African explorers and companions of David Livingstone History

Strangers in a strange land

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In 1874, three Africans visited Newstead Abbey and Nottingham. They were all friends and companions of the famous Victorian explorer David Livingstone who stayed at Newstead from 1864-5.

V0018859 Wellcome Library, London. Livingtone’s followers, Susi and Chuma, pictured with his former possessions. Photograph, ca. 1873.

James Chumah and Abdullah Susi are immortalised in a picture taken at Newstead Abbey. Together with Jacob Wainwright, they were the subjects of chapters in “Livingstone and Newstead” a book written by Alice Frazer, daughter of the Abbey’s owners, the Webbs, who met them all.

What connects them all, and what do their stories tell us about exploration in Africa and colonialism? What did they think of Newstead and Nottingham? And why are Chumah, Susi and Wainwright not better known in Nottingham today?

David Livingstone stayed at Newstead Abbey in 1864-65 at the invitation of the Webb family, who were old friends. During this time, he wrote part of his book on the Zambezi Expedition. His days at Newstead were some of his happiest, as he got to know his daughters, Agnes and Anna May, and the other children in the house. The room he stayed in can be seen today at the Abbey.

Abdullah Souzi, Jacob Wainwright Y James Chouma
Susi and Chuma, Africa ca. 1870 ca 1900 Centre for the Study of World Christianity Archives GB237 CSWC47/LS16/55

This was his last visit home. He died in Africa at Llala, in Chitambo’s village, in 1873. His wife, Mary Moffatt, an African born missionary’s daughter, died in Africa during the Zambezi expedition.

Following his death, a group of Africans buried Livingstone’s heart and organs under a Mvula (or Mpundu) tree. They honoured him with both a Christian burial service and a traditional African ceremony. They then carried his body and diaries to the coast near Zanzibar in an epic 9-month, 1000-mile journey, on which 10 of the 60 Africans died, at least one of whom, a girl called Losi, was a 10-year-old child. Two Africans,Jacob Wainwright and Carrus Farr, left diaries and letters of their arduous journey.

James Chumah and Abdullah Susi helped to write the Last Diaries of David Livingstone at Newstead Abbey with Horace Waller and two of Livingstone’s children, Agnes and Tom.

Chumah, Susi and Wainwright were all freed slaves. Livingstone is said to have freed Chuma with his own hands. David Livingstone was a fervent anti-slavery campaigner, whose death helped end the East African slave trade, which was led by Arab traders often working with local groups, within the Kingdom of Kongo, and others. The Yao people, from East Africa, were already a major trading force in the region, and the three Yao (Chuma, Susi and Wainwright) who visited Newstead have their own story to tell that should be heard today.

The Last Journey of David Livingstone,
Africa, 1873 (imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-

The colonial narrative left Livingstone as the famous explorer, while the voices of his African companions disappeared into background.

Livingstone’s success was built on African contributions, and James Chumah, Abdullah Susi and Jacob Wainwright were educated, modern and independent participants in the Victorian age.

Abdullah Susi (1841-1891), the eldest, was born in what is now Mozambique, and was a riverman, sailor, caravan leader, dockworker, explorer and the founder of Leopoldville, the city we now know as Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was once taken as a slave but was freed by Livingstone in 1861. He was with Livingstone from 1865 until Livingstone died in May 1873. He then led the expedition that brought Livingstone’s body to the coast. He travelled to Britain with James Chumah in 1874 to Newstead Abbey, where he helped recount Livingstone’s last journeys. Susi was awarded a medal for his exploits by the Royal Geographical Society, and he, and Chumah, were described by Horace Waller as ‘Actual geographers of no mean attainments’. It is also Abdullah Susi who first greeted Henry Morton Stanley when the two explorers met. He was married and had at least one son.

James Chumah (1850-1882) died young at just 32, yet packed a huge amount into his young life, including (with Abdullah Susi) travelling on three continents and receiving two medals and a sword from the Royal Geographical Society. He travelled and saw more than of the world than most people of that time (or even now). He was married twice.

Chumah was the son of Chimilengo, a fisherman, and Chinjeriapi. He was a Yao, rescued with Wekotani (son of a chief) in 1861 by Livingstone who apparently sawed off their slave chains with his own hands”. They were 11. He had been ‘sold for two bundles of fish’. In total Chuma spent 8 years with Livingstone and was with him continuously from 1866.

Explorer Joseph Thomson spoke of Chuma’s “… short but stirring life, having in his own special way, done so much to open up Africa to science and communication”. Livingstone described him as “a very sharp fellow” and others said “Chumah and Susi…remain among the greatest African travellers of the present day”.

There are no records of what they thought of the workhouse they visited, or Victorian poverty, but like Wainwright, Pettit tells us they were “eager to leave ‘civilisation’ behind” as soon as possible.

Chuma left a will and an estate worth 309 Rupees to his second wife, Salima binti Sitakishauri, Abdullah Susi, his ndugu (brother, or comrade) Baraka, 10 Dollars to his freed slave Zafarani, and 20 Dollars to Kate, wife of Francis Mabruki (another ex Livingstone follower).

Jacob Wainwright sitting next to the coffin of David Livingstone on board ship. Wood engraving by J. Nash,
after a photograph. Credit:
Wellcome Collection

Jacob Wainwright (~1850/9-1882) became something of a celebrity on his visit to Britain, meeting Queen Victoria and having a racehorse named after him. He also faced an impenetrable wall of Victorian attitudes to race and class, meaningless concepts to an African follower of Livingstone.

He was born somewhere between 1849 and 1859, and freed on the way to the Zanzibar Slave Market by a British ship, after perhaps being sold by his own people to the sugar trade.

Wainwright left letters and a diary. He was with Livingstone when he died at Ilala, and journeyed 9 months with his body which was ‘dangerous and toilsome’, arriving at Zanzibar in February 1874. He was a pallbearer at Livingstone’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, and gave talks around Britain.

Confident and ambitious, he expected to be treated as an equal and not a servant, which caused friction in a class-bound household like Newstead Abbey. Alice Frazer, a daughter of the Webbs at Newstead Abbey felt he should be treated as a servant, and behave like one, not like a confident, educated, emancipated man. He was buried at Urambo, where a metal tablet still stands over his grave.

African explorers and companions of David Livingstone Dr David Livingstone History

Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873)

Belong’s African Perspectives on David Livingstone project set out to explore the links between Nottingham, Newstead Abbey, the explorer David Livignstone and three of his African companions who visited Nottingham in 1874. We have worked with a diverse group of volunteers from the African and Nottingham communities to tell the stories of Abdullah Susi, James Chumah and Jacob Wainwright.

llustration 1: David Livingstone – his labours and his legacy (1894) (14595110917).jpg public domain

“Livingstone, the Friend of the Slave”

These words were written on a banner at Livingstone’s Westminster Abbey funeral, carried by Stanley’s servant, Kalulu (another future Newstead visitor). The funeral became a political event for both supporters of empire and abolitionists with anti-slavery messages. Livingstone had become a message, rather than a man.

Illustration 2: David Livingstone’s Grave, Westminster Abbey, England, ca. 1873

Born in simple surroundings to a modest family in Scotland in 1813, the end of Livingstone’s life would prove to be more extraordinary. He was buried twice; first, under a Mvula tree in Africa in 1873. Jacob Wainwright (a young, African freed slave) read the service which was followed by a traditional African ceremony, with dancing and music, by Chief Chitambo and his people. He was then buried for a second time – in pomp and ceremony, in London in 1874, following an epic journey by 60 Africans.

Illustration 3: David Livingstone’s Birth Room, Blantyre, Scotland, ca.1875-ca.1940 Photographer: Unknown
Filename: imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS16-004.tif Repository name: Centre for the Study of World Christianity Repository email:

Livingstone was born in in Blantyre, Scotland on March 19, 1813. He was one of 7 children born to Neil Livingstone, a tea salesman and Agnes Hunter.

In 1823, aged 10, he began working in the local cotton mill, with school lessons in the evenings. In 1836, he began studying Medicine and Theology in Glasgow and decided to become a missionary doctor.

Eventually he left for Africa as a missionary, landing in Cape Town in 1841, and travelling towards the edges of the Kalahari Desert.

Illustration 4: from, stating “This photograph of the David Livingstone memorial at Victoria Falls wastaken by Tim Rogers on 5 October 2000. He agrees to licence it under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.”

Livingstone may have been something of a 19th Century Bear Grylls.

In 1849 and 1851 David Livingstone travelled across the Kalahari, on the second trip sighting the upper Zambezi River. In 1852, he began a four-year expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast. This filled huge gaps in western knowledge of central and southern Africa.

In 1855 Livingstone discovered a spectacular waterfall which he named ‘Victoria Falls’, and in 1856 he reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean and became the first European to cross the width of southern Africa. He then returned to Britain, where his account of his travels made him a household name.

In 1858, he left for Africa again, and for the next five years carried out official explorations of eastern and central Africa for the British government, exploring the Zambezi and Shire rivers and the Shire Highlands. His hopes to show the Shire as navigable giving access to the fertile highlands was unsuccessful, and in 1864 he was ordered home by a government unimpressed with the results of his travels.

Between 1864 and 1866 he was at home writing another book, campaigning against the horrors of the slave trade, arguing for colonialism and economic development as tools to stop this. He spent several months at Newstead Abbey writing, with his daughters Agnes and Anna Mary.

In 1866 he returned to Africa, seeking the source of the Nile. In 1871, after nothing was heard from him for many months, Henry Stanley, an explorer and journalist, set out to find Livingstone. This resulted in their meeting near Lake Tanganyika in October during which Stanley claimed to have uttered the famous phrase: ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’.

Livingstone spent nearly half his life in Africa, more as an explorer and anti-slavery campaigner than missionary. Although he made just one convert while alive, he helped stop the East African slave trade by publicising it, as most Britons thought it had been abolished in 1833. Livingstone rescued many slaves himself, including Susi and Chuma.

He became perhaps more African in the end, with his diaries full of African words: like Batuli, a Lingala word, Chupa (Swahili for bottle). Masanze. Musenga. And Moté (eye). Volunteer Albert Bambosele describes Livingstone as the African man, from the heart, white by his skin: he loved Africa.


Group of Relics