Livingstone's private thoughts about massacre of slaves

Newspaper page, page of writing and illustration of men shooting Africans
An illustration of the Nyangwe massacre
from Livingstone's published account,
with a diary page and 'transcription'.

Research revealed at the National Library of Scotland may change the way we think about David Livingstone.

The Scots explorer and missionary's private thoughts about a massacre of 400 slaves he witnessed in Africa have been uncovered after 140 years.

Attitude to slaves
And among the latest results from the project to decipher Livingstone's diary is information suggesting that some of his own party were involved in the Nyangwe massacre. It also exposes a very different attitude to slaves from that of his public persona as a dedicated abolitionist.

This information was never included in his published journals.

Journalist H M Stanley’s report of the massacre was based on what Dr Livingstone told him. It changed history and forced the British Government to close the East Africa slave trade.

Making the diary readable
Livingstone's diary has been virtually unreadable for many decades. During his journeys in Africa in 1870-1871, Livingstone had to improvise when he ran out of paper and ink. He was forced to make ink from berry seeds and wrote over the pages of a single copy of the 'London Standard' newspaper. 

Scientists are using ground-breaking multi-spectral imaging techniques to recover this writing. An international team launched the diary project at NLS in 2010.

Read more in the Livingstone's 'massacre' diary press release.

1 November 2011

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