To touch the Sun: The Parker Solar Probe

Popularly known as the mission “to touch the sun”, the investigative Parker Solar Probe was launched by NASA, aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket, from Cape Canaveral on 12th August. Its mission is to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft.

The probe, named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker of the University of Chicago (who first described solar wind in 1958), aims to dip directly into the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

NASA says that the research gathered during the probe’s seven year mission will help improve scientist’s ability to “forecast space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.”

It will be December before the probe is ready to transmit its first data to Earth. During the seven year mission, the probe will make 24 loops around the Sun to study the physics of the corona. As it travels, it will pick up speeds of 430,000mph, making it the fastest man-made object ever.

In order to maintain its orbit around the Sun, the probe will use the gravity from Venus to propel it onwards. In all, the probe will make six rotations of Venus, (the first in November), which will take it 15 million miles from the Sun. With each rotation, the probe will get closer to the corona, until it is just 3.8 million miles away.

The Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star program. This has been designed to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. As Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, explains, “This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe. We’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction.”
The Parker Solar Probe is only one of many recent space explorations and discoveries that have lead to an ever growing understanding of our universe.

On 7th August this year, scientists from the University of Potsdam, having led an intense study of the waves on Jupiter using research gathered by the Galileo Probe spacecraft. The scientists involved concluded that “the power of chorus waves is a million times more intense near the Jovian moon Ganymede, and 100 times more intense near the moon Europa than the average around these planets. This research into Jupiter’s waves provides us with a unique opportunity to understand the fundamental processes that are relevant to laboratory plasmas and the quest for new energy sources here on Earth”.

It isn’t just the launch of discovery probes that is providing us with more information about the origins of our universe and hope for improving our future. In August this year, scientists from the University of New Mexico, Arizona State University and NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, who have been studying the oldest-ever dated igneous meteorite, found evidence to help understand how our solar system’s planet formed.

As Science Today explains, “Scientists believe the solar system was formed some 4.6 billion years ago when a cloud of gas and dust collapsed under gravity possibly triggered by cataclysmic explosion from a nearby massive star or supernova. As this cloud collapsed, it formed a spinning disk with the Sun in the centre.” Thanks to the study of this meteor, research has proved that chemically evolved silica-rich rocks were forming into small mini-planets, 10 million years prior to the assembly of the terrestrial planets.

With seven years of research from the Parker Solar Probe to come, and many more space missions planned, it is clear that the universe in which we live has a great deal more left to teach us.

23rd August marks the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery. This date was chosen to commemorate the struggle for the freeing of slaves because, on the night of 22nd – 23rd August, 1791, an organised society of slaves in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (then known as Santo Domingo) rebelled against their French colonial masters. This then inspired a more prolonged revolt, and further spurred on by the sentiment of the French Revolutionaries, the slaves persevered, despite massive losses. By 1801, they had freed themselves and reclaimed control from the French. It was this violent but successful revolution, frequently referred to as ‘The Haiti Revolution,’ which was to tip the balance in favour of the abolition of slavery for the very first time.

UNESCO describes the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery as
“…intended to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples.” On this day, the Ministers of Culture of all UNESCO’s member states are encouraged to organise events to educate as much of the population as possible on the effects of slavery.

In Britain, in 1807 the Slave Trade Act was passed. This outlawed the trading of slaves, but did nothing to help those already in a state of slavery. Although there was a strong anti-slavery movement in Britain as early as 1783, it wasn’t until 1833 that the Abolition of Slavery Act was put in place. Even then, it was decades before all slaves across the British Empire became free, as most were forced to work their way slowly to freedom via apprenticeships. During this time of adjustment many men, women and children endured treatment that was just as harsh, or even harsher, than what they had experienced as legal slaves. Further, rather than the slaves being compensated for suffering a lifetime of violence and overworking, it was the former slave owners who received such payment, for their loss of labour.

An article in The Guardian explains, “We can only begin to understand slavery’s influence on Britain today by first allowing 500 years of human history to flash before our eyes. Beginning in the last decades of the 1400s, we see African people kidnapped from their families, crammed into the dark pits of slave forts, and then piled into the bowels of ships. We see voyagers and traders… in the 1560s… make massive fortunes from this trade in kidnapped Africans. By the late 17th century, we see the British coming to dominate the slave trade… Half of all the Africans transported into slavery during the 18th century were carried in the holds of British ships.”

The International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery is also a timely reminder that although slavery is illegal in every country in the world it has not disappeared. A study by Richard Re in 2002 says that “conservative estimates indicate that at least 27 million people, in places as diverse as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil, live in conditions of forced bondage. Some sources believe the actual figures are 10 times as large.”

Slaves are still bought and sold, many for less than $100, making them disposable. To buyers, sellers and users slaves are objects rather than human beings. They suffer violence, overworking and cruelty just as the slaves of the past did. The major difference now is that slavery is illegal. Obviously this is a positive thing, but it also means that now the trading is done in secret and is mixed up with crime and corruption, rather than the expansion of a business or the cultivation of land, making it harder to stop.

The most frequent form of modern slavery is bonded slavery. This is when a person is forced into slavery to pay off a debt. Migrant workers often find themselves in this position. They are forced to work for those who have smuggled them out of their country, but the fees are so high, and their lives and work valued at so little, that the debt is never paid, and they live a life of slavery.

Children are at the most risk of falling into bonded slavery. A study by the BBC at the turn of the century showed that in India alone poverty and sheer desperation have forced 15 million children into bonded labour. Forced marriage, prostitution and the sexual exploitation of adults and children is rife in the modern slave trade. A task group working for the United Nations in 1998 estimated that around 20 million people were working as slaves, a number which has since increased.

The abolition of slavery in 1833 was a major triumph. The Act led to the slow but eventual freedom of many slaves across the world, and the end of open exploitation. However, as the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery strives to remind us, the battle against slavery is far from over.

Emily Bronte, sister to fellow novelists Charlotte and Anne, was born two hundred years ago this year on 31st July 1818. Emily would write only one story, Wuthering Heights, but that was not to prevent it from becoming one of English Literature’s most famous, acclaimed, enduring and, initially at least, controversial novels.

A shy girl, Charlotte said of her sister Emily that “she rarely crossed the threshold of our home.” However, this quiet child created a novel that The Guardian newspaper recently referred to as “a cornerstone of literary culture.”

With the story’s emotional heartbeat emboldened by the brooding moorland scenery of its setting, it was often labelled as being not so much dramatic as unpleasant by its contemporary audience. Wuthering Heights is a complex family saga and love story focusing on the main characters of Heathcliff and Cathy, and published in 1847, for its time the story was incredibly violent. Not only were there physical acts of aggression aplenty between the characters, but the language spoken within its pages was darker and more lurid than the Victorian readership was used to. Many people were scandalised, especially as the novel had been written by a young woman. Book critic Steve Davies explained to The Guardian that, “the staple mode of address within the novel is the quarrel… Action and interest tends to be generated by bad temper…”

In 1851 the Eclectic Review said that Wuthering Heights was “One of the most repellent books ever written.” We can only imagine how quiet, sensitive Emily can have taken the negative reviews she received, in particular one from the Paterson’s Magazine in 1848, which compared her work unfavourably to that of her sister, Charlotte: “We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights.” Times change, however, and Wuthering Heights (according to marketing research carried out by Nielson in May 2018) sold 806,294 copies between 2001 and 2018, whereas Jane Eyre sold just over 750,000 copies. Even Pride or Prejudice by Jane Austen sold fewer copies than Wuthering Heights did.

Dying from tuberculosis at only 30 years of age, we can only guess at whether Emily would have written another novel had she lived, or if the criticism of the gritty realism she created between Wuthering Heights’s pages may have put her off writing. Even if she had written a second novel, it is hard to imagine that it would have made such an impact as her first did.

So what is it about Wuthering Heights that caused it to make such a long lasting mark on society? It does not deal with social issues in the way other successful Victorian novels did, after all. Well, that emotional difference is precisely why, to a great extent. Instead, it looks at the inner workings of the characters’ minds. Emotions, whether kind or violent, are on display for the reader to judge, sympathise with, or enjoy. This made Wuthering Heights unique in its passion and is undoubtedly why it shocked so many people when it was published. That same reason is probably at the root of why it is now one of the most popular books of all time. Another factor behind the popularity of Emily Bronte’s novel can be applied to all those other books that have impacted our lives, from Orwell’s 1984, to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Such stories give a sense, as we read them, that the author knows us personally and is writing that book for us alone. There is always “something” about them that touches each individual and causes us to relate to what’s being said, whether it frightens, delights or moves us in some other fashion.

Wuthering Heights stirred emotion with an honesty Victorian society simply wasn’t ready for. The modern world, however, is still enjoying every one of Miss Bronte’s heartfelt outbursts, whether spoken by Heathcliff, Cathy or their counterparts. In the same way, we live in hope alongside Harry Potter as he fights Voldermort and we applaud Mole in The Wind in the Willows for shouting “Hang Spring Cleaning.”

The books that stay with us are the ones that contain something of ourselves, reflecting our own hopes, fears, emotions and dreams.

Christmas has passed for another year now, its celebrations in the UK were several weeks ago. In other countries, however, Christmas can be celebrated more on different dates. My family and I currently live in Spain, and more recently we have seen one example. Here, the 5th January is one of the most exciting days in the Spanish calendar, especially for children; While Santa does often visit on Christmas Eve, many children have to hold out until a few days later, when the Three Wise Men were thought to have arrived at Jesus’ birthplace: Epiphany.

Just like children around the world leave out a glass of something and a carrot for Santa and his reindeer, so Spanish children go to bed with a snack and drink ready for the Kings and their camels. Instead of stockings hung carefully by the fire, they place their shoes outside to tell the Kings how many small people live in the house, and for them to be filled with goodies (with larger presents to be placed alongside!) .

The Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, are seen in most towns and villages throughout Spain at some point during the day of the 5th January as they parade through the streets on highly decorated floats that represent their arrival from afar. The floats often following a procession of local dancers, music bands, jugglers and stilt walkers. These parades, called “cabalgatas”, even in the smallest of towns, are usually highly professionally decorated and packed with locals dressed up to match the theme, while in the big cities 100,000 people can come to watch a huge, televised event. Children and parents line the streets not only to enjoy the music and the visual feast of the entertainers, but also to catch the hundreds of thousands of sweets which are thrown from the people in the procession – usually hard boiled, wrapped candy which can leave a nasty bruise on the unwary! Some children hold up inverted umbrellas to catch the treats, while others scrabble on the ground, while their parents desperately try to hold them away from the wheels of the passing vehicles.

Thought to have hailed from Arabia, India and Persia, the Three Wise Men on the floats are often “played” by local people of importance (usually those such as senior council members). Traditionally, in Spain, Balthazar is portrayed as a black man, but with few people of colour in the councils of Spain, it is still considered acceptable for him to use black make-up – quite a cultural shock for those from countries where this would be seen as extremely racist! Times are a-changing, however, and in 2016 Madrid ensured that a black actor was given the part of Balthazar. While this caused some consternation across the country, it opened an important (if belated) conversation about the rights of people of colour living in Spain.

Following the excitement of the parade, children will haul their sweet bounty home (we carried a whole 5 kilos of sweets back this year!) and perhaps enjoy a slice of Roscón de Reyes before bed. This is a ring of sweet pastry, decorated with dried fruits, into which has been baked a small figurine of Jesus. Whoever has the slice in it with the figurine is considered to have good luck for the year, but whether they find it or not, children will find sleeping on the night of the 5th just as challenging as children who are waiting for Santa on the night of Christmas Eve.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the rubbish that you throw away? In the UK, about 43.5% of waste is recycled (link: which means that well over half of the plastic, metal, glass and food that we buy is simply thrown into landfill at best, and at worst dropped on the ground and left to blow away. Some of the rubbish that gets into the environment, especially plastic, causes very serious problems to animals and thereby, on a larger scale, the ecosystem as a whole.

Much of the world’s wasted, unrecycled plastic makes its way into the oceans, which is causing nothing short of devastation. In the oceans, there are five areas where natural wind movements draw floating material into one place, called gyres. In each of these gyres there are millions of tonnes of plastic, which will take hundreds of years to break down. In the meantime, they are being eaten by fish and sea mammals, leading to illness and death and potentially even putting humans at risk via the consumption of contaminated fish.

The problems aren’t just hidden away in the middle of the ocean of course. Beaches are awash with a combination of rubbish tossed over the sides of ships, dropped by people while enjoying the seaside or washed down in rivers from further inland. If you want a typical statistic on the issue, the BBC reports that along just a 100m length of British beaches could be found 42 crisp packets, 40 glass items, 35 cigarette stubs, 31 pieces of string and 27 baby wipes. (link:

None of this is particularly fresh news, of course. The results of plastic pollution are well known, as is its continuing presence. But there are still plenty of us attempting to change that, both here in the UK and abroad, even if it is a long and difficult task. And as part of this process, many people are working on innovative ways to make use of what other people have thrown away. Constructive industries have grown out of creating new products from old materials and in education the Internet is packed with craft ideas for kids where rubbish is turned into something new (link: ). One incredible project, though, is taking this latter concept to a whole new level.

In Paraguay, South America, a music teacher wanted to help children who were actually living on landfill sites. They and their parents were eking out a bare living picking plastic, metal and glass from the dump and then selling it. These children had no chance of an education, no chance of improving their lives, and in a town where a violin cost more than a house, the music teacher had some big problems.

However, this teacher also had big ideas. By teaming up with a hugely talented musical instrument maker, they both began to create functional, beautiful instruments from rubbish on the tip. The instruments – from cellos to clarinets – were given to the children of the landfill, and together with the Maestro they created the Landfillharmonic Orchestra (link: The Landfillharmonic Orchestra has travelled the world, had a movie made about their experience (link: and even opened across South America for Metallica!

This amazing project has given the children of their small village the chance of a different life, while re-using valuable materials which would otherwise have been thrown away. If that’s not an inspiration to us all, what is?

Johannes Gutenberg was born into the noble family of Mainz, Germany in c. 1394. A former stone-cutter and goldsmith, he is best known for inventing the Gutenberg press. He died on 3rd February 1468.

The race to become the first person to perfect the use of printing with moveable type was so heated by the middle of the 15th century, that Johannes Gutenberg worked on his invention in secret. He was one of several print masters simultaneously on the verge of perfecting the techniques of printing, but the first person to successfully demonstrate the practicability of movable type.

Gutenberg developed individual lettered blocks for his press which were made from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony. This combination melted together easily, and could be cast well in the moulds, while remaining durable enough for repeated use on the press. By carving the mirror image of each letter in relief on a small block, Gutenberg could ensure that each letter printed clearly. He was also able to move each piece of type around to make new words as often as he needed to, rather than having to re-carve whole words each few times he wanted to print a document.
With money loaned to him by his business partners Andreas Dritzehn and Johannes Fust, Gutenberg built the first large Gutenberg Press. By September 30, 1452, Guttenberg’s first complete Bible was published – becoming the first book ever to be published in one individual volume of bound pages. So exclusive were these early Gutenberg Bibles, that when one sold at the 1455 Frankfurt Book Fair, it cost the equivalent of three years’ pay for the average clerk.

The desire across the world for accessible books and papers was such that the idea of the printing press and movable type spread rapidly. Before 1500 some 2500 European cities had acquired presses of their own. Writing his Sartor Resartus in 1833, Thomas Carlyle said of the inventor of the printing press, “He who first shortened the labour of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.”

The impact of the press on the world’s levels of general knowledge and education was huge. Suddenly, books could be printed, not just in ones or twos, but in hundreds and thousands at a time, at a fraction of their previous cost, thereby making them available to more people. Eager for information, the higher and middle classes were keener to learn to read and write than before, and education was embraced on a scale never previously witnessed. Libraries could now store greater quantities of information at much lower cost, and scientists and inventors could spread their ideas faster; the speed and development of new drugs and innovations across Europe and beyond was accelerated greatly.

Gutenberg and his fellow printing press inventors, such as William Caxton in England, and many others, without doubt launched an “information revolution” on a par with the Internet today.

English Language is one of those subject areas that can be rather problematic, especially when you are faced with an overwhelming pile of study and not really enough time to fit it all in. Unlike other core subjects there is less of a factual content element and it’s therefore difficult for students to know exactly how to revise it and when to make it a priority.

We’ve all been in the position when time is running out and the only option you have is to cram in as much as you can as fast as you can. But this is where English Language presents an issue. As a skills-based subject it’s fantastic that this is an area of study that it is possible to grow and develop in. However, this can only come with regular practice and a steady, organised approach to preparation. Squashing in facts and hoping for the best in mid May is simply not an option.

So how can GCSE English students best prepare themselves for the English Language exam series? Fortunately there are many things you can do to make sure you are fully exam-ready and raring to go. Here are my top five tips for acing your English Language revision:

1. The English Language GCSE tests a student’s understanding of genre and ability to read, process, synthesise and evaluate language. Therefore, a good starting point is to know your non-fiction text types. Focusing on the common features and techniques used by writers when creating texts is one of the most valuable things you can revise. Not only will it help you to analyse genres in the exam but it will also help you in the writing sections of the papers when you are required to adopt a specific writing style.

2. Know your questions! If you study the sample papers you will see that the exam boards ask very similar questions about the unseen extracts every year. The student revision guides produced for your exam board can also help to guide you through this. Make sure you know what skills are being tested for each question and practise answering them. If there are questions that you find more challenging ask your teacher or tutor to support you with this.

3. Read some fiction. This doesn’t mean you have to read long novels but at the very least read short extracts. You can find these all over the internet and the more you read the more comfortable you will feel about analysing the longer extracts in the reading paper. Try to develop an approach to analysing fiction. As you read, think carefully about how the writer is using language to create setting and characters. Ask yourself how the characters feel and think about how the extract makes the audience feel. Usually the extracts will evoke a sympathetic or empathetic reaction in the audience.

4. Understand how writers use techniques. This doesn’t mean you have to spot features. Understanding techniques is part of your explanation of the effect of language. When you have read the extract and have a good idea of how, for example, the character is presented, you should then think about how the writer has created this impression. This is when you need to consider their techniques. Has the writer used a metaphor or a simile? Direct speech or a semantic field? How does this or that technique help the reader to understand the character further? This takes practice, so dust off your revision guides and get started!

5. Write, write, write! The English Language exam tests your writing ability so the best thing that you can do is to practice this as often as you can! The more you write, the better your skills will become. Write a little bit on a daily basis. You can tackle writing exam questions or just choose a genre and practise writing for a different purpose and audience. Pay attention to how you use punctuation and experiment with your style and use of language. And remember the examiners are not expecting you to be novelists or journalists. They just want to see that you can understand genre, that you can paragraph, that you can use accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, and most of all that you have ideas!

One of the most well known stories of the First World War is that of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when it is said that German and British troops came together to sing carols and play a game of football..

Although this seasonal truce is the most well known, it wasn’t the only one to take place during the long years of World War One. But because it took place at Christmas, a time associated with peace and harmony, it is remembered and celebrated more than any other. But is it in fact more a Christmas tale, or a true act of union between British and German troops?

As 1914 drew closer, it became clear that the war would not “be over by Christmas” as many had hoped. So on 7th December, Pope Benedict XV proposed that there should be an official ‘Truce of God” in which hostilities would cease for the Christmas period on both sides. Although the suggestion was widely rejected, in an attempt to improve the morale of the men on the front line, 460,000 parcels and 2.5 million letters were sent to British soldiers in France. As well as these gifts, King George V himself sent a card to every soldier. The Germans also received gift boxes from their leaders with which to celebrate the season.

Although no official truce was called, Britain’s General Haig wrote in his diary on 24th December that, “Tomorrow being Xmas day, I ordered no reliefs to be carried out, and troops to be given as easy a time as possible”.

The German soldiers celebrated on the night of Christmas Eve, as is the custom in Germany. They lit candles and sang carols in their trenches. In the quiet of the air of No Man’s land, the singing carried to the British line, and soon the soldiers were singing together. A few men were brave enough to leave the trenches, and some even exchanged small gifts. Photos were taken of soldiers from the opposing sides talking together, and for a few brief hours, both sides of the war met as equals and not as enemies.

Despite the stories, however, there was no Christmas truce football match. There may have been a few small-scale kick-abouts, but no genuine match took place. Indeed, by the time Christmas day arrived, war had returned to the trenches.

As previously mentioned, this brief and unofficial Christmas Eve truce was not the only one that occurred during the conflict. It was, though, to be the last. Prior to December 1914 there were often quiet periods when soldiers tacitly agreed not to shoot at each other. But these lulls were stamped out by the commanders on either side of the war. It was feared that friendships would develop between the differing sides of the battlefield, and that the men would refuse to fire on each other. Communication between the trenches even began to be regarded as treason. In fact the Belgian, Indian and French were very angry that British troops had shown any signs of friendship towards the Germans at all.

As a consequence of the commander’s crackdowns, the small truces of the war’s first year were never repeated. Yet the sporting story of the unsanctioned Christmas truce remains vibrant in our imaginations; we like to believe that even in the midst of the horror of war we can recognise the humanity in our enemies and ourselves – even if only for a few hours.

For long periods of our industrial history, Britain has been a low pay, low productivity economy. Usually, we mask the effects of these two related problems either by borrowing or by our relative strengths in the sale of financial services to the rest of the world. But since the financial crash of 2008, productivity and GDP has continually declined and Brexit is almost certainly going to make our economic malaise worse, adversely affecting living standards, the social mobility of the young and the effective operation of our public services.

Low pay reduces the surplus income of households, reducing the ability to save and to purchase goods. Coupled with “full employment” (in essence the employment of marginal labour) lowers total manufacturing costs, but does so without incentivising capital investment per worker (the key to increasing productivity). What incentive is there for small manufacturing firms to spend on capital equipment when they can hire and fire low skilled labour almost at will? Because labour costs are low, manufacturers are able to earn high profits. Low pay over an extended period also reduces tax revenue for governments. The ability of central government to finance public services is thus compromised. The ever widening gap between low paid work and high profit increases social inequality – which in turn has a social cost.

Why do we have the persistent problem of low productivity? There are several interlocking reasons. Our 19th Century-style education system has persistently failed to provide the skilled labour required by modern industry. Technical education has been neglected for years, even though the problem was recognised as far back as the 1860’s. Our industrial base is largely composed of small family-run firms, often working at the margins, with little incentive to spend capital or borrow investment money, particularly in a long period of chronic uncertainty. Our antiquated infrastructure inhibits productivity; a lorry-load of goods for export stuck on the M6 raises social costs by raising pollution and delaying transport at ports.

Brexit makes all these problems worse. Not only do we stand to see our high-tech exports to the EU decline, we also stand to lose substantial portions of our financial service industries to Paris and Berlin. The counter-argument that we can gain new markets outside the EU looks thin: Australia and New Zealand are now firmly orientated towards the expanding Asian markets. China does five times more trade with the EU than with Britain. Since the election of Donald Trump, it is America first, second and last. We should expect no favours from any “special relationship”, especially as we have never actually had one before.

It is of course true that the November budget attempts to address these problems. But the stark fact is that the Chancellor simply has no spare cash and a substantial portion of it is earmarked for our exit from the EU.

Some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, the car industry and IT firms have a history of capital investment and they pay for professional excellence. But they too fear the results of a “hard” Brexit. These next steps of British economic history will be uneven and stumbling ones. Keeping balance could be a hope more than an expectation.



On November 10th 1871, the explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley met with fellow explorer David Livingstone at Ujiji, near Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa. It is claimed that Stanley’s first word to Livingstone were, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’

Born near Glasgow on 19th March 1813, David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary doctor and explorer who devoted much of his life to discovering as much of Africa and its people as he could. In 1841 he was posted to the edge of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, and became convinced of his mission to introduce the local population to Christianity, and free them from slavery.

In 1852, Livingstone began a four year expedition to establish a mapped route between the upper Zambezi to the coast. By 1855 he had discovered the biggest waterfall he’d ever seen. He named it the ‘Victoria Falls’ in honour of Queen Victoria. Once he was back in Britain, Livingstone spoke at length about his travels. He campaigned for an end to slavery, though this made the government suspicious of him. Determined to continue with his campaign, his missionary work and his explorations, he returned to Africa. His quest this time was to find the source of the Nile. It would be while he was on this mission that he was to meet a fellow explorer and journalist, Henry Morton Stanley.

Born on 28th January 1841 in Wales, Stanley was originally born John Rowlands. However, because his parents weren’t married, he lived in a workhouse until 1859, when he left for New Orleans. He was befriended by a merchant, Henry Stanley, and it was he whose name he took.

A special correspondent for the New York Herald, in 1869 Stanley was commissioned by the paper to go to Africa. His quest was to search for the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who at this time hadn’t been heard of since 1866, when he set off on his Nile expedition.

During the 700-mile expedition through the tropical forest to find Livingstone, dozens of Stanley’s party died from many tropical diseases. Still more of his men left him, and his horse died within a few days after a bite from a tsetse fly. It was 1871 before Stanley got to Lake Tanganyika, and in November he finally found Livingstone in poor health. He is said to have greeted him with the famous words, later recorded in The Herald on July 1872, “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.”

Livingstone had been determined to continue with his exploration of the region, but his health never improved, and in 1873 he died. Stanley resolved to carry on with the work, and funded by the Herald and a British newspaper, he explored vast areas of central Africa until he reached the Atlantic in August 1877.

David Livingstone had planned to persevere with his quest to free as many people from slavery as he could. With his death however, Stanley was free to employ his own methods, and rather than continue with all of Livingstone’s work, he concentrated on the discovery of more the Congo – but not the campaign to abolish slavery. Gaining financial support from King Leopold II of Belgium, who was eager to tap Africa’s wealth, Stanley worked to open the lower Congo to overseas trade by the construction of roads. In stark contrast to Livingstone’s wishes, Stanley used brutal means that included the widespread use of local slave labour to complete his work.

Rather than using his explorations to end slavery, as Livingstone had dreamed of, Stanley used slavery to aid his work and improve his own status. Unfortunately, in this he was undeniably successful. By 1890, he was touring Europe with a lecture tour, had become an MP for Lambeth in south London, and was knighted in 1899.

Livingstone and Stanley’s meeting, so famous for its opening words, could have helped the anti-slavery movement. Instead it ensured that slavery of the most brutal kind continued, and that the British and European attitude to Africans and the usefulness of slaves to create roads and trade routes through Africa lasted longer than perhaps it otherwise might, should Livingstone have survived. Indeed, even with slavery’s abolition, the damage Stanley encouraged was felt, directly and indirectly, for decades, and arguably to this day. Livingston would have been greatly saddened by it.

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