Dr. David Livingstone - His Family, Faith & Upbringing
By Dr. Peter Hammond
The Fighting Missionary
The hero of the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington,
described Dr. David Livingstone as "The fighting parson."
The Friend of
Jacob Wainwright, who
had been rescued from
slavery by Dr. Livingstone,
described him as:
"The friend of the African."
American journalist and explorer,
Henry Morton Stanley, described
Dr. Livingstone as:
"A truly pious man
- a man deeply imbued
with real religious instincts.
is of the true,
never losing a chance
to manifest itself
in a quiet,
- never demonstrative
It is always at work,
if not in deed,
by shining example."
An Example of Excellence
Stanley described his attitude when he first arrived in Africa:
"as prejudiced against religion as the worst infidel…"
However, the example of David Livingstone,
who had truly left all to follow Christ, converted Stanley.
was hailed in his
lifetime as the
Explorer of all time.
As one contemporary journalist described it: "the Christian's
Faith in God is strengthened by the author's very survival of
every imaginable danger.
The abolitionist is inspired by the
prospect of stopping the slave trade.
Medical men are
approach to disease
and the value of his
treatment for fever…"
The incredible courage and sacrifices of David Livingstone
inspired multiplied hundreds of men and women
to dedicate their lives to Missions in Africa.
What can we
the family and
Born in Blantyre
David Livingstone was born 19 March 1813,
in the industrial town of Blantyre, 8 miles from Glasgow.
His Father, Neil Livingstone, was a dedicated Christian who
had met his future wife, Agnes,
when he was apprenticed to a local tailor.
He won the hand of the tailor's daughter and became a tea
salesman so that he could travel and preach the Gospel,
distributing Evangelistic tracts to his customers door-to-door.
Neil also taught at Sunday school and was a zealous member
of a local Missionary Society, persistently promoting
prayer meetings and Missionary causes.
David Livingstone later wrote concerning his Father: "He
deserved my lasting gratitude and homage for presenting me
from infancy with a continuously consistent pious example."
was also a
who sought to bring
up David in
the fear of the Lord.
At age 9, David was challenged to learn the longest chapter in
the Bible: Psalm 119 (all 176 verses) off by heart
in order to receive a copy of the New Testament.
Because Neil had seen the ravaging effects of alcoholism, he
was a teetotaller and persuaded his son to follow his example
in abstaining from alcohol, for life.
David's mother, Agnes, was a gentle, small and delicate
woman whose compassionate kindness and loving nature
served as a counter-balance to her husband's strict and
It was said that her son,
David, inherited her
remarkably bright eyes.
Agnes instilled in her family,
a scrupulous concern for
cleanliness and immaculate
David was born during the last years of the ruinous
Napoleonic wars which devastated Europe.
The Napoleonic Wars
The economic impact of the 25 years of French Revolutionary
and Napoleonic wars had left many unemployed in Britain
and an economically depressed environment.
The Livingstones lived a very frugal lifestyle
on a miniscule budget. The Livingstone family lived
in a single room, ten feet by fourteen feet.
Two baby boys had died in their infancy, David had one older
surviving brother, John. Another brother, Charles, and two
sisters, Janet and Agnes were born after David.
There was neither hot nor
cold running water in the
tenement building and David
had to walk many times a day
down the tightly curved, brick
staircase to fetch water from
the pump in the yard, and
heave it back up the stairs and
along the corridor of the 3rd
floor to their room.
The Livingstone's shared their
tenement with 24 other
families. At night mattresses
were pulled out from under
the parents bed which was set
into a recess in the wall.
Privacy was non-existent and the family cooked, ate, sewed,
studied and slept in that single room.
A Passion for
David Livingstone borrowed
extensively from the local
library, particularly books on
travel and science.
William Wilberforce's Practical Christianity
had a major impact on his life
and clearly influenced his life-long crusade
against the slave trade.
The Cotton Mill
At age 10, David began his full-time employment,
14 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the next 10 years
at the Monteith and Company Cotton Spinning Factory.
He was to be a piecer, to repair broken threads
in spinning frames.
David's day began at 5:30am every morning
as the bell was rung.
begin at 6am and
The workers in
the cotton mill
had to work in
of 80 to 90 degrees
considered ideal for the
production of thread.
Every day David would have to walk an average of 34km,
much of this in a crawling or stooping position, amongst and
under the machinery, or balancing over it.
One can imagine what tremendous physical training this was
for his later transcontinental expeditions throughout Africa.
to keep them
such long shifts,
Yet, David used
his first week's wages
Rudiments of Latin.
David managed to read in the factory by balancing his book
on a portion of the spinning jenny so that he could catch
sentence after sentence as he rushed by at his work.
In this way he maintained fairly constant study undisturbed
by the roar of the machinery. Less than 10% of the children
who worked in the Cotton Mills ever learned to read or write.
David not only learned to read and write,
he taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
After work, he would attend a night school, 8pm to 10pm.
Then he returned home to
study, often until midnight.
His mother frequently had to
take his books away before he
would go to sleep.
At age 12, David Livingstone came under intense conviction of
sin and experienced a radical conversion to Christ.
"In the glow of love that
I resolved to devote my
life to the alleviation of
He wrote: "That the Salvation of men ought to be the chief
desire and aim of every Christian."
He made a resolution that he would give to the cause of
Missions all that he might earn beyond what was required for
At age 13, he attended an extra Latin class. When all the
other students gave up, he alone remained in the class and
the school teacher cancelled the lessons, not seeing the
overzealous son of a tea merchant as worthy of his attention.
David continued to learn Latin on his own.
David's grandfather, Neil Livingstone Senior, also had an
impact on the upbringing of David. He had been a tenant
farmer on the island of Ulva, off the West coast of Scotland.
He was evicted by
the English to open
up the area for a
vast sheep farm.
He passed on what he had heard from his grandfather:
"I have searched most carefully through all the traditions of
our family, and I never could discover that there was a
dishonest man among your forefathers.
If therefore any of you, or any of your children, should take to
dishonest ways, it will not be because it runs in our blood…
I leave this precept with you; be honest!"
Another man who
an old soldier who
would ring his bell to
shatter the peace and
quiet of Blantyre every
Sunday morning to
rouse the people to
Burke was abrupt, direct and challenging.
The Livingstone family faithfully
Another man who impressed
David Livingstone was David
Hogg, who from his deathbed
challenged the young boy:
"Now lad! Make religion
the everyday business of
your life and not a thing
of fits and starts; for if you
do not, temptation and
other things will get the
better of you!"
1832 was a special
watershed year for the
dissatisfied with the
spiritual life of the
Church of Scotland,
changed his church
membership to the
This required the Livingstones to walk to Hamilton, a nearby
village for their Sunday worship services.
Although they received many invitations to dine with families
of the congregation, they chose to carry their own food and
not impose upon the limited resources of the other families
of the congregation, which they knew were also struggling
After Sunday lunch, the Livingstone family were treated to
their one luxury, a barley sweet each.
Setting the Captives Free
The Free Church in Hamilton were strong supporters of
In 1833, William Wilberforce's lifelong crusade against slavery
was successful. Slavery was abolished throughout the British
Empire, by an act of Parliament.
This inspired ever greater
vision for Missions.
Those who had been freed
from physical slavery,
now needed to be freed
from spiritual slavery.
Missionaries were needed to go to the ends of the earth!
Books and tracts from the Revival movement sweeping
America reached Scotland and created much excitement and
deepening of spiritual life and vision.
David Livingstone received a
pamphlet written by
of the Netherlands
In it Gutzlaff appealed for medical missionaries
to go to China.
David was inspired at how a medical missionary
could be much more effective in converting the lost.
He had learned enough Latin to be able to understand
most medical terms. He was remarkably well read
and easily would pass the University entrance requirements.
His chief obstacle would be lack of finances.
Through great determination, he saved most of his money during the
next 18 months to be able to put himself through Medical school and
At the age of 23, David set out
on foot to begin his Theological
and medical studies in
Glasgow. From 1836 to 1838,
he benefited from the best
Theological and medical
training available at that time.
Each weekend he would
walk back home
Although he was frequently
in a horse and cart,
David would refuse,
preferring the long walk,
often in the snow,
in order to strengthen
for his career in Missions.
London Missionary Society
In his second year at college, David applied to the London
Missionary Society. David's Father was concerned that his
son's application had omitted important facts.
Therefore without David's knowledge, Neil Livingstone wrote
to the LMS Board informing them of his son's diligence in
attending lectures, refusing offers of a lift to town,
his refusals of
of his early
and of his
In response to the question
on whether he was married
or engaged, David wrote:
"unmarried; under no
engagement relating to
marriage, never made
proposals of marriage, nor
conducted myself so to any
woman as to cause her to
suspect that I intended
anything related to
and so far as my present
wishes are concerned,
I should prefer going out
that I might be without
which the concerns
of a family
and give myself wholly
to the work."
Eight months after his
David was finally invited to
30 August 1838,
for an interview.
After a second interview
He was placed under the
mentorship of Rev. Richard
Cecil who described David
"sense and quiet vigour;
whose temper is good and
his character substantial."
However, at his first
David froze in the pulpit
and abruptly declared:
"Friends, I have forgotten
all I have to say!“
out of the pulpit.
The Directors of the London Missionary Society seriously
considered rejecting his candidacy.
However, a wise man pleaded hard that his probation should
be extended and at future preaching engagements, he proved
himself a capable and energetic communicator.
One lady in Ongar, wrote of
"I never knew anyone who
gave me more the idea of
power over other men,
such power as our Saviour
showed while on earth,
the power of love and
During his studies, David wrote to his sisters, urging them:
"to seek to be uncommon Christians, that is eminently holy
and devoted servants of the most High…
let us seek - and with the conviction that we cannot do
without it - that selfishness be extirpated, pride banished,
unbelief driven from the mind,
every idol dethroned, and everything hostile to holiness and
opposed to the Divine Will crucified; that Holiness to the Lord
may be engraved on the heart, and evermore characterise our
This is what we ought to strive after;
this is the way to be happy; this is what our Saviour loves
- entire surrender of heart. May He enable us
by His Spirit to persevere until we attain it!"
Focused on God’s Kingdom
It was noted that David earnestly sought first the Kingdom of
God and His righteousness. He steadfastly sought the Lord's
will for his life and he persevered through every problem.
David Livingstone was described as an idealist, an eccentric
bookworm loner. He took his task and calling most seriously.
Whatever he did he performed thoroughly.
His character was
He was inflexible in his
adherence to His Word.
Dr. Risdon Bennet, of the
Royal College of Physicians
described David Livingstone
"Pure and noble…
Dr. Bennet wrote that he was "struck with the amount of
knowledge that Livingstone had already acquired of those
subjects which constituted the foundation of medical
Redirected to Africa
David Livingstone's plans to be a medical missionary to China
was frustrated when the Opium war erupted. The LMS
declared China closed.
It was at that
opportune time that
He inspired David Livingstone as he spoke of: "The smoke of a
thousand villages where no Missionary has ever been."
David switched his focus from Asia to Africa.
Crusade Against Slavery
While attending a meeting of the Society for the Extinction of
the Slave Trade and for the Civilisation of Africa, in Exeter Hall,
on 1 June 1840,
Livingstone heard Thomas Foxwell Buxton speak of the
Importance of Commerce and Christianity
to defeat the slave trade in Africa.
Africans would only be delivered from the slave trade when
they had an alternative to selling their own people to pay for
the beads, cloth, guns and trinkets that they coveted.
During his final medical exams,
David Livingstone argued with
the Board who were not
convinced about the
usefulness of the stethoscope.
Despite Livingstone's unorthodox views, he qualified with a
Licentiate of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons,
On a bleak November morning, 1840, the Livingstone family
rose at 5am and the 27 year old David read Psalm 121 to his
family. He then read Psalm 135.
The family bowed in prayer
and then Neil walked his son
to the Glasgow docks and
saw his son embark on his
great African adventure.
On 20 November 1840,
David Livingstone was
ordained as a Missionary in
the Albion Street Chapel.
On 8 December, he set sail in
the George for Cape Town,
Against All Odds
David had experienced little childhood or adolescence.
In his upbringing he had little, or no play, or recreation.
Against all odds, he had already achieved far more than would have
been thought humanly possible for someone born into such a poverty
stricken and disadvantaged background.
To achieve what
had to be
As time went on, he
became less and less
flexible and showed
little or no time for
those with lower
standards of devotion
to Christ and His Great
Let the Earth
Hear His Voice
To those who said that
the work at home must
thoroughly before any
Missions be engaged in
"All men have the right
to hear God's Word. No
nation ought to hoard
the Gospel like a miser!"
Through Tempestuous Seas
Livingstone described his three month journey to Cape Town:
"Our little vessel went reeling and staggering over the waves
as if she had been drunk.
Our trunks perpetually breaking from their lashings,
were tossed from one side of the cabin to the other,
…huddled together in glorious confusion…
imagine if you can a ship in a fit of epilepsy."
David befriended Captain
Donaldson and learnt all that
he could concerning the
quadrant and the sextant,
frequently staying up until past
to take lunar observations and work out directions
using the stars.
As the ship rocked and reeled over the perilous seas,
Livingstone studied Theology. Finally a raging storm
split the foremast of the ship and they had to put into
Rio de Janeiro to have it repaired.
Ministry in Brazil
David described battling profusely to refuse bottles of liquor
that were offered to him from all sides in Brazil.
The Brazilians expressed shock that any Englishman should
refuse alcohol, for many of his fellow countrymen and
seamen had continually disgraced themselves in the streets of
Rio by intoxication.
David handed out Gospel
tracts at the notorious
Waterfront Bar and narrowly
escaped with his life as
20 drunk, angry sailors
He engaged in ministry at the local hospital and witnessed
raging drunken delirium. He shared the Gospel with a dying
French sailor and urged him to trust in Christ alone for eternal
The Cape of Good Hope
On 17 March 1841, Livingstone sighted the majestic Table
Mountain as the George edged into Table Bay.
Thus began one of the most
incredible Missionary careers of
the best friend Africa ever had.