Famous Victorians: Dr David Livingstone

The resources on this page are devoted to the Victorian missionary and explorer Dr David Livingstone. Livingstone was one of the most celebrated Victorians and his resting place is Westminster Abbey. He undertook two major expeditions to Africa, including the famous search for the source of the River Nile, during which he became seriously ill and was discovered by Henry Morton Stanley after several months of isolation.

1. 'The Smoke that Thunders'


Dr David Livingstone first went to Africa as a missionary in 1840, aged 27. Fifteen years later he recalls the occasion when he and his team set out to explore one of Africa's biggest rivers, the Zambezi. They have pitched camp for the night and Livingstone tells Mothusi, his helper, about the time he was attacked by a lion and the permanent injury he sustained.

Mothusi remarks that the doctor will need all his strength to canoe along the river to the waterfall known as Mosi-oa Tunya, or The Smoke that Thunders in the morning.

When they catch sight of the falls the following day Livingstone is amazed by their magnificence, but Mothusi points out that they can't get any closer because the currents are too dangerous. Livingstone does not want to put his team in danger; but he's determined to reach the Falls so decides to continue alone. He becomes the first European to see The Smoke that Thunders, to which he gives the name Victoria Falls, in honour of his queen.

1. The Smoke that Thunders - script to download / print (pdf)

2. 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'


In the year 1889, Henry Morton Stanley, an American journalist and explorer, visits Westminster Abbey in London. He's there to pay his respects at the tomb of Dr David Livingstone. While in the Abbey he falls into conversation and begins to relate the circumstances of his famous meeting with the explorer...

Livingstone is away exploring in Africa and has not been heard of for two years when Stanley travels to Africa to try to find him. Finally he finds the village where Livingstone is staying.

Stanley is shocked at the doctor's appearance: although he is not yet 60 he looks a much older man. Livingstone is eager for news as he has been cut-off from the outside world and is staggered to learn that Stanley has travelled so far just to find him. Livingstone explains to Stanley that he can't return home yet as there is still somewhere he wishes to find - the source of the River Nile. For a while Stanley accompanies Livingstone on his mission, but eventually has to return home, where he hears news of Livingstone's death.

2. ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ - script to download / print (pdf)

3. Victoria Falls: an extract from Livingstone's journals


An extract from Dr Livingstone's journals, in which he describes his journey down the Zambezi River to see the Mosi-oa-tunya falls, which he names Victoria Falls in honour of his Queen. (See also the first drama in this section).

There are dangerous currents, rapids and rocks along the river, making the journey by canoe extremely hazardous.

However, Livingstone is determined to set eyes on the Falls and tries to do the scene justice in his description of the magnificent waterfall.

3. Livingstone’s journals - Victoria Falls - script to download / print (pdf)

4. Stanley's journals: finding Dr Livingstone


Stanley describes how he has looked forward to finding Livingstone for so long that when he first catches sight of Livingstone in the African village where he is staying he would like to embrace him...

But, in the presence of so many onlookers, Stanley decides to greet Livingstone more formally with the words: 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'

The use of these famous words is recorded by Stanley only; Livingstone makes no mention of them in his own journals.

4. Stanley's Journals - Finding Dr Livingstone - script to download / print (pdf)


Download Teacher's Notes (pdf)



Other famous Victorians

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Famous Victorians - Grace Darling
Famous Victorians: Mary Seacole