7 - 8 April 2004
LIVINGSTONE, David (1813-1873). Autograph letter signed ('David Livingstone') to 'Commander of Her Majesty's Ship', Kongone Harbour, 25 May 1859, four pages, folio. Provenance: Admiral Sir James Donnet by descent; sold Sotheby's, London 18 February 1957. Lot 158.
THE ULTIMATE EXPLORERS LETTER, LIVINGSTONE REPORTS ON HIS SHIRE RIVER EXPEDITION AND LEAVES THIS LETTER IN A BOTTLE AT THE MOUTH OF THE ZAMBESI. Livingstone has been waiting at the mouth of the Zambesi for a week, but concludes that his request for communication with a naval vessel has either miscarried or proved inconvenient: 'We leave the Luabo tomorrow morning, and before going deposit this in a bottle ten feet Magnetic North from a mark (+) cut on the beacon on the island off this harbour'. Livingstone adds a summary of the Zambesi expedition's achievements, including the discovery of a 'magnificent Inland Lake call [sic] Shirwa' up the Shire river, and notes native reports of a much larger lake in the vicinity. 'The Lake Shirwa is about 25 or 30 miles wide and probably sixty or seventy long - is situated in a beautiful highland region the mountains being over 6000 feet high ... The Portuguese know nothing about it, and we deem it right to say little about it till it is divulged to them by our own Government'. Livingstone's party returns now to Tete, and will send their vessel [the Ma-Robert] back to Kongone to assist in transporting supplies. The letter concludes with news of the other members of the expedition ('Several members of the expedition have suffered from fever, but not in its severest form. Dr Kirk and I have escaped'), and notes in a postscript that their despatches will be sent to Quilimane in the care of Jose Meillita Nunes.
The letter is written during the only period of positive achievement for the Zambesi expedition, when the exploration of the Shire, and discovery of Lake Shirwa and later Lake Nyassa, seemed to offer prospects for a prosperous British colony. At the time of writing, Livingstone had just returned from his second expedition up the Shire, and was preparing for his third, which would take him up as far as Lake Nyassa [Lake Malawi], the second-largest lake in Africa. The beacon referred to in the letter was erected by Captain Berkeley of H.M.S. Lynx on an island in the Zambesi Delta on 4 October 1858. On 10 March 1859 before Livingstone had set off up the River Shire he had agreed with Admiral Grey that any passing Man of War would check at the base of the beacon for reports and letters. This letter was collected by HMS Persian under Lt. Saumarez.
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