LONDON, November 1, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --

Discovery rewrites history after 140 years

Press website (available from 12:00 GMT on 1/11/11):

140 years ago in Africa David Livingstone, the Victorian explorer, gave Henry M Stanley a harrowing account of a massacre he witnessed, in which he described the way that slave traders slaughtered 400 innocent people. Stanley's report of the massacre in the world press would prompt the British government to close the East African slave trade, secure Livingstone's place in history, and launch Stanley's own career as an imperialist in Africa.

Today an international team of scholars and scientists publishes the diary - illegible until restored using 'spectral imaging' technology ( The diary tells the electrifying story of the greatest crisis in Livingstone's life. Two years later he was dead.

In early Victorian England Livingstone was a national hero but when he wrote this diary he had been forgotten by the public and was stranded without supplies in Central Africa - a blank space on contemporary maps. A dedicated writer, he made ink from berry seeds and wrote over the pages of a copy of the London Standard - the precursor to today's Evening Standard. Exposed to the African environment, the manuscript deteriorated rapidly and today is virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Livingstone's eye-witness account of the massacre is painful to read: '50 yards off two guns were fired and a general flight took place - shot after shot followed on the terrified fugitives - great numbers died - It is awful - terrible, a dreadful world this. As I write, shot after shot falls on the fugitives on the other side [of the river] who are wailing loudly over those they know are already slain - Oh let thy kingdom come.'

The crucial evidence discovered by the project team is that in this secret diary Livingstone realises that his 'men' (freed slaves but very reluctant employees) were involved in the massacre. This evidence was censored by Livingstone so that the accounts published by Stanley and by the editor of the posthumous book of the explorer's last expedition, The Last Journals of David Livingstone (1874), on which biographers and historians have relied, were inaccurate.

Birkbeck, University of London