THE MAN WHO FOUND
HENRY M. STANLEY
The 1939 movie with
Spencer Tracy as Stanley and Cedric Hardwicke
DR. DAVID LIVINGSTONE
A colorful character named
Henry Morton Stanley
By CHUCK McFADDEN
He was famous for uttering just one short sentence--a question, really.
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
Those four words are just about the only reason anyone remembers him today. The 167th anniversary of his birth came and went a few weeks ago with no notice. But there was a lot more to him than that polite query.
He was Henry Morton Stanley, and he was one of the most remarkable people who ever lived. Intelligent, opportunistic, courageous, racist, calculating, ruthless and determined, he also lived a classic rags-to-riches story.
All in all, quite a fellow.
He was born as John Rowlands, in Wales, in 1841 to a 19-year-old mother and an alcoholic father. His parents were apparently unmarried, and his birth certificate listed him as a bastard. When he was three years old, he was placed in a poorhouse. He managed to go to school, though, and did well enough so that that he wound up being a teenage schoolteacher.
When he was 15, the New World called. He sailed for New Orleans as a cabin boy, quickly learned to imitate an American accent and was adopted by a merchant. He took the mans last name, Stanley. Soon afterwards, Mr. Stanley thoughtlessly passed away without leaving a will. Young Stanley was broke. He enlisted in the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, and managed to get captured. Not a problem. He became an ensign in the Union Navy, serving on the Ticonderoga, an ironclad.
The story gets zanier. Stanley spent some time in the Wild West of the United States, working as an itinerant freelance journalist. Then there was a spot of bother in Ottoman Turkey involving a swordfight. The year 1868 found our hero accompanying the British Army into Abyssinia as a correspondent for The New York Herald.
A short time later, we find Stanley in Spain, and he hears from his boss, James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner of the Herald. Bennett wants Stanley to go to Africa and find out what happened to David Livingstone, the famous Scottish missionary and explorer. Nothing had been heard from Dr. Livingstone for two years, and the British and Americans wondered.
So it was off to Zanzibar to organize an expedition with 200 porters and the best of everything, the Herald apparently having a cheery attitude toward expense accounts.
Seven hundred miles of agony followed. Stanley flogged deserters. Many of the porters died from tropical diseases. The expedition had to make its way through the middle of tribal warfare. Stanleys method of dealing with the often-hostile natives was a three-step process:
Make friendly conversation
If that doesnt work, open fire
He did find Livingstone, finally, on Nov. 10, 1871, near Lake Tanganyika, in what is today Tanzania. He spent some time with the ailing Livingstone, exploring the region and answering the question once and for all that there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the source of the Nile.
When he returned to civilization, Stanley, what else, wrote a book: "How I Found Livingstone"; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa. It gave Stanley a financial footing and further enhanced Livingstones reputation as a 19th Century saint.
Stanley made three more trips to Africa, exploring the lakes and rivers in the central part of the continent and helping to lay the foundation for what later became the Belgian Congo with its horrific cruelty toward Africans. He managed to lose hundreds more porters in his explorations. On an 1887 foray, he left with 650 men and lost about 400 of them. Stanley kept a stiff upper lip.
He returned to England, and some controversy ensued. His lowly birth was discovered, and he was sneered at by some members of Britains upper crust. His I presume? was held up as an example of a lowborn attempting gentility. Some of Stanleys actions on his expeditions were criticized. Some called him a bully. There was even a report that he had, in his books, exaggerated his cruelty toward Africans in order to satisfy Victorian tastes and help sales.
But he received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, wrote additional books, became the best-known explorer of the era, got married in Westminster Abbey, lectured in the United States, England and Australia, received a knighthood, served in Parliament and generally had a wonderful time. He died in 1904.
Now think about it. Has there ever been a character in history who shipped across the Atlantic at age 15, served on both sides of the American Civil War, changed from an Englishman to an American, had a swordfight in Turkey, explored central Africa, became a famous author, lectured around the world, changed back to an Englishman, was knighted, served in Parliament and wrote a number of books, at least one a best-seller?
Stanley had admirable determination, but in common with much of the Anglo-American world of the Victorian age, had apparently little empathy for people who were not Caucasian Christians.
An unidentified contemporary writer, quoted in a book published in 1909, had the following to say about our hero:
Too strong or too arbitrary a man perhaps to be invariably popular with his subordinates, too reserved to be popular in the general acceptation of the word, and gifted with immovable resolution, Stanley possessed a positive genius for the handling of native races.
handling of native races.
To each his own, I suppose.
©2008 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The movie poster is courtesy of 20th Century-Fox. This column first posted Feb. 25, 2008.
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