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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: January 2018

1 - ‘A Parliament of Philanthropy’: The Fight to Bury Livingstone


The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their reader's prejudices … The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. The Times is read by people who actually do. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the men who run the country … and the readers of The Sun don't care who runs the country as long as she has big t*ts.

Yes, Prime Minister, 1987

A Reuter's agent based in Aden broke the news of Livingstone's death to the British public in January 1874. The sharp-eyed stringer had intercepted a telegram from the acting British consul general in Zanzibar to the Foreign Office, and the story went viral. This was symbolic of a news network more organised and tentacular by the 1870s. By the end of January, most British newspapers carried the announcement. ‘Dr Livingstone is no more’ ran the headline for the Edinburgh Evening News; it was ‘delusional to hope otherwise’. The Penny Illustrated News ran with the marriage of Prince Albert on its front page, but further in, the news was gently broken, having been tipped off by an insider at the Eastern Telegram Company. Readers were invited to recall the memory of ‘the familiar features of the illustrious explorer of central Africa whose lamentable death there is now alas no reason to doubt’.

In Africa, no one had doubted the story. The previous October, Lieutenant Vernon Lovett Cameron, leader of the Livingstone Relief Expedition and Her Majesty's Political Agent, had first reported the ‘melancholy news’ by letter to the British authorities at the coast: Livingstone had died following an attack of dysentery ‘lasting between ten days and two weeks’, and he had been ‘utterly destitute’. The Sultan of Zanzibar had heard the news before the British, one of his soldiers having recently returned from the interior. Rumours circulated in the royal court that he had met Livingstone's servant, Chuma, who had told him they were carrying their master's body back in a box. By early January, the sultan's flag, the flags of British naval ships and all consulate flags were flown at half mast out of respect. The acting British consul in Zanzibar, Captain Prideaux, sent instructions that a British naval vessel would collect the corpse when it arrived.

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Empire of Sentiment
  • Online ISBN: 9781108182591
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