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  • Writer's pictureFootsteps of Livingstone

“DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME”: The most famous meeting of all time

Below is an extract from pages 409 to 412 of Henry Morton Stanley’s best seller: “How I found Livingstone” published by Sampson Low, Marston in London and Scribner, Armstrong and Co. in New York in 1872.

Over 100 000 copies sold, and it’s interesting to note that Livingstone’s publisher, John Murray, who wanted to publish Stanley’s book, was pipped to the post by Sampson Low, who offered Stanley better royalties, including a $10 000.00 upfront payment, of which this was a considerable amount of money in those days.

This meeting, one of the most famous and publicised in history, of which brought out the famous quote, "Dr Livingstone I presume", occurred at Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, sometime between the 23rd October and 10th November, 1871. (Both Livingstone and Stanley's diaries dates were out by about 10 days.)

Thickets that annoyed us, of the fervid salt plains that blistered our feet, of the hot suns that scorched us, nor the dangers and difficulties, now happily surmount.

At last the sublime hour has arrived - our dreams, our hopes, and anticipations are now about to be realized!

Our hearts and our feelings are with our eyes, as we peer into the palms and try to make out in which hut or house lives the white man with the grey beard we heard about on the Malagarazi.

“Unfurl the flags, and load your guns!"

“Ay Wallah, ay Wallah, bana!" respond the men eagerly.

“One, two, three-fire!"

A volley from nearly fifty guns roars like a salute from a battery of artillery: we shall note its effect presently on the peaceful-looking village below.

“Now, kirangozi, hold the white man's flag up high, and let the Zanzibar flag bring up the rear.”

And you men keep close together, and keep firing until we halt in the market-place, or before the white man's house. You have said to me often that you could smell the fish of the Tanganyika - I can smell the fish of the Tanganyika now. There are fish, and beer, and a long rest waiting for you. “MARCH!"

Before we had gone a hundred yards our repeated volleys had the effect desired, we had awakened Ujiji, to the knowledge that a caravan was coming, and the people were witnessed rushing up in hundreds to meet us.

The mere sight of the flags informed every one immediately that we were a caravan, but the American flag borne aloft by gigantic Asmani, whose face was one vast smile on this day, rather staggered them at first, however, many of the people who now

approached us remembered the flag. They had seen it float above the American Consulate, and from the mast- head of many a ship in the harbour of Zanzibar, and they were soon heard welcoming the beautiful lag with stories of “Bìndera Kisungu!"-a white man's flag!

“Bindera Merikani!"-the American flag!

Then we were surrounded by them: by Wajiji, Wanyamwezi, Wangwana, Warundi, Waguhha, Wa- manyuema and Arabs, and were almost deafened with the shouts of Yambo, yambo, bana! Yambo, bana! Yambo, bana!"

To all and each of my men the welcome was given.

We were now about three hundred yards from the village of Ujiji, and the crowds are dense about me.

Suddenly I hear a voice on my right say, “Good morning, sir!"

Startled at hearing this greeting in the midst of such a crowd of people, I turn sharply around in search of the man, and see him at my side, with the, but animated and joyous - a man dressed in a long white shirt, with a turban of American sheeting around his woolly head, and I ask:” Who the mischief is you?”

“I am Susi, the servant of Dr Livingstone," said he, smiling, and showing a gleaming row of teeth.

“What! Is Dr Livingstone here”,

“Yes, sir."

“In this village?"

“Yes, sir."

“Are you sure"

"Sure, sure, sir. Why, I leave him just now?”

Good morning, sir, said another voice,

“Hallo," said I, “is this another one"

“Yes, sir”.

“Well. what is your name?”

“My name is Chumah, sir.”

“What! are you Chumah, the friend of Wekotani?”

“Yes, sir."

“And is the Doctor well?"

“Not very well, sir."

“Where has he been so long?"

" In Manyuema."

“NOW, you Susi, run, and tell the Doctor I am coming."

“Yes, sir," and off he darted like a madman, but by this time we were within two hundred yards of the village, and the multitude was getting denser, and almost preventing our march.

Flags and streamers were out; Arabs and Wangwana were pushing their way through the locals in order to greet us, for, according to their account, we belonged to them.

But the great wonder of all was, “How did you come from Unyanyembe?"

Soon Susi came running back, and asked me my name; he had told the Doctor that I was coming, but the Doctor was too surprised to believe him, and, when the Doctor asked him my name, Susi was rather staggered.

But, during Susi's absence, the news had been conveyed to the Doctor that it was surely a white man that was coming, whose guns were firing and whose flag could be seen; and the great Arab magnate of Ujiji -Mohammed bin Sali, Sayd bin Majid, Abe Suliman, Mohammed bin Gharib, and others - had gathered together before the Doctor's house, and the Doctor had come out from his veranda to discuss the matter and await my arrival.

In the meantime, the head of the expedition halted, and the kirangozi was out of the ranks, holding his flag aloft, and Selim said to me, “I see the Doctor, sir. Oh, what an old man! He has got a white beard."

And I what would I not have given for a bit of friendly wilderness, where, unseen, I might vent my joy in some mad freak, such as idiotically biting my hand, turning a somersault, or slashing at trees, in order to allay those exciting feelings that were well- nigh uncontrollable.

My heart beats fast, but I must not let my face betray my emotions, lest it shall detract from the dignity of a white man appearing under such extraordinary circumstances.

So I did that which I thought was most dignified. I pushed back the crowds, and, passing from the rear, walked down a living avenue of people, until I came in front of the semicircle of Arabs, in the front of which stood the white man with the grey beard.

As I advanced slowly towards him I noticed he was pale, looked wearied, had a grey beard, wore a bluish cap with a faded gold band round it, had on a red-sleeved waistcoat, and a pair of grey tweed trousers, I would have run to him, only I was, a coward in the presence of such a mob would have embraced him, only, he being an Englishman, I did not know how he would receive me*; so I did what cowardice and false pride,

* This Englishman, as I afterwards found, was a military man returning to his country from India, and crossing the Desert at this part in order to go through Palestine, As for me, I had come pretty straight from England, and so here we met in the wilderness at about As we approached half-way from our respective starting-points.

each other, it became with' me a question whether we should speak ; I thought it likely that the stranger would accost me, and in the event of his doing so, I was quite ready to be as sociable and chatty as be, according to my nature; but still I could not think of people, the not having anything to say is no excuse at all anything particular that I had to say to him; of course among civil for not speaking, but I was shy, and indolent, and I felt no great wish to stop, and talk like a morning visitor, in the midst of those broad solitudes. The traveller perhaps felt as I did, for except that we lifted our hands to our caps, and waved our arms in courtesy’s each other as if we had passed in Bond Street."

suggested was the best thing – walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said:

“Dr Livingstone, I presume?"

“YES," said he, with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly.

I replace my hat on my head, and he puts on his cap, and we both grasp hands, and I then say aloud: “I thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you.

He answered, “I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you."

I turn to the Arabs, take off my hat to them in response to the saluting chorus of “Yambos"

I receive and the Doctor introduces them to me by name.

Then, oblivious of the crowds, oblivious of the men who shared with me my dangers, we - Livingstone and I-turn our faces towards his tembe.

He points to the veranda, or, rather, mud platform, under the broad overhanging eaves; he points to his own particular seat, which I see his age and experience in Africa has suggested, namely, a straw mat, with a goatskin over it, and another skin nailed against the wall to protect his back from contact with the cold mud.

I protest against taking this seat, which so much more befits him than me, but the Doctor will not yield: I must take it.

We are seated - the Doctor and I with our backs to the wall. The Arabs take seats on our left. More than a thousand locals are in our front, filling the whole square densely, indulging their curiosity, and discussing the fact of two white men meeting at Ujiji – one just come from Mantuema, in the west, the other from Unyanyembe, in the east.

Conversation began.

So there we have it, the most famous meeting of all time!

Pictures reproduced with kind permission of Prof Adrian S. Wisnicki of

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