20 – Livingstone’s Death

By April 27th, Livingstone seemed to be almost to the point of death, though he was able to make a short entry in his journal.  He described his condition and the location of his party, and it was the last entry he ever made.

     When they reached a village he was carried into a hut, but the next morning he was to weak to even help himself any as they tried to carry him out.  They had to knock out one side of the hut to get him out.  Then they put him on a kitanda so that they could try to carry him out and get help for him.  Even though they tried to make him as comfortable as possible, he still could not endure much traveling because the motion hurt him too much.  He continued to grow weaker and weaker and they feared that he would not live until they got to the next village.  

     The servants tried every way to cheer him up, and they were extra careful in carrying him.  This, no doubt, prolonged his life long enough for him to get there alive.  At the village, a comfortable bed was made for him, and they doctored him with all the medicines they had available.  During the night of April 30th, he passed away peacefully while he was on his knees praying.  The following is what was related about the event by his faithful servants:  “About 11 P. M. Livingstone called his servant Susi, whose hut was close by, and asked, ” Is this the Luapula?”  Susi told him they were in Chitambo’s village near the Molilamo, when he was silent for awhile.  Again, speaking to Susi, in Suaheli this time, he said “Sikungapi kuenda Luapula?”  (How many days is it to the Luapula?)  Susi told him that it was three days.  A few seconds after, as if in great pain, he half sighed, half said, “Oh, dear, dear!” and then dozed off again.  

     About an hour later Susi heard Majwara again outside the door, who told him that Livingstone wanted to see him.  On reaching the bed the doctor told him he wished him to boil some water, and for this purpose he went to the fire outside, and soon returned with the copper kettle full.  Calling him close he asked him to bring his medicine-chest, and to hold the candle near him, for the man noticed he could hardly see.  With great difficulty Dr. Livingstone selected the calomel, which he told him to place by his side; then, directing him to pour a little water into a cup, and to put another empty one by it, he said in a low and feeble voice, “All right; you can go now.”  These were the last words he was ever heard to speak.  

     About 4 A. M. Majwara came to Susi again and told him that he didn’t know if the Dr. was still alive.  The lad’s evident alarm made Susi run to arouse 6 others and they immediately went to the hut. They passed inside and looked toward the bed.  Dr. Livingstone was not lying on it, but appeared to be on his knees in prayer and they drew back for a minute not to disturb him.  As the lad had noticed that he had been there for sometime, the men cautiously drew nearer to him.

     A candle shed a light sufficient for them to see his form.  He was kneeling by the side of the bed, his body stretched forward, his head buried in his hands upon the pillow.  For a minute they watched him:  he did not stir, there was no sign of breathing; then one of them advanced softly to him and placed his hands to his cheeks.  He found that the body was cold and Livingstone was dead.  He had not fallen to either the right or left when he died.  His spirit just rose up to God from his prayerful position.  His perfect rest had finally come and he was at home with His Father.

     His sad-hearted servants raised him tenderly up and laid him full length on the bed.  Then they carefully covered him and went out into the camp night air to consult each other as to what to do.  

     They endeavored to keep Chief Chitambo in ignorance of Livingstone’s death, because they were afraid that he would impose a great fine for the injury done to his district by an Englishman dying within it.  That was what every other Chief would have done.  Despite their secrecy, though, he heard about it.  Instead of demanding a fine, he at once prepared to give the remains the respectful funeral honors which the greatest of chiefs in Africa deserved.  

     At the proper time, Chitambo led his wives and people and came to the hut where the remains lay.  He was wearing a broad red cloth, which covered his shoulders, had native cotton cloth worn around his waist which fell to his ankles.  All carried bows, arrows, and spears, but no guns were seen.  Two drummers joined in the loud wailing lamentation.  For foreigners who heard it, it made an indelible impression on their memory.  The band of servants fired volley after volley in the air, according to the strict rule of Portuguese and Arabs on such occasions.  

     It was determined that they would carry the body to Zanzibar after  embalming.  It was placed in a hut which was surrounded by a very strong stockade, open at the top, but so high that no wild animal could break in.  The natives only had salt and brandy to embalm with, but one of the natives had seen them used in Zanzibar and thought he could successfully embalm Livingstone.

     It was not until May 4th that the process of embalming was begun.  His body was basically only flesh and bones, so it was not a very hard job.

Enroute for Zanzibar

     No journal was kept by Susi or Chuma, so dates are no longer obtainable.  It was sometimes in the middle of May, though, that they started with the body for Zanzibar.  As they traveled northward many of them began to succumb to fever, because Malaria had been absorbed into their systems during the marches with Livingstone.  Two of the women died, and after journeying 100 miles the entire party became so ill that a stop of a month was necessary. 

     When they reached the Luapula river, which they found to be 4 miles wide at Chisalamalama, one of the donkeys was seized by a lion after breaking down an enclosure in which it was confined.  The donkey was killed and dragged into the jungle.  At the village of Chawende they had a hard battle with the natives, in which several of the natives were killed and two of the funeral party wounded.  Even in all this, they would not abandon their precious burden.

     Untold difficulties continually beset the party.  The natives in Unyanyembe had heard about Livingstone’s death and were determined to keep the funeral party from going through their country.  They probably would have desecrated the remains had not Susi and Chuma taken the precaution to hide them in some bales of calico.  

     After a painful journey of 6 months, the party finally reached the coast town of Bagamoyo, where the English consul at Zanzibar met them and received the body of Livingstone.  It was sent back to England and buried with appropriate honors in Westminster Abbey.  

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God has radically changed my life, and I want to share the awesome things I am learning with you. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life.


About Cathy Deaton


My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning especially with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996), but I love connecting with Christians of all ages. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.