The Africa Journals
Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?
I had intended to have gone into Africa incognito. But the fact that a white man, even an American, was about to enter Africa was soon known all over Zanzibar.—Henry Morton Stanley
John Rowlands was on a roll. Well, as fast a roll as 200 porters, each carrying 70 lbs. loads, numerous pack animals, and wretched conditions would allow. The caravan was so large, Rowlands split it into several sections, sending them on ahead while he brought up the rear.
Rowlands had been kicking around most of his life, as well as been kicked around. Born in 1841 as the offspring of the town prostitute and the local drunk, the notation of “bastard” on his birth records had plagued him. He lived with his grandfather for five years until the old man died, and then through subterfuge was abandoned at a poorhouse where were encountered the abusive horrors of overcrowding and little supervision.
At 17, Rowlands signed on as a cabin boy on a ship headed to the United States, then found himself seasick and high in the rigging, tending to the sails during the worst weather of the season. He jumped ship in New Orleans, and eventually enlisted in the Confederate Army just in time for the Battle of Shiloh, where 10,000 men died in less than 24 hours. He was taken prisoner during his second day on battlefield and placed in a Union POW camp.
Two months of that was all Rowlands could take and he enlisted in the Union Army. He was discharged after 18 days because of extreme illness. Then he found employment in the Union Navy as a ship’s clerk. He deserted and went west to cover the Indian Wars for a newspaper service.
He talked his way into a job as a reporter for the New York Herald, then the top newspaper of 11 in New York City. Now, tramping through the mud and heat of Africa, Rowlands was on a secret mission for that paper.
Better yet, he was putting his personal demons behind him while leading this expedition into Central Africa. He was sure his cover story of being a journalist writing a travel story was accepted in Zanzibar, where he provisioned this mass caravan, though many there wondered about the enormous amount of supplies he had purchased.
Not only was his cover story false, so was Rowlands himself. Yes, he’d been born John Rowlands, but not in the United States as he’d led people to believe. He had been born in Wales. After working for a man who mentored him in Louisiana, Rowlands adopted the man’s name as his own. He was now Henry Stanley, journalist and explorer.
Stanley was heading for the village of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where he believed he might find the missing Dr. David Livingstone. The doctor had made arrangement before leaving England to have resupply shipments sent to Ujiji, and Stanley figured he’d either find the doctor there or find out about his whereabouts.
Malaria, dysentery, smallpox, warring tribes, deserting porters, theft of supplies, nothing would deter Stanley from his obsession. His largest worry was that he would learn Livingstone was either not in Ujiji or was dead.
And so he pushed onward, through horrendous swamps and arid stretches, pausing only when he was sick, not when any of his hired men were sick. He was also finding that he liked the feeling of power over men, often administered with a whip.