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by Bamber Gascoigne

Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) - originally John Rowlands


American journalist and adventurer, who took New York Herald's mission "to go and find Livingstone." In his diary How I Found Livingstone (1872) Stanley presents his story with stoicism, without magnifying his epic adventure of hardships of the journey. He traveled 700 miles in 236 days before he found the ailing Scottish missionary-explorer David Livingstone on the island of Ujiji. At meeting Livingstone, Stanley tried to hide his enthusiasm and uttered his famous, pompous greeting: "Doctor Livingstone, I presume!" Henry Morton Stanley was considered the most effective explorer of his day, who led expeditions along the Congo and the Nile in 1874-77 and at the same time paved the way for colonial exploitation in these areas. He helped create Léopold's Congo Free State, ruthlessly ruled by the Belgian monarch as a personal domain, and British possessions on the upper Nile in the 1880s.

I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob-—would have embraced him, but that I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what moral cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing-—walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said:
"Yes," said he, with a kind, cordial smile, lifting his cap slightly.

(from How I Found Livingstone: Travels, Adventures, and Discoveries in Central Africa, Including Four Months' Residence with Dr. Livingstone by Henry M. Stanley, Samson Low, Marston & Co., 18--?, p. 331)

Henry Morton Stanley was born at Denbigh in North Wales, the illegitimate son of John Rowlands and Elisabeth Parry - on the birth register of St. Hilary's Church he was entered as "John Rowlands, Bastard." Stanley's father died in a potato field in 1846; he was seventy-five. Abandoned by his mother, Stanley spent his early years in the custody of his two uncles and his maternal grandfather. After his grandfather died, he was consigned at the age of six to the St. Asaph Workhouse, where male adults "took part in every possible vice," as an investigative commission reported in 1847. (Mr. Stanley, I Presume?: The Life and Explorations of Henry Morton Stanley by Alan Gallopp, 2004, p. 18) However, a favorite of the director, Stanley received a fair education and he became a voracious reader.

At fifteen, Stanley left St. Asaph's. He stayed some years with his relatives, and then ran away to sea, landing eventually in New Orleans. There Stanley gave himself a new name. First he was known as "J. Rolling," but eventually he settled on Henry Morton Stanley after the cotton broker Henry Stanley, for whom he worked in New Orleans.

After the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Stanley joined the Confererate Army, but later he enlisted in the Union Army. In 1864 he served as a clerk at the frigate Minnesota. During the following years, Stanley led a roving life in America, working mostly as a free-lance journalist. He also went to Turkey and Asia Minor as a newspaper correspondent. In 1867-1868 he was a special correspondent for the New York Herald. While in St. Louis, he met Mark Twain and covered his lecture for a local newspaper.

In 1871 Stanley started his expedition to East Africa. To Katie Gough-Roberts, a young woman living in Denbigh, he sent a number of letters, and planned to marry her after the journey. However, she married an architect. Although he was deserted by his bearers, plagued by disease and warring tribes but he found Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika in Ujiji on November 10, 1871. When they met, they greeted each other with great calm and with aristocratic nonchalance. (British readers of Stanley's famous account found his behaviour comical.) Stanley wore a cork-lined pith helmet invented by a tailor named Hawkes. Another tailor, named Gieves, had made Livingstone's cap; these two tailors joined forces to become the tailoring firm of Gieves & Hawkes at 1 Saville Row. The hats are in the archive of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London.

Stanley's white companions had died during the search. Together with Livingstone he explored the northern end of Lake Tangayika - Richard Francis Burton claimed Lake Tangayika as the source of the River Nile. Livingstone had journeyed extensively in central and southern Africa from 1840 and fought to destroy the slave trade. Livingstone died in 1873 on the Shores of Lake Bagweulu, within a year of his famous meeting with Stanley. In 1902, a memorial was built to mark the spot where he died. His heart was buried under a mvuli tree. Livingstone's body was shipped back to England and buried in Westminster Abbey - Stanley was one of the pall-bearers. During his 33-year career with the London Missionary Society, Livingston only managed to convert one person to Christianity.

On hearing of his hero's death, Stanley decided to follow up Livingstone's researches on the Congo/Zaire and Nile systems, and at the same time examine the discoveries of Burton, Speke and Grant.  As he wrote: "Two weeks were allowed me for purchasing boats - a yawl, a gig, and a barge - for giving orders for pontoons, and purchasing equipments, guns, ammunition, rope, saddles, medical stores, and provisions; for making investments in gifts for native chiefs; for obtaining scientific instruments, stationery, &c., &c. The barge was an invention of my own." (Through the Dark Continent, Vol. 1, 1878, p. 4) Before the journey, Stanley fell in love with Alice Pike, a seventeen year old American heiress. She married Albert Barney in 1876.

"Then sing, O friends, sing; the journey is ended;
Sing aloud, O friends, sing to this great sea."
(Through the Dark Continent, by Henry M. Stanley, Volume One, 1988, p. 112, originally published 1878)

On his second African adventure, which started in 1874, Stanley journeyed into central Africa. Stanley's three white companions, Frederick Barker and Francis and Edward Pocock, died during the expedition - Stanley himself was nicknamed Bula Matari, "the rock breaker." Stanley circumnavigated Victoria Nyanza, proving it to be the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, and discovered the Shimeeyu River. After sailing down the Livingstone (Congo) River, he reached the Atlantic Ocean on August 12, 1877.

When David Livingstone combined geographical, religious, commercial, and humanitarian goals in his exploration journeys, Stanley created the direct link between exploration and colonization, especially in the service of Leopold II of Belgium. Stanley represented Leopold in signing treaties with bewildered African chiefs. The first expeditions of the Belgians he led to "prove that the Congo natives were susceptible of civilization and that the Congo basin was rich enough to repay exploitation." ('Stanley, Sir Henry Morton', in The Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, Volume 25, 1911, p. 780) Stanley's revelation of the commercial possibilities of the region resulted in the setting up of a large trading venture and led to the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885. Leopold II's ruthless exploitation of the country's natural resources - "the rubber atrocities" - were protested by the international community and the Belgian parliament forced the king to give up personal control of the region.

Stanley made in 1886 a successful lecturing tour in the United States. The writer Mark Twain introduced him to the audience in Boston in November by comparing Stanley to Columbus: "Now, Columbus started out to discover America. Well, he didn't need to do anything at all but sit in the cabin of his ship and hold his grip and sail straight on, and America would discover itself. Here it was, barring his passage the whole length and breadth of the South American continent, and he couldn't get by it. He'd got to discover it. But Stanley started out to find Doctor Livingstone, who was scattered abroad, as you may say, over the length and breadth of a vast slab of Africa as big as the United States. It was a blind kind of search. He was the worst scattered of men." (Mark Twain's Speeches by Mark Twain, introduction by W.D. Howells, 1929, p. 56)

Following the capture of Khartoum by the Mahdists, Stanley led in 1887 an expedition in search of Emin Pasha, a German-Jewish adventurer, whose real name was Dr. Eduard Schnitzler. During this disastrous mission one of Stanley's subordinated bought a slave girl and gave her to cannibals. Stanley made the first complete traverse of the Ituri River, whose waters flow some 800 miles before joining the Congo in the vicinity of present-day Kisangani,  formerly Stanleyville. By the time he abandoned the river to go directly for Lake Edward, fifty-two of his men were so crippled by leg ulcers and malnutrition, that he had to leave them on the riverbank at a place he named Starvation Camp

In 1890 Stanley married Dorothy Tennant, a Welsh artist, whom he had met five years earlier at a dinner party and who had painted his portrait. She was fourteen years his junior, intelligent, rich, well-connected. "A very short . . . determined man," she wrote in her diary after their first meeting of Stanley. "I felt I cared for him. I know he cared back for me." (Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal, 2007, p. 302) However, Stanley did not share her literary tastes: her favorite books were Henry James's Daisy Miller and Mrs Gaskell's Cranford. Stanley loved Flaubert's Salammbo. They never had children of their own, but they adopted a son, Denzil Morton Stanley, the Denzil coming from a friend of Oliver Cromwell, to whon Dorothy traced her ancestry.

His account of the struggle to find Emir Pasha Stanley published in 1890, the year that Joseph Conrad went to Congo, and later returned to his experiences in Heart of Darkness. Stanley visited in the following year the United States and Australia on lecturing tours. In 1899 Stanley was knighted and in 1895-1900 he sat in Parliament. He died in London on May 10, 1904. The Dean of Westminster Abbey refused his burial in the church, near Livingston, saying: "One of our highest geographical authorities lays stress on the violence and even cruelty, which marked some of his [Stanley's] explorations, and contrasts this with the peaceful successes of other explorers." (Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal, 2007, p. 464) The king showed his disappoval of the dean's decision by sending the Duke of Abercorn to be a pall-bearer. Stanley himself was utterly indifferent to public recognition.

Stanley's publications include fiction and nonfiction. His diary, How I found Livingstone, and his account of his journey to the sources of the Nile, Through the Dark Continent (1878), has been reprinted several times. In Darkest Africa (1890), about his 1887-89 expedition, depicts among others pygmies (the word pygmy is considered pejorative) who were still mysterious to the outside world. In adventure books of the nineteenth century, they were usually pictured as dwarfs. Stanley also wrote about the slave trade, but on the other hand he believed in the superiority of the white race.

My Kalulu, Prince, King, and Slave (1873), Stanley's only novel, has been called an idealised homosexual love story. (Colonialism and Homosexuality by Robert Aldrich, 2008, p. 41) Stanley wrote it partly while on a lecture tour in the United States. The story, set in Central Africa, was about Selim, a young Arab boy from Zanzibar. Selim is taught to accept slavery, but on his journey in the Central Africa Selim himself is captured as a slave. He escapes, befriends an African prince, Kalulu. "Kalulu was one of the best specimens which the ancient sculptors would have delighted to imitate in stone. His face or head may not, perhaps, have kindled any very great admission, but the body, arms, and limbs were unmistakenly magnificent in shape. He had not an ounce of flesh too much, yet without the tedious training which the modern athlete has to undergo, and following nothing but the wild instinct of his native tribe, he was a perfect youthful Apollo in form." (Ibid., Charles Scribner's Sons, 1890, p. 137) Stanley drew the story from his observation made during his historical search for Livingstone. In true-life Kalulu, ex-slave acquired in this journey, visited the US and Britain but was drowned on Stanley's second expedition in 1874. According to Stanley's journal he had purchased Kalulu for $20 to carry one of his hunting rifles. (The Last Blank Spaces by Dane Kennedy, 2013, p. 172)

For further reading: Explorations in Africa by Lurton Dunham Ingersoll (1872); Tre resor in Afrika. Henry M. Stanley och hans första färder nin det inre Afrika by W. Lagus (1889); H.M. Stanley: The Authorized Life by Frank Hird (1935); Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? by Ian Anstruther (1957); Henry Morton Stanley: An Illustrated Life of Henry Morton Stanley, 1841-1904 by Richard Tames (1973); The River Congo by R. Forbath (1978); Henry Stanley and the Quest for the Source of the Nile by Daniel Cohen (1985); Man Who Presumed: A Biography of Henry M. Stanley by Byron Farwell (1989); Stanley: The Making of an African Explorer by Frank McLynn (1989); Henry Stanley and David Livingstone by Susan Clinton (1990); Dark Safari by John Bierman (1990); In Stanley's Footsteps by John Batchelor and Julie Batchelor (1991); Henry Stanley and the European Explorers of Africa by Steven Sherman et al. (1993); Imperial Footprints: Henry Morton Stanley's African Journeys by James L. Newman (2004); Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal (2008); Henry Morton Stanley: Emergence of the Pearl of Africa by Jonathan Musere (2016) - Also: for young readers ages 9-12: Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal (2007); Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hijuelos (2015); Stanley et les femmes de sa vie by Jacques Marzac (2017); Epic Expeditions Bear Grylls (2019); Finding Dr. Livingstone: A History in Documents from the Henry Morton Stanley Archives, edited by Mathilde Leduc-Grimaldi and James L. Newman; forewords by Guido Gryseels and Dominique Allard (2020); Who Were Stanley and Livingstone? by Jim Gigliotti; Illustrated by David Malan (2021) [juvenile literature]; Imperial Powers and Humanitarian Interventions: the Zanzibar Sultanate, Britain, and France in the Indian Ocean, 1862-1905 by Raphaël Cheriau (2021). Note: Per Olof Sundman's documentary novel Expeditionen (1962, The Expedition) was modelled on Henry Morton Stanley's safaris in the Congo. Films: Stanley and Livingstone (1939), dir. by Henry King, starring Spencer Tracy (Morton Stanley), Cedric Hardwicke, Richard Greene, Nancy Kelly; Find Livingstone (1972), television film, prod. by Christopher Ralling, written by Derek Marlowe, Michael Hastings. See also Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness (1902).

Selected works:

  • How I Found Livingstone: Travels, Adventures and Discoveries in Central Africa: Including an Account of Four Months' Residence with Dr. Livingstone, 1872
  • Coomassie and Magdala: The Story of Two British Campaigns in Africa, 1874
  •  My Kalulu, Prince, King and Slave A Story of Central Africa, 1873
    - Kalulu: prinssi, kuningas ja orja: kertomus Keski-Afrikasta (suom. R. Mellin, 1877; Helmi Krohn, 1918)
  • Through the Dark Continent; or, the Sources of the Nile, around the Great Lakes of Equatorial Africa and down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean, 1878
  • Stanley's First Opinions: Portugal And The Slave Trade , 1883
  • The Congo, and the Founding of Its Free State, 1885
    - Kongo, uusi vapaavaltio mustien maanosassa. 1-2 (suom. Lyry, Aatto S. 1885-1887)
  • In Darkest Africa, or the Quest Rescue and Retreat of Emin Governor of Equatoria, 1890 (2 vols.) 
  • The Story of Emin's Rescue as Told in Stanley's Letters, 1890 (edited by J. Scott Keltie)
  • My Dark Companions and their Strange Stories, 1893
  • My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia, 1895 (2 vols.)
  • Through South Africa, 1898
  • Africa, Its Partition and Its Future, 1898
  • The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley: The Making of a 19th Century Explorer, 1909 (edited by his wife, Dorothy Stanley)
  • H.M. Stanley: Unpublished Letters, 1957 (edited by  Albert Maurice, with a pref. by Denzil M. Stanley)
  • The Exploration Diaries of H. M. Stanley, 1961 (edited by Richard Stanley and Alan Neame)
  • Stanley's Despatches to the New York Herald, 1871-1872, 1874-1877, 1970 (edited by Norman R. Bennett)
  • Tales from Africa, 1985
  • Sir Henry Morton Stanley: Confederate, 2000 (edited, with an introduction, by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr.)
  • Adventures of an American Traveller in Turkey, 2013 (edited by M. Leduc-Grimaldi & J.L. Newman)

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