Henry Stanley was a Anglo-American journalist and explorer who played a significant role in the exploration and colonization of central Africa. He is most famous for his search for the missionary and explorer David Livingstone, upon finding whom he reportedly asked "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" As an explorer, Stanley was involved in an extensive search for the source of the Nile and played a commanding role in the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. Born out of wedlock in Wales, Stanley had a difficult childhood marked by abuse and neglect. As a teenager, he fled to the US and his fortunes took a turn for the better. An intelligent and adventurous young man, he became a journalist and was sent to Africa by his employer to search for Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone who was known to be in Africa but had not been heard from for some time. Stanley finally found Livingstone after a dangerous expedition and gained a favorable reputation following this incident. He went on several other expeditions in the following years, exploring vast areas of central Africa and travelling down the length of the Lualaba and Congo Rivers. He was undoubtedly a great explorer but he was also believed to be an extremely cruel man who inflicted unspeakable tortures on the African natives during his expeditions.
Childhood & Early Life
Henry Stanley was born to an unwed 18 year old girl, Elizabeth Parry, on 28 January 1841 in Denbigh, Wales, UK. His mother abandoned him when he was very young and left him at the mercy of relatives. His biological father was believed to be a man called John Rowlands, and the boy was named after him.
Little John was initially cared for by his maternal grandfather who died when the boy was about five. After living with relatives for a while, he was sent to the St Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. There he was often abused by the older boys.
He completed his elementary education at the age of 15 and left the workhouse. The stigma of illegitimacy, the insecurity of being abandoned by his mother, and the atrocities he suffered at the workhouse would continue to haunt him for long.
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As a teenager he craved for adventure and wanted to build a new life for himself. He found work as a cabin boy on a ship and sailed to the United States in 1859 as an 18 year old.
He reached New Orleans and immediately started looking for a job. A chance meeting with a wealthy trader named Henry Hope Stanley led to a job. Over a period of time he developed a close relationship with his childless employer and his wife who began treating him as a son. Out of love and admiration for his employer, John Rowlands adopted the name of “Henry Stanley”.
In 1862, he served in the American Civil War as a soldier and fought in the Battle of Shiloh. Later on he served on several merchant ships before joining the Navy in 1864. On board the ship ‘Minnesota’ he worked as a record keeper which kindled in him an interest in journalism.
Soon, he embarked on a career as a journalist, and in 1867, Stanley became special correspondent for the ‘New York Herald’. He proved to be quite successful in this field and James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, was quite impressed by the young man’s journalistic skills.
In 1869, the ‘New York Herald’ assigned Stanley on a mission to search for the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but was reported missing. Livingstone was a very famous personality and any news about him would have helped in selling newspapers.
Stanley travelled to Zanzibar in March 1871 accompanied by around 200 porters. The party endured a nightmarish expedition through the tropical forests, braving the harsh climatic conditions and diseases. The party proceeded to Lake Tanganyika, Livingstone’s last known port of call.
Stanley finally found Livingstone on 10 November 1871 in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika. The famous explorer was found in a state of extreme weakness and ill-health though he eventually recovered and joined Stanley’s group.
Livingstone and Stanley spent the next four months exploring the region around Lake Tanganyika, searching for the source of the Nile. After establishing that there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the River Nile, Stanley returned to London while Livingstone stayed back to continue his explorations.
In 1872, Stanley penned a book titled ‘How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa’.
Stanley returned to Africa for future expeditions and explored vast areas of central Africa, and travelled down the length of the Lualaba River and followed the Congo River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in 1877, thus becoming the first European to map these areas.
He led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition to "rescue" Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria in the southern Sudan in 1886. After a very difficult expedition, he finally met Emin in 1888 and returned with him in 1890.
Henry Stanley is best remembered as the explorer who found the missing David Livingstone after an extremely difficult expedition through the uninhabitable terrains of central Africa. He uttered the words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" upon meeting the Scottish missionary and explorer near Lake Tanganyika as he was the only white man present there.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Vega medal by The Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography (SSAG) in 1883.
Henry Stanley was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1899 in recognition of his service to the British Empire in Africa.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Welsh artist Dorothy Tennant in 1890 and they adopted a child, Denzil.
He died in London on 10 May 1904.