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Henry Morton Stanley

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Henry Morton Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley
Journalist and explorer
Born John Rowlands
(1841-01-28)28 January 1841
Denbigh, Wales, UK
Died 10 May 1904(1904-05-10) (aged 63)
London, England, UK

Sir Henry Morton Stanley GCB (born John Rowlands; 28 January 1841 – 10 May 1904) was a Welsh journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Upon finding Livingstone, Stanley allegedly asked, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Stanley is also known for his discovery of the source of the Nile, his work in and development of the Congo Basin region in association with King Leopold II of Belgium and for commanding the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. He was knighted in 1899 by Great Britain.

Early life

Henry Morton Stanley, 1890

He was born in 1841 as John Rowlands in Denbigh, Denbighshire, Wales. His mother, Elizabeth Parry, was 18 years old. She abandoned him as a very young baby and cut off all communication. She would have five more children by different men, only the youngest of whom was born in wedlock. Stanley never knew his father, who died within a few weeks of his birth;[1] there is some doubt as to his true parentage.[2] 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.[3]

The boy John was given his father's surname of Rowlands and brought up by his maternal grandfather, Moses Parry. The once-prosperous butcher was living in reduced circumstances but cared for the boy until he died, when John was five. Rowlands stayed with families of cousins and nieces for a short time, but he was eventually sent to St Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. The overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in his being frequently abused by older boys. Historian Robert Aldrich suggests that he was raped in 1847 by the headmaster of the workhouse.[4] When John was ten, his mother and two half-siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, but of course he did not recognize them; the master told him who they were.[5] He stayed until the age of 15. After completing an elementary education, he was employed as a pupil teacher in a National School.

New country, new name

In 1859, at age 18, Rowland emigrated to the United States in search of a new life. He disembarked at New Orleans and, according to his own declarations, became friendly with a wealthy trader named Henry Hope Stanley, by accident: he saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job opening. He did so in the British style: "Do you want a boy, sir?" As it happened, the childless man had indeed been wishing he had a son, and the inquiry led not only to a job, but to a close relationship between them.[6] Out of admiration, John took Stanley's name. Later, he would write that his adoptive parent died two years after their meeting, but the elder Stanley did not die until 1878.[7] Young Stanley assumed a local accent and began to deny being a foreigner.

Stanley reluctantly joined [8] in the American Civil War, first enrolling in the Confederate Army's 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment[9] and fighting in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.[10] After being taken prisoner, he was recruited at Camp Douglas, Illinois, by its commander, Col. James A. Mulligan, as a "Galvanized Yankee." He joined the Union Army on 4 June 1862 but was discharged 18 days later due to severe illness.[11] Recovering, he served on several merchant ships before joining the Navy in July 1864. On board the Minnesota, he became a record keeper, which led him into freelance journalism. Stanley and a junior colleague jumped ship on 10 February 1865 at a port in New Hampshire, in search of greater adventures.[12] Stanley was possibly the only man to serve in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy.[13]


Following the Civil War, Stanley began a career as a journalist. As part of this new career, Stanley organised 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.[14]

Stanley's graffiti at Persepolis, Iran

In 1867, Stanley was recruited by Colonel Samuel Forster Tappan (a one-time journalist) of the Indian Peace Commission, to serve as a correspondent to cover the work of the Commission for several newspapers. Tappan had proposed that Indians be given more authority to govern themselves on reservations and President Ulysses S. Grant wanted to improve conditions on reservations. To reduce corruption, Grant proposed that religious ministers should be appointed as US Indian agents rather than military or commercial businessmen. Stanley was soon retained exclusively by James Gordon Bennett (1795–1872), founder of the New York Herald, who was impressed by the young man's exploits and his direct style of writing. He describes this early period of his professional life in Volume I of his memoir, My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia (1895). He became one of the Herald’s overseas correspondents.

Finding Livingstone

In 1869, Stanley was instructed by Bennett's son to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had not been heard from for some time. According to Stanley's account, he asked James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841–1918), who had succeeded to the paper's management after his father's retirement in 1867, how much he could spend. The reply was "Draw £1,000 now, and when you have gone through that, draw another £1,000, and when that is spent, draw another £1,000, and when you have finished that, draw another £1,000, and so on — BUT FIND LIVINGSTONE!" Stanley had lobbied his employer for several years to mount this expedition.

1872 Carte de visite – Stanley and Kalulu.
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" A contemporary illustration.

Stanley travelled to Zanzibar in March 1871 and outfitted an expedition with the best of everything, requiring no fewer than 200 porters. This 700-mile (1,100 km) expedition through the tropical forest became a nightmare. His thoroughbred stallion died within a few days after a bite from a tsetse fly, many of his carriers deserted, and the rest were decimated by tropical diseases. Some 21st century authors suggest that Stanley treated his indigenous porters quite well in contemporary terms, helping to refute his reputation for brutality.[15] But, statements by contemporaries of Stanley, such as Sir Richard Francis Burton, who claimed "Stanley shoots negroes as if they were monkeys", paints a very different picture.[16][17]

Stanley found Livingstone on 10 November 1871, in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. He may have greeted him with the now-famous line, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" It may also have been a fabrication, as Stanley tore out of his diary the pages relating to the encounter.[18] 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.[19] Stanley biographer Tim Jeal argues that the explorer invented it afterwards as part of trying to raise his standing because of "insecurity about his background".[20]

The Herald's own first account of the meeting, published 1[21] 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."[22][23]
Stanley joined Livingstone in exploring the region, establishing there was no connection between Lake Tanganyika and the River Nile. On his return, he wrote a book about his experiences: How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa.[24]

Researching the Congo River

Henry M Stanley with the officers of the Advance Column, Cairo, 1890. From the left: Dr. Thomas Heazle Parke, Robert H. Nelson, Henry M. Stanley, William G. Stairs, and Arthur J. M. Jephson

In 1874, the New York Herald, in partnership with Britain's Daily Telegraph, financed Stanley on another expedition to the African continent. One of his missions was to solve a last great mystery of Africa by tracing the course of the Congo River to the sea. The difficulty of this expedition is hard to overstate. Stanley used sectional boats to pass the great cataracts that separated the Congo into distinct tracts. The boats had to be taken apart and transported around the rapids before being rebuilt to travel on the next section of river. After 999 days, on 9 August 1877, Stanley reached the Portuguese outpost of Boma, around 100km from the mouth of the Congo River. Starting with 356 people, he reached Boma with 114 survivors, and he was the only European left. He wrote about his trials in his book Through the Dark Continent.[25]

Claiming the Congo for the Belgian king

Henry M. Stanley in 1884

Stanley was approached by the ambitious Belgian king International African Association. The king spoke of his intentions to introduce Western civilization and bring religion to that part of Africa, but did not mention he wanted to claim the lands. At the end of his life, the king was embittered by the growing perception that his establishment of a Congo Free State was mitigated by its unscrupulous government. In addition, the spread of sleeping sickness across central Africa is attributed to the movements of Stanley's enormous baggage train[26] and the Emin Pasha relief expedition.

Henry Stanley and party standing on the back of an observation car at Monterey, California, 19 March 1891

Emin Pasha Relief Expedition

In 1886, Stanley led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition to "rescue" Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria in the southern Sudan. King Leopold II demanded that Stanley take the longer route, via the Congo River, hoping to acquire more territory and perhaps even Equatoria. After immense hardships and great loss of life, Stanley met Emin in 1888, charted the Ruwenzori Range and Lake Edward, and emerged from the interior with Emin and his surviving followers at the end of 1890.[27] But this expedition tarnished Stanley's name because of the conduct of the other Europeans: British gentlemen and army officers. An army major, Edmund Musgrave Barttelot, was shot by a carrier, after behaving with extreme cruelty. James Sligo Jameson, heir to an Irish whiskey manufacturer, bought an 11-year-old girl and offered her to cannibals to document and sketch how she was cooked and eaten. Stanley only found out when Jameson had died of fever.[3]

Later years

On his return to Europe, he married Welsh artist Dorothy Tennant, and they adopted a child, Denzil, who in 1954, donated some 300 items to the Stanley archives at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. Denzil died in 1959.[28] Stanley entered Parliament as a Liberal Unionist member for Lambeth North, serving from 1895 to 1900. He became Sir Henry Morton Stanley when he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1899, in recognition of his service to the British Empire in Africa.

He died in London on 10 May 1904; at his funeral, he was eulogised by Daniel P. Virmar. His grave, in the churchyard of St. Michael's Church in Pirbright, Surrey, is marked by a large piece of granite inscribed with the words "Henry Morton Stanley, Bula Matari, 1841–1904, Africa". Bula Matari, which translates as "Breaker of Rocks" or "Breakstones" in Kongo, was Stanley's name among locals in Congo. It can be translated as a term of endearment: for as the leader of Leopold's expedition, he commonly worked with the labourers breaking rocks with which they built the first modern road along the Congo River.[29] It can also be translated in far less flattering terms; Adam Hochschild suggested, while Stanley understood it as an heroic epithet, his Congolese companions understood it in a mocking and pejorative tone.[30]

Stanley acknowledged that "[m]any people have called me hard,"[31] and wrote, in Through the Dark Continent, that "the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision."[25] His legacy of death and destruction in the Congo region is considered an inspiration for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.[32]


Henry Morton Stanley's grave in Pirbright, Surrey

In 1939, a popular film called Stanley and Livingstone was released, with Spencer Tracy as Stanley and Cedric Hardwicke as Livingstone.

The 1949 comedy film Africa Screams is the story of a dimwitted clerk named Stanley Livington (played by Lou Costello), who is mistaken for a famous African explorer and recruited to lead a treasure hunt. The character's name appears to be a play on Stanley & Livingstone, but with a few crucial letters omitted from the surname; it is unknown whether this results from a typist's error or a deliberate obfuscation.

Stanley appears as a character in Simon Gray's 1978 play The Rear Column, which tells the story of the men left behind to wait for Tippu Tib while Stanley went on to relieve Emin Pasha.

An NES game based on his life was released in 1992 called "Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston".[33]

In 1997, a made-for-television film, Forbidden Territory: Stanley's Search for Livingstone, was produced by National Geographic. Stanley was portrayed by Aidan Quinn and Livingstone was portrayed by Nigel Hawthorne.

His great grandson, Richard Stanley, is a South African filmmaker and directs documentaries.[34]

A hospital in St. Asaph, north Wales, is named after Stanley in honour of his birth in the area. It was the former workhouse in which he spent much of his early life. Memorials to H M Stanley have recently been erected in St Asaph and in Denbigh (a statue of H M Stanley with an outstretched hand).

In 1971, the BBC produced a six-part dramatised documentary series, Search for the Nile. Much of the series was shot on location, with Stanley played by Keith Buckley.[35]

In 2004, Welsh journalist Tim Butcher wrote his book "Blood River: A Journey Into Africa's Broken Heart", following Stanley's journey through the Congo.

The 2009 History Channel series, Expedition Africa, documents a group of explorers attempting to traverse the route of Stanley's expedition in search of Livingstone.

Taxa named in honour

Taxa named in honour of Henry Morton Stanley include:

See also


  1. ^ Stanley, Henry M. (ed. Dorothy Stanley) (1909) The Autobiography of Henry M. Stanley, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York
  2. ^ "Henry Morton Stanley", Dictionary of Welsh Biography
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ Robert Aldrich. Colonialism and Homosexuality. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Jeal, Tim (2011). Explorers of the Nile. London: Faber and Faber. p. 258.  
  6. ^ "The Making of an American Lion", American Heritage, Vol. 25, No. 2 (February 1974).
  7. ^ Edgerton, Robert T. (2002). The Troubled Heart of Africa. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 35.  
  8. ^ Gallop p 50
  9. ^
  10. ^ Arnold, James (1998). Shiloh 1862. Osprey Publishing.   p. 32
  11. ^ Gallop, p. 61
  12. ^ Gallop, pp 63–65
  13. ^ Brown, Dee (1963). The Galvanized Yankees, University of Illinois Press (Urbana); ISBN 978-0-8032-6075-7, p. 58.
  14. ^ Gallop, pp 71–73
  15. ^  
  16. ^ Lefort, Rebecca (25 July 2010). "Row over statue of 'cruel' explorer Henry Morton Stanley". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  17. ^ Hochschild, Adam (1998). King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.   See also Bierman, John. Dark Safari: The Life behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley.
  18. ^ Jeal, Tim (2007). Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer. Faber and Faber.  
  19. ^ "THE SEARCH FOR LIVINGSTON: Progress of the Englishman Stanley – Fierce Encounter with Arabs – Arrival at the Coast – The Great Explorer Remains Two Years More in Africa", London, 1 July New York Times, 2 July 1872. Accessed 19 May 2008.
  20. ^ Jeal, Tim (2007). Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer. Faber and Faber.   p. 117
  21. ^ NY Herald July 1 1872
  22. ^ "David Livingstone letter deciphered at last. Four-page missive composed at the lowest point in his professional life". Associated Press. 2 July 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  23. ^ Livingstone's Letter from Bambarre (accessed 4 July 2010)
  24. ^ Stanley, Henry M. (19 February 2002). How I Found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveres in Central Africa. Dover Publications.  
  25. ^ a b Stanley, Henry M. (1988). Through the Dark Continent. Dover Publications. pp. 432 pages.  
  26. ^ Alastair Compston (2008). "Editorial". Brain 131 (5): 1163–64.  
  27. ^ (Turnbull, 1983)
  28. ^ RMCA (2005) Inventory of the Henry M. Stanley Archives
  29. ^ Jeal, Tim
  30. ^ Hochschild (1998)
  31. ^ See Stanley's introduction to Glave, E. J. (1892). In Savage Africa; or, Six Years of Adventure in Congo-Land. New York, NY: R. H. Russell & Son.  Quote on p. 12.
  32. ^ Sherry, Norman (1980). Conrad's Western World. Cambridge University Press. p. 340.  
  33. ^ Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston
  34. ^ Richard Stanley (I) at the Internet Movie Database
  35. ^ "The Search for the Nile: Find Livingstone". Film & TV Database.  
  36. ^ Smith E. A. (1877). "On the shells of Lake Nyasa, and on a few marine species from Mozambique". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1877: 712–722. Page 717, Plate 75, figures 21–22.
  37. ^ (French) Bourguignat J. R. (1885). Notice prodromique sur les mollusques terrestres et fluviatiles recueillis par M. Victor Giraud dans la region méridionale du lac Tanganika. page 11, 86–87.


  • Gallop, Alan. (2004) Mr Stanley, I presume – the life and explorations of Henry Morton Stanley, Sutton
  • Hall, Richard. (1974) Stanley. An Adventurer Explored, London.
  • Stanley, Henry M. (ed. Dorothy Stanley) (1909, 1969) The Autobiography of Henry M. Stanley, New York.

Further reading

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Francis Moses Coldwells
Member of Parliament for Lambeth North
Succeeded by
Frederick William Horner
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