Dr Livingstone, I presume …

On Friday I returned from Edinburgh, where I met with some recent leavers from my current school, all now studying at Edinburgh University. It was a super occasion, and it was wonderful to see them enjoying student life – which includes studying very hard, of course! I had half an hour to spare between meetings, and I thought that I would use the opportunity to pop into the National Museum on Chambers Street; when I arrived, I discovered that one of their main current exhibitions was a reflection on the life of the great explorer and missionary, Dr David Livingstone, and I headed straight there.

David Livingstone was born in 1813, which makes 2013 the bicentenary of his birth. I knew this already, of course, because (as I mentioned in a blog just over a year ago), one of our older old girls from St Mary’s Calne, Belinda Hodge, has been busy for the past year galvanising support for children in Livingstone, Zambia, where some of our current pupils are going to help build a school next year – all part of the enduring legacy that Dr Livingstone left behind him. This anniversary was the reason for the exhibition, and it was fascinating – as indeed was the man himself.

Dr Livingstone was not only an explorer and a missionary; he was a great innovator and a medical doctor. Moreover, he was an acute observer of human beings, and appears to have had characteristics which endeared him to those he met, and led them to laud him: throughout Africa, towns and streets are named after him. His organisation and leadership may have been chaotic at times – his missions were not at all successful, and he did in fact appear to be lost when Henry Morton Stanley, sent out by the New York Herald to look for him, met him on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on 10th November 1871, and uttered those now immortal words – but he genuinely cared for those he met. He uncovered some of the horrors of the slave trade, and he described human trafficking as “this open sore upon the world”. He contributed to making a difference in this respect. He died in 1873 – the exact same year that St Mary’s Calne was founded, and only a few years before my new school, Ascham, was founded in Australia.

And then I saw one of his quotes, emblazoned on a banner, prominent in the exhibition. It struck an immense chord – and reinforced for me how important it is that we enrich ourselves by dipping into exhibitions about the lives of great people of a different age. The quote said this:

“I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”

As I make my final preparations to leave the shores of the UK to head to Australia, and as my students prepare to go to interviews for university places, and as the leavers at Ascham await their HSC results and look ahead to their futures, it is incumbent upon us all to remember that the advances in understanding that we have made a human race over the past centuries have all happened because people like Dr David Livingstone were prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.

We must all go forward; it is our duty to do so. And as we do, not only do we make the most of our lives, but we create a better life for those who follow us, now and in the future.


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