Livingstone’s Birthplace


67405This article appeared in the Irish Newspaper, “Northern Whig” on Saturday 19th March 1927. Rather a wordy article about how well regarded Livingstone was (as he still is) and the need for a memorial to the Great man. It is interesting, informative and transcribed here in full.

Comparisons are not only odious, they are extremely difficult. Sometimes they are impossible. It is impossible to make just and adequate comparison between an artist and explorer, between a novelist and chemist. He was a bold man who first ventured to tell us what are the world’s “Hundred Best Books.” He would bolder man still who would dare legislate the comparative merits of his own countrymen, past and present, and to tell us who are the hundred greatest men of British birth that history holds in lasting record.

While this is so, there are one or two splendid exceptions. As out from the ruck of a mountain range, whose summits run, almost all of them, within & few hundred feet of the three thousand mark, there may tower two points, or three, majestic, unquestionable, defying all thought of comparison, so is with the great men of our land. In each art, in each profession, there are lordly figures, men who held their day, and still hold, an indubitable pre-eminence; but towering high above the lordliest of them all there stands forth one or two, very princes in the essential aristocracy the nation.

Who are the greatest, then, of British blood? Shakespeare, of course, is assured of his place. Newton few will question. Wesley the historians are more and more agreeing to accept as a supreme force in the world’s development, and in his own day the saviour of his land from the horrors of red revolution. Is there any other who may stand shoulder to shoulder with these mighty three? There is one other—David Livingstone.

I shall not attempt to decide his place among the first four. This only I shall dare to say. Of all the men who have ever lived, with the single exception of the Man who was God Incarnate, not one has left so distinct, so recognisable, and wide-reaching an imprint across the face the earth as did David Livingstone.

So it was entirely natural that, when the first Hero film was being discussed by British producers, the man whom they chose their national hero was David Livingstone. Similarly, when in Belgium a British member of Parliament came upon a company of children presenting a pageant of the nations, and when found that each nation was being represented by one typical great man, and when the man who was set forward to represent the genius and the supreme achievement of Britain, was David Livingstone, it seemed him entirely right and fitting.

Livingstone is the fine flower that is best and bravest, all that is most gracious and meet strong, our national character.

There are three spots upon this earth that are held in reverent and grateful memory for the sake of David Livingstone. Taking them in reverse order of time, we have first the tomb in Westminster Abbey. Not long ago there entered the Abbey, two Africans. They were dressed in the common garb of our land and they carried a beautiful floral wreath. They ignored the many great and learned who lie buried within that ancient shrine. They asked only for the grave of David Livingstone. When they found it, they laid on it their lovely tribute, and then they knelt in silent prayer. An onlooker saw tears falling from their eyes. Why this reverent homage? Why these tears? Why do hundreds of Africans visit that grave every year? Head the inscription on the tomb: “For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelise the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, and abolish the desolating slave trade of ‘Central Africa.

It is because David Livingstone was under his God, the very dawn of hope and liberty and joy for Africa, that that grave is for every African, and for every African’s white brother, one of the very holiest spots on earth. So Punch, always worthy on a noble occasion, wrote:— Open the Abbey doors and bear him in, To sleep with king and statesman, chief and sage. The missionary born of weaver kin. But great by work that brooks no lower wage.

There is another spot that is very dear to us for David Livingstone’s sake. They still show the site where stood the hut in Chkambo’s village Central Africa in which the great pioneer breathed his last. He died, as he had lived, in attitude of prayer, prayer, we must believe, for the vast unhappy land for which he had toiled so splendidly, and which he loved with all the passion of a heart that was least half Celtic.

Surely, however, the spot that ought to be above everything precious for its association with this very great man of our race must be the spot where was born. It was a lovely district in the days when Neil Livingstone and his brave wife on March 19th, 1813, their second son was born. Their home was a single-room house, part of a tenement that still stands surrounded by a straggling grove of trees in Blantyre, the left bank of the Clyde, some eight or nine miles above Glasgow. Neil Livingstone carried on a very humble trade in tea, and David, as soon as he was able to work, (that is to say at ten years old!)  was sent as a “piecer” to the local cotton mills.

Any other boy would have been moulded to be the prevalent type by  his drastic discipline. Not David Livingstone. He took all the countryside to be his teacher. What hours he could spare from work he spent in the study of the woods and the fields, the flowers and the stones. They used to say that he could climb higher on the ruins of Bothwell Castle, which crown the opposing bank of the Clyde, than could any of his boy companions.

Now I come to the immediate purpose of this brief article. Last year (1926), it was announced that the building that was David Livingstone’s birthplace had become so dilapidated that it would be necessary to pull it down. Needless say, the tidings struck dismay into the hearts of many. The man who will in the end of the day most probably rank as the very greatest of all sons of Scotland, who will certainly stand forever foremost in rank of all whose veins runs British blood—are we so heedless of our own honour to allow his birthplace to fall into decay for the lack of a little sacrifice and a little reverent carefulness?

A meeting of certain interested people was held, and it was decided to purchase the house, set it in seemly order, and establish for the days to come a shrine that will hold dear all lovers of Livingstone’s memory. An old Highlander was present and laid on the table Saving Certificates to the extent of £13o. (£7,200 in today’s money). “These“, he said, “are for the acre of land on which the bouse stands.” So the Memorial Fund began with a poor man’s savings. The question for us, is it to be worthily completed? And are we to have some small share in the honour of this pious enterprise?

Is there in all Ulster any public memorial to David Livingstone? I know none. There is one private memorial. Over the doorway 14, Linen Hall Street (I think I am right) out from the keystone of the arch stands a striking head, the head of Livingstone in his prime. Beyond that I know of no memorial in this province. Well, we will all have our share in the National Memorial at his Birthplace, Blantyre. So now, will you send a contribution, be it small or great, to the Editor the Northern Whig, Belfast? And will you mark your envelope ‘Livingstone Memorial’ Then some day, when you make your pilgrimage to that little turbulent mining village on the banks of the Clyde, you will see for yourself the shrine that your gift has helped to preserve, and you will be grateful that it was put into your heart to pay at least this small sincere tribute to the memory of one of the world’s very greatest.
D. M. J. “


From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c)

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