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Dr David Livingstone and His Loyal Attendants


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Exploring the Legacy of Mathew Wellington and Jacob Wainwright, Loyal Attendants to Dr David Livingstone

Witnessing Livingstone’s Epic Explorations at Nachipala Bareback Hill

It was while sitting by the small monument at the top of Nachipala Bareback Hill in northern Zambia, a three-hour walk to the summit, amongst the rough rocky terrain and seeing the vastness of surrounding Africa, that one realized – just a little bit – how difficult some of Dr David Livingstone’s explorations were.

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Understanding David Livingstone’s Aims and Challenges

It was from here that Dr David Livingstone took his bearings in 1867. He had crossed the Luangwa River that January, but because his chronometers were damaged, there was an error in his observations of longitude. He aimed for Lake Bangweula, which he believed linked to Lake Tanganyika and, thus, to the Nile. While in the vicinity, Livingstone visited the Bembe king Chitimukulu of the Ng’andu (crocodile) clan, where in this lake, Shiwa Ng’andu, a crocodile, snatched his dog.

The Lesser-Known Attendants – Mathew Wellington and Jacob Wainwright

There were large amounts of wildlife in the area during those days. Close to the west of the North Luangwa National Park, Nachipala Bareback Hill has a magnificent view of Lake Shiwa Ng’andu and is close to the iconic estate and ‘Africa House’ built by Sir Stewart Gore-Browne in 1920. From this grand home, Shiwa Ngandu Estate, now open to tourists, I had the good fortune to walk in the Park alongside the Luangwa River, fighting off tsetse flies as Dr David Livingstone must have.

A Life of Trials and Triumphs: Mathew Wellington’s Journey

A great deal has been written about Livingstone’s loyal attendants Abdulah Susi and James Chuma, but little is known of Mathew Wellington, ‘Chengwimbe’, the man who embalmed Livingstone’s heart for its journey back to Bagamoya and Zanzibar, and Jacob Wainwright who accompanied the coffin to England and was a pallbearer at Dr David Livingstone’s funeral in Westminster Cathedral, London.

Chengwimbe (1847-1935) was a freed slave of the Yao tribe from what is now Malawi. He had been captured, taken to Kilwa and sold for a roll of cloth. Then he was taken to Zanzibar and resold. One can visit Christ Church Cathedral, built over the slave market. The souls of enslaved people must still be there as it is an out-of-this-world atmosphere that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and unbidden tears appear.

In 1871 Chengwimbe was put on board a dhow going to Mogadishu with approximately another 200 enslaved Africans. En route, a British naval ship, the HMS Thetis, rescued them, and they became known as the ‘Thetis Group’.

When the British Navy began to liberate hundreds of young enslaved Africans, they did not know what to do with them. As it was not feasible to repatriate them to their home villages, they were taken to the West coast of India where Christian missionary institutions were specifically established to provide support for them. At Nasik Mission, about 100 miles from Bombay, the freed slaves were given tuition in English, Hindi, anatomy, physics, surgery, and theology. Mathew Wellington found employment embalming bodies before returning to East Africa. Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of the Bombay Presidency and President of the Royal Geographical Society 1873-74, proposed that British explorers should recruit staff for African expeditions from institutions such as Nasik Mission. Hundreds of ‘Bombay Africans’, as they became known, returned to Africa to participate in these expeditions, either independently or with the aid of the missionary societies.

Dr David Livingstone left India in January 1866 to return to Zanzibar, taking with him six African followers, all freed slaves who the Royal Navy had rescued. – they were Mathew Wellington, Benjamin Rutton, Richard Rotton, Mabruiki, and Jacob Wainright, referred to as “Bombayans”. The intention was for them to become theologians. However, at Stanley’s initiation, they were ordered to carry stores and medical supplies for Livingstone’s group in Tabora in western Tanzania.

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Embalming and Carrying the Legacy

Dr David Livingstone died on 1 May 1873, aged 60, in Chief Chitambo’s village, southeast of Lake Bangweula and near Kasanka National Park. A monument was established there, which at times is somewhat neglected. It still stands and can be visited. After three days of mourning, it was decided to embalm Livingstone’s body to take it back to Bagamoyo on the Tanzanian coast. Carrus Farrar and a colleague, Farjalla, removed the heart and internal organs and buried them in a tin under a tree.

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Mathew Wellington took fifteen days to preserve the body with salt and brandy and let it mature in the sun. Records show a discrepancy in how many people started the long and hazardous journey, how many died along the way, and the length of time it took to reach Bagamoyo, a distance of over 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Taking Livingstone’s personal belongings and journal with them, Mathew Wellington and Jacob Wainwright were amongst those who finished the journey. Jacob Wainwright accompanied Dr David Livingstone’s coffin by ship, reaching Southampton on 16 April 1874, 11 months after his death. He was a pallbearer at his funeral, throwing a palm branch into his grave.