We had ascertained at the Falls the sad fate of the Missionaries of the London Society. Our friend from Natal, Mr. Baldwin, had found them at a well in the desert suffering from hunger ; they had no horses, without which game there cannot easily be procured. They had failed to kill the rhinoceroses which came to the water at night; Mr. Baldwin kindly shot a couple of animals for them; but was apprehensive when he left them, that they would hardly live to see the Makololo country. They did reach Linyanti, however, though in that exhausted state on which the fever of the country is sure to fasten. The severe drought of that year had dried up the great marshes around the village, and rendered fever more than usually virulent. Aware, from Dr. Livingstone’s description, of the extreme unhealthiness of the place, Mr. Helmore, who seems soon to have gained the people’s confidence, told the Chief that he could not remain in that locality, but wished to go on to a higher and more healthy part, north-east of the Falls. Sekeletu said that he offered to take him to Sesheke to see if he liked that better than Linyanti. ” You will take me also,” said Mr. Helmore, “to see Mosi-oa-tunya,” the picture of which, in 6 Missionary Travels,’ was readily recognised ; but, while they were getting ready for the journey, the wagon-drivers were seized with fever ; Mrs. Helmore was the first white person who fell a victim to the fatal malady. The devoted missionary then told the people that, although his wife had died, he did not mean to leave them, but would remain and do his duty. Notwithstanding the hunger, toil, and exhaustion, consequent on the long journey through the desert, and this heavy affliction at Linyanti, the good man, already knowing the native language, at once commenced the work of preaching the Gospel. We heard some young men at Sesheke sing the hymns he had taught them. All liked and spoke kindly of him ; and his death was generally regretted. It is probable that he would soon have exerted a powerful and happy influence over the tribe ; but in a month he was cut down by fever. Our information was derived entirely from the natives of the different tribes, which now form the Makololo. ‘ They are generally truthful, unless they have some self-interest at stake ; and they cannot be made to combine to propagate any downright falsehood. Taking their statements as probably true, the whole party consisted of twenty-two persons, of whom nine were Europeans, and thirteen people of colour ; of these five Europeans and four natives perished by fever in less than three months. The missionary associate of Helmore was then left in a somewhat trying position. Four out of the nine Europeans had succumbed to the disease, and his own wife was lying ill, and soon to be the fifth victim. He had been but a short time in Africa, his knowledge of the native language was of course limited, his influence small, and he had no experience : accordingly he took the wise course of leaving the country ; his wife died before he reached the healthy desert. The native servants from the south, who had never seen the fever in their own country, thought that the party had been poisoned by the Makololo ; but, although they are heathens, and have little regard for human life, they are not quite so bad as that. The spear, and not poison, is their weapon. There is no occasion for suspecting other poison than malaria, that being more than enough. We have witnessed all the symptoms of this poison scores of times, and, from the survivors’ description, believe the deaths to have been caused by severe African fever, and nothing else. We much regretted that, though we were on the same river lower down, we were not aware of their being at Linyanti till too late to render the medical aid they so much needed. It is undoubtedly advisable that every Mission should have a medical man as an essential part of its staff.

David and Charles Livingstone, “Chap. XIII. SAD FATE OF THE MISSION” Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries and of the discovery of the lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858-1864 Livingstone, David, 1813-1873; Livingstone, David, 1813-1873


Wikipedia describes David Livingstone as having reputations as “Protestant missionary martyr, working-class ‘rags-to-riches’ inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of commercial and colonial expansion.” He worked with the London Missionary Society.

This story has a number of sad elements to it. First (in the narration) is a whole party of missionaries, who’d traveled to a faraway country for noble efforts, being wiped out by disease. Secondly, their local compatriots dying as well. Additionally sad is the idea that in absence of objective information about your own disease, worrying if your symptoms are actually due to some enemy poisoning you. There may be some prejudice on the part of Livingstone against certain tribes. There’s the tragedy of having to abandon sick compatriots, and the irony that the place you escape to is “the healthy desert”. I think about the people who lived in those areas for decades, millennia, where this disease is pandemic. There’s also the organizational tragedy of a benevolent organization throwing people into another country without consideration of their medical needs. We also see how climate affects peoples’ suffering: water bodies drying up made for better conditions for mosquito breeding.

It is said (1,2) that nearly 4 million people died a year from malaria around the prior century, dipping to a minimum of 750k around 1970, then rising again. Some blame overuse of DDT for the promotion of pesticide-resistant strains, or war. Today, according to the WHO, there are some 216 million people suffering from malaria. A quick search of Twitter for malaria uncovered a case of a woman in Africa saying romantic walks outside were crazy if it was malaria season.

Charitable responses have focused on researching the life cycle of the mosquito, and mosquito nets. Nets have “saved millions of lives”, but ones coated with insecticides are sometimes used for fishing and raising concerns about poisoning of lakes.  Let’s pray.

Dear Lord, we thank you for the people who have risked their lives for the sake of the gospel and helping others. Help temper our enthusiasm by making sure we’re able to adequately protect the well-being of those we send. We pray for the ongoing suffering from the disease of malaria.  Help us to contribute to organizations that provide relief, nets, and research to fight this disease. Give us sympathy for the lost lives, the impact on every day life from this disease. We cast its suffering on you to fix, O Lord. Amen. 

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