An excellent article by Gordon Cook on the unveiling of the David Livingstone Statue at the Livingstone Memorial Church in 1913. Pictured are previously unseen photos of that special day.
I spent some time zooming in on things. A rainy day, no children in the audience, all confined to being outwith the walls. Women in their fur coats and best hats and perhaps the single largest display of top hats I’ve seen in any Blantyre picture! The photographer must have been looking out the back of Mayberry Place, hanging out a window to take that photo. If it had been slightly to the left, we may have seen the old Stonefield House! I notice the tram lines , the tenement with 284 marked on it and did you see the branches of the tree had been freshly cut, perhaps in advance to avoid danger to the crowd. Nice to see such a large turnout. People were surely proud of David Livingstone
Gordon writes, “March 1913 was an amazing month of celebrations throughout Britain, with various church denominations, societies, schools, and national institutions, all paying homage in various ways to David Livingstone on the centenary of his birth, during what was being called “Livingstone Week.” At Blantyre, the Livingstone Memorial (now U.F.) Church had been busy for nigh on two years planning for this special occasion.
After a period of thirty years of looking up into an empty alcove, the members of the Church which bore his name would finally have a figure of David Livingstone standing proudly in the place reserved for him by a forward thinking committee. The commission for a statue to stand in the niche of the Church was placed in the hands of the well-known Glasgow sculptor, 57 year old William Kellock Brown, (and not his brother Alexander, as widely reported in the press). It would cost around £400, which was paid for entirely by public subscription. As the big day approached, the arrangements were finalised and the weighty metal sculpture was placed in position and kept under wraps.
The services of Dr Livingstone’s only surviving child, Anna Mary, were procured for the unveiling on Saturday the 15th of March 1913.
A large crowd had gathered in front of the Church, the weather was changeable, it was cold, and what sunshine there was gave way occasionally to sleet and rain. Amongst those on the platform were Mr Fred L. M. Moir, of the African Lakes Corporation, and chairman of the Livingstonia Committee, who presided over this great occasion; Rev. W. G. Allan, who represented the Congregational Union; and Rev. Wardlaw Thomson D.D., of the London Missionary Society; Rev. James Mackie, as representative of the Hamilton Presbytery; and Mr George Pate, general manger of the Carron Iron Company, who represented the subscribers.
Also present were two of David Livingstone’s grandchildren, Dr Hubert Francis Wilson and Ruth Mary Wilson, both of whom would soon leave Scotland to do medical missionary work in Africa.
The proceedings began with the assembly singing “O God of Bethel” (this paraphrase was sung during Dr Livingstone’s funeral at Westminster Abbey), followed by a prayer of dedication which was offered by Rev. R. W. Rutherford of Calderhead, Shotts. Mrs Livingstone Wilson was then invited to unveil the sculpture. A great silence fell on the assembled crowd as she stepped over to draw away the veil, revealing the statue of her late father, and after a few brief moments of awe, the whole gathering cheered as one at the dignified figure of David Livingstone looking down upon them.
The finished figure, with Dr Livingstone holding a Bible in his left hand while his right hand is extended as if he were preaching, stood fully six feet high, and looked a perfect fit for the decorative niche in the tower. Rev. T. A. Hugh, minister of the Livingstone Memorial U.F. Church, then presented Mrs Livingstone Wilson with an album of photographs showing places within the Parish of Blantyre that would have been familiar to her father. Rev. Hugh was then presented with a similar album by Mr Peters on behalf of the Church Session and Managers.
The day’s celebrations continued with speeches being delivered inside the Church, which was packed to capacity. Addresses were given by Mr Moir who spoke of the work of Livingstone, then Dr James Wells of Pollockshaws, former moderator of the United Free Church Assembly, who, having worked in Africa, spoke of the affection the African people had for Dr Livingstone, and finally Dr Wardlaw Thomson referred to the centenary as “one of the most remarkable events in our time” and thought Livingstone to be “the greatest explorer of his time.” The afternoon’s proceedings were rounded off with votes of thanks for the speakers, the chairman, and for Mrs Livingstone Wilson.
This figure of Dr David Livingstone has looked out over the people of Blantyre as an inspiration and an example of integrity, morality, and stout-heartedness for more than one hundred years now. He is still there, manifestly discernible from his twelve feet high vantage point, if passers by would but take notice.”