Henry M. Stanley, journalist and explorer, was initially named John Rowlands and was the illegitimate son of John Rowlands and Elizabeth Parry. After an unhappy childhood in an orphanage he sailed for New Orleans, United States, in December 1858. There he was adopted by Henry Stanley, whose names he took. After some soldiering in the Civil War, during which he fought on both sides (1861-1862), he became a sailor in the merchant navy. Subsequently he joined the United States Federal Navy, saw some more action in the Civil War, and apparently deserted in February 1865. He then became a freelance journalist and visited Turkey and the Middle East. His dispatches were later reprinted in My early travels and adventures in America and Asia (1895). In December 1867 he was appointed by The New York Herald to report on the British military campaign in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), where he made a name for himself with his scoop on the fall of Magdala (now Adaba). The newspaper then sent him on a number of roving commissions and finally requested him to find the missionary explorer David Livingstone*, who had been searching for the sources of the Nile since 1866. After some delays caused by his reports on other maters, including the opening of the Suez Canal in November 1869, Stanley set out inland in March 1871 from a point on the east coast of Africa opposite Zanzibar. He located Livingstone at Ujiji, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, in November that year. This venture proved his competence as a leader of expeditions and earned him the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He described his mission in How I found Livingstone; travels, adventures, and discoveries in Central Africa (London, 1872, with many later editions). An account of his "Discoveries at the northern end of Lake Tanganyika" was read before the British Association for the Advancement of science and published in its Report for 1872.
After serving as a war correspondent in what is now Ghana during 1873 Stanley attended Livingstone's funeral in London and then began his own exploration of central Africa, sponsored by the Daily Telegraph and The New York Herald, in an attempt to answer various questions of geographical interest. In November 1874 he set out with a party of 350 men from his earlier starting point on the east coast to traverse the continent, Among others he circumnavigated most of Lake Victoria, thus determining its approximate size, further established the sources of the Nile, determined the length and area of Lake Tanganyika and the position of its outlet, and then followed the course of the Lualaba River, showing that it eventually became the Congo River. He followed the latter down to the west coast, where he arrived in August 1877, thus proving the existence of a major waterway into the very heart of Africa. Before returning to Europe he paid brief visits to Cape Town and Durban. In Cape Town the newly founded South African Philosophical Society arranged a special meeting on 2 November to welcome him. Stanley addressed the meeting on the subject of his recent journey. He described his adventures more fully in Through the Dark continent; or, The sources of the Nile around the great lakes of equatorial Africa and down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean... (London, 1878, 2 vols). Two papers by him on his journey to Lake Victoria and on the geography of the Nile and Congo basins, were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society in 1875 and 1878.
Stanley returned to Africa in 1879 in the service of King Leopold II of Belgium and was instrumental in founding the Congo Free State in 1884. As governor of the Congo he organised the building of a road to the place where Leopoldville (now Kinshasha) was built and initiated a series of trading stations on the Congo River, serviced by steamers. This work was described in The Congo and the foundation of its Free State (1885). This whole enterprise was accomplished without bloodshed, mainly because Stanley maintained excellent relations with the local inhabitants. His success in the Congo contributed to the subsequent scramble for the possession of African territories by various European countries. In 1885 he became an American citizen and the next year was commissioned to relieve Emin Pasha, Governor of the Equatorial Province of Egypt (now Sudan), who was (mistakenly) believed to be besieged on the upper Nile. He set out on this expedition from the mouth of the Congo River in March 1887 with a party of some 700 men. They were the first Europeans to find Lake Edward and the Ruwenzori Range. The expedition resulted in Stanley's best-known work, In darkest Africa; or, the quest, rescue and retreat of Emin, governor of Equatoria. It was a record of extraordinary effort and resolution that generated much public interest. He also published several more papers on his discoveries in geographical journals.
On 12 July 1890 Stanley married the artist Dorothy Tennant and subsequently adopted a son. During 1891-1892 he visited the United States, Australia and New Zealand and in the latter year again became a British citizen. From 1895 to 1900 he represented North Lambeth in the House of Commons. In October 1897 he visited Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to attend the opening of the railway line to Bulawayo and afterwards toured South Africa. Returning to Britain early in 1898 he published Trough South Africa; being an account of his recent visit to Rhodesia, the Transvaal, Cape Colonuy, and Natal (London, 1898), in which he expressed superficial and strongly pro-British views on the country, its people and politics.
Stanley was a sensitve and introspective person, quick to take offence. His exploration of Africa demonstrated the sustained application of his will power, combined with his colonising zeal. It earned him the Belgian Order of Leopold (1885) and the Egyptian Order of Medjidieh (1890). In Britain he was honoured as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB, 1899) and awarded honorary doctorates in law by Oxford University and Cambridge University. During his last years his health was poor, as a result of disease contracted during his African journeys, and in 1903 he suffered a stroke. After his death his wife edited The autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB (London, 1909).