Search for the Source of the Nile

David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish physician and pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian Era. He had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: missionary martyr, working-class "rags-to-riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion.

Livingstone's fame as an explorer and his obsession with learning the sources of the Nile River was founded on the belief that if he could solve that age-old mystery, his fame would give him the influence to end the East African Arab-Swahili slave trade.

"The Nile sources are valuable only as a means of opening my mouth with power among men. It is this power [with] which I hope to remedy an immense evil."

Livingstone's missionary travels, exploration of the central African watershed, and eventual death in Africa‍ occurred during the era of the European "Scramble for Africa."

His meeting with Henry Morton Stanley on November 10, 1871 gave rise to the popular quotation "Dr Livingstone, I presume?"

Please refer to the Wikipedia entry to learn about David Livingstone.


Livingstone's most famous book was first published in 1857 in London by John Murray, and in 1858 in New York by Harper & Brothers.

The book covers the first of Livingstone's three major expeditions in which he followed the Zambezi, discovering Victoria Falls in the process, as well as the Shire and Ruyuma rivers, ranging from Angola in the west to Mozambique in the east . During these years he explored vast regions of central Africa, many of which had never been seen by white men before.

The British first edition comprises numerous variants, described by Frank Bradlow.

It is generally understood that copies with the folding color-tinted lithograph frontispiece of Victoria Falls by W. West, another double-tinted lithograph by West opposite page 66, and a single-tinted lithograph from a sketch by C. Bell opposite page 225 and printed by West are earlier than other copies that have black and white wood engravings instead of lithographs.

The British first edition also has a fine steel-engraved portrait of the author facing the Introduction page, and 42 wood-engraved plates and other illustrations, a folding geological cross section of south central Africa, two folding maps by Arrowsmith, one of which is housed in a pocket at the end of the book.

Additionally, some later variants/editions are found with an extra leaf following page 8, which covers Livingstone's account of his married life and the upbringing of his children.

Bradlow quotes research done by Gaston Renard (Bookseller). Bradlow only retained Renard's order of issue "not because of a belief in its correctness but merely for convenience," and notes that "the only thing that can be said with certainty is that the issue with the extra leaf numbered 8* and 8† is not the first issue."

As for the reason why the extra leaf was inserted, Bradlow remained baffled: "Why did Livingstone decide to have the extra leaf after page 8 inserted? Did he feel that he had neglected his wife by not mentioning her in this way in the first place? All these questions and a host of others will occur to trained bibliographers and it may well be, that, in the future, some indefatigable researcher will find the answers." Abbey Travel 347; Bradlow, "The Variants of the 1857 edition " in Lloyd ed. Livingstone 1873-1973; Howgego L39; Mendelssohn I, p.908; Printing and the Mind of Man 341.

Below is a British first edition in original cloth binding.

Below, the folding frontispiece found in the British first edition: the color lithograph followed by the black and white engraving.

Below, a photo of the inscription Livingstone included in a British first edition he presented to Major General Charles Murray May, and a photo of the famous title-page with the tsetse fly.

I do not own the signed copy.

Below, left: the fine steel-engraved portrait of Livingstone found in the British and American first editions.

Below, right: the frontispiece found in Volume 2 of a 2-volume set in the Smithsonian Library.

The first image below is found in the Index to Livingstone's Journal, held by the Smithsonian Library.

The next three images are of the added-to Page 8, and the extra leaf (Page 8* and Page 8†).

The first color lithograph at page 66.

The second color lithograph at page 225.

One of the most famous illustrations of Livingstone: he being attacked by a lion.

Below, images of the first American edition.

First American edition title-page

John Murray reprints of Livingstone's two works published during his lifetime.

Below are images of the copies of the first British and first American editions that are in my collection.

I also have a copy of the first British edition with the color lithographs that has been rebound in full leather.