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David Livingstone

Episode 4 of 9

Colonel John Blashford-Snell on why he admires explorer and Victorian hero, Dr David Livingstone. With Matthew Parris. From 2013.

Dr David Livingstone was the Victorian equivalent of an astronaut - a man who ventured into the  interior of Africa to report on territory that was wholly unknown to Europeans. In this programme, the explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell explains why he admires his predecessor. Matthew Parris chairs the discussion, assisted by Dr Sarah Worden of the National Museum of Scotland.

Livingstone went to Africa as a missionary but succeeded in making only one convert, who soon lapsed. Frustrated, he switched his focus to exploration, crossing southern Africa from east to west and back again. He discovered the Victoria Falls, but his attempts to reach the interior by going up the Zambezi were a disaster when he discovered that the rapids he had been warned about were impassable. On his recommendation, missionary families came out from England to settle in what is now Malawi but - as he should have anticipated - many of them died of disease.

Despite these failures, he was and is regarded as a hero. As a self-made man who put himself through university on his wages from working in a cotton mill, he embodied the Victorian can-do spirit. His map-making, natural history observations, facility with languages and sheer endurance in the face of overwhelming obstacles made him a formidable character. Above all, his legacy in helping to end the east African slave trade mean that he is still revered in Africa today.

Produced by Jolyon Jenkins.

First broadcast on Radio 4 in 2013.

Available now

30 minutes


Role Contributor
Presenter Matthew Parris
Producer Jolyon Jenkins


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