Frere Town Near Mombasa (1931)

Rare Photograph of Livingstone's Last Servant

Matthew Wellington

Date: 1931

Frere Town (near Mombasa), 1931. Original photograph of David Livingstone's last surviving personal servant and friend, freed from slavery by Livingstone in 1871, Matthew Wellington, his birth name Chemgwimbe, together with members of his family, in front of his home. Manuscript annotations to verso describe the scene, place, year, and some of the provenance. One gelatin silver print photograph mounted onto ivory cardstock matting. Image measures 20,5 x 15,5 cm. Matte measures approximately 25 x 30,5 cm. A rare photograph, suitable for framing. Provenance: "Given to W. McGregor & Isabel Roos, who organised an appeal, in Britain for funds to support Matthew Wellington in his old age." The elderly man seated in the forefront of this image is Chemgwimbe, born circa 1840-1846 into a Yao tribe, taken from his native village as a youth and sold into slavery in exchange for a roll of cloth. While onboard a Portuguese ship, having been sold again to an Arab slave trader, he and the others in captivity, were liberated by the British cruiser Thetis. He was placed under the care of the Church Missionary Society, and through this organization, he ultimately became a faithful and leading servant of David Livingstone, being one of the men who persevered and risked their lives to transport the explorer's body to the coast, so that his final resting place would be in England. After his rescue, Chemgwimbe adopted the English name Matthew Wellington, by which he better known today. He outlived Livingstone by some sixty years, but contributed greatly to the same missionary society. He died in 1935 in Frere Town, where the present photograph was taken only four years before. The present photograph was taken after Wellington received delivery of a proper hospital-type bed and other simple furnishings, so that he could live his final few years with some degree of comfort and dignity. This image does not appear in online sources, and a general search of institution libraries produces no findings. A scarce image which seems to be unpublished, perhaps a one-off, this appears to be the only known copy of this photograph. David Livingstone died in 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo's village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His heart was removed and buried under a Mvula tree or a Baobab tree near the spot where he died. Livingstone's remains were carried, together with his journal, over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by his servants, Chemgwimbe (Matthew Wellington), Chuma, and Susi to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, from where they were returned by ship to Britain for burial. Chemgwimbe, adopted the English name Matthew Wellington (born circa 1840/1846; died 1935), was a slave in Liberia, when he was liberated from a Portuguese dhow off the West Coast by the British gunboat cruiser Thetis, and eventually became a trusted servant and friend of David Livingstone. He had been captured in his native village several years earlier, at the age of 12 or 13, and suffered much deprivation as a slave. Being of the of the Yao (Wayaowho) tribe, his parents had also been taken into slavery when he was but a toddler. Originally, Chemgwimbe was sold into captivity in exchange for a simple roll of cloth. Packed on a dhow with two or three hundred other unfortunates he journeyed to Zanzibar. He was later resold to an Arab, and on another dhow set sail for Arabia, on this voyage being rescued from captivity. The horrors that took place on that ship haunted him for the remainder of his life. Upon liberation he was brought to Nasik in India, and placed under missionary care. Whilst in India, Chemgwimbe embraced the Christian religion and changed his name to Matthew Wellington. After eight years, he would return to Africa, as a volunteer selected by the CMS missionaries in Naski, and sailed out for Zanzibar, in 1871, to join a search party for the great missionary and explorer David Livingstone who was believed to be lost. About a year later the party would find him at Bagamoyo. The evening before the relief expedition was due to depart from Zanzibar, a ragged tired figure staggered into camp. It was Henry Morton Stanley. He had left Livingstone a month previously, when on 10 November 1871, he uttered the now famous greeting, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" On Stanley's advice an all-native expedition set out, reaching Ujiji after four months and entering the shady grove where Livingstone had waited wearily. Livingstone wept when the natives arrived. Two weeks later, Livingstone and the party set off on the backward trail, but Livingstone was weak with dysentery. The hostile native groups refused to sell food, and months passed very slowly. The faithful African party realized that they were carrying Livingstone to his grave. He could no longer bear the travel, and at last they reached a friendly village where they built him a hut. These men had become his companions and caregivers, remaining at his side until the end. One night they saw him on his knees, praying, beside his rudimentary bed. The next morning they found him dead. Showing their utmost respect, the men decided that it was imperative to deliver Livingstone's body to his British friends. His heart was removed by his loyal attendants Chuma and Susi, and buried beneath a tree near the spot where he died, which has been identified variously as a Mvula tree or a Baobab tree. A native dispenser embalmed the body, and Wellington made a hollow cylinder in which to carry the corpse. Faithfully, Wellington, Chuma, Susi, and others, carried Livingstone's deceased body some 1,000 miles from the interior to the coast. It was a long and perilous journey through hostile jungles, but eventually the faithful bearers laid the body of Dr. Livingstone at the feet of the British consul who would arrange for the remains to be ferried to England. Wellington settled in a native house at Frere Town, devoting most of his life to working with CMS missionaries aiding freed slaves. He was later employed in Government service, remaining in Frere Town. In 1928, when the Prince of Wales made a tour of Mombasa, Wellington was made a guest of honour at the event. Evidently, the British government was unaware that Wellington was living in a state of poverty, until in his final years, the Kenyan government revealed that he had not been entitled to public funds. His British friends, William McGregor Ross (1876-1940) and Isabel Ross (née Abraham, 1885-1964), began to raise a fund to support him medically and relieve him of immediate anxiety. Wellington died in 1935, which was announced in the British Weekly newspaper. His passing was also described in the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August issue, by Reverend R. B. Robinson. Some believed Wellington to be 86 years of age at the time of his death; others thought him to be older. Frere town was established circa 1875 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as a settlement for freed slaves. It was named after Sir Bartle Frere who played a significant role in the suppression of the slave trade. Here, slaves from Malawi or Nyasaland were resettled. Educational and recreational centers were established to teach the freed slaves to read and write. Ronald Blythe, English writer, essayist and editor, quotes a certain Colonel Hardy who met Matthew Wellington in 1930, not long before this photograph was taken, and describes the meeting and the man in his book, "The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age."

Mild age-toning to matte, otherwise in Very Good Condition.


Offered by Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts