As the story goes, Livingstone had run out of ink and paper after witnessing the horrendous massacre of hundreds of slaves in Africa. He was able to improvise by making ink out of berry seeds and writing the words in his diary on the pages of an old newspaper. The writing faded to become invisible and up until now history relied on an official account that was rewritten.
That official version has now changed, thanks to the efforts of an international team of experts using modern technology to reveal the text, which turns out to me more than Dr. Livingstone’s shock at the massacre. The project took 18 months to complete.
The David Livingstone Center in Blantyre, Scotland (Livingstone’s birthplace) provided the diary pages and the scientific process involved illuminating the manuscript with successive wavelengths of light, beginning with ultraviolet before working through the visible spectrum, ending with infrared. Processed digital images then enhanced the text.
The original version records how Dr. Livingston gazed with “wonder” when three Arab slavers with guns entered the market in Nyangwe, a village in the Congo, where 1500 people were gathered—mostly women.
Livingstone wrote, “Fifty yards off, two guns were fired and a general flight took place – shot after shot followed on the terrified fugitives. Great numbers died. It is awful – terrible, a dreadful world this,”
The project leader, Dr. Adrian Wisnicki, stated that evidence in the diary suggested members of Livingstone’s party might have been involved in the massacre. Livingstone felt a great sense of remorse because of his failure to intervene.
When he copied over the 1871 diary into his journal, Livingstone appeared to have removed a series of difficult passages. I’m sure he never expected that 140 years later his original words would be revealed by modern science.
Livingstone gave an account of the massacre to the journalist H.M. Stanley (famous for the greeting “Dr. Livingstone I presume?”) Stanley’s report of the massacre forced the British government to close the East Africa slave trade.
Human nature being the way it is, Livingstone was not the saintly hero of the Victorian era, his diary is passionate, vulnerable and conflicted about the violent events. He might not have intervened. Also his attitude to the liberated slaves in his party was not good this point of view is at odds with the dedicated abolitionist the public perceived him to be.
To read the BBC version of the article click on www.bbc.co.uk.
As mentioned above The National Library of Scotland holds many of Livingstone’s papers where you can read about Livingstone’s point of view.
To read more about Dr. David Livingstone click on Wikipedia.