Livingstone bicentenary celebrations

David Livingstone Centre.Angus Bremner 2005.National Trust for Scotland.

Today the newly museum-accredited David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland will welcome visitors from as far afield as Africa, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Scottish explorer, missionary and medic from whom it takes its name.

Blantyre is the birthplace of Dr Livingstone, and is twinned with Malawi’s capital of commerce, one of the places where ‘Africa’s first freedom fighter’ lived and worked.

The David Livingstone Centre is based in Shuttle Row, in the lowly tenements that Livingstone was raised in, sharing the building with 23 other families. Visitors can see the single room that comprised his entire childhood home, the journals and tools he took on his travels all over Africa and also the relics of the slave trade that he used to educate the public on this horrific practice that was commonplace during his time as a missionary.

To start the day of celebrations, local school children will ring the same bell that Livingstone would hear each morning at 6am, when he was leaving Shuttle Row to go out to work for 14 hours a day in the Blantyre Cotton Works, a job he had from the age of ten. However, his ambition to be educated saw him undertaking hours more work every day in the form of school and private study.

Livingstone eventually went on to study medicine at Anderson’s College (now Strathclyde University) before becoming a missionary and leaving Scotland for Africa.

Three years later he was living in an African village he wrote of as Mabotsa and tackled a man-eating lion, which he ultimately shot, but not before his arm was wounded ­­– an injury that would never fully recover. The tale of ‘Livingstone and the lion’ has been recreated by sculptor Gareth Knowles, who spent four years creating a one and a half times life-sized bronze, commissioned by special effects Oscar-winner Ray Harryhausen for the National Trust of Scotland. The sculpture now stands outside the museum in Blantyre as a spectacular monument to an extraordinary moment of bravery.

“Livingstone was a truly remarkable and inspirational man, and it is even more inspiring to think that he took his inspiration from the countryside, history and people of Blantyre,” says Nat Edwards, leader of the David Livingstone 200 project, which aims to encourage people to find out more about this intrepid humanitarian who travelled thousands of miles across Africa mainly on foot.

“It is absolutely fitting that the centre of his 200th birthday celebrations is right here in Blantyre, where this wonderful, continent-crossing story began. We want to strengthen relationships between Scotland and Africa; to renew interest in David Livingstone among all our nations and to make sure that this amazing museum can be sustained to inspire future generations for years to come.”

Later today there will be a wreathe-laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey, where Livingstone was buried in 1874, attended by modern-day explorer Sir David Attenborough and President Banda of Malawi.