1838 Neil Livingstone’s Recommendation Letter

lantern slideIn June 2015, I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Mr. Donald Clink, a Livingstone historian, based over in Canada. Over several weeks, I enjoyed emailing back and forth about David Livingstone, and learning a lot from Donald, whose enthusiasm and knowledge of our famous explorer, was certainly abundant.

We got talking about Neil Livingstone, father of David and the lack of information about when exactly he moved to Hamilton and indeed the location of his grave. On the subject of his move to Hamilton, Donald sent me this great letter which was written in 1838 from Neil Livingstone to the Missionary Society, behind the back of his son. What transpired was a loving father trying to do the best for his grown up son and perhaps influencing his career a little. Importantly though, the letter would suggest Neil was still living at Blantyre Works in April 1838, although by all accounts he moved to Hamilton a year or so later.

Pictured is an old lantern slide showing Livingstone saying goodbye to his father at the Broomielaw, Glasgow. The letter makes interesting reading.

From R.J. Campbell’s book “Livingstone”

Published in 1929 pgs. 58-60

Neil Livingston Letter to London Missionary Society

Dated April 26th, 1838 Blantyre Works

“It occurred to me some months ago that I ought to state some particulars to you relative to my son David Livingston, whose application is under your consideration, in the hope that however unimportant the statements may be in themselves, they may assist you in coming to a decision regarding him.

When he was about 13 years of age, he asked me if I would allow him to learn Latin, our village schoolmaster being at that time commencing a class. Although we were in very humble circumstances I consented, not knowing what might be the design of the Most High respecting him: he had to work in the factory 12 hours every day, yet managed to keep at the top of his class while it existed: and, after the rest all got tired of it, studied by himself until the master, I suppose, not wishing to be troubled teaching one person only, advised him to give it up unless he had the prospect of needing it, which he knew he had not.

As factory workers are very plenty in this part of the country it was long before he got that kind of employment which enabled him to save a little money, since then he has saved all he could for education except what he gave for the support of the gospel and other pious purposes.

When he first mentioned to me his design of attending the University in order to study medicine I was much opposed to it, until he informed me that it was not to gain a livelihood he thought of doing so, his anxious wish was to be enabled to spend his life in the service of the Redeemer among the heathen; I no longer felt inclined to oppose his design, but felt thankful that such a thought was in his heart. He has now finished his second session at the University, and such was his untiring perseverance and the good health with which he was favored that I believe he was but one day absent during the whole session. We live rather more than eight miles from Glasgow, he came up every Saturday afternoon, and walked three miles farther to Hamilton every Sabbath morning to attend our place of worship. A kind gentleman, a member of our Church, Fergus Ferguson, Esq., of Rosebank, would have taken him down to Glasgow every Monday morning in his gig, but he chose to walk on foot in all kinds of weather during the last severe winter, rising every Monday at five in the morning that he might reach Glasgow between 8 and 9 o’clock, and if he had waited on Mr. F. he would have lost one lecture and part of another. His landlord – a Mr. Dove, with whom lodged in Glasgow – said to him one day, “Well, Mr. L., I admire your perseverance, and if you will leave the dissenters and become a Churchman, I will undertake to get you a situation as a Teacher worth 150 pounds a year”: he replied he could not do that for any money: Mr. Dove said one day afterwards: “Well if you give me leave, I will recommend you and I think you will be accepted even retaining your principles as a dissenter”; David said that he was grateful for his kindness, but that was not the object on which his heart was set.

As stated above he has now finished his second winter without any assistance from any person except his own brother. I wished him to walk about for a few days after his severe studies before commencing his work, but not wishing to lose any time, he began next morning, after coming from Glasgow.

The manager of the factory, who is frequently under the influence of whiskey, told him yesterday that if he went to Glasgow any more, following after education, he must lose any work as he would not keep it any longer for him. Still he is not greatly cast down.

I might say many more things similar to the above, but am afraid I have tired you already. David knows nothing of this communication, and I believe he would feel, were he to know of it. I have however followed my own sense of duty and am not sensible of coloring any statement in the least degree and now may He Who has the hearts of all flesh in His hand guide you I either accepting or rejecting, as it shall promote His own glory.

I am Rev. Sir, Your Obedient Servant,

(Signed) Neil Livingston

Blantyre Works,

April 26th 1838″

On Social media:

  • Ann Crossar That was dedication – walking to Glasgow each week in all weather! Fantastic post – gives a further insight into David Livingston and how tough life was and yet he succeeded. 
  • Gillian Cunningham Wonder if he walked past our house ?
    Robert Livingston Interested to see that Neil refers to himself and his son without an ‘e’ adding credence to the story I’d heard that it was only added by mistake by the publishers of his first book when David was 40! So we may after all be related, as my family links go back to Easdale, next to Lismore. Which is some compensation for a lifetime of ‘I presume’ jokes….

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