branding gone bad, iii. [mark sayers]


Henry Stanley (1841-1904) finding David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Africa on 3 November 1871

Mark Sayers is our Guest Blogger for this three-part series on Henry Morton Stanley. Mark is a good friend, and is an author and speaker who specializes in interpreting popular culture from a Christan viewpoint. Mark has authored several books including: The Trouble With Paris ( Nelson 2008), The Vertical Self (Nelson 2010), The Road Trip that Changed the World, (Moody 2012) and Facing Leviathan: Moody 2014. – Find out more about Mark (


To better understand this conclusion to the story of Henry Morgan Stanley, read Blog posts #1 and #2 in preparation for this third and final Blog.

Blog Post #1:

Blog Past #2:

———— >>


As the backlash against the massacre at Bumbireh island gained traction in the media, other questions began to be asked. Why did his American accent seem to fade in and out?  Why did facts in his stories seem not to add up? Why did rumors persist about his origins and real name?

The answer was simple. Henry Morton Stanley was not Henry Morton Stanley.
Stanley’s birth certificate read John Rowlands,  ‘bastard”.

Born out of wed lock and fatherless, his first language was not English, it was Welsh. His mother was most likely a prostitute, and after his guardian uncle dropped dead in a field, he was turned over to his small Welsh town’s poor house. Life in the poor house was brutal and filled with sexual abuse. This traumatic childhood undoubtedly contributed to Stanley’s sense of life’s injustice and fueled his desire to reinvent himself. He may have been able to present himself to the world as a capable, charismatic person but the monster inside was lurking.

Before his travels in Africa one moment sums up Stanley’s approach to life. Whilst working as a journalist in what is today Iran, he visited the pre-Roman ruins at Persepolis. Not content to simply peruse the ruins, Stanley scratched his name into the ancient rock, this drive for recognition still visible today. This act, this powerful desire to have his name known is key to understanding Stanley.

The ancient Greeks spoke of “thumos,” the powerful inner drive for recognition, in excess this drive would turn into vengeance. “It was almost as if vengeance were the force driving him across the continent.” reflects Adam Hochschild.

Joseph Conrad, the Polish writer who himself traveled to the Congo saw something prophetic in what was occurring in the Belgian Congo through men like Stanley. “The wilderness whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude – and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.”

When the statue of Stanley (below) was torn down, ripped from its mooring, it was found to be hollow… like the image of the leader that was projected to the world, and whose base drive was that of recognition, it too was discovered to be hollow at the core.

To read more about Henry Morton Stanley and what he can teach us about leadership you can pre-order Mark’s new book Facing Leviathan here



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