Livingstone 200

Written By: The Lowdown - May• 31•13

Northern 2011 09 10 DSC_5138With the recent passing on of Britain’s Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and the furore about her funeral coupled with the fact that the month of May sees the 140th anniversary of the death of David Livingstone at Chief Chitambo’s village in 1873, we thought it interesting to see what sort of funeral was accorded David Livingstone.


But first, what was the date of Livingstone’s death?  His journal indicates that it would have been 1 May, but according to his faithful servants, Chuma and Susi, the date was 4 May. This was the date which they carved on a tree and which they reported as the date of death.  It is also the date on his gravestone at Chitambo’s Village. Yet other memorials to this explorer record the date as 1 May.


It is well known that following Livingstone’s death, his two servants removed his heart which was buried under a tree at Chitambo’s village. They then carried his body to Bagamoyo, on the Tanzanian coast, where it was handed over to the British authorities and transported to London for burial.


When the steamer carrying Livingstone’s body arrived at Southampton, an artillery salute, the initiative of some local volunteers, was given. From Southampton, a special train was laid on to transport his body to the offices of the Royal Geographical Society in Savile Row, where the body lay in state for two days. From there, it was moved to Westminster Abbey where he was laid to rest.


According to historians, David Livingstone had all but a state funeral.  For a full state funeral, parliamentary approval needs to be given and his body would have laid in state at Westminster Hall. There would possibly also have been greater involvement by the military and the monarchy. But the ceremonies were still pretty much the same as if it had been a state funeral – Queen Victoria’s empty carriage followed Livingstone’s hearse down Pall Mall and Whitehall, and the Prince of Wales and Disraeli, the then prime minister, attended the sacraments in person.


Of course by the time Livingstone was buried, his body was almost a year old. Having had the heart removed, the body was laid in the sun for two weeks to dry following which it was wrapped in layers of calico, bark and sailcloth and then sealed with tar to keep it from putrefying on its long journey to the coast. The trip took nine months through the heat of tropical Africa and ten men died along the way.  The fifty or so carriers that survived the trip persisted in the belief that David Livingstone was important to his country and also out of respect for him.


The final journey of Livingstone’s body was the last of a series of stories about him which had inspired Victorian Britain.


David Livingstone was buried at Westminster Abbey on 18 April 1874, just a day after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on 17 April, one hundred and thirty nine years later.

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