The first programme in a new series called The Last Explorers was shown on BBC-2 last Sunday (January 21). I taped it and have only just watched it – hence this late heads-up.
It’s worth seeing for anyone interested in the History
’s, telling the story of the missionary David Livingstone’s expedition in the Ma Robert - a vessel specially built for him by John Laird
at the Birkenhead yard in 1858.
An experimental craft, it was the first steel-hulled paddle-wheel steamer and was shipped to Africa in prefabricated sections in the hold of a larger ship to be assembled on the Zambesi.
However, it was not a success. The Ma Robert drew a draught of only 3ft, but even that proved too deep for some sections of the river. It also turned out to be badly underpowered and was dubbed The Asthmatic.
I seem to remember reading that David Livingstone came to Birkenhead to take delivery of the ship and that Livingstone Street was so named in commemoration of his visit.
The programme, presented by Neil Oliver, does not mention that the ship was built at Laird
If anyone wants to catch it, this episode of The Last Explorers can be seen on BBC’s iPlayer until Sunday night.