgians personally requested Stanley to lead a venture to create a Congo Free State. In May 1879, Stanley arrived back at the mouth of the Congo River with less than 100 men determined to bring civilisation to millions of the most savage people on earth, living in one of the world’s most remote and inhospitable regions. The debilitating furnace-like climate and dense jungles, treacherous rivers, and myriads of insects carrying fatal diseases, did not dampened the enthusiasm and vision of Stanley to bring civilisation to the Congo. For five and a half years he laboured to achieve this despite overwhelming frustrations. His efforts in the Congo earned him the name: “Bula Matari” (breaker of rocks).
A Man of Iron Will
Stanley had a reputation amongst his officers as a hard man. But his response was: “One is not likely to be hard with persons who perform their duties; but it is difficult to be mild, or amiable with people who are absolutely incapable, and who will not listen to admonition, without bristling with resentment.” He was described as a man of iron, a man of courage, of dogged will and a splendid leader. But while he was respectful of the customs, traditions and beliefs of the Africans, he was considered harsh to his fellow Europeans. As one man said: Stanley had no real friends, but many enemies: “However long you might know him, I doubt you will ever become his friend.” Stanley could not understand, and had little use for, those who held their duty more lightly than he did. To him duty was everything. He did not play cards, or any other game, his only recreation was reading.
Civilizing the Congo
Stanley negotiated over 400 treaties with the once war-like tribes along the Congo River. These treaties became the foundations of the Congo Free State. Peace, order, progress and industrious work followed in his wake. He established five stations stretching over 450 miles inland and launched a steamer and sail boat on the upper Congo (above Stanley Pool). A road was built between Viva and Isangila. Even the wild and war-like Bangala made treaties with Bula Matari. Through his perseverance, diplomacy, patience and understanding of the tribes of the Congo, he brought civilisation to the tattooed and naked savages who had lived in barbarous depravity and cannibalism for centuries.
Life and Liberty
Stanley was hailed worldwide as the emancipator who ended the rampant inter-tribal slavery and Arab slave trade which had plundered the Congo for centuries. By the time his 5 years in the Congo was completed, Stanley had built a line of garrison stations for 1,400 miles up the Congo, established peace between tribes that had been in constant warfare for generations. He had established a far reaching political and commercial organisation, built roads and railways, launched two steamers on the upper Congo and three on the lower Congo, bringing peace, commerce and law to a land that had once been wild and lawless. Missionaries and traders were venturing up the river and establishing trading posts and mission stations where, just a few short years before, no one would have thought it possible.
General Charles Gordon
Stanley’s choice of a successor was General Charles Gordon, who was en-route to take over from Stanley when the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan forced him to change his plans and head for his fatal date with destiny in Khartoum.
The Belgian Congo
Stanley regretted that many of his ideals and the principles of David Livingstone, which he had sought to honour, were betrayed by some of the men who followed him. In 1910, King Leopold persuaded the Belgian government to take responsibility for administering the Congo.
The Emin Pasha Expedition
Incredibly, that was not the end of the African adventures of Henry Morton Stanley. He later crossed Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean to rescue one of General Gordon’s governors, Emin Pasha. That epic of endurance started out with an expedition of 708 men, and ended with 196. Enroute 512 died. The afflictions, diseases and battles endured on the Emin Pasha rescue compare with Stanley’s exploration of the Congo. Stanley and his men were welcomed to German East Africa in Bagamoyo by the guns of the German warships in the harbour which boomed out a salute to this epic explorer. He then wrote: “In Darkest Africa” (903 pages).
He noted one of the most encouraging aspects of this Trans African expedition was visiting the Mission station of Rev. Alexander MacKay in Usambiro in Uganda. MacKay had been in Africa for 12 years, in response to Stanley’s urgent plea for missionaries after the conversion of Kabaka Mtesa. Stanley described MacKay as “the best missionary since Livingstone.”
Railways for Freedom
Stanley observed that the virtues of civilisation never seemed so clear as when he was in the jungle. The wilds of Africa never seemed so pleasant as when he was in the midst of civilisation. Stanley met with England’s Prime Minister, William Gladstone, and urged him to build a railroad from Mombasa on the East African coast to the shore of Lake Victoria to help suppress the slave trade.
Marriage and Parliament
At the age of 49, less than 3 months after his return to England from this last great African expedition, he married the talented and beautiful Dorothy Tennant at Westminster Abbey, 12 July 1890. Dorothy Tennant was a descendant of Oliver Cromwell. Stanley received honourary degrees from Edinburgh, Halle, Durham, Oxford and Cambridge. He conducted lecture tours of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. In 1895, he was elected a Member of Parliament for North Lambeth, London. But he was a man of action, not a politician. He accomplished far more by his writings than by his speeches in Parliament. His book: Slavery and the Slave Trade in Africa was effective in mobilising the political will and action necessary to finally crush the last remnants of that vile trade in Africa.
A Man with a Mission
In his autobiography, he wrote: “Those to whom… I ventured to consign the secret hopes and interests of my heart, invariably betrayed me… I learned by experience that there was no love for me, born, so to say fatherless, spurned and disowned by my mother, beaten almost to death by my teacher and guardian, fed on the bread of bitterness, how was I to believe in love?... But I was not sent into the world to be happy, nor to search for happiness. I was sent for a special work.”
In 1897, he paid his last visit to Africa to take part in the ceremonies opening the Bulawayo railway station in Southern Rhodesia. His last book was: Through South Africa, published in 1898. In 1899, at the age of 58, Stanley was knighted by the Queen. He died 10 May 1904 at 63 years old. He was the most famous convert of Dr. David Livingstone, one of the greatest explorers of all time and one of the most effective campaigners against the slave trade. His 1874 to 1877 Trans Africa Exploit was the most outstanding achievement in all the history of the exploration of Africa.
Dr. Peter Hammond
The Reformation Society
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Tel: 021 689-4480
Bibliography and Recommended Books:
How I Found Livingstone, by Henry Morton Stanley, New York, 1872
Coomassie and Magdala, by Henry Morton Stanley, New York, 1874
Through the Dark Continent, by Henry Morton Stanley, New York, 1879
The Congo and the Founding of its Free State, New York, 1885
In Darkest Africa, by Henry Morton Stanley, New York, 1890
Slavery and the Slave Trade in Africa, New York, 1893
Through South Africa: A Visit to Rhodesia, the Transvaal, Cape Colony and Natal, New York, 1898
The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, edited by Dorothy Stanley, New York, 1909
Stanley, Invincible Explorer, by Laura Beriet, New York, 1995
The Man Who Presumed, by Byron Farwell, London, 1957
Into Africa – The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone, by Martin Dugard, London, 2003