Port Elizabeth of Yore: David Livingstone in Town

David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist, pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, and an explorer in Africa. Livingstone had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels. As a result, Livingstone became one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era.

Main picture: David Livingstone

The barque George with David Livingstone and William Ross on board, both missionaries bound for Kuruman, arrived in Simonstown on 16th March 1841. From there Livingstone went to Cape Town and stayed with Dr. John Philip, Superintendent of the London Missionary Society in South Africa while he waited for the George to sail round to Table Bay from whence it was to sail for Algoa Bay on 11th April 1841 with Ross and Livingstone on board again. The George arrived in Algoa Bay on the 19th April 1841.

The Phoenix Hotel in Market Square

He stayed at the Phoenix Hotel on Market Square. It is claimed that a plaque commemorating his stay there was later placed on the front of the hotel but is now missing, probably when the original hotel was demolished. His main contact in Port Elizabeth was the Rev. Adam Robson, the minister at the Union (Independent or Congregational) Church in Chapel Street. Livingston arranged with Robson to act as his agent to forward his mail et cetera when he travelled. In true Scots tradition, Livingston later grumbled about the extra 4d on each letter that this arrangement entailed. He visited and may also have preached at the Union Church, Bethelsdorp and the Rose Lane Church in Uitenhage.

He also visited the Hankey Mission Station and has left a long description of this in the letter. He travelled in the wagon belonging to Rev. William Philip, son of Dr. John Philip, who had just been appointed to the staff at Hankey. William later took charge of the station when the Rev. Williams retired for reasons of ill-health in 1843. Livingstone had already met William Philip when they were both studying medicine in Edinburgh in preparation for their missionary work.

While in Port Elizabeth, Livingstone and Ross assembled all the supplies that they would need for their long journey inland while wagons were being specially constructed for them. They chose their drivers from the khoi aka Hottentot converts at Bethelsdorp, many of whom had taken up transport riding as a means of livilihood. In his first letter from Kuruman to his family, Livingstone mentions that “our men are impatient to get off to their wives and families at Bethelsdorp.”. William Ross spoke highly of these men and said that they were a testimony to the good work which had been done at Bethelsdorp. Livingstone and Ross left Port Elizabeth on the 20th May and arrived at Kuriman on the 31st July 1841.

Betheledorp-Alms houses build back in 1822 by British settlers, at Van Der Kemps Kloof. This buildling is maintained by the UCC church which is also is build by setlers back in 1803

Skead who was Port Captain in Port Elizabeth from1865 to 1889, accompanied Livingstone on his Zambezi expedition in 1858. At that time, Skead was serving in the Royal Navy, in command of the Cape of Good Hope Survey. His task was to survey the mouth of the Zambezi to find the best navigable entrance. He succeeded in taking the steamer Pearl 20 miles up the Konjoni channel and took a steam launch 70 miles up the Luawa channel..

Skead presented Livingstone with a sextant, the finest and most advanced then obtainable now in a Massachussetts museum. That Livingstone remembered Captain Skead’s services with gratitude is shown by a letter which he sent him from Ujiji in 1872 and now resides in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.

Livingstone and Port Elizabeth by A. Porter [Looking Back, Vol. XIII, No. 3, September 1973]

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