David Livingstone, the famous Scottish missionary and explorer, was born on 19 March 1813 and died at Ilala in the centre of Africa in May 1873. On hearing of his death A. P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster (no relation to Henry Morton Stanley who "found" Livingstone) wrote to the President of the (Royal) Geographical Society offering burial in Westminster Abbey. Livingstone's heart had been buried under a mpundu tree but his faithful attendants enclosed his embalmed body in a cylinder of bark which was wrapped in sailcloth and carried it to the coast and then sailed to London, arriving the following year. As the Doctor had been away from England for so long a correct identification of the remains was required and this was verified by the badly set broken arm which had been crushed by a lion. There was also the fact that only Dr Livingstone could have inspired the Africans to overcome their natural superstition of carrying a dead body for so many months in order to reach the African coast with all the dangers that journey entailed.
The location for the grave was eventually chosen in the centre of the Nave, near to that of James Rennell, founder of the Society for African Exploration The inscription on the stone in brass letters reads:
BROUGHT BY FAITHFUL HANDS OVER LAND AND SEA HERE RESTS DAVID LIVINGSTONE, MISSIONARY, TRAVELLER, PHILANTHROPIST, BORN MARCH 19. 1813 AT BLANTYRE, LANARKSHIRE, DIED MAY 1, 1873 AT CHITAMBO'S VILLAGE, ULALA. FOR 30 YEARS HIS LIFE WAS SPENT IN AN UNWEARIED EFFORT TO EVANGELIZE THE NATIVE RACES, TO EXPLORE THE UNDISCOVERED SECRETS, TO ABOLISH THE DESOLATING SLAVE TRADE, OF CENTRAL AFRICA, WHERE WITH HIS LAST WORDS HE WROTE, "ALL I CAN ADD IN MY SOLITUDE, IS, MAY HEAVEN'S RICH BLESSING COME DOWN ON EVERY ONE, AMERICAN, ENGLISH, OR TURK, WHO WILL HELP TO HEAL THIS OPEN SORE OF THE WORLD"
The funeral took place on 18 April 1874. Before the ceremony a short service was performed by the Scottish Presbyterian minister Mr Hamilton. Dean Stanley conducted the funeral and Jacob Wainwright, who had escorted the body from Africa, threw a palm branch into the grave. The hymn "O God of Bethel, by whose hand" (by Doddridge to the tune Tallis's Ordinal) was sung. Queen Victoria sent a wreath to be placed on the coffin and this was buried with him. The very large congregation mainly consisted of Nonconformist ministers, representatives of learned societies and the general public, with Livingstone's four children. A choirboy recalls that H.M.Stanley had to restrain Livingstone's faithful servant from throwing himself into the grave.
On the Sunday afternoon following, 19th April, a memorial service was held with a sermon given by Dean Stanley. The hymn "Through all the changing scenes of life" was sung with an anthem "The Wilderness" by John Goss, and psalms. The "Dead March in Saul" was played on the organ.
The stone was laid down some while after the funeral and given by George Moore of Cumberland. The spelling of the place where Livingstone died should actually be Ilala. There are quotes down each side of the main inscription. To the north, from the Authorised Version of the Bible, John 10 v.16:
"Other sheep I have, which are not of this Fold:
Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my Voice"
The inscription on the south side is in Latin and can be translated:
"So great is my love of truth that there is nothing
I would rather know than the sources of the river
which lay hid for so many centuries"
This quote is from Lucan, the classical author, and alludes to Livingstone's search for the source of the Nile.
David was a son of Neil Livingstone and his wife Agnes (Hunter). As a young boy he worked in a cotton mill and in 1838 left for London to do scriptural and medical studies. He had hoped to go to China for the London Missionary Society but due to a war there he decided to go to South Africa. In 1840 he was ordained and in Africa in 1845 married Mary Moffat. Their sons were Robert, who died in America in 1864, Oswell and Thomas and daughters Agnes and Anna Mary. Between 1852 and 1856 he made his first explorations of the Zambezi river valley looking for a route to the sea. On returning to Britain he wrote a book and lectured. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and then spent his last days in Africa.
A 150th anniversary service was held in the Abbey on 18 March 1963 and a wreath was laid. An oration was given for his centenary on 1 May 1973.
A bi-centenary wreath laying took place in the Abbey on 19 March 2013 at 6.30pm. See the Press-News section of our website.
A photo of the gravestone may be purchased from the Abbey Library.
Henry Morton Stanley, who had met Livingstone in Africa, was married in the Abbey on 12 July 1890 to Dorothy Tennant. They laid wreaths on the grave of Livingstone.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
Oliver Ransford: David Livingstone: The Dark Interior (London, 1978)
The Illustrated London News for 25 April 1874 has an account of the funeral and engravings of the scenes at the burial.
The Royal Geographical Society collection contains some artefacts associated with Livingstone: www.rgs.org
Click on the images to enlarge