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Sir Henry Morton Stanley


Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB, born John Rowlands (January 28, 1841 – May 10, 1904), was a Welsh-American journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of Africa and his search for David Livingstone.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley

Journalist and explorer
Born January 28, 1841(1841-01-28)
Denbigh, Wales
Died May 10, 1904 (aged 63)
London, England

Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB, born John Rowlands (January 28, 1841 – May 10, 1904), was a Welsh-American journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of Africa and his search for David Livingstone. Stanley is often remembered for the words uttered to Livingstone upon finding him: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?", although there is some question as to authenticity of this now famous greeting.


He was born in Denbigh, Wales. At the time, his mother, Elizabeth Parry, was nineteen years old. According to Stanley himself, his father, John Rowlands, was an alcoholic; there is some doubt as to his true parentage.[1] The parents were unmarried, so his birth certificate refers to him as a bastard, and the stigma of illegitimacy weighed heavily upon him all his life. He was raised by his grandfather until the age of five. When his guardian died, the boy stayed at first with cousins and nieces for a short time, but was eventually sent to St. Asaph Union Workhouse for the poor, where overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in frequent abuse by the older boys. When he was ten, his mother and two siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, without John Rowlands realizing who they were. He stayed until the age of 15. After completing an elementary education, he was employed as a pupil teacher in a National School. In 1859, at the age of 18, he made his passage to the United States in search of a new life. Upon arriving in New Orleans, he absconded. According to his own declarations, he became friendly with a wealthy trader named Stanley, whose name he later assumed. This adoptive parent soon died afterwards. He assumed a local accent and began denying being a foreigner.

He participated reluctantly in the American Civil War, first with the Confederate Army, and was soon taken prisoner. He promptly went over to the other side and deserted.

He then joined the Navy, but deserted again.
He then began a career as a journalist, visiting mines, reporting on a conflict with Native Americans, and joining an expedition to establish the course of a river. He organized an expedition to the Ottoman Empire that ended in catastrophe when he got mixed up in a sword fight with a Turk. He finished up in jail, but somehow talked himself out of it and even got damages for lost equipment.

Stanley was recruited in 1867 by Colonel Samuel Forster Tappan (a one-time journalist) of the Indian Peace Commission to serve as a correspondent to cover the work of the Commission for several newspapers. Stanley was soon retained exclusively by James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872), founder of the New York Herald, who was impressed by Stanley's exploits and by his direct style of writing. This early period of his professional life is described in Volume I of his book My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia (1895). He became one of the Herald's overseas correspondents and, in 1869, was instructed by Bennett's son to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had not been heard from for some time. According to Stanley's account, he asked James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841 -1918), who had succeeded to the paper's management at his father's retirement in 1867, how much he could spend. The reply was "Draw £1,000 now, and when you have gone through that, draw another £1,000, and when that is spent, draw another £1,000, and when you have finished that, draw another £1,000, and so on — BUT FIND LIVINGSTONE!"

Stanley travelled to Zanzibar in March 1871 and outfitted an expedition with the best of everything, requiring no fewer than 200 porters. This 700-mile expedition through the tropical forest became a nightmare. His thoroughbred stallion died within a few days by tsetse fly, many of his carriers deserted and the rest were decimated by tropical diseases. To keep the expedition going, he had to take stern measures, flogging deserters. He had to fight his way through tribal lands, but always tried first diplomacy and the exchanging of gifts before opening fire.[2] Harsh treatment of carriers was not uncommon, it was even practiced by missionaries. But Stanley's diaries show that he had exaggerated the brutal treatment of his carriers in his books, to pander to the taste of his Victorian public.

He found Livingstone on November 10, 1871, in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania, and greeted him with the now famous, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" This famous phrase may be a fabrication, as Stanley has torn out the pages of this encounter in his diary[3] Even Livingstone's account of this encounter doesn't mention these words. However, a summary of Stanley's letters that the New York Times published on July 2, 1872 qoutes the phrase.[4] The Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography both quote the phrase without questioning its validity.

Stanley joined Livingstone in exploring the region, establishing for certain that there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the River Nile. On his return, he wrote a book about his experiences : How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa.[5] This brought him into the public eye and gave him some financial success. Stanley had evoked in his book a fine picture of Livingstone while hiding his annoying sides. This made Livingstone almost an instant saint into the eyes of the public and he would become an example for many future missionaries. Stanley was first hailed as a hero, but soon was treated with epithets as "bully". His lower class birth became known and promptly denied. This made him lose the respect of the upper class Victorians who chided his sangfroid "I presume" statement.

In 1874, the New York Herald, in partnership with Britain's Daily Telegraph, then financed him on another expedition to the African continent, one of his achievements being to solve the last great mystery of African exploration by tracing the course of the River Congo to the sea. Leaving from Zanzibar, this would become an epic, sometimes nightmarish expedition through dark Africa that still appeals to one's imagination. He used sectional boats to pass the great cataracts. As he had seen before in his previous expedition, inner Africa was being plundered by slave traders. Previously thriving areas had become bare and depopulated. This convinced him that the slave trade had to be stopped. However, this didn't stop Stanley of involving one of the most important slave traders in his expedition through financial contributions. After 999 days, on August 9, 1877, Stanley reached a Portuguese outpost at the mouth of the river Congo. Starting with 356 people, only 114 had survived of which Stanley was the only European survivor.He wrote about his trials in his book Through the Dark Continent,[6] describing his expedition as if it were a conquest.

Stanley was approached by the ambitious Belgian king Leopold II, who in 1876 had organized a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society. The king spoke about his plans to introduce Western civilization and to bring religion to this part Africa, but didn't mention he wanted to claim the lands. Stanley returned to the Congo, negotiated with tribal chiefs and obtained fair concessions (that were later falsified to his advantage by the king). But Stanley refused to impose treaties on the chiefs that yielded sovereignty over their land. He built new roads to open the country, but this also gave advantage to the slave traders. And when Stanley discovered that the king had other plans, he remained on his payroll.

In later years he spent much energy defending himself against charges that his African expeditions had been marked by callous violence and brutality. Stanley's opinion was that "the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision." Stanley would eventually be held responsible for a number of deaths and was indirectly responsible for helping establish the rule of Léopold II of Belgium over the Congo Free State. In addition, the spread of African trypanosomiasis across central Africa is attributed to the movements of Stanley's enormous baggage train and the Emin Pasha relief expedition.

In 1886, Stanley led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition to "rescue" Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria in the southern Sudan. King Leopold II demanded that Stanley take the longer route, via the Congo river, hoping to acquire more territory and perhaps even Equatoria. After immense hardships and great loss of life, Stanley met Emin in 1888, discovered the Ruwenzori Range and Lake Edward, and emerged from the interior with Emin and his surviving followers at the end of 1890. (Turnbull, 1983) But this expedition tarnished Stanley's name because of the conduct of the other Europeans : British gentlemen and army officers. An army major was shot by a carrier, after behaving with extreme cruelty. James Jameson, heir to an Irish whiskey manufacturer, bought an eleven-year old girl and offered her to cannibals to document and sketch how she was cooked and eaten. Stanley only found out when Jameson had died of fever. Previous expeditions had given Stanley satisfaction, but this one only had caused disaster.

On his return to Europe, he married Welsh artist Dorothy Tennant, and they adopted a child, Denzil. Stanley entered Parliament as Liberal Unionist member for Lambeth North, serving from 1895 to 1900. He became Sir Henry Morton Stanley when he 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. He died in London on May 10, 1904; at his funeral, he was eulogized by Daniel P. Virmar. His grave, in the churchyard of St. Michael's Church in Pirbright, Surrey, is marked by a large piece of granite inscribed with the words "Henry Morton Stanley, Bula Matari, 1841-1904, Africa". (Bula Matari, or "Breaker of Rocks" in Kikongo, was Stanley's name among Africans in Congo.)

Modern Culture

In 1939, a popular film called Stanley and Livingstone was released, with Spencer Tracy as Stanley and Cedric Hardwicke as Livingstone.

In 1968 Ray Thomas wrote a song entitled, "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume," which was released on the Moody Blues album, In Search Of The Lost Chord.

There is also a book called "The man who presumed"...which tells the story of his life as an explorer.

In 1973 Uriah Heep (band) recorded 'Sunshine' about Stanley and the Nile. Recorded at 'Sweet Freedom' sessions, originally b-side of 'Stealin' single. Included as a bonus track on remastered cd version 1996.[7]

In 1986 Opera Soft released a 2-D platform game featuring H.M.Stanley as the main character as he searches for Dr. Livingstone in Africa.

An NES game based on his life was released in 1992 called "Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston."[8]

Stanley Electric Co., Ltd., uses Stanley's family name in honour of his discoveries "that have brought light into many spots of the world undiscovered and hitherto unknown to mankind".[9] The company produces light emitting diodes, liquid crystal displays, and lamps.

His great grandson, Richard Stanley, is a South African filmmaker and directs documentaries.[10]

There is a hospital in St. Asaph, North Wales named after H. M. Stanley in honor of his birth in the area. It was the former workhouse he spent much of his early life in.


  1. ^ Dictionary of Welsh Biography
  2. ^ John Carey (18 March 2007). A good man in Africa ?. TIMES Online. The Sunday Times. Retrieved on 2007-11-15.
  3. ^ Jeal, Tim (2007). Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571221025. 
  4. ^ "THE SEARCH FOR LIVINGSTON: Progress of the Englishman Stanley -- Fierce Encounter with Arabs -- Arrival at the Coast -- The Great Explorer Remains Two Years More in Africa", London, July 1 New York Times, July 2, 1872. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  5. ^ Stanley, Henry M. (19 February 2002). How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveres in Central Africa. Dover Publications. ISBN 0486419533. 
  6. ^ Stanley, Henry M. (1988). Through the Dark Continent. Dover Publications, 432 pages. ISBN 0486256677. 
  7. ^ "Sunshine" by Uriah Heep
  8. ^ Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston
  9. ^ Stanley Electric Co., Ltd., profile
  10. ^ Biography for Richard Stanley



  • Hall, Richard : Stanley. An Adventurer Explored, London, 1974.
  • Stanley, Henry M. (ed. Dorothy Stanley) : The Autobiography of Henry M. Stanley, New York, 1909, 1969.


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