After Livingstone: Henry Morton Stanley’s Later Life

We pick up on Henry Stanley’s life where we left off:

Sick of the press on both sides of the Atlantic ridiculing him, Stanley left for Africa in 1873. After a brief stint there, Stanley returned to Britain to act as pall-bearer for the deceased David Livingstone. While there, he met 17 year-old Alice Pike. They made plans to marry after Stanley finished an expedition financed by the New York Herald and The Daily Telegraph. Alice grudgingly agreed to wait, but only for a set time.

Henry Stanley, 1890 Courtesy Wikipedia

The expedition led to a number of discoveries and three years after embarking, the exhausted party emerged from the African wilderness. Hunger, disease, danger and skirmishes had shadowed Stanley’s European-African company. Stanley himself was plagued many times with illness. Much to his horror, Stanley learned he was charged with murdering Africans (probably thinking it would enhance his reputation, Stanley had embellished ‘battles’ he fought with the natives) and that he had been jilted…again. In Europe, Stanley stood before an inquiry questioning the ‘massacre’ at Dumbireh. But Stanley and his opposition had different dictionaries. What Stanley called self-defense they called massacre. In the end the report was riddled with lies and false information.

Soon after Belgian King Leopold II expressed interest in Stanley. He needed someone to explore the Congo for him and Stanley was just the man. Leopold was looking to colonize the Congo, under the guise of being philanthropic. As far as the world knew, Leopold wasn’t going to claim the land. In 1878 Stanley agreed to be employed to the king for 5 years. He entered the Congo, ready to work. One of Stanley’s first actions was to establish friendly relations with the Africans. He was successful, but in May 1881 he fell ill. Thinking he was going to die, Stanley called his friends to his bedside so he could bid them farewell. He recovered, but again fell ill. He was forced to return to Europe to recover.

In the end it wasn’t the Africans that troubled him (up to that point Stanley hadn’t fought with the local tribes), but Italian turned Frenchmen Pierre de Brazza. Stanley’s rival was out to claim the Congo for France. De Brazza had spread rumors that Stanley was killing Africans (in reality de Brazza had been doing the killing). Stanley was forced to contend with these accusations while recovering and trying to comprehend Leopold, who was growing more dictatorial in the plans he made for the Congo. In a meeting with the king, Stanley voiced his concerns over news that Belgian officers were killing Africans. Stanley requested that they be replaced with British officers. Surprisingly, Leopold agreed. What Stanley didn’t know was that while Leopold was agreeing to the requests, he had hired others to ‘get the job done’. Upon his return, Stanley found nearly everything in a complete disarray. And much to his anguish, Arabs had raided some of the local tribes. In their path they left a trail of carnage, enslaving and murdering Africans. Stanley wished to do something for the natives, but red tape forbade him. It was a fine kettle of fish, Stanley found himself in.

When Stanley’s five years ran out, he returned to Europe fully believing he would become Governor-General of Congo. But Leopold distanced himself from Stanley. This was mostly due to the fact that Leopold didn’t want Stanley to do anything to offend the French government, which he had come to terms with. Then Leopold’s plans could go up in smoke. Stanley was allowed to publish his book The Congo and the Founding of the Free State.

Dorothy Tennant Courtesy Wikipedia

Stanley’s personal life wasn’t going so well. While on his way from England to France to recuperate from illness, Stanley received word his mother had died. Shortly afterwards in 1886 Stanley proposed to Dorothy ‘Dolly‘ Tennant, who he had met in 1885. She refused. Having been rejected, Stanley became even more eager to return to Africa. Instead he found himself preparing for lectures he would give in the United States.

In December Stanley gave up prosperous lectures to return to Africa. His job was to aid the governor of Equatoria, Emin Pasha, who was under attack by the Mahdists. Before leaving, Stanley sourly requested of Leopold to allow him to work free of the contract until the expedition ended. Leopold agreed, but only after ensuring that the expedition would benefit him in some way. In January 1887 Stanley and his company left England. When the Emin Pasha Expedition began Stanley divided his company into two parties, the Advance Column and Rear Column. The Rear Column would be left behind to guard the supplies while the Advance Column moved ahead at a quicker pace. After a treacherous journey through Africa Stanley met with Emin in April 1888. After his meeting Stanley grew concerned about the silence of the Rear Column. There had been no word from them, so Stanley journeyed back. What he found was disaster. There had been many deaths and the officer in charge, Major Edmund Barrtelot, had been killed. Barrtelot had apparently gone insane and become severely dictatorial. In the end his actions caught up with him and he was shot. Other officers had committed ghastly acts and showed complete disregard for the Africans; something Stanley differed in. Dealing with this calamity, Stanley received more bad news. Emin and Stanley’s officer who had been left behind, were taken prisoner by Emin’s men. Eventually the expedition along with Emin left for safety. The expedition came to an end in 1889. It had taken a serious toll on nearly everyone’s health. Stanley’s hair had turned white and he had aged a great deal.

Stanley left for Cairo to write his book In Darkest Africa and once finished he left for Europe. There he was pestered by Dorothy Tennant. She continually sent him invitations and asked to meet with him, but Stanley refused. Dorothy’s persistence must have paid off, though, because by 1890 they were married at Westminster Abbey.

Henry Stanley March 19th, 1891 Courtesy Library of Congress

Stanley spent much time lecturing in the US, Britain and Australia, but he hadn’t forgotten about Africa. Stanley was offered two different jobs in Africa, but Dorothy disapproved of him going. She worked to ensure Stanley didn’t go back to Africa. One of her first steps was for Stanley to become a British citizen. Then she got him into the political arena. Stanley wasn’t thrilled with being a politician and loathed society life. In 1895 Stanley convinced Dorothy to adopt a child. Denzil, as the boy was named, was Stanley’s half-sister’s grandson. During this time Stanley began to take a great interest in his relatives, checking up on his half-siblings. He eventually paid a visit to his former home.

When news of the violence in the Congo began leaking back to Stanley, the former explorer was mortified. But with Dorothy and Denzil, Stanley no longer yearned as much for Africa, as he had once done. In 1899 Stanley purchased their new home, Furze Hill. That same year he was knighted. But alas, his life was about to end. In 1903 Stanley had a stroke and continued to suffer from bad health. On 9 May 1904 Stanley drew his last breath. It was the end of an adventurous life.

Source: Jeal, Tim. Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer

34 thoughts on “After Livingstone: Henry Morton Stanley’s Later Life

  1. Mr. Burdette, two of the many fine qualities your posts possess are clarity and well-written explanations why the person or event you highlight is significant. Stanley is one of history’s great explorers, yet his star has fallen because it’s no longer cool in most academic circles to praise the British Empire. Thanks for the two-part reminder about a man who did much to add to the map of the Earth and who was once celebrated as a noted subject of HRH The Queen.


    • Why, thank you! (I’m Ms. Burdette 😉 but think nothing of it. It’s my own fault for using my initials, and this happens often)

      I think it’s a shame, considering what an interesting life Stanley led. It almost unbelievable everything he was able to squeeze into his life. Still I can’t say I envy all the hardship he pulled through. Thank you for your comment, glad you enjoyed the post!


    • Ms. Burdette, I apologize for my assumption. I made an error regarding your gender, but I made no error when I chose to follow your blog. Keep writing. My compliments are sincere — you are excellent writer.


  2. Your writing style is so enjoyable: clear, succint, and lovely, with topics always what I would keep on my bookshelf. Bravo! I agree with paulrhuard’s comment above; it apparently isn’t fashionable or politically correct for academia to reveal, remember, and discuss the immense contributions that the British Empire made. History should not be ignored. Again, looking forward to many more of your pieces! 🙂


    • Thank you, Susan! The contributions of the British are indeed immense, and makes for great reading. I hadn’t realized that it was a ‘faux pas’ until Paul mentioned it. It brings to mind the controversy over Manifest Destiny. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad to hear you like the posts!


  3. Very well written, as always. I knew a lot of his life but not so much in regards to his continuous of poor health. He had so many misfortunes.


  4. So, he seemed to have struck out with quite a few women, wonder what they didn’t like about him, and then he asked Dorothy, she turned him down, but then began to pursue him and they married! A soap opera! Great lively read.


  5. About a year ago I read Martin Dugard’s “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone.” It was a page-turner. But it only recorded Stanley’s life up to the moment he met Livingstone. Now you have given me the rest of the story. Thank you!!!


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