Dr Oliver Ransford in his book David Livingstone, the Dark Interior, certainly suggests the latter and quotes several extracts from letters Charles wrote to his wife about his failure to cope, his nervousness and anxiety problems that led him to borderline breakdown, even a fear that "preaching will lead to my end in the madhouse". Ransford also notes that Charles was treated for mental difficulties several times and considers the likelihood this was partly genetic, given David's own stormy and erratic behaviour when dealing with people, and also that other siblings of the Livingstone family had been described as "dottie" or "daft".
This History of Oberlin College contains several references to Charles and his time there (including his first meeting with Miss Ingram [sic]) and extracts from letters that he wrote home about his experiences.
|The younger Reverend by Charles Gow|
But yet again a year later, he left America for England to join David in residence at Newstead Abbey, the former home of Lord Byron, where he would help co-write the Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi and its Tributaries.
This was to prove nowhere as successful as David Livingstone’s earlier travel book, being a cobbled together and hastily written polemic against slavery and justification for the Expedition, with no mention of the failures, quarrels and setbacks. Quite simply, it was a cover-up. When Charles Meller, another abused member of the Expedition, heard of it, he scoffed and predicted it would be "a concoction ... a curious composition of untruth." (As related earlier in this series of blog posts, major efforts and contributions by various individuals were either played down or left out altogether.)
At the time, when colonial officials wanted to demote or get rid of someone who had been controversial or an embarrassment in some way, they would be despatched to the worst possible posting; in this case, the island of Fernando Po (now Bioko), within the area of the Gulf of Guinea known as the "white man’s grave" where it was pretty well guaranteed the incumbent would come down with one of the endemic fevers and quietly shuffle off.
|Old image of Fernando Po|
"Never before in Africa have I seen such powerful-looking men as the Okrika. I could not but admire their physical strength. As they sat before me chewing bits of chop-stick to clean their teeth and gazing earnestly at me, the thought occasionally flashed across my mind, ‘Are these cannibals wondering how a piece of roast Consul would taste, and which would be most savoury, cold Consul or hot?"
David Livingstone now lies exalted in Westminster Abbey, while Charles has neither known grave nor major memorial. His wife Harriette died in 1900 and his three children continued to live together in Colorado where his son worked as a metallurgist. None of them ever married and the last survivor, Charles, died in 1937. All were interred in the same cemetery - see Find-a-Grave.
Some Livingstone scholars such as G.W. Clendennen have been a little more considerate of Charles and it is worth reading his aptly-named article "Historians Beware: You can't judge a book by its critics; or, problems with a nineteenth-century exploration record" (see JSTOR 1994 archives) and in which he discusses the writing of Narrative ... and mysteries around journals and other works written by Charles. He also suggests that Charles was a more considered individual, less rash than David and even that he did not exhibit the same degree of loathing towards the Portuguese as his brother.
However, without any in-depth published biography to rely on, or descendants with intimate family knowledge to offer in his defence, Charles Livingstone must remain a lost enigma. Wholeheartedly disliked by so many, he appears a frustrated and lonely figure doomed to be overshadowed by the achievements and sanctity of his brother. And if he was also plagued by some form of clinical depression, it would not have been helped by enforced isolation and the repeated fevers that damaged or destroyed so many 19th Century Europeans who devoted much of their lives to Africa.