David Livingstone Tree

David Livingstone's treeThe Hunterian has, in its collection, a slice of the tree under which the Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone’s heart was buried. The tree died around 1900, and a piece of it was given to his grandson, Hubert Wilson, who donated it to Anderson College where Livingstone studied medicine. It was displayed there for many years before being transferred to the Hunterian Museum in 1992 when the Anderson College building was redeveloped.

The brass plaque from the Anderson College display case reads: "This is a section from a branch of the Punda tree in Livingstonia, Northern Rhodesia, under or near which the heart of David Livingstone, the eminent explorer, was buried by his servants and followers. Dr. Livingstone received his medical education at this college. Presented by his grandson Dr. Hubert F. Wilson". This does not tally exactly with the known facts. Livingstone was trained in medicine and theology at Anderson College, which became part of the University of Glasgow in 1947. However, he did not die at Livingstonia (now in Malawi), but near Chitambo (now in Zambia), around May 1, 1873. After his death, the other members of his expedition team embalmed his body, and buried his heart near a tree on which they carved a simple memorial. They carried his body to the coast - an epic journey that lasted nine months. His body finally reached England and, on 18th April 1874, and Livingstone was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The identity of the tree is confused: as well as the 'punda' mentioned above, it is variously referred to as a 'mulva' tree or a 'myongo' tree. Regardless of the name, however, photographs of the monumental tree seem quite consistent with this piece being genuine. The tree died, and was sawn up in 1900. The inscribed part was brought to Britain and displayed in the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. It seems likely that Dr Wilson got this piece at around the same time. There is now a large sculptural memorial on the site of the tree at Chitambo.