Nov 102017

On this date in 1871 Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone who had reportedly disappeared in Africa on his quest to discover the source of the Nile. Stanley reputedly greeted Livingstone with the now-famous phrase, “Dr Livingstone, I presume” but no one who has investigated the issue seriously believes the report. Nonetheless, it has gone down in history as a catch phrase for all manner of situations.

Henry Stanley was born in 1841 as John Rowlands in Denbigh in Wales. His mother Elizabeth Parry was 18 years old at the time of his birth. She abandoned him as a very young baby and cut off all communication. Stanley never knew his father, who died within a few weeks of his birth. As his parents were unmarried, his birth certificate describes him as a bastard, and the stigma of illegitimacy weighed heavily upon him all his life.

The boy John was given his father’s surname of Rowlands and brought up by his maternal grandfather Moses Parry, a once-prosperous butcher who was living in reduced circumstances. He cared for the boy, but died when Rowlands was 5. Rowlands stayed with families of cousins and nieces for a short time, but he was eventually sent to the St. Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. The overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in his being frequently abused by older boys. When Rowlands was 10, his mother and two half-siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, but he did not recognize them until the headmaster told him who they were.

Rowlands emigrated to the United States in 1859 at age 18. He disembarked at New Orleans and, according to his autobiography, became friends by accident with Henry Hope Stanley, a wealthy trader. He saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job openings. He claims he did so in the British style: “Do you need a boy, sir?” The childless man had, according to Stanley’s account, been wishing he had a son, and the inquiry led to a job and a close relationship between them. Out of admiration John took Stanley’s name. Later, he wrote that his adoptive father died two years after their meeting, but in fact the elder Stanley did not die until 1878. Discrepancies of this sort call into question much of what Stanley later wrote about his life. Tim Jeal in chapter 2 of his biography of Stanley subjects Stanley’s account in his posthumously published Autobiography to detailed analysis. Because Stanley got so many basic facts wrong about his reputedly adoptive father, Jeal concludes that it is very unlikely that he ever met rich Henry Hope Stanley, and that an ordinary grocer, James Speake, was Rowlands’ true benefactor until Speake’s sudden death in October 1859.

Stanley reluctantly joined in the American Civil War, first enrolling in the Confederate States Army’s 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and fighting in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. After being taken prisoner at Shiloh, he was recruited at Camp Douglas, Illinois, by its commander Colonel James A. Mulligan as a “Galvanized Yankee.” He joined the Union Army on 4 June 1862 but was discharged 18 days later because of severe illness. After recovering, he served on several merchant ships before joining the US Navy in July 1864. He became a record keeper on board the USS Minnesota, which led him into freelance journalism. Stanley and a junior colleague jumped ship on 10 February 1865 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Stanley was possibly the only man to serve in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy.

Following the Civil War, Stanley became a journalist in the days of frontier expansion in the American West. He then organized an expedition to the Ottoman Empire that ended catastrophically when he was imprisoned. He eventually talked his way out of jail and received restitution for damaged expedition equipment. In 1867 Stanley offered his services to James Gordon Bennett Jr. of the New York Herald as a special correspondent with the British expeditionary force sent against Tewodros II of Ethiopia, and Stanley was the first to report the fall of Magdala in 1868. An assignment to report on the Spanish Civil War followed.

In 1869 Stanley received instructions to undertake a roving commission in the Middle East, which was to include the relief of Dr. David Livingstone, of whom little had been heard since his departure for Africa in 1866 to search for the source of the Nile. Stanley travelled to Zanzibar in March 1871, later claiming that he outfitted an expedition with 192 porters. In his first dispatch to the New York Herald, however, he stated that his expedition numbered only 111. This was in line with figures in his diaries. Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald and source of funds for the expedition, had delayed sending to Stanley the money he had promised, so Stanley borrowed money from the United States Consul.

During the 700-mile (1,100 km) expedition through the tropical forest, his thoroughbred stallion died within a few days after a bite from a tsetse fly, many of his porters deserted, and the rest were decimated by tropical diseases. Stanley found Livingstone on 10 November 1871 in Ujiji, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. He later reported that he greeted him with the line, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” but this may be one of his many fabrications and cannot be confirmed given that he tore out the pages relating to the encounter from his journal. Neither man mentioned the phrase in any of the letters they wrote at this time and Livingstone’s account of the encounter does not mention these words. The phrase is first quoted in a summary of Stanley’s letters published by The New York Times on 2 July 1872. Stanley biographer Tim Jeal argued that the explorer invented it afterwards to help raise his standing because of “insecurity about his background.”

The Herald‘s own first account of the meeting, published 1 July 1872, reports:

Preserving a calmness of exterior before the Arabs which was hard to simulate as he reached the group, Mr. Stanley said: – “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” A smile lit up the features of the pale white man as he answered: “Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.”

Stanley joined Livingstone in exploring the region, finding that there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the Nile. On his return, he wrote a book about his experiences: How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa.

Maybe I’ll post more about Stanley’s exploits in Africa at another time. My brief notes on Livingstone can be found here: 

I’ll give you a Zanzibar recipe today since this was Stanley’s stepping off point in his quest to find Livingstone, and may be more interesting to you than a classic Bantu dish which would have been common in the central African region at the time Stanley located Livingstone there. Zanzibar is now an autonomous coastal region of Tanzania which has for hundreds of years had an eclectic cuisine combining Bantu, Arab, Portuguese, Indian, and British cooking styles. Dishes of Indian origin are popular in Zanzibar nowadays, but Zanzibar mix, which is common street food, is both thoroughly local and also the blending of multiple influences. The dish starts with a soup called urojo to which you can add numerous ingredients such as bhajias, fried mashed potatoes, chutneys of different types and so forth. I’ll just give a recipe for the urojo soup and I have included a helpful video at the end for the full story. It’s narrated in Swahili but you should get the point. If you are familiar with Indian cooking you’ll know about atta flour and gram flour (besan). You won’t find them in the local supermarket or health food store, but if you live near a sizeable Indian population you’ll find them in one of their groceries. Or you can find them online.

Urojo Soup


3 tbsp gram flour
3 tbsp atta flour
½ cup coconut milk (optional)
3 tbsp grated raw mango
juice of 2 lemons
2 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp garlic paste
1 green or red chile
2 potatoes, boiled, peeled, and cubed
2 tsp turmeric powder


Place 1 liter of water in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, lemon juice, chile powder, whole chile, garlic paste, turmeric powder, and coconut milk if you chose to use it, and mix well. Bring back to a simmer and add the mango. Some cooks dice rather than grate it.

Put the flour in a bowl, add some water and mix well to make a thick batter, until smooth. Add a ladle of the warm soup to the flour mix and whisk well. Then add the flour mix to the soup slowly while whisking well to avoid any lumps. Keep stirring and mixing for at least 25 minutes until the flour is thoroughly cooked.

Add in the diced potatoes and warm through.

Serve the soup in deep bowls with your choice of toppings.