The Small Town Welsh Boy Who Changed the World; an Explorer, Adventurer and Originator of the Most Famous Greeting in the English Language? That Would Be HM Stanley, David Charters Presumes

Article excerpt

Byline: David Charters

SMALL, grubby and hungry, the boy was just another face lost on the waterfront parade of urchins.

He walked the cobbles towards the gangway of the big ship, carrying a trunk holding his Bible and a few other possessions, gathered in a life, which, thus far, had not offered him much encouragement.

But a resolute faith in a better tomorrow quickened the step of this proud 16-year-old as he boarded the packet-ship Windermere for an Atlantic crossing, which, in the coming years, would make him one of the greatest explorers of the Victorian era, associated with one of the most quoted greetings in our language.

``Dr Livingstone, I presume?''

On that December day in 1857, the boy was still John Rowlands, the name on the parish register at Denbigh, where he had been baptised on February 18, 1841, in St Hilary's Chapel, the illegitimate son of John Rowlands, a farmer of Llys, Llanrhaiadr, and Elizabeth (Betsy) Parry of Denbigh.

Betsy soon left the scene and the baby was brought up by his 80-year-old grandfather Moses Parry in a cottage on Castle Row, Denbigh.

However, Parry died when the boy was four and in 1847, after a spell with an elderly couple, Rowlands began his stay at St Asaph's Poor Law Union Workhouse. It had been built in brick in 1840 at a cost of pounds 5, 499 for the elderly and orphaned or abandoned children.

It was there that Rowlands was introduced to the schoolmaster James Francis, chillingly described as, ``soured by misfortune, brutal of temper and callous of heart''.

In his later recollections, as the celebrated Stanley, he spoke of beatings and near-starvation; conditions which compared unfavourably with prison.

But Alan Gallop, author of a new biography of Stanley, feels that his man's memory was at times fanciful. By today's standards, conditions at the workhouse would indeed have been appalling and the punishments harsh.

But the diet was sufficient to keep body and soul together and the educational grounding seems to have been good, with many ``inmates'' advancing to places of higher learning and successful professions.

Rowlands left the workhouse in 1856, aged 15. He was literate, numerate and seems to have had a reasonable general knowledge.

On his departure, Francis presented him with a shiny sixpence to add to the Bible he had been given a couple of years earlier by the Right Reverend Thomas Vowler Short, Lord Bishop of St Asaph.

After a brief spell as the pupil/teacher at the National School, run by his cousin Moses Owen, in nearby Brynford, Rowlands headed for Liverpool, where he stayed with his Uncle Tom Morris and Aunt Maria at their house in Rosscommon Street, Everton.

In this otherwise bleak period, the boy was touched by good fortune. He delivered provisions to Captain David Hartinge of the Windermere packet-ship. …