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Year 5 History and Geography

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A Great Explorer - David Livingstone

David Livingstone was born in 1813 in the Scottish town of Blantyre. He came from a poor family and was sent to work making clothes when he was only ten years old! But when he grew up he became a famous explorer. He was also a missionary. This is a person who travels to other countries to encourage people to become Christians.

livingstone egypt map

David Livingstone's father was a devout Christian who taught at a Sunday School. He did not want his son to read about science, which he thought could undermine faith in God. He preferred books on religion. But David was more curious than his father. He saved as much of his money as possible so that he could study medicine at Edinburgh University, while also going to religious lectures.

After his studies, David Livingstone wanted to travel the world. He decided to go to Africa so that he could spread his Christian faith. At this time, both European colonists and some African tribes were involved in capturing people in Africa and selling them into slavery. Livingstone thought this was a terrible thing to do to people. He believed that the best way to put a stop to it was to convert more local Africans to Christianity and to help Africans develop trade with the rest of the world.

Livingstone set sail for Kuruman, which is now part of South Africa, in December 1840. The journey was so long that he only arrived in July 1841. There were no aeroplanes then and travelling on ships to other continents took many months. In South Africa, he taught about Christianity, but he also helped by digging canals, working the fields and building houses.

victoria falls

When his mission had to end due to a drought when there wasn't enough rain for many months, Livingstone spent more years exploring the African interior. That is, the parts that are away from the sea and were then unexplored by Europeans. He wanted to find the source of the Nile, or where it began. We learnt in Year 2 that the Nile is the longest river in the world and that it runs through much of North Africa, into Egypt and ends flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. Livingstone didn't find the source of the Nile, but he did discover several important landmarks, including Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, Lake Bangweulu and the huge waterfall Mosi-oa-Tunya. This means 'smoke that thunders' because the water pouring over the waterfall is very loud and makes the air misty. Watch this video to learn more. David Livingstone renamed the waterfall Victoria Falls in honour of Queen Victoria. It is now on the border of the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Livingstone's expeditions were often more successful than others' because he travelled in small groups. This did not look threatening to African tribesman, unlike other European adventurers who travelled in large gangs with many weapons. But there were downsides. His expeditions lacked supplies and Livingstone was frequently deserted by his fellow travellers.

While exploring, David Livingstone would spend many years in complete isolation from the rest of civilisation. People would not know whether he was alive or dead. Once, when he had not been heard from in six years, the newspaper the New York Herald sent a journalist, Henry Morton Stanley to track him down. Stanley found him in October 1871 at a town called Ujiji by Lake Tanganyika. Even though he had never met him before, he knew it must be Livingstone since he was the only other European who could possibly be in such a distant land. So he greeted him by saying 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'.


What Your Year 5 Child Needs to Know, and the other books in the Core Knowledge UK series can be purchased here.