Source and activity 7

Lions and buffalo

Engraving detail showing lions attacking buffalo
Livingstone's llustration of lions and
[NLS reference: RB.s.972]
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This is an illustration entitled 'Illustration of three lions attempting to drag down a buffalo' from 'Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa', 1857.

David Livingstone was encountering a huge range of wildlife in Africa. Some, like Lions had been used as symbols and emblems in Britain for hundreds of years.

Think about where you can see these symbols today either in historical settings or in modern branding.  

What message does having a lion as part of a country's flag or company brand give? What qualities does a lion have that has made it a potent symbol for hundreds of years?

Image vs reality

Now, look at this sketch from Livingstone’s book. Here we see the full force of nature at work. Most people in Victorian Britain had never seen this portrayal of lions before though they might have encountered statues and emblems of Lions in many places.

Think about the contrast this might have presented in people's minds at the time. Do you think after seeing this, people would have been happy to see lions as a symbol of Britain?

Does the reality match the symbolic and historical portrayal of these animals?

Find other symbols of animals either in historic or contemporary settings and compare the message they are meant to convey.


Themes in focus: David Livingstone


Find out more about David Livingstone in NLS collections

David Livingstone is one of a number of authors featured in the John Murray Archive.


The David Livingstone collections are listed under ‘L’ in our Guide to Manuscripts Collections


Search the John Murray Archive catalogue for material relating to David Livingstone.

David Livingstone on the web

Visit Livingstone Online for detailed information about the explorer and to view his letters online.


The Royal Geographical Society website has factsheets, quiz and image gallery on David Livingstone and his travels.

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