This is an undated file photo of a painting of David Livingstone, Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa and opponent of the slave trade. Researchers used spectral imaging technology to decode Livingstone’s long-illegible field diary, and say they have evidence that men working under Dr. David Livingstone, one of history’s most famous explorers, may have participated in the 19th century massacre in Africa that helped lead to the closure of slave markets. (AP Photo/File)
(AP) — He is one of history’s most famous explorers, and his
first-person account of a 19th-century massacre in Africa helped lead to
the closure of one of the continent’s most notorious slave markets.
researchers say they have evidence Dr. David Livingstone may not have
been telling the whole truth. An international team of academics used
spectral imaging technology to decode Livingstone’s long-illegible field
diary and say it hints that his own men may have participated in the
party might have been involved in the massacre,” said Adrian Wisnicki
of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who directed the project. But he
advised caution: “We’re only beginning to analyze the evidence.”
an explosive claim, because Livingstone’s account of the horror seen in
the African village of Nyangwe galvanized British authorities to shut
the slave market in Zanzibar, a critical hub for East Africa’s human
himself denied allegations that his men had been involved. And while
Livingstone biographer Tim Jeal praised Wisnicki’s efforts, he said he
was skeptical that the Scottish missionary would have tried to cover up
his party’s role in the killings.
“Nobody can know for sure, but I don’t think the proof is there,” Jeal said.
Regardless of the exact circumstances, the Nyangwe massacre was one of the darkest points of Livingstone’s career.
his posthumously published “Last Journals,” Livingstone described how a
“bright sultry summer morning” in July 1871 had turned to hell when
slavers opened fire on some 1,500 people at Nyangwe’s market.
Pandemonium broke out as the marketgoers, many of them women, scrambled
for their canoes or tried to swim across the nearby Lualaba River.
after shot continued to be fired on the helpless and perishing,”
Livingstone said, describing how many others drowned in the river. “Some
of the long line of heads disappeared quietly; whilst other poor
creatures threw their arms high, as if appealing to the great Father
above, and sank.”
Livingstone, The 1871 Field Diary, 297b/157-138, in color. A portion of the printed newspaper title The Standard is visible at left.
Livingstone said he couldn’t know how many had died, although he cited estimates running into the hundreds.
news of the massacre reached Britain, it ignited a wave of revulsion.
By 1873, the British consul had pressured the sultan of Zanzibar to
close the island’s large slave market.
account was first communicated to the outside world by journalist Henry
Stanley, whose famous encounter with the explorer in October 1871 was
immortalized by the words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
works, including the “Last Journals,” were based on the journal that
Livingstone wrote in 1872, after Stanley had resupplied him with paper.
it’s Livingstone’s field diary, improvised from bank checks and aging
pieces of newsprint and written in ink made from seeds and berries,
which Wisnicki claims as evidence for his theory that Livingstone’s men
were involved in the massacre.
raw notes have long been considered unreadable—a result of the unusual
writing material, the tropical weather, and the unorthodox ink. But
Wisnicki’s team submitted the notes to spectrographic analysis.
field diary makes clear that Livingstone—an ardent abolitionist—was
horrified by the moral character of the freed slaves sent to reinforce
his expedition. He describes them as “senseless slaves with no honor.”
The 1871 Field Diary in spectral ratio. The original writing had faded to near invisibility.
Livingstone’s account, they emerge as rebellious and violent — at one
point he confides that “if they go anywhere I must go with them or
murder is certain.” In another passage, dated May 18, Livingstone says
the slaves have mutinied and bought guns with his money.
Those passages were either sanitized or excised from Livingstone’s 1872 journal.
claimed that the edits, combined with discrepancies between the field
diary and the journal’s descriptions of the massacre, suggest
Livingstone may have had something to hide about the bloody incident.
acknowledged that the slaves were “clearly very disobedient and violent
men,” but said it was unlikely that they would have gone on a rampage
in Livingstone’s presence.
of the great explorer can decide for themselves. Scans and transcripts
of the diary were posted to website of the University of California, Los
Angeles on Tuesday.
Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary
SOURCE: The Associated Press