John Livingstone, the other brother

Family members of David Livingstone would always have lived their lives in his shadow, but the story of David’s elder brother, John Livingstone is worth telling.

John was about 2 years older than David, born earlier in 1811. As boys, both he and David worked together as peicers in the Blantyre Works factory owned my Montieth and Co. Work was hard , hours were long from 6am until 8pm. John used to take great delight in telling people how David, upon earning his first wage ran home, laid them on his mother’s lap with an air of triumph and how we would fix his lesson book upon the spinning jenny, so he could learn sentence by sentence upon each passing. He also told many stories about how David would sit up at night as a boy, reading and learning, when all the family were fast asleep. He would often join David in nighttime reading and often their mother would hide the books, for to allow them a good night’s sleep or would wake up and take away the candle.

In appearance, John somewhat resembled his brother and had all the push, grit and principle of a true Scot. Like all members of the Livingstone family, he was noted for being humble, unobtrusive and with great respect for his own parents. Like David, he never forgot his humble upbringings and struggle upwards. Throughout his life, he was proud of his small yet clean family home at Shuttle Row, Blantyre, despite it being nothing more than a dwelling room. He experienced Christianity by walking to the Congregational Church in Hamilton with his family every Sabbath. Here, he learned the customs and respect that served him so well later in life. As an adult, John told neighbours of childhood memories of his father’s custom to lock the door after dusk, by which time all members of the family were expected to be home. One night when arriving home late, he heard his father lock the door at the exact moment he was about to enter the house. John stood outside the door, knowing his father was silently standing behind it, waiting to see how the seven year old would react. Instead of pleading with his father, John told great delight of his acceptance of his fate and knowing his father was waiting, he headed off again into the darkness to buy a penny bun. He returned to the doorstep, well fed to accept his father’s wrath. When his mother answered the door she said “what are you doin here?”. John replied, “Da’s barred me. I’m haen ma supper”.

Speaking of his mother’s appreciation for David’s Accomplishments, John recalled how a neighbour once visited when his mother was ill saying “You’ll be real proud of yer son noo Agnes?”. To which there came the reply, and showing she knew his worth long before the world had found it, “I’m nae prouder than the day i wis, when he first put the hauf crown in ma lap!”.

As teenagers John, David and younger brother Charles would attend botanical and geographical excursions, something the rest of the family had no tolerance for. It was there, they were infused with the desire to travel and see the world. The three boys shared an adventurous spirit and it was crystal clear that working hard , saving and studying was their ticket away from the works Village. Each quickly gained promotion in the factory for their hard work and when the day came, the brothers headed off with David and Charles to Africa and John, to the troubled new World of America.

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John Livingstone returns to Blantyre 1882

When John arrived in North America in his early twenties, he was alone and started out as a shopkeeper and farmer. He quickly earned enough to obtain some land and devised methods to improve farming the particular land in the area, much to the delight of the locals who copied him. When farming got competitive in his town of Lintowel, Ontario, he continued on with his studies and became a chemist, which he did successfully until 1873 when he retired. John traveled back to Scotland on various occasions, never forgetting Blantyre, nor never once profited from the fame of his brother. The last time John saw David was in 1857 on one of those trips back to Blantyre. Livingstone was home for the first time from Africa and the whole world, really was talking about him. John wanted to see what all the fuss was about. John remained in contact with David, right up until David’s death in Africa. During John’s retirement, John gave away his letters to interested Livingstone “fans” who wished a small part of the David Livingstone story. John saw these merely as “old letter”, but was known to have regretted this in his later years. His sisters died in 1896 and 1897 and John made the respectful journey home again across the Atlantic. Their deaths really were the end of his last links with Blantyre and home was well and truly Canada from that time onwards. John died shortly after in 1900 at a ripe old age of 89.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald June 22nd 1900.

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