David Livingstone letter sells for £28,800

by GEORGE MAIR

AN UNPUBLISHED letter written by Scots explorer David Livingstone in Africa - which revealed for the first time how he was forced to eat elephant during his expedition - has sold for £28,800 at auction.
The 12-page letter, marked private, was written in November 1861 to then prime minister Lord Palmerston, and reported on Livingstone's famous Zambezi expedition of 1858-64.

In it, he revealed a series of intimidating incidents, including the first time he was robbed by thieves in Africa; how he had to fight off Zulus firing poisoned arrows; and how tribeswomen fed him cakes made from thousands of tiny insects.

The Blantyre-born missionary and explorer also explained how his party killed an elephant so they could eat, and appeared to note the rest of the beast's herd in mourning.

He wrote: "We were robbed by professional thieves from the coast creeping up from sleeping places and making off with what they could lay their hands on. They showed their art by choosing the hour just before dawn. I never was robbed in Africa before. Provisions also were extremely scarce.

"When at a distance from the slave trade route the people were civil - no dues were demanded and all seemed pleased with the prospect of a new trade being established. At present they have no trade but that in slaves.

"They seem afraid to kill elephants for the ivory, for the animals were not disturbed by the presence of man.

"When we killed one for food the rest of the herd stood a mile off for two days. Elsewhere they would not have stood within 30 or 40 miles."

The manuscript went under the hammer at Bonhams' in London, soaring beyond its pre-sale estimate of £7,000 to £9,000 before being sold to an English buyer for £28,800.

A Bonhams spokesman said: "This is a fascinating letter from one of the major figures of the Victorian era. It is not surprising that it was eagerly sought after."



The letter described, in particular, his trip between August and November 1861, including an intimidating encounter with a party of Zulus, saying: "Evidence of their vengeance on the people of the country were abundant…they were as much afraid of me as our men were of them.I went to them unarmed, and because I would not sit in the sun while they sat in the shade they tried to scare me by rattling their shields, and that having no effect they sped away up the hills as if they had seen a ghost."

He told how the people of Ajawa had attacked his party: "Some foolish Manganja called out that one of their sorcerers had come and deprived us of the protection of our English name. We were at once surrounded and showers of poisoned arrows shot at us. We were obliged to act in self defence and drive them off."

He described the tribeswomen, writing: "The lips which in all conscience are big enough naturally are enlarged by the insertion of quartz stones till 'hideous' becomes a mild term for their appearance.

"We may have appeared ugly to them for they crowded round us in hundreds whenever we stopped. Indeed we were as great curiosities as the hippopotamus was in London and without knowing that they were understood called us the 'chirombo' - the wild beasts."

He also revealed how native peoples ate insects - "kungo" - which he sampled. He wrote: "Columns exactly like smoke floated over the lake. We thought at first that these were smoke from the Eastern shore but passing through one we found it to be composed of myriads of an insect just like our smallest gnats - the people actually collect these minute creatures and boil them into cakes, which have the flavour of locusts and taste like fish."

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