- This source is an extract from a series of reports written by David
Livingstone for the British government between 1852 and 1872.
- This extract describes an expedition in which he was trying to find
the source of the River Nile. Livingstone was writing to the government
minister Lord Stanley.
- In this extract he describes the terrible death toll as a result of
the deadly smallpox virus.
- Smallpox was not a major problem in Britain by the late 1800s because
a vaccine (a medicine which stopped people catching the disease) had
been developed 100 years earlier. However, the vaccine was not easy
to keep fresh in the hot African climate. Livingstone describes the
method of putting the vaccine in capillary tubes. These were thin, sealed
glass bottles, which kept the vaccine pure.
- Livingstone shows how long he has been away from Britain because he
does not know who might be able to supply vaccine. Any doctor in Britain
would have known.
- Like many missionaries, Livingstone tried to bring Western medicine
to African peoples. This is generally seen as one of the real benefits
brought by the British empire to Africa and to other parts of the empire.
- On the other hand, many of the diseases that Livingstone helped to
fight were actually brought to Africa by European travellers in the
- Livingstone refers to Arabs in this source. Arabs traded constantly
with the East African coast. Most were honest traders, but many were
also slave traders. As you can see from the source, Livingstone did
not have a high opinion of them.
- You can find out more about Livingstone in source 3 of this
case study and in source 5 of gallery 1 case study 2.