On Wednesday evening, Hogmanay 31st December 1856, the Blantyre Works Literary and Scientific Institute entertained Dr David Livingstone, the distinguished Explorer, back to Blantyre his birthplace, for the first time in 16 years!
A grand soiree was arranged at the Blantyre Works School for the popular visitor, something which attracted a crowd.
Description of the Soiree
Precisely at 6pm, the Doctor accompanied by Mrs Livingstone, daughter of the distinguished missionary Mr Moffat, were led on the platform with their 3 children, a girl and 2 boys aged eleven, eight and five, the eldest girl bearing a strong resemblance to her grandfather Mr Moffat.
Dr Livingstone in his appearance that day was a tall, thin, wiry man described as having something of a ‘Yankee’ look about him, perhaps a reference to fashion. When he began to speak, it was at once apparent that he was not accustomed to speaking in public, stumbling from word to word although his energy, willpower and intellect soon got him underway.
As he warms on each subject, the audience intent on listening with interest, soon forget that their speaker has not spoken at length in his native dialect for nearly 20 years! David added a touch of humour to his speech, the audience warming to him quickly and finding the whole thing fascinating.
The crowd in the room was varied. From true merchant princes, wealthy businessmen to the lowly weaver or piecer who worked in the mills, just as David once did. All walks of life were crammed into the Blantyre Works School Room, side by side, gleefully showing their admiration for the Blantyre boy who had succeeded so brilliantly in the large, open world.
The Blantyre Works School room once was where this turning point is on modern day Fagan Court. i.e this soiree took place where this tarmac now is!
The evening had started with prayers and when Dr Livingston was called initially to that platform, he was received with enthusiastic applause, the whole audience standing with prolonged cheering and applause. When the applause subsided, David began by apologising for his inability to speak due to having a cold. He was back in Blantyre and announced that his cold was the first he had in 16 years! He continued, “I hope it will be another 16 years before I catch another!”. [loud laughter from the audience].
The Lion Attack
The Doctor then gave an interesting account of some of his adventures. He stated he had received “a shake” from a lion. The tribe with whom he had been living were greatly annoyed by lions who came down the mountain in great numbers seeking their cattle. His advice to them, was confront the lions and kill one and the others would surely take a hint and leave. The tribe went out a few times, coming back empty handed believing now they were cursed. David decided to go with them the next time.
The plan was to encircle one of the lions and then gradually make the circle smaller until a lion could be speared at close range. The party went out and soon found a lion sitting on a rock at elevation. One of the party threw a spear but missed, hitting the rock. David had a gun and took the opportunity to fire upon the line, firing off 2 bullets. The tribe called out that the lion had been shot, but whilst David was engaged in reloading his gun, the injured and irate lion seized David by the shoulder, shaking him like a terrier would do to a rat, and broke his arm! As another man ran to assist, the lion turned his attention of him instead, leaving him also with injuries.
The statue in David Livingstone Centre grounds today depict this story very well. The statue once had a bronze gun, but vandals kept coming back making progress in chiseling it out. The centre staff thankfully noticed the damage and decided to remove it themselves for safe keeping, as it was bronze and before it went missing!
David had other dangerous adventures, sometimes clashing with other men. Seven times his life was in danger from tribal chiefs. People though generally in Africa treated David’s expedition very well, giving them food, good hospitality and even apologising for what little they had. However, one tribe near a Portuguese settlement was another story!
They gave them nothing to eat and despite the freedom within Africa to move place to place, wanted payment to pass. Livingstone had no money on the expedition. Not one farthing and no payment could be made. He had 27 men on this expedition with him and when the Portuguese said they wanted “one black man” from the expedition as payment, Livingstone replied it was never going to happen and they may as well take him instead. They were immediately surrounded and threatened with guns and spears and eventually had to make their way off in a different direction.
Another tribe approached them from behind in a dense forest. The trees were high and thick with only a small, narrow winding path leading through it. Ambushed, some of his men were knocked to the ground. Being head of the party, Livingstone found himself suddenly face to face with the chief of his attackers. Livingstone found no alternative than to draw his gun and point it at the chief, who responded quickly that he wanted peace, despite some injuries to Livingstone’s expedition. The revolver was definitely the pacifier! Livingstone also told him, he was a man of peace and asked the chief to leave them alone. The chief was willing to do so, but feared being shot by Livingstone in the back, if he turned his back, and so on that day, the tribe retreated, walking backwards, whilst all the time facing the barrel of Livingstone’s gun!
The soiree ended with Mr Andrew Bannatyne of Milheugh House moving a vote of thanks to Livingstone and hoping that the town could present him with some sort of token of their gratitude in the near future.
A few days later Livingstone received the key to the Burgh of Hamilton.
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said,
Elizabeth Grieve Great monument to commemorate such an occasion like Livingstone’s homecoming; a bit of tarmacadam