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“Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”

“Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”

 “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”

By Awake! writer in Tanzania

“Under the mango tree which then stood here, Henry M. Stanley met David Livingstone, 10 November 1871.”​—Plaque at the Livingstone Memorial Monument in Ujiji at Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania.

IT WAS well over a century ago that Stanley gave the famous greeting: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Outside Tanzania, likely very few would understand the significance of this encounter.

A visit to the Livingstone Memorial Museum in Tanzania will thus prove informative. Our guide, Mr. Mbingo, warmly welcomes us. “On the spot where the monument has been erected,” he explains, “there once stood a huge mango tree, under which Stanley met Livingstone.” Now there are two enormous mango trees standing there. “You see,” he continues, “during the 1920’s, it became obvious that the original mango tree was dying. Efforts to save the tree failed. So two grafted tree-plants were placed near the monument.”

Who Was Livingstone?

As we sit in the shade of one of the mango trees, Mr. Mbingo explains that David Livingstone was born in 1813 in a small town in Scotland called Blantyre. “Although he grew up in poverty, he managed to work his way through school and was trained both as a doctor and as a missionary.” We learn that the London Missionary Society dispatched Livingstone to Africa, where he spent 30 years of his life, building a reputation for himself as an explorer and missionary.

“Dr. Livingstone came to Africa three times,” says our guide. “He first came to South Africa in 1841. In 1845, Livingstone wed a woman named Mary Moffat, daughter of fellow missionary Robert Moffat.” Livingstone had four children by Mary. And though she accompanied him on many of his journeys, Livingstone’s passion for exploration left him little time for family life. Mary Livingstone died of malaria in 1862 while accompanying him on one of his expeditions.

The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “Livingstone was ready to push Christianity, commerce, and civilization​—the trinity that he believed was destined to open up Africa—​northward beyond the frontiers of South Africa and into the heart of the continent. In a famous statement in 1853 he made his purpose clear: ‘I shall open up a path into the interior, or perish.’” Livingstone’s journeys were therefore not purely evangelical. He passionately pushed for abolition of the slave trade. Also, he developed a fascination for exploration and set a goal of discovering the sources of the Nile.

 Livingstone came to see, however, that the task was too great for him to accomplish alone. In 1857 he said to a group of young men at Cambridge University: “I know that in a few years I shall be cut off in that country, which is now open; do not let it be shut again! I go back to Africa to try to make an open path for commerce and Christianity; [will] you carry out the work which I have begun? I leave it with you.”

In any event, Livingstone trekked extensively throughout central Africa. Among other things, he discovered the enormous waterfalls on the Zambezi River, which he named Victoria Falls, after Queen Victoria. Later he described the falls as ‘the most wonderful sight he had witnessed in Africa.’

The Search

“Livingstone’s last journey,” our guide explains, “began in 1866. However, trouble broke out among his staff. Some of his followers deserted him and returned to Zanzibar, where they spread the rumor that Livingstone was dead. But Livingstone pressed on. At Ujiji, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, he established a base for his expeditions.

“Europe, though, had not heard from Livingstone for about three years. They thought he was dead. The publisher of the New York Herald newspaper thus sent a reporter named Henry Morton Stanley to find Livingstone​—dead or alive. Of course, Livingstone was hardly lost. But he was in desperate need of supplies and quite ill. In November 1871, one of Livingstone’s servants came to his house shouting: ‘Mzungu anakuja! Mzungu anakuja!’” That is Swahili for “A white man is coming!”

Stanley had actually spent almost eight months looking for Livingstone. First he made passage to Africa via India, arriving at the island of Zanzibar on January 6, 1871. On March 21, 1871, he set out from the east-coast city of Bagamoyo with six tons of supplies and 200 hired men. The 1,000-mile [1,500 km] unmapped expedition would prove to be perilous! Heavy rains flooded the rivers. Stanley and his men suffered from malaria, other sicknesses, and fatigue. All of the rivers were infested with crocodiles; Stanley watched in horror as a crocodile dragged one of his last donkeys down to its death. On another occasion, Stanley narrowly avoided being seized in a pair of crocodile jaws himself! Even so, Stanley was absolutely determined to succeed. He was  encouraged by reports that a very old white man lived in the area of Ujiji.

As Stanley approached Ujiji, he prepared for the encounter. The book Stanley, by Richard Hall, says: “Stanley was emaciated and tired, but he felt he could put on a braver show than [previous explorers] had as he marched into the town. It was, after all, going to be a moment of history​—and he would not only make it, but record it too. Everyone in the expedition brought out their best remaining clothes. Stanley put a new band around his topee [pith helmet], donned some clean white flannels, and had his boots well oiled.”

Stanley relates what happened next: “The expedition at last comes to a halt . . . There is a group of the most respectable Arabs; and as I come nearer, I see the white face of an old man among them. . . . We raise our hats, and I say, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ and he says, ‘Yes.’”

The Aftermath

Stanley had originally planned on staying just long enough to conduct an interview and write up his story. However, Livingstone and Stanley quickly became friends. Our guide relates: “Stanley stayed with Livingstone for several weeks, and together they explored Lake Tanganyika. Stanley tried to convince Livingstone to return to Europe, but Livingstone was determined to stay and find the sources of the Nile. So on March 14, 1872, Stanley and Livingstone had an emotional parting. Stanley went back to the coast, where he bought supplies and dispatched them to Livingstone. After that, Stanley headed for Europe.”

What happened to Livingstone? Our guide explains: “In August 1872, Livingstone resumed his quest for the sources of the Nile. He headed south to Zambia. However, fatigue and illness had taken their toll. On May 1, 1873, he was found dead. His servants . . . embalmed his body, burying his heart and intestines in African soil. Livingstone’s remains were then carried some 1,500 miles [2,000 km] to Bagamoyo, where missionaries received them. Arrangements were made to ship them to Zanzibar and then on to Britain. The remains arrived in London on April 15, 1874, and were buried in Westminster Abbey three days later. It had taken nearly a year for Livingstone’s body to reach its final burial place.”

Stanley returned to Africa to pick up where Livingstone had left off. Stanley led expeditions that explored the areas around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika and the course of the mighty Congo River.

One can only admire the courage and determination of men like Livingstone and Stanley. Says the Britannica of Livingstone: “His discoveries​—geographic, technical, medical, and social—​provided a complex body of knowledge that is still being explored.” And while Livingstone and Stanley are remembered today as explorers and not as a preacher and a reporter, their work did help open the door for Bible knowledge to be spread widely decades later.

Missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses have thus been able to help hundreds of thousands of Africans to embrace Bible truths. In fact, in Ujiji, where Stanley first met Livingstone, the Witnesses’ work of sharing Bible truths is so well-known that when local residents see them outside their doors, it is not unusual for one of them to ask, “Jehovah’s Witnesses, I presume?”

[Map on page 23]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

Lake Victoria

Livingstone’s expeditions

Cape Town

Port Elizabeth


Lake Ngami



Victoria Falls






Lake Tanganyika


Ujiji, where the two men met

Stanley’s search for Livingstone in 1871



Ujiji, where the two men met

[Credit Line]

Map: Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.

[Picture on page 22, 23]

David Livingstone

[Credit Line]

Livingstone: From the book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, 1858

[Picture on page 22, 23]

Henry M. Stanley

[Picture on page 23]

Victoria Falls

[Picture on page 24]

One of Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing Bible truth in Ujiji