Explorer David Livingstone’s Diary (Written in Berry Juice) Now Digitized with New Imaging Technology

One of the 19th century’s most intrigu­ing fig­ures, the Scot­tish explor­er David Liv­ing­stone may be best known for words uttered by a reporter when the two men met on the shores of Lake Tan­ganyi­ka: “Dr. Liv­ing­stone, I pre­sume?”

David Liv­ing­stone dis­ap­peared in Africa for six years before meet­ing the famous­ly quot­ed Hen­ry Mor­ton Stan­ley. He was a hero in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land for his rags-to-rich­es sto­ry of an impov­er­ished boy who went on to become a sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tor and anti-slav­ery cru­sad­er. Liv­ing­stone became impas­sioned about the poten­tial of Chris­tian­i­ty to erad­i­cate the slave trade in Africa and took his mis­sion­ary work into the African inte­ri­or.

An avid chron­i­cler of his adven­tures, Liv­ing­stone left behind a num­ber of jour­nals, but one of his most vivid accounts—of a mas­sacre hit wit­nessed in 1871—has been inac­ces­si­ble until now. Liv­ing­stone’s 1871 Field Diary cap­tures a five-month peri­od when the explor­er was strand­ed in a vil­lage in the Con­go. He had run out of paper and ink to main­tain his usu­al jour­nal, so he impro­vised by writ­ing over an old copy of The Stan­dard news­pa­per using ink made from the seeds of a local berry.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with British and Amer­i­can archivists, the UCLA Dig­i­tal Library Pro­gram used spec­tral imag­ing tech­nol­o­gy to dig­i­tize the del­i­cate mate­r­i­al. Over­all the site offers an inter­est­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of Livingstone’s work, though the diary pages them­selves aren’t too leg­i­ble. Crit­i­cal notes are abun­dant and intrigu­ing, and diary pages appear side-by-side with tran­scrip­tions. View­ers can zoom in to study Livingstone’s spi­dery script writ­ten per­pen­dic­u­lar to the news­pa­per copy. The spec­tral imag­ing process itself is worth a look. With­out this tech­nique, the diaries appear as noth­ing more than ghost­ly scrib­bles.

Pre­vi­ous to keep­ing this field diary, Liv­ing­stone embarked on a mis­sion to find the source of the Nile Riv­er, which he misiden­ti­fied. But his the­o­ries about cen­tral African water sys­tems are fas­ci­nat­ing. Liv­ing­stone was the first Euro­pean to see Mosi-oa-Tun­ya, “the smoke that thun­ders,” water­fall, which he renamed Vic­to­ria Falls after his monarch. His diaries pro­vide a peek into a time when explo­ration was dan­ger­ous, dif­fi­cult and even dead­ly. Liv­ing­stone died of Malar­ia in present-day Zam­bia, where his heart is buried under a tree. The rest of his remains were interred at West­min­ster Abbey.

Kate Rix is an Oak­land based free­lance writer. See more of her work at .

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Comments (4)
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  • Roger Easton says:

    A cor­rec­tion: it was not “the UCLA dig­i­tal library pro­gram” that used “spec­tral imag­ing tech­nol­o­gy” — UCLA is the repos­i­to­ry for the data col­lect­ed by the imag­ing team for the project, which includ­ed Ken Boyd­ston (then of Megav­i­sion Inc., now with Tran­scen­dent Imag­ing), William A. Chris­tens-Bar­ry (Equipoise Imag­ing, LLC), Kei­th Knox (Eure­ka Imag­ing), and myself (from the Rochester Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy). This is the same team respon­si­ble for imag­ing of the Archimedes Palimpsest.

  • Dr. Mark Steinacher says:

    In lat­er years, a tree grew over the site where Liv­ingston’s heart was buried. Even­tu­al­ly cut down, small frag­ments of the tree were dis­trib­uted in Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cal cir­cles. One such Protes­tant “rel­ic” is on deposit at the Cana­di­an Bap­tist Archives. The Archives are housed in McMas­ter Divin­i­ty Col­lege, on the cam­pus of McMas­ter Uni­ver­si­ty, Hamil­ton, Ontario, Cana­da. (I cat­a­logued the item while work­ing as the Act­ing Direc­tor of the Archives.)

  • Gary Dauphin says:

    H.M. Stan­ley was cred­it­ed with the infa­mous line:

    “His meet­ing with H. M. Stan­ley on 10 Novem­ber 1871 gave rise to the pop­u­lar quo­ta­tion “Dr. Liv­ing­stone, I pre­sume?”

    – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Livingstone

  • Kerry cavanough says:

    I have in my pos­ses­sion 3 leaves on a let­ter writ­ten by rev­erend Wright whom was giv­en them by Cod­ing­tion would love to be able to sub­mit pic­tures of the item I have

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