"Evening. Ilala. 29 April, 1873" from David Livingstone, Last Journals (1874)

Livingstone Online Publishes a Rare Nineteenth-Century African Manuscript

Here’s the academic version of press release that went out today from Livingstone Online and the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum.

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Livingstone Online, a digital resource dedicated to the famous Scottish explorer David Livingstone (1813-1873), has published a rare and unique manuscript by Jacob Wainwright (1849/1850[?]-1892), one of the African attendants who accompanied Livingstone on the latter’s final journey in Africa (1866-1873). The manuscript, released today as a set of images plus detailed transcriptions, consists of two diary excerpts that total 11 handwritten pages of text and was written in 1873 and 1874.

Although original diaries by British explorers survive in relatively large numbers, those by the individuals from the non-European cultures who accompanied British explorers are exceedingly rare. Such manuscripts are even more rare when they are written in the hands of those individuals themselves, as this one partly is. Moreover, in the present case, the diary excerpts are of exceptional importance as they offer Wainwright’s account of Livingstone’s death in 1873.

The diary manuscript comes from the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum in Blantyre, Scotland, which centers on Livingstone’s childhood home. The diary is being released now because the Museum is undergoing the £6.1 million Birthplace Project (funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, and the Scottish Government). The diary pages will be put on display when the Museum reopens to the public in 2020. The pages promise to be a star attraction in the renovated Museum.

Livingstone was one of the most famous explorers of Africa in his day. He was the first European to see Victoria Falls and gave the Falls their European name. In 1871 Henry Morton Stanley, another nineteenth-century explorer, famously greeted him with the phrase, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?,” a phrase that continues to be bandied about in popular culture.

A picture of Jacob Wainwright, a member of the Yao African ethnic group who assisted the famous Scottish explorer David Livingstone on the latter’s final journey in Africa (1866-1873). In this photo, Wainwright appears with the coffin holding Livingstone’s body and boxes with the latter’s final possessions. Image copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
A picture of Jacob Wainwright, a member of the Yao African ethnic group who assisted the famous Scottish explorer David Livingstone on the latter’s final journey in Africa (1866-1873). In this photo, Wainwright appears with the coffin holding Livingstone’s body and boxes with the latter’s final possessions. Image copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.

Jacob Wainwright was a member of the Yao ethnic group from East Africa. In the first part of his life, he was captured by Arab slave traders, but won his freedom thanks to a British anti-slave ship. He was given a new name and educated at a Church Missionary Society school near Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Later, he became part of the expedition that Stanley organized to find Livingstone. Eventually, Wainwright joined Livingstone’s party as an attendant.

Livingstone died in the center of Africa, in what is now Zambia, in 1873. After his death, Wainwright and a handful of Livingstone’s other African attendants embalmed the body and undertook the transportation of the body and his final manuscripts back to the east coast of Africa. The journey was arduous and fraught with danger. It involved the kind of feats of endurance and determination usually associated with nineteenth-century European explorers in the public imagination.

Wainwright composed the diary while these events were happening, thereby also making this the only handwritten eyewitness account of Livingstone’s death. These events and the final manuscripts helped establish the legend of David Livingstone.

From the coast the body, the manuscripts, and a few of Livingstone’s attendants traveled back to England. The British buried Livingstone in Westminster Abbey and turned him into a national hero. The manuscripts became the basis of Livingstone’s Last Journals (1874), edited by Livingstone’s friend Horace Waller.

One of the newly discovered pages of Wainwright’s diary. This item is held by the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum and is being published today by Livingstone Online. Images copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
One of the newly discovered pages of Wainwright’s diary. This item is held by the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum and is being published today by Livingstone Online. Images copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.

The Wainwright diary pages promise to reveal exciting new information about the place of African individuals in the history of British exploration before the notorious “scramble for Africa” of the 1880s. In recent years, scholars have begun to rewrite the history of exploration by highlighting the fact that exploration was never a solo enterprise and numerous non-European individuals often did much of the work. Pettina Gappah, a fiction writer from Zimbabwe, has even written a forthcoming novel, partly narrated by Wainwright.

The publication of the diary pages is made possible by Livingstone Online‘s new One More Voice initiative led by Professor Adrian S. Wisnicki (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), who specializes in applying digital methodologies to the study of historical manuscripts. The initiative focuses on recovering and publishing original nineteenth-century documents like Wainwright’s diary. Wisnicki briefly discusses the significance of the diary in his forthcoming book Fieldwork of Empire (Routledge, 2019).

Anne Martin, a volunteer archivist with the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum and Associate Director of Livingstone Online, unearthed the previously unknown manuscript. She did so in her work to support the Livingstone Online Enrichment and Access Project (LEAP), a four-year initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Martin had previously gained public attention for her work in locating Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary at the Museum. That diary itself became the subject of a celebrated spectral imaging project led by Livingstone Online in 2011.

Dr. Livingstone's Remains at Southampton: Procession to the Railway Station. Illustration from Review of David Livingstone's Last Journals. Illustrated London News 64:381 (cover). Copyright National Library of Scotland. Creative Commons Share-alike 2.5 UK: Scotland (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/scotland/).
“Dr. Livingstone’s Remains at Southampton: Procession to the Railway Station.” Illustration from Review of David Livingstone’s Last Journals. Illustrated London News 64:381 (cover). Copyright National Library of Scotland. Creative Commons Share-alike 2.5 UK: Scotland. Wainwright accompanied Livingstone’s body and possessions to England and, as this illustration shows, was one of the pall bearers at Livingstone’s funeral.

Four of the pages are in the hand of Wainwright himself, while the rest are in the hands of historical figures associated with David Livingstone. Wisnicki, Martin, and their collaborator Heather F. Ball (St. John’s University) transcribed and encoded the pages for online publication.

Roy Bridges (University of Aberdeen, emeritus), a highly-regarded historian of British exploration in Africa, reviewed the pages when they were discovered and confirmed their authenticity. Bridges examined the pages and concluded that they were extract copies from the original. Both the four pages in Wainwright’s own hand and the other extracts were made for uncertain purposes during Wainwright’s sojourn in Britain from April to August 1874.

The discovery of the pages is the first time that any part of the diary in English and in Wainwright’s own hand has come to light in the last 150 years. Wainwright’s full diary has been known of since 1874, but only in the form of the German translation; any version of the original has been thought lost.

In 2007, Professor Bridges retranslated he German version back into English and published it in a critical edition for the Hakluyt Society. Bridges’s edition thus provided a version of Wainwright’s text in English, paralleling the 1977 edition in French by the noted missionary and scholar François Bontinck. Both editions were based on the nineteenth-century German translation made by August Petermann.

Beyond the two diary excerpts, four other brief manuscripts by Wainwright are known to scholars. In 2018, Livingstone Online published one of these – just over a page of text that Wainwright added to Livingstone’s final diary on the latter’s death in 1873 – as part of a critical edition of Livingstone’s final manuscripts.

A previously known letter by Wainwright. This item is held by the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum and is being published today by Livingstone Online. Images copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
A previously known letter by Wainwright. This item is held by the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum and is being published today by Livingstone Online. Images copyright David Livingstone Birthplace Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.

The transcription and images of a previously-known brief letter from October 1873 (also held by the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum) are being released along with the diary excerpts. This letter, in fact, is mentioned in one of the newly discovered diary excerpts. Finally, Sotheby’s auctioned two additional Wainwright letters in 2004. These now reside at the National Library of Scotland, where they are accessible to the public.

In addition to Livingstone’s death, the diary excerpts from Wainwright detail the transportation of Livingstone’s body to the coast. The excerpts also describe an encounter with Verney Lovett Cameron (another well-known British explorer from the era) and offer Wainwright’s reflections on a few African ethnic groups that the party encountered while carrying Livingstone’s body.


To find out more about Livingstone Online, contact director Adrian S. Wisnicki or visit the Livingstone Online site.

To find out more about the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum’s Birthplace Project, contact Natalie Milor, visit the Museum’s site, or sign up to the Museum’s newsletter.

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