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Sir Henry Morton Stanley
1841 - 1904

Sir Henry Morton Stanley, British explorer and journalist, opened Central Africa to exploitation by Western nations.


Henry Stanley was originally named John Rowland. He was born near Denbigh Castle, Wales, to John Rowland, a farmer, and an unmarried woman. The boy lived with his maternal grandfather until he was about 6, when his grandfather died. The youngster was sent to a workhouse, where he remained until the age of 15, when he ran away.

Young Rowland lived on a hand-to-mouth basis with various relatives until he was 18, when he signed on as a cabin boy and shipped to New Orleans. There a cotton broker, Henry Morton Stanley, adopted him and gave him his name. Stanley's adopted father died without providing for him. The young man volunteered as a Confederate soldier and was captured at Shiloh. He was released from prison by changing sides and finished the war in the Union Navy.

After the war Stanley became a newspaper correspondent. He covered Indian campaigns in the American West. In 1868 he went to Abyssinia to cover a British expedition. In 1869 the publisher of the New York Herald commissioned Stanley to find Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary explorer, lost somewhere in Central Africa. Stanley found Livingstone at Ujiji in 1871 after an 8-month search. They did some exploring together, and when Livingstone died in 1873, Stanley stepped into his shoes.

In 1874 Stanley began a 3-year journey to measure the lakes of Central Africa. From 1879 to 1884 he opened the Congo River Basin and laid the groundwork for the Congo Free State after setting up 21 trading posts along the river. Between 1887 and 1890 he led a mission to rescue Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria. Stanley settled the question of the source of the Nile and opened a vast territory which accelerated the desire of European countries to control African soil.

On July 12, 1890, Stanley married Dorothy Tennant. In 1895 he became a member of Parliament, and 4 years later he was knighted, receiving the Grand Cross of the Bath. He died on May 10, 1904, in London.


Sir Henry Morton Stanley, born John Rowlands (January 28, 1841 – May 10, 1904), was a 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?"


He was born in Denbigh, Wales. His mother, Betsy Parry, was nineteen years old at the time of his birth. 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 was sent to St. Asaph Union Workhouse, where overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in frequent abuse by the older boys. 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 became friendly with a wealthy trader named Stanley, whose name he later assumed.

After military service with both sides in the American Civil War, 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. 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 and outfitted an expedition with the best of everything, requiring no fewer than 200 porters. He found Livingstone on November 10, 1871, in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania, and greeted him (at least according to his own journal) with the now famous, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Stanley joined him 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. 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.

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. 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.

On his return to Europe, he married Welsh artist Dorothy Tennant, and they adopted a child, Denzil. He entered Parliament as 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.


* On his return to England, he was presented with one of the first of the newly-invented wax-cylinder recording machines (Phonographs), and made a point of recording the voices of famous elderly men before they died.
* In 1939, a popular film called Stanley and Livingstone was released, with Spencer Tracy as Stanley and Cedric Hardwicke as Livingstone.
* Ray Thomas, flautist and vocalist with the Moody Blues, wrote a song entitled, "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume," which was released on their 1968 album, In Search Of The Lost Chord.
* An NES game based on him was released in 1992 and called "Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston" [1]
* Stanley Electric Co., Ltd - in short: Stanley Electric - located in Tokyo, Japan - obtained the right to use 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". The company produces light emitting diodes, liquid crystal displays and all kinds of lamps, including automotive headlamps.
* His great grandson, Richard Stanley, is a South African filmmaker and director of documentaries.[2]
* Tim Jeal in 'Stanley' comes to the motivated conclusion that the words "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" were probably not spoken.
* There is a hospital in St. Asaph, North Wales named after H. M. Stanley in honour of his birth in the area, it was the former workhouse he spent much of his early life in.


American journalist and adventurer, who took New York Herald's mission ”to go and find Livingstone”. In his diary HOW I FOUND LIVINGSTONE (1872) Stanley presents his story with stoicism, without magnifying his epic adventure of hardships of the journey. He travelled 700 miles in 236 days before he found the ailing Scottish missionary-explorer David Livingstone on the island of Ujiji. At meeting Livingstone, Stanley tried to hide his enthusiasm and uttered his famous, pompous greeting: "Doctor Livingstone, I presume!" Stanley was considered the most effective explorer of his day, who led expeditions along the Congo and the Nile in 1874-77 and at the same time paved the way for ruthless colonial rule in these areas. He helped create Léopold's Congo Free State, ruled by the Belgian monarch as a personal domain, and British possessions on the upper Nile in the 1880s.

I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob - would have embraced him, but that I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what moral cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing--walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said:
"Yes," said he, with a kind, cordial smile, lifting his cap slightly.
(from How I Found Livingstone)

Henry Morton Stanley was born at Denbigh in North Wales, the illegitimate son of John Rowlands and Elisabeth Parry - on the birth register of St. Hilary's Church he was entered as "John Rowlands, Bastard". Stanley's father died in a potato field in 1846; he was seventy-five. Abandoned by his mother, Stanley spent his early years in the custody of his two uncles and his maternal grandfather. After his grandfather died, he was consigned at the age of six to the St. Asaph Workhouse, where male adults "took part in every possible vice," as an investigative commission reported in 1847. However, Stanley received a fair education and he became a voracious reader. At fifteen, Stanley left St. Asaph's and stayed some years with his relatives. At seventeen, he ran away to sea and landed in New Orleans. There Stanley gave himself a new name. First he was known as "J. Rolling", but eventually he settled on Henry Morton Stanley after the cotton broker Henry Stanley, for whom he worked in New Orleans.

After the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Stanley joined the Confederate Army, but later he enlisted in the Union Army. In 1864 he served as a clerk at the frigate Minnesota. During the following years, Stanley led a roving life in America, working mostly as a free-lance journalist. He also went to Turkey and Asia Minor as a newspaper correspondent. In 1867-1868 he was a special correspondent for the New York Herald.

In 1871 Stanley started his expedition to East Africa. To Katie Gough-Roberts, a young woman living in Denbigh, he sent a number of letters, and planned to marry her after the journey. However, she married an architect. Although he was deserted by his bearers, plagued by disease and warring tribes but he found Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika in Ujiji on November 10, 1871. Together they explored the northern end of Lake Tangayika - Richard Francis Burton claimed Lake Tanganyika as the source of the River Nile. Livingstone had journeyed extensively in central and southern Africa from 1840 and fought to destroy the slave trade. Livingstone died in 1873 on the Shores of Lake Bagweulu. His body was shipped back to England and buried in Westminster Abbey - Stanley was one of the pall-bearers.

On hearing of his hero's death, Stanley decided to follow up Livingstone's researches on the Congo/Zaire and Nile systems, and at the same time examine the discoveries of Burton, Speke and Grant. "Two weeks were allowed me for purchasing boats - a yawl, a gig, and a barge - for giving orders for pontoons, medical stores, and provisions; for making investments in gifts for native chiefs; for obtaining scientific instruments, stationery, &c., &c. The barge was an invention of my own." (from Through the Dark Continent, 1878) Before the journey, Stanley fell in love with Alice Pike, a seventeen year old American heiress. She married Albert Barney in 1876.

"Then sing, O friends, sing the journey is ended;
Sing aloud, O friends, sing to the great sea."

On his second African adventure, which started in 1874, Stanley journeyed into central Africa. Stanley's three white companions, Frederick Barker and Francis and Edward Pocock, died during the expedition - Stanley himself was nicknamed Bula Matari, "the rock breaker". Stanley circumnavigated Victoria Nyanza, proving it to be the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, and discovered the Shimeeyu River. After sailing down the Livingstone (Congo) River, he reached the Atlantic Ocean on August 12, 1877.

When David Livingstone combined geographical, religious, commercial, and humanitarian goals in his exploration journeys, Stanley created the direct link between exploration and colonization, especially in the service of Leopold II of Belgium. Stanley represented Leopold in signing treaties with bewildered African chiefs. The first expeditions of the Belgians he led to "prove that the Congo natives were susceptible of civilization and that the Congo basin was rich enough to repay exploitation". Stanley's revelation of the commercial possibilities of the region resulted in the setting up of a large trading venture and led to the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885. Leopold II's ruthless exploitation of the country's natural resources - "the rubber atrocities" - were protested by the international community and the Belgian parliament forced the king to give up personal control of the region.

In 1877 Stanley made the first complete traverse of the Iruri River, whose waters flow some 800 miles before joining the Congo in the vicinity of present-day Kisangani. By the time he abandoned the river to go directly for Lake Edward, fifty-two of his men were so crippled by leg ulcers and malnutrition, that he had to leave them on the riverbank at a place he named Starvation Camp.

Stanley made in 1886 a successful lecturing tour in the United States. The writer Mark Twain introduced him to the audience in Boston in November by comparing Stanley to Columbus: "Now, Columbus started out to discover America. Well, he didn't need to do anything at all but sit in the cabin of his ship and hold his grip and sail straight on, and America would discover itself. Here it was, barring his passage the whole length and breadth of the South American continent, and he couldn't get by it. He'd got to discover it. But Stanley started out to find Doctor Livingstone, who was scattered abroad, as you may say, over the length and breadth of a vast slab of Africa as big as the United States. It was a blind kind of search. He was the worst scattered of men." Stanley organized the relief expedition in search of Emin Pasha, an adventurer, whom he met on the Albert Nyanza in 1888. During this disastrous mission one of Stanley's subordinated bought a slave girl and gave her to cannibals.

In 1890 Stanley was in England. His story about his struggle to find Emir Pasha was published in 1890, the year that Joseph Conrad went to Congo, and later returned to his experiences in Heart of Darkness. Stanley visited in the following year the United States and Australia on lecturing tours. In 1899 Stanley was knighted and in 1895-1900 he sat in Parliament. He died in London on May 10, 1904.

Stanley's publications include fiction and nonfiction. His diary, How I found Livingstone, and his account of his journey to the sources of the Nile, THROUGH THE DARK CONTINENT (1878), has been reprinted several times. IN DARKEST AFRICA (1890) is a story of Stanley's 1887-89 expedition, and depicts among others pygmies who were still mysterious to the outside world. In adventure books of the nineteenth century, they were usually pictured as dwarfs. Stanley also wrote about the slave trade, but on the other hand he believed in the superiority of the white race. KALULU, PRINCE, KING, AND SLAVE (1874), Stanley's only novel, has been called "an exotic homosexual romance". The story, set in Central Africa, was about Selim, a young Arab boy from Zanzibar. Selim is taught to accept slavery, but on his journey in the Central Africa Selim himself is captured as a slave. He escapes, befriends an African prince, Kalulu. During his adventures he learns a new, critical view of his family's values and attitudes to slavery. - The story was based on Stanley's observation made during his historical search for Livingstone. In true-life Kalulu, ex-slave acquired in this journey, visited the US and Britain but was drowned on Stanley's second expedition in 1874.










This web page was last updated on: 16 December, 2008