Livingstone I presume?

On Saturday, having done my washing in the old bath which stands outside Grubby’s toilet block, I walked into town to visit the local museum. En route I heard singing coming from the grounds of the local Anglican Church and called in to see what was going on. It was the beginning of a weekend of centenary celebrations, the church having been originally set up by missionaries in 1910.

I sat for a while and enjoyed the dancing and singing. Then the speeches started. Interestingly the only other white faces in the crowd belonged to the archdeacon and his rather sour looking wife! During the archdeacon’s speech he made what I thought was an interesting point about the ‘heart of the Anglican Church’. He claimed that it was no longer white European but black African. The average Anglican used to be white, middle class, well-educated and 60+ years, whilst now she is black African, in her 30s and from a family where at least one member has been affected by HIV Aids.

When I eventually arrived at the museum, I concentrated on the room dedicated to David Livingstone. There were a lot of interesting artifacts, letters, and photographs but the thing that surprised me most was nearer to ‘home’. I had never realized that Livingstone, when back in England, edited and wrote up his journals whilst staying at Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of  ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron, which I have visited many times and is just a couple of miles from where my Dad currently lives!

The notion of Livingstone discovering and naming the falls, after Queen Victoria, does strike me as vaguely amusing. Yes, he was the first white man to see the falls but the local people knew all about them and had already named, them rather more poetically, Mosi-Oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders). Believe me, if you ever see them you will know why.

On returning to England I carried out further research into Livingstone’s association with Newstead Abbey. By the late 19th century the abbey had ceased to be owned by Lord Byron’s family and had passed into the hands of a William Frederick  Webb. Webb loved new inventions and was responsible for installing gas lighting and central heating. He was also an avid big game hunter, decorating the place with exotic trophies from his expeditions to Africa, including the head of a rhinoceros that was mounted above the mantel piece in the Great Hall.

It transpires, that whilst on a hunting trip to Africa, Webb met up with Livingstone to whom he subsequently became indebted for saving his life. When Livingstone next returned to England he was invited to stay at Newstead Abbey and whilst there he worked on redrafting his journal.

A photograph from the archives of the Royal Geographic Society, taken at Newstead Abbey after Livingstone’s death,  shows his son Tom and daughter Agnes together with his faithful porters Abdullah Susi and James Chuma. Following his death these two loyal servants had carried Livingstone’s body all the way to the coast so that it could be shipped back to England.

On first arriving at Livingstone Airport I had taken this photograph of a statue showing the explorer with Susi and Chuma along side, without knowing at the time that  over a hundred years ago all three had spent time at Newstead Abbey, so close to the town of my birth. It  was becoming a small world even then!

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