Heroes of the Faith — Mary Moffat Livingstone

Mary Moffat Livingstone (1821–1862) was the wife of the famous Scottish Congregationalist missionary David Livingstone. Her father, Robert Moffat, was a Scottish missionary who ministered in Kuruman, South Africa.

Death of a child, sickness, loneliness, frequent absences from her husband — these were many of the hardships she endured during her heroic life. This month is the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Early life

Mary Livingstone was born in Griquatown, South Africa, on April 12, 1821, the first of 10 children born to Robert and Mary Smith Moffat. Her father worked among the Bechuana people, translating the Bible into their language.

Mary attended the Wesleyan school near Grahamstown from 1830 to 1836. She then lived in Britain with her parents for four years. When they returned to South Africa, she taught school.

Mary met missionary/explorer David Livingstone in Kuruman. They married in January 1845. When David saw his future wife, he described her as a “plain, commonsense woman, not a romantic.” He grew to love her deeply.

David’s goal in his expeditions was to bring Christianity, commerce and abolition of the slave trade to Africa. Usually Mary and the children went with him, but journeys were full of dangers and deprivations.

She traveled with him on his two treks across the Kalahari Desert in 1849 and 1850. Their fourth child was born after Mary’s first journey. The child died soon after her birth. David delivered the couple’s fifth child on their second journey.

She didn’t accompany Livingstone on his first expedition to the Zambezi River. She lived in Britain four years for her children’s education and safety. In 1852, she and the children went to Scotland to stay with David’s parents, but living with them didn’t work out. After living in boarding houses with little money, she found refuge with an evangelical Quaker couple.

David returned to Britain in 1856. His book, “Missionary Travels and Researches,” sold well and lifted his family out of poverty. He lived with his family for two years and bought a house.

Mary went back to Africa in 1858 to join David on his official Zambezi expedition, but when she became pregnant, she stayed with her parents. After the birth of her daughter, she and her baby departed yet again for Britain.

Back to Africa

Mary traveled back to Africa where she met David at the mouth of the Zambezi. After becoming ill with malaria, she died on April 27, 1862.

David Livingstone died 11 years later, a famous man. After his body was returned to Britain, he had a state funeral. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Mary is buried under a baobab tree in Chapanga, Mozambique.

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