National Memorial to Livingstone



1929 Queen Mother opens David Livingstone Centre

Between eight and ten thousand people cheered the Duchess of York when on Saturday 5th October 1929, she opened the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone at Blantyre. She was twenty minutes late in reaching the wooden ceremonial platform owing to the crowds, which pressed so closely around her motor-car on the road through Burnbank and Blantyre that they impeded its progress. As she travelled from Murdostoun Castle, she passed through first at Motherwell about 3pm (and again at 6pm on her way back. Reporters extensively covered the event but also commented that the Duchess perhaps didn’t appreciate the scale of the renovation having never seen it 2 or 3 years previous, but it was clear she appreciated what the museum set out to do.) The Duchess wore a silver gray broadtail coat with a collar of grey fox and a hat of clear blue velt. Her gown was crepe de chine with ropes of pearls. Special buses and trains had been laid on from all surrounding towns to ensure people could visit the memorial.

Her car entered Blantyre from Burnbank at the east end of Glasgow Road and travelled down Station Road. Boy Scouts from the district formed a guard of honour on Station Road and Blantyre Silver Band, with a junior choir of 50 voices from St Johns, Hamilton provided entertainment in the form of a musical programmes until the speeches started. Seating was provided for 1500 people with the museum grounds, leaving many thousands of people to stand.

On the ceremonial platform, which was situated near Shuttle Row in an elevated position, included distinguished guests Sir R. King Stewart, Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire, and Lady King Stewart; The Earl of Home; the Lord Provost of Glasgow; Rt. Hon. William Adamson, M.P., Secretary for Scotland; Dr White, Moderator of the Church of Scotland; the Rev. Dr Donald Fraser, and the venerable Rev. Dr Laws of Livingstonia; and several descendants of David Livingstone. Her Royal Highness, who was accompanied by Lady Helen Graham, arrived by car from Lcnzie, where she had performed the opening ceremony in connection with training hostel for young women at Lcnzie earlier in the day, and was accorded an extraordinary demonstration of welcome when she appeared at Blantyre. The ceremony was broadcast and numerous amplifiers and loud speakers made the speeches audible across the crowds.

Local people have stripped their houses of precious heirlooms that David’s room might look homelike,” said the Rev. Macnair, chairman of the Memorial Executive Committee. “A quarter of a million Scots Sunday School children have helped us with money. The tenement behind me consists of twenty-four single-roomed houses, and in one of these Livingstone was born in March, 1813. The home consisted of one tiny room, measuring 14 feet by 10, and there, the family of seven members lived for many years.”

Mr. William Adamson, Secretary of State for Scotland, said, “It is particularly interesting that the house in which Livingstone was born should be rescued from slumdom and converted into shrine which will stand for all time as the symbol of Scotland’s appreciation of her missionary explorer.” There was an impressive scene, when, in the service conducted by the Right Rev. Dr. John White, Moderator of the United Church, and the Rev. W. H. Macdiarmid, the thousands present sang Psalm 121, which was sung by Livingstone and his relatives in the early morning of his departure to Central Africa.

David Livingstone Wilson, aged three, (son of Dr H. F. Wilson, Carnoustie, and the  great-grandson Dr. Livingstone), was one of the central figures of the ceremony. He stepped forward confidently and coolly, mounted the platform, carefully released the key from its case, and gravely handed it to the smiling Duchess. “A Privilege.” The Duchess, who was presented with a block of wood from the tree under which the heart of Livingstone is buried, said, “It is a pleasure and also privilege, to me to be here to-day, and to join with you in honouring the name of David Livingstone. It seems most appropriate that the birthplace of this great Scotsman should henceforth be a memorial to his achievements as a missionary and pioneer. Livingstone’s life one that must appeal, in its courage and adventure, to the youth of this country, and I hope that this most worthy memorial will ever remain a place of pilgrimage to those who revere his memory.” Descendants of the missionary were presented to the Duchess, including Mrs Livingstone Wilson, his youngest daughter; Miss Hudson, a grand-daughter; Dr and Mrs Livingstone Wilson and David Livingstone Wilson; and Miss Bruce, a grand-niece. Telegrams were received from the Mayor and Town Council of Blantyre, Nyasaland, addressed to “The Provost and Town Council of Blantyre,” and the staff and the Church of the Blantyre Mission, Nyasaland. Before leaving the Memorial the Duchess took tea in one of the rooms of the Memorial, with other members of the platform party.

The Memorial Described

Being situated, within a few miles of our burgh, the memorial, now opened to the public is likely to prove a popular place of pilgrimage for our townspeople, and those who do so are likely to find it a most interesting place. To children the name of David Livingstone is the name of a national hero; it is the name of a man who did just the very things that they themselves dream of doing; it is the name of a man whose continuous struggle, whose indomitable courage, and whose final sacrifice have burned deeply into their imagination, and it is an exceedingly happy thought that the national memorial to this national hero should be in the nature of a children’s tribute, and at the same time present striking appeal to children. And yet, although the appeal to the children must be irresistible, the memorial is by no means just for children. It is for old as well as young, for anyone to whom the name of Livingstone means anything, for the simple reason that it is intimate and brings one and all into almost actual touch with the great missionary and explorer.

Securing Intimacy

The national memorial is intimate because it is simply the birthplace of Livingstone restored to the condition in which it was when he was born. That at least is the main part of it. In those days it was no pretentious place. It was merely one 24 single-room dwellings in the Shuttle Row, Blantyre, a little corner of place on the top storey, with no water supply other than the “stoup” behind the door and the “jaw-box” at the top of the stair. At the time of his birth it was the home of his grandparents, but in later years he, too, lived there, worked there, studied there as he trod the loom, and ultimately left there for his work abroad. The little room has been reproduced almost exactly was in those days, and the chest of drawers, one of the chairs, the “wag-at-the-wa’,” and one or two other articles are actually pieces of furniture which were there at that time.

For Practical Use

But the memorial is not confined merely to the birth room in which Livingstone first saw the light day. The whole row of houses, occupied originally by workmen engaged at the mill, has been acquired, and has been used in the most excellent manner to perpetuate the memory of the great explorer. In addition the buildings, about ten acres of ground have also been secured, and some time ago something like 120 trees were planted by schoolboys and girls from the surrounding districts. This ground is to be laid out as playing fields, particularly for the use of Sunday school children, and on the one side where the ground slopes gently down to the Clyde, an openair amphitheatre has been fashioned with walls of hawthorn trees. Other parts of the ground are being laid out include gardens, and in one corner is a model of the straw hut in which Livingston died.

A Novel Idea.

Although the playing fields, gardens, and amphitheatre all have their own appeal for children, the greater attractions are indoors, in every corner of the long, narrow tenement, where there has been built up a ‘Livingstone Gallery” of unique kind. The idea of selecting eight dramatic incidents in Livingstone’s life is in itself a simple one, but when that idea is allied to a combination of art and science the results are astonishing. It is difficult to convey an adequate impression of the effect. The visitor enters the long room, which is in total darkness with the exception of eight faint lights apparently coming from boxes; goes up to one of those boxes and pulls lever, and gradually the darkness is broken. Light gathers slowly as if in picture frame, and as you look on lifesize figures appear, and Livingstone, real if in the flesh, is seen remonstrating with the slave dealers or preaching to the natives. Each of those tableaux represents a characteristic of Livingstone, as well as an actual incident in his life. The tableaux are the work of Mr Pilkington Jackson, with the assistance of Mr F. C. Mears and Campbell Mackie. Their effect is entirely derived from the lighting arrangements, with just a little colouring, as the figures are moulded on one side only and are all one plane, and yet when the lever pulled they stand out life-like and clear.

The Museum

That gallery is probably for most people the outstanding attraction, but each of the other rooms, going through them in sequence, brings one nearer and nearer to Livingstone. You can read his letter the original script in which tells the story of his adventure with the lion; you can see the arithmetic book, one of the many he probably laid on the spinning jenny; you can see the original manuscript of his autobiography; and many other things, such his surgical instruments, his sextant, which was recently presented by his grandson, Major Alexander Bruce, and even an exact reproduction of the loom at which he worked and studied. The scheme is worked out so that the visitor starts at the room in which he was born, and gains an impression of the conditions under which began life. The next rooms relate to his early youth, and on the walls is a series of panels by Mr A. E.  Miller telling the story of his ancestry, his boyhood, and continuing right on until the time when, at the age 28, he set out for his great adventure. That completes the first part of the museum.

A Gift from Africa

The second part contains the tableaux, each of which has been presented a society or other institution connected with the work of Livingstone—the most interesting of the donors being Khama’s tribe in Africa—and from there Livingstone’s work as a man divided, into three portions—Livingstone the missionary, Livingstone the consul, and Livingstone the explorer. Each section has its collections of relics; each one more fascinating than the other. The final part of the museum is not so definitely asociated with Livingstone as the others but it probably shows in a more subtle way one of the greatest results of his life in Africa. Slavery, the thing he strove so hard to abolish, is shown here in its worst light. Visitors may handle the terrible shackles and chains with which the unfortunate slaves were tortured; they may test for themselves the keenness of the lash with which they were beaten, and they can feel in an instant the sentiment which must have filled Livingstone when he accosted the slave-traders, and demanded the release the prisoners.

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