Henry M. Stanley, explorer and journalist
One is not too sure that modern schoolchildren are taught about persons like Henry Stanley, or for that matter Dr. Livingstone, with whom Stanley is inextricably connected. It is supposed that vast changes in syllabus are responsible for this, just as in the Classics, neither Latin or Greek are these days awarded much importance. At my school we were unfailingly taught that Henry Stanley was American; he was a naturalized American citizen for a period, but he was born British – Welsh in fact – son of a farmer from that region. He was also illegitimate, and was first called John Rowlands.
Stanley lived a life so adventurous it seemed to be fiction stemming from the Boys Own Paper. Born in 1841 he existed, somehow, in a poorhouse from 1847 to 1856, got away and managed to get himself on a ship sailing to the United States. Here he was luckily befriended by a merchant in cereals who adopted him. Young Henry also took the merchant’s name – Stanley, and after adoption automatically became an American citizen.
In the Civil War he fought on the Confederate side from 1861 – 5, after which he suddenly turned journalist. In this profession he rose rapidly, though the only education he had received was from his benefactor Stanley. In 1871 when he was only twenty-four the New York Herald commissioned him to go to Africa and find the vanished British explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone. He found him in Central Africa, travelling inland from Zanzibar. The meeting of the two men on the shores of Lake Tanganyika became world news. It seems likely that Stanley did indeed greet the Scottish doctor with the words, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, though this may be apocryphal. Stanley’s terrific scoop supplied him with the reputation of a great journalist.
This was by no means Henry Stanley’s only achievement, as in 1873 he covered the Asante (or Ashante) War in Wolseley’s campaign, after which, nothing bowed, he started off on one of the greatest exploration journeys made in the Dark Continent. American New York Herald and British Daily Telegraph commissioned Stanley to cross equatorial Africa from Zanzibar to the mouth of the Congo, tracing the great river from its sources to its mouth. He also had to map the great lakes of Central Africa! He achieved all these aims in nearly one thousand days from 1874 to 1877. Now the rest of the world knew infinitely more about the Congo Basin.
The above is a gentle apppraisal of an extraordinary brave and intelligent explorer and writer who literally put Central Africa ‘on the map’, and made the reticent and super-modest Livingstone a world figure. As one might expect, Stanley had a darker side. Mysterious Africa always seems to ascribe a ‘heart of darkness’ to its great historical figures. He treated native Africans very badly, hardly considering them human: one contemporary had it that Stanley ‘shot his way across Africa’. He acted as agent for the Belgian monarch Leopold II (q.v. a ruler no better than he should be) in forming the ‘Congo Free State’. In 1888 he began yet another well publicised mission, this time to rescue Emin Pasha, a governor of Equatoria in the Sudan, menaced by the Mahdi’s forces after they had killed the British General Gordon (q.v.). Stanley travelled six thousand miles across the great continent, managing partially to solve the the mystery of the River Nile’s sources while on his travels.
With a name and reputation that resounded on everyone’s lips, Henry Morton Stanley then retired, resuming British citizenship in 1895, received a knighthood from Queen Victoria, and became an MP. Thus he received the international reputation and great fame he had always sought, and it said he died happy, in 1904. He was sixty-three.
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