TOMORROW is the 150th anniversary of the death of one of the most famous of all Scots, the explorer Christian missionary, and anti-slavery campaigner David Livingstone.

Arguably he was even more famous in life than after his death which took place on May 1, 1873, in what is now Zambia when he was aged 60.

To chronicle Livingstone’s extraordinary life would take many times more space than allotted for this column but I hope to give a flavour of the man.

That he was a truly great explorer of Africa is beyond doubt but there has often been a depiction of Livingstone as just an imperial expansionist pushing Britain’s ambitions on the African continent. I will address that question later, but I want to show by using his own words how Livingstone spent many years trying to destroy the slave trade that he hated – an aspect of his life which is often ignored by proponents of the empire legend perhaps because it does not accord with their sensibilities.

Born in Blantyre in March 1813, he was the son of poor but hard-working tea salesman and itinerant preacher Neil Livingstone. Though greatly influenced by his father’s disciplined approach to his Christian faith, David Livingstone joined the Congregational Church at 15, and after 12 years working in a cotton mill, applied to become a missionary, and was eventually accepted and trained by the London Missionary Society.

Trained as a doctor, he was originally scheduled to be sent to China but the First Opium War was brewing so he was sent to Africa instead.

The National:

The world knows how Livingstone explored deep into Africa and though he made few converts, he did open up whole regions for trade. Surviving being mauled by a lion, he was the first European to see the Victoria Falls which he named after the Queen. After the death of his wife and fellow missionary Mary, née Moffat, in 1862, he carried on with his expeditions not least because he had become passionate about ending the slave trade that he saw all about him.

He was officially declared lost, but American journalist Henry Stanley famously found him saying: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

Livingstone would carry on with his travels, which by now had captivated the world, and it is a fascinating aspect of his life that he knew full well the value of publicity and used it to promote his campaign against slavery.

In the preface to A Narrative Of An Expedition To The Zambesi And Its Tributaries, he wrote: “It has been my object … to bring before my countrymen, and all others interested in the cause of humanity, the misery entailed by the slave trade in its inland phases.”

At one point he was warned about his failing health and told to stay in Britain, but he insisted on returning to Africa: “I am going out again … It is only by holding on bulldog fashion one can succeed in doing anything against that gigantic evil, the slave trade.”

In his best-selling journals published posthumously in 1874, Livingstone recorded two awful examples of the slave trade’s effects on African people – he would say of slavery “to overdraw its evil is a simple impossibility”.

He wrote: “We passed a slave woman shot or stabbed through the body and lying on the path: a group of men stood about a hundred yards off on one side, and another of the women on the other side, looking on; they said an Arab who passed early that morning had done it in anger at losing the price he had given for her, because she was unable to walk any longer.

“June 27, 1866 – Today we came upon a man dead from starvation, as he was very thin. One of our men wandered and found many slaves with slave-sticks on, abandoned by their masters from want of food; they were too weak to be able to speak or say where they had come from; some were quite young.”

Decades before anyone else thought about it, he also wrote about the psychological effects of slavery: “The strangest disease I have seen in this country seems really to be broken-heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves.

“Twenty-one were unchained, as now safe; however all ran away at once; but eight with many others still in chains, died in three days after the crossing. They described their only pain in the heart, and placed the hand correctly on the spot, though many think the organ stands high up in the breast-bone.”

In a letter to the editor of The New York Herald, Livingstone wrote: “And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.”

He certainly achieved one aim – just 36 days after his death, slavery was made illegal in colonial east Africa, but it was his influence on the public that had greater effect.

I looked for an authoritative view on Livingstone’s place in history and found none better than that of which gives an even-handed verdict on Livingstone’s influence: “In his 30 years of travel and Christian missionary work in southern, central, and Eastern Africa – often in places where no European had previously ventured – Livingstone may well have influenced Western attitudes toward Africa more than any other individual before him. His discoveries – geographic, technical, medical, and social – provided a complex body of knowledge that is still being explored.

“In spite of his paternalism and Victorian prejudices, Livingstone believed wholeheartedly in the African’s ability to advance into the modern world. He was, in this sense, a forerunner not only of European imperialism in Africa but also of African nationalism.”

I think that’s a fair summary of what Livingstone did, and I have no doubt that he personally influenced millions of people to hate slavery. For that alone, he should be revered.