A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864

Author: David Livingstone

Chapter XV.

Confidence of natives—Bishop Tozer—Withdrawal of the Mission party- -The English leave—Hazardous voyage to Mosambique—Dr. Livingstone’s voyage to Bombay—Return to England.

We were delighted and thankful to find all those left at the ship in good health, and that from the employments in which they had been occupied they had suffered less from fever than usual during our absence. My companion, Thomas Ward, the steward, after having performed his part in the march right bravely, rejoined his comrades stronger than he had ever been before.

An Ajawa chief, named Kapeni, had so much confidence in the English name that he, with most of his people, visited the ship; and asserted that nothing would give his countrymen greater pleasure than to receive the associates of Bishop Mackenzie as their teachers. This declaration, coupled with the subsequent conduct of the Ajawa, was very gratifying, inasmuch as it was clear that no umbrage had been taken at the check which the Bishop had given to their slaving; their consciences had told them that the course he had pursued was right.

When we returned, the contrast between the vegetation about Muazi’s and that near the ship was very striking. We had come so quickly down, that while on the plateau in latitude 12 degrees S., the young leaves had in many cases passed from the pink or other colour they have on first coming out to the light fresh green which succeeds it, here, on the borders of 16 degrees S., or from 150 to 180 miles distant, the trees were still bare, the grey colour of the bark predominating over every other hue. The trees in the tropics here have a very well-marked annual rest. On the Rovuma even, which is only about ten degrees from the equator, in September the slopes up from the river some sixty miles inland were of a light ashy-grey colour; and on ascending them, we found that the majority of the trees were without leaves; those of the bamboo even lay crisp and crumpled on the ground. As the sun is usually hot by day, even in the winter, this withering process may be owing to the cool nights; Africa differing so much from Central India in the fact that, in Africa, however hot the day may be, the air generally cools down sufficiently by the early morning watches to render a covering or even a blanket agreeable.

The first fortnight after our return to the ship was employed in the delightful process of resting, to appreciate which a man must have gone through great exertions. In our case the muscles of the limbs were as hard as boards, and not an ounce of fat existed on any part of the body. We now had frequent showers; but, these being only the earlier rains, the result on the rise of the river was but a few inches. The effect of these rains on the surrounding scenery was beautiful in the extreme. All trace of the dry season was soon obliterated, and hills and mountains from base to summit were covered with a mantle of living green. The sun passed us on his way south without causing a flood, so all our hopes of a release were centred on his return towards the Equator, when, as a rule, the waters of inundation are made to flow. Up to this time the rains descended simply to water the earth, fill the pools, and make ready for the grand overflow for which we had still to wait six weeks. It is of no use to conceal that we waited with much chagrin; for had we not been forced to return from the highlands west of Nyassa we might have visited Lake Bemba; but unavailing regrets are poor employment for the mind; so we banished them to the best of our power.

About the middle of December, 1863, we were informed that Bishop Mackenzie’s successor, after spending a few months on the top of a mountain about as high as Ben Nevis in Scotland, at the mouth of the Shire, where there were few or no people to be taught, had determined to leave the country. This unfortunate decision was communicated to us at the same time that six of the boys reared by Bishop Mackenzie were sent back into heathenism. The boys were taken to a place about seven miles from the ship, but immediately found their way up to us. We told them that if they wished to remain in the country they had better so arrange at once, for we were soon to leave. The sequel will show their choice.

As soon as the death of Bishop Mackenzie was known at the Cape, Dr. Gray, the excellent Bishop there, proceeded at once to England, with a view of securing an early appointment of another head to the Mission, which in its origin owed so much to his zeal for the spread of the gospel among the heathen, and whose interests he had continually at heart. About the middle of 1862 we heard that Dr. Gray’s efforts had been successful, and that another clergyman would soon take the place of our departed friend. This pleasing intelligence was exceedingly cheering to the Missionaries, and gratifying also to the members of the Expedition. About the beginning of 1863 the new Bishop arrived at the mouth of the river in a man-of-war, and after some delay proceeded inland. The Bishop of the Cape had taken a voyage home at considerable inconvenience to himself, for the sole object of promoting this Mission to the heathen; and it was somehow expected that the man he would secure would be an image of himself; and we must say, that whatever others, from the representations that have gone abroad, may think of his character, we invariably found Dr. Gray to be a true, warm-hearted promoter of the welfare of his fellow-men; a man whose courage and zeal have provoked very many to good works.

It was hoped that the presence of a new head to the Mission would infuse new energy and life into the small band of Missionaries, whose ranks had been thinned by death; and who, though discouraged by the disasters which the slave war and famine had induced, and also dispirited by the depressing influences of a low and unhealthy position in the swampy Shire Valley, were yet bravely holding out till the much-needed moral and material aid should arrive.

We believe that we are uttering the sentiments of many devout members of different sections of Christians, when we say, it was a pity that the Mission of the Universities was abandoned. The ground had been consecrated in the truest sense by the lives of those brave men who first occupied it. In bare justice to Bishop Mackenzie, who was the first to fall, it must be said, that the repudiation of all he had done, and the sudden abandonment of all that had cost so much life and money to secure, was a serious line of conduct for one so unversed in Missionary operations as his successor, to inaugurate. It would have been no more than fair that Bishop Tozer, before winding up the affairs of the Mission, should actually have examined the highlands of the Upper Shire; he would thus have gratified the associates of his predecessor, who believed that the highlands had never had a fair trial, and he would have gained from personal observation a more accurate knowledge of the country and the people than he could possibly have become possessed of by information gathered chiefly on the coast. With this examination, rather than with a stay of a few months on the humid, dripping top of misty Morambala, we should have felt much more satisfied.

In January, 1864, the natives all confidently asserted that at next full moon the river would have its great and permanent flood. It had several times risen as much as a foot, but fell again as suddenly. It was curious that their observation coincided exactly with ours, that the flood of inundation happens when the sun comes overhead on his way back to the Equator. We mention this more minutely because, from the observation of several years, we believe that in this way the inundation of the Nile is to be explained. On the 19th the Shire suddenly rose several feet, and we started at once; and stopping only for a short time at Chibisa’s to bid adieu to the Ajawa and Makololo, who had been extremely useful to us of late in supplying maize and fresh provisions, we hastened on our way to the ocean. In order to keep a steerage way on the "Pioneer," we had to go quicker than the stream, and unfortunately carried away her rudder in passing suddenly round a bank. The delay required for the repairs prevented our reaching Morambala till the 2nd of February.

The flood-water ran into a marsh some miles above the mountain, and became as black as ink; and when it returned again to the river emitted so strong an effluvium of sulphuretted hydrogen, that one could not forget for an instant that the air was most offensive. The natives said this stench did not produce disease. We spent one night in it, and suffered no ill effects, though we fully expected an attack of fever. Next morning every particle of white paint on both ships was so deeply blackened, that it could not be cleaned by scrubbing with soap and water. The brass was all turned to a bronze colour, and even the iron and ropes had taken a new tint. This is an additional proof that malaria and offensive effluvia are not always companions. We did not suffer more from fever in the mangrove swamps, where we inhaled so much of the heavy mousey smell that it was distinguishable in the odour of our shirts and flannels, than we did elsewhere.

We tarried in the foul and blackening emanations from the marsh because we had agreed to receive on board about thirty poor orphan boys and girls, and a few helpless widows whom Bishop Mackenzie had attached to his Mission. All who were able to support themselves had been encouraged by the Missionaries to do so by cultivating the ground, and they now formed a little free community. But the boys and girls who were only from seven to twelve years of age, and orphans without any one to help them, could not be abandoned without bringing odium on the English name. The effect of an outcry by some persons in England, who knew nothing of the circumstances in which Bishop Mackenzie was placed, and who certainly had not given up their own right of appeal to the sword of the magistrate, was, that the new head of the Mission had gone to extremes in the opposite direction from his predecessor; not even protesting against the one monstrous evil of the country, the slave-trade. We believed that we ought to leave the English name in the same good repute among the natives that we had found it; and in removing the poor creatures, who had lived with Mackenzie as children with a father, to a land where the education he began would be completed, we had the aid and sympathy of the best of the Portuguese, and of the whole population. The difference between shipping slaves and receiving these free orphans struck us as they came on board. As soon as permission to embark was given, the rush into the boat nearly swamped her—their eagerness to be safe on the "Pioneer’s" deck had to be repressed.

Bishop Tozer had already left for Quillimane when we took these people and the last of the Universities’ Missionaries on board and proceeded to the Zambesi. It was in high flood. We have always spoken of this river as if at its lowest, for fear lest we should convey an exaggerated impression of its capabilities for navigation. Instead of from five to fifteen feet, it was now from fifteen to thirty feet, or more, deep. All the sandbanks and many of the islands had disappeared, and before us rolled a river capable, as one of our naval friends thought, of carrying a gunboat. Some of the sandy islands are annually swept away, and the quantities of sand carried down are prodigious.

The process by which a delta, extending eighty or one hundred miles from the sea, has been formed may be seen going on at the present day—the coarser particles of sand are driven out into the ocean, just in the same way as we see they are over banks in the beds of torrents. The finer portions are caught by the returning tide, and, accumulating by successive ebbs and flows, become, with the decaying vegetation, arrested by the mangrove roots. The influence of the tide in bringing back the finer particles gives the sea near the mouth of the Zambesi a clean and sandy bottom. This process has been going on for ages, and as the delta has enlarged eastwards, the river has always kept a channel for itself behind. Wherever we see an island all sand, or with only one layer of mud in it, we know it is one of recent formation, and that it may be swept away at any time by a flood; while those islands which are all of mud are the more ancient, having in fact existed ever since the time when the ebbing and flowing tides originally formed them as parts of the delta. This mud resists the action of the river wonderfully. It is a kind of clay on which the eroding power of water has little effect. Were maps made, showing which banks and which islands are liable to erosion, it would go far to settle where the annual change of the channel would take place; and, were a few stakes driven in year by year to guide the water in its course, the river might be made of considerable commercial value in the hands of any energetic European nation. No canal or railway would ever be thought of for this part of Africa. A few improvements would make the Zambesi a ready means of transit for all the trade that, with a population thinned by Portuguese slaving, will ever be developed in our day. Here there is no instance on record of the natives flocking in thousands to the colony, as they did at Natal, and even to the Arabs on Lake Nyassa. This keeping aloof renders it unlikely that in Portuguese hands the Zambesi will ever be of any more value to the world than it has been.

After a hurried visit to Senna, in order to settle with Major Sicard and Senhor Ferrao for supplies we had drawn thence after the depopulation of the Shire, we proceeded down to the Zambesi’s mouth, and were fortunate in meeting, on the 13th February, with H.M.S. "Orestes." She was joined next day by H.M.S. "Ariel." The "Orestes" took the "Pioneer," and the "Ariel" the "Lady Nyassa" in tow, for Mosambique. On the 16th a circular storm proved the sea-going qualities of the "Lady of the Lake;" for on this day a hurricane struck the "Ariel," and drove her nearly backwards at a rate of six knots. The towing hawser wound round her screw and stopped her engines. No sooner had she recovered from this shock than she was again taken aback on the other tack, and driven stem on towards the "Lady Nyassa’s" broadside. We who were on board the little vessel saw no chance of escape unless the crew of the "Ariel" should think of heaving ropes when the big ship went over us; but she glided past our bow, and we breathed freely again. We had now an opportunity of witnessing man-of-war seamanship. Captain Chapman, though his engines were disabled, did not think of abandoning us in the heavy gale, but crossed the bows of the "Lady Nyassa" again and again, dropping a cask with a line by which to give us another hawser. We might never have picked it up, had not a Krooman jumped overboard and fastened a second line to the cask; and then we drew the hawser on board, and were again in tow. During the whole time of the hurricane the little vessel behaved admirably, and never shipped a single green sea. When the "Ariel" pitched forwards we could see a large part of her bottom, and when her stern went down we could see all her deck. A boat, hung at her stern davits, was stove in by the waves. The officers on board the "Ariel" thought that it was all over with us: we imagined that they were suffering more than we were. Nautical men may suppose that this was a serious storm only to landsmen; but the "Orestes," which was once in sight, and at another time forty miles off during the same gale, split eighteen sails; and the "Pioneer" had to be lightened of parts of a sugar-mill she was carrying; her roundhouse was washed away, and the cabin was frequently knee-deep in water. When the "Orestes" came into Mosambique harbour nine days after our arrival there, our vessel, not being anchored close to the "Ariel," for we had run in under the lee of the fort, led to the surmise on board the "Orestes" that we had gone to the bottom. Captain Chapman and his officers pronounced the "Lady Nyassa" to be the finest little sea-boat they had ever seen. She certainly was a contrast to the "Ma-Robert," and did great credit to her builders, Ted and Macgregor of Glasgow. We can but regret that she was not employed on the Lake after which she was named, and for which she was intended and was so well adapted.

What struck us most, during the trip from the Zambesi to Mosambique, was the admirable way in which Captain Chapman handled the "Ariel" in the heavy sea of the hurricane; the promptitude and skill with which, when we had broken three hawsers, others were passed to us by the rapid evolutions of a big ship round a little one; and the ready appliance of means shown in cutting the hawser off the screw nine feet under water with long chisels made for the occasion; a task which it took three days to accomplish. Captain Chapman very kindly invited us on board the "Ariel," and we accepted his hospitality after the weather had moderated.

The little vessel was hauled through and against the huge seas with such force that two hawsers measuring eleven inches each in circumference parted. Many of the blows we received from the billows made every plate quiver from stem to stern, and the motion was so quick that we had to hold on continually to avoid being tossed from one side to the other or into the sea. Ten of the late Bishop’s flock whom we had on board became so sick and helpless that do what we could to aid them they were so very much in the way that the idea broke in upon us, that the close packing resorted to by slavers is one of the necessities of the traffic. If this is so, it would account for the fact that even when the trade was legal the same injurious custom was common, if not universal. If, instead of ten such passengers, we had been carrying two hundred, with the wind driving the rain and spray, as by night it did, nearly as hard as hail against our faces, and nothing whatever to be seen to windward but the occasional gleam of the crest of a wave, and no sound heard save the whistling of the storm through the rigging, it would have been absolutely necessary for the working of the ship and safety of the whole that the live cargo should all have been stowed down below, whatever might have been the consequences.

Having delivered the "Pioneer" over to the Navy, she was towed down to the Cape by Captain Forsyth of the "Valorous," and after examination it was declared that with repairs to the amount of 300 pounds she would be as serviceable as ever. Those of the Bishop’s flock whom we had on board were kindly allowed a passage to the Cape. The boys went in the "Orestes," and we are glad of the opportunity to record our heartfelt thanks to Captains Forsyth, Gardner, and Chapman for rendering us, at various times, every aid in their power. Mr. Waller went in the "Pioneer," and continued his generous services to all connected with the Mission, whether white or black, till they were no longer needed; and we must say that his conduct to them throughout was truly noble, and worthy of the highest praise.

After beaching the "Lady Nyassa" at Caboceira, opposite the house of a Portuguese gentleman well known to all Englishmen, Joao da Costa Soares, we put in brine cocks, and cleaned and painted her bottom. Mr. Soares appeared to us to have been very much vilified in a publication in England a few years ago; our experience proved him to be extremely kind and obliging. All the members of the Expedition who passed Mosambique were unanimous in extolling his generosity and, from the general testimony of English visitors in his favour, we very much regret that his character was so grievously misrepresented. To the authorities at Mosambique our thanks are also due for obliging accommodation; and though we differ entirely from the Portuguese officials as to the light in which we regard the slave-trade, we trust our exposure of the system, in which unfortunately they are engaged, will not be understood as indicating any want of kindly feeling and good will to them personally. Senhor Canto e Castro, who arrived at Mosambique two days after our departure to take the office of Governor-General, was well known to us in Angola. We lived two months in his house when he was Commandant of Golungo Alto; and, knowing him thoroughly, believe that no better man could have been selected for the office. We trust that his good principles may enable him to withstand the temptations of his position; but we should be sorry to have ours tried in a den of slave-traders with the miserable pittance he receives for his support.

While at Mosambique, a species of Pedalia called by Mr. Soares Dadeleira, and by the natives—from its resemblance to Gerzilin, or sesamum—"wild sesamum," was shown to us, and is said to be well known among native nurses as a very gentle and tasteless aperient for children. A few leaves of it are stirred in a cup of cold water for eight or nine seconds, and a couple of teaspoonfuls of the liquid given as a dose. The leaves form a sort of mucilage in the water by longer stirring, which is said to have diuretic properties besides.

On the 16th April we steamed out from Mosambique; and, the currents being in our favour, in a week reached Zanzibar. Here we experienced much hospitality from our countrymen, and especially from Dr. Seward, then acting consul and political agent for Colonel Playfair.

Dr. Seward was very doubtful if we could reach Bombay before what is called the break of the monsoon took place. This break occurs usually between the end of May and the 12th of June. The wind still blows from Africa to India, but with so much violence, and with such a murky atmosphere, that few or no observations for position can be taken. We were, however, at the time very anxious to dispose of the "Lady Nyassa," and, the only market we could reach being Bombay, we resolved to run the risk of getting there before the stormy period commenced; and, after taking fourteen tons of coal on board, we started on the 30th April from Zanzibar.

Our complement consisted of seven native Zambesians, two boys, and four Europeans; namely, one stoker, one sailor, one carpenter, whose names have been already mentioned, and Dr. Livingstone, as navigator. The "Lady Nyassa" had shown herself to be a good sea-boat. The natives had proved themselves capital sailors, though before volunteering not one of them had ever seen the sea. They were not picked men, but, on paying a dozen whom we had in our employment for fifteen months, they were taken at random from several hundreds who offered to accompany us. Their wages were ten shillings per mensem, and it was curious to observe, that so eager were they to do their duty, that only one of them lay down from sea-sickness during the whole voyage. They took in and set sail very cleverly in a short time, and would climb out along a boom, reeve a rope through the block, and come back with the rope in their teeth, though at each lurch the performer was dipped in the sea. The sailor and carpenter, though anxious to do their utmost, had a week’s severe illness each, and were unfit for duty.

It is pleasant enough to take the wheel for an hour or two, or even for a watch, but when it comes to be for every alternate four hours, it is utterly wearisome. We set our black men to steer, showing them which arm of the compass needle was to be kept towards the vessel’s head, and soon three of them could manage very well, and they only needed watching. In going up the East Coast to take advantage of the current of one hundred miles a day, we would fain have gone into the Juba or Webbe River, the mouth of which is only 15 minutes south of the line, but we were too shorthanded. We passed up to about ten degrees north of the Equator, and then steamed out from the coast. Here Maury’s wind chart showed that the calm-belt had long been passed, but we were in it still; and, instead of a current carrying us north, we had a contrary current which bore us every day four miles to the south. We steamed as long as we dared, knowing as we did that we must use the engines on the coast of India.

After losing many days tossing on the silent sea, with innumerable dolphins, flying-fish, and sharks around us, we had six days of strong breezes, then calms again tried our patience; and the near approach of that period, "the break of the monsoon," in which it was believed no boat could live, made us sometimes think our epitaph would be "Left Zanzibar on 30th April, 1864, and never more heard of." At last, in the beginning of June, the chronometers showed that we were near the Indian coast. The black men believed it was true because we told them it was so, but only began to dance with joy when they saw sea-weed and serpents floating past. These serpents are peculiar to these parts, and are mentioned as poisonous in the sailing directions. We ventured to predict that we should see land next morning, and at midday the high coast hove in sight, wonderfully like Africa before the rains begin. Then a haze covered all the land, and a heavy swell beat towards it. A rock was seen, and a latitude showed it to be the Choule rock. Making that a fresh starting-point, we soon found the light-ship, and then the forest of masts loomed through the haze in Bombay harbour. We had sailed over 2500 miles.


{1} A remedy composed of from six to eight grains of resin of jalap, the same of rhubarb, and three each of calomel and quinine, made up into four pills, with tincture of cardamoms, usually relieved all the symptoms in five or six hours. Four pills are a full dose for a man- -one will suffice for a woman. They received from our men the name of "rousers," from their efficacy in rousing up even those most prostrated. When their operation is delayed, a dessert-spoonful of Epsom salts should be given. Quinine after or during the operation of the pills, in large doses every two or three hours, until deafness or cinchonism ensued, completed the cure. The only cases in which, we found ourselves completely helpless, were those in which obstinate vomiting ensued.

{2} The late Mr. Robson.

{3} In 1865, four years after these forebodings were penned, we received intelligence that they had all come to pass. Sekeletu died in the beginning of 1864—a civil war broke out about the succession to the chieftainship; a large body of those opposed to the late chief’s uncle, Impololo, being regent, departed with their cattle to Lake Ngami; an insurrection by the black tribes followed; Impololo was slain, and the kingdom, of which, under an able sagacious mission, a vast deal might have been made, has suffered the usual fate of African conquests. That fate we deeply deplore; for, whatever other faults the Makololo might justly be charged with, they did not belong to the class who buy and sell each other, and the tribes who have succeeded them do.

{4} It was with sorrow that we learned by a letter from Mr. Moffat, in 1864, that poor Sekeletu was dead. As will be mentioned further on, men were sent with us to bring up more medicine. They preferred to remain on the Shire, and, as they were free men, we could do no more than try and persuade them to hasten back to their chief with iodine and other remedies. They took the parcel, but there being only two real Makololo among them, these could neither return themselves alone or force their attendants to leave a part of the country where they were independent, and could support themselves with ease. Sekeletu, however, lived long enough to receive and acknowledge goods to the value of 50 pounds, sent, in lieu of those which remained in Tette, by Robert Moffat, jun., since dead.

{5} A brother, we believe, of one who accompanied Burke and Willis in the famous but unfortunate Australian Expedition.

{6} Genesis, chap. iii., verses 21 and 23, "make coats of skins, and clothed them"—"sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground" imply teaching. Vide Archbishop Whately’s "History of Religious Worship." John W. Parker, West Strand, London, 1849.

{7} "In 1854 the native church at Sierra-Leone undertook to pay for their primary schools, and thereby effected a saving to the Church Missionary Society of 800 pounds per annum. In 1861 the contributions of this one section of native Christians had amounted to upwards of 10,000 pounds."—"Manual of Church Missionary Society’s African Missions."


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Chicago: David Livingstone, "Chapter XV.," A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864, ed. Iles, George, 1852-1942 and trans. Whiston, William, 1667-1752 in A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L44XE3TYNPDNH8S.

MLA: Livingstone, David. "Chapter XV." A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864, edited by Iles, George, 1852-1942, and translated by Whiston, William, 1667-1752, in A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L44XE3TYNPDNH8S.

Harvard: Livingstone, D, 'Chapter XV.' in A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries: And of the Discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L44XE3TYNPDNH8S.