Saturday, August 8, 2009

Now’s here one woman who was definitely one of the great bucket carriers of history. Mary Moffat Livingstone, wife of the sanctified missionary-explorer, David Livingstone.
Devoted and loyal to her husband and her family, she was an exemplary heroine – or victim, depending on your point of view - of the age in which she lived.
Few modern women can comprehend the conditions which she endured – a childhood in what was then a remote outpost of Southern Africa, a marriage of convenience to a dour Scotsman, long and arduous journeys in primitive wagons across deserts and through unexplored bush. Mary faced everything from attacks by wild animals and close encounters with death by starvation, thirst and disease, not to mention giving birth beneath the trees after which she was expected to climb back on board the wagon and continue as if nothing untoward had happened.
Only towards the end of her life after she had been cruelly abandoned to her own devices and poverty in Britain for years at a time while her husband continued on his glory-making exploits through Africa, did she show signs of finally breaking out of the mould into which she had been forced, even to the point of questioning her belief in God.
If she hadn’t died tragically from fever – exacerbated by a growing fondness for alcohol - in her early forties, perhaps a less compliant and more assertive Mary Livingstone would have eventually emerged and the story of David Livingstone himself might have taken a very different path.
In death, as in life, Mary remains on the neglected outer fringe and is buried on the remote banks of the Zambezi River at Chupanga, Mozambique while her husband David, of course, lies in far more exalted soil under Westminster Abbey.
David has had hundreds of articles and books written about him, yet there is still no sympathetic biography of Mary. Edna Healey is one of only a handful of authors who has researched her in some detail. See “Wives of Fame” (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1986)
Mary’s eldest son, Robert, was likewise a victim of his father’s great fame, and will be the topic of another entry.

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