The Amazing Life of Henry Morton Stanley

Written by Dr. Gregory Bartha

Stanley was born in Wales in 1841 under the name of John Rowlands. He dis not have a close relationship with his parents and was boarded out to various relatives. He moved to Liverpool and worked at several trades eventually signing on as a cabin boy on a ship. He arrived in New Orleans where he was befriended by a merchant Henry Morton Stanley and took on his name. He subsequently enlisted in the Confederate army, was captured and imprisoned and then released by agreeing to join the Union army. In less than a month he was discharged because of illness. He returned to Liverpool, worked aboard a number of ships and eventually joined the United States Navy.

After the war he became a roving reporter in the U.S. He covered some of the Indian wars in the West for the Missouri Democrat newspaper. He introduced himself to the editor of the New York Herald and was sent on many reporting assignments around the world. He covered the British expedition to Ethiopia to free British officials being held hostage. He was the first to telegraph the outcome of this engagement thanks to his bribery of the telegraph officer and the breakdown of the Ethiopian telegraph system immediately following Stanley’s report.

Stanley was aware that David Livingstone the African missionary had gone missing. There was widespread interest in his fate. He talked the editor of the New York Herald into financing an expedition under Stanley’s leadership to find Livingstone. Stanley traveled to Zanzibar on the east African coast and organized and outfitted the expedition. He did succeed in finding Livingstone after a long and exceedingly difficult journey through the wilds of Africa. The first moment of their meeting gave rise to the famous line “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” He wrote the account of this adventure in his book How I Found Livingstone and it gave him an international reputation.

With the backing of wealthy British investors he returned to Africa to make additional geographical explorations. He again started in Zanzibar, made his way to the interior, mapped out the course of the great Congo River, and followed it to its source on the west African coast. He found the river to be largely navigable, but there were a number of significant rapids which would have to be bypassed. His findings pricked the interest of King Leopold of Belgium who commissioned him to develop the river for commercial purposes. Stanley established several stations along the river, dynamited areas of significant obstruction, and built a road along stretches of the river. This work led to the foundation of the Congo Free State (later called the Belgian Congo and now The Democratic Republic of Congo). On his way back to the east coast he went to Uganda and met with the great chief Mtesa. With the chief’s approval he called for missionaries and other workers in Britain to come to Africa. Stanley also explored around Lake Victoria and Nile tributaries. His findings led Britain to bring Lake Victoria and the surrounding land under British protection.

Stanley embarked on a third expedition, this one to provide relief to the governor of the Equatorial Province in Central Africa and to make further investigations into a possible British protectorate. He again started on the east coast, journeyed to the Congo River, and headed north to Lake Albert. Travel was extremely difficult through long stretches of dense forest.The team experienced serious illnesses, starvation.and frequent encounters with hostile tribes. He lost more than 50% of his men. He did succeed in rescuing the governor and concluded agreements with various chiefs in favor of Britain. He also obtained much information about the Pygmy tribes. He wrote details of this expedition in his book In Darkest Africa.

This was his final expedition. He returned to Britain, married, and adopted a child. He was renaturalized as a British subject and was elected a member of Parliament. He went on lecture tours and traveled widely. He died in 1904. His grave has the following inscription:

  Bula Matari Africa
Bula Matari in Swahili means Breaker of Rocks. This was his Congolese name and refers to his work along with the Africans in building the road along the Congo River.

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