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Scottish missionary explorer Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873) travelled extensively in central Africa and was the first European to document large areas of Africa's interior.

Livingstone was mapping the territory, describing the local environment and collecting physical evidence of the terrain. With this information the suitability for future British commercial enterprise could be considered. On his celebrated transcontinental journey from the west to the east coast of Africa between 1854 and 1856, Livingstone collected 77 geological specimens which are kept in the National Museum of Scotland's collection.

Exploring the Zambezi region

David Livingstone's journey was immortalised in his famous book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, published in 1857. It became a best-seller and provided the first English descriptions of unknown and uncharted territories for the Western world, capturing the imagination of its readers.

Most of the specimens were collected in the area between the central Chobe river and Sena, a settlement near the mouth of the Zambezi. However, there are two specimens from Massangango in western Angola and a fossil from the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa.

A section of the transcontinental journey Livingstone took following the Zambezi river is marked on the map. The flags indicate locations where specimens were collected and recorded. Livingstone made a note for each specimen he collected, recording its location. Later the specimens were identified and the geological type was added to his notes. Both the specimens and the notes are shown in the webpage of each location.


Above: From a lantern slide of Livingstone’s journeys in Africa from The Life and Work of David Livingstone. Published by the London Missionary Society, c1900. The blue flags show the places that currently have a webpage.

Click on the links below to find out more about the different places Livingstone passed through and the type of specimens he collected there.

Further reading

Livingstone, D., Travels and Research in South Africa, John Murray, London, 1912. (first edition 1857)

Stafford, R. A., 'Roderick Murchison and the Structure of Africa: A Geological Prediction and Its Consequences for British Expansion', Annals of Science, (1988),45, pp. 1-40.

Letter from David Livingstone to George Wilson, MS. 10779 (3) f3 National Library of Scotland Manuscript Collection.

The Life and Work of David Livingstone. Slides series published by the London Missionary Society, c1900.

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