In 1838, two years before William Wickham's death, another famous son of Cottingley was born at the Old Hall. Richard Thornton was the 11th of 12 children of Richard and Eliza Thornton who had leased Cottingley Old Hall from the Ferrands since 1835.
The young Richard attended the local grammar school at Bingley and later studied at the Royal School of Mines, in London. In 1857 this brilliant young geology student was strongly recommended by Sir Roderick Murchison as a mining geologist on the Zambesi expedition under Dr. David Livingstone. One other member of that expedition was Livingstone's brother Charles, who was appointed under the title "moral agent" and official recorder of the expedition, but who seems to have been the chief cause of all quarrels and discontent in the party.
Initially, Livingstone was impressed by Thornton's early work. In a despatch of August 6, 1858, Livingstone wrote: "We were guided in our navigation by a very accurate chart made by Mr. Thornton." But by November, Thornton, only 19 years of age, was very pale and unable to work owing to a mild fever. He had, in fact, contracted malaria.
By March 1859, Livingstone became increasingly critical of Thornton's work and attitude.
"Sent Thornton off to make a shaft in the coal. Thornton evidently disinclined to geologise and has done next to nothing the last three months. Gorges himself with the best of everything he can lay hold of without asking."
Eventually Thornton's salary was stopped when Livingstone officially separated him from the expedition. So far we have only heard the official Livingstone side of the story, but a letter written by Thornton to his older sister Helen in July 1859, puts the matter in very different light.
It seems Livingstone seriously underestimated the gravity of Thornton's ill health and was prejudiced against the ambitious, and over-confident young man, by his brother Charles, who had quarrelled with Thornton on the boat out to Africa. Another member of the expedition later described Thornton as "young and clever rather than able; opinionative and active and would work if one knew how to get work out of him."
In the event James Stewart's words proved to be right. Using family money from Cottingley, the intrepid young explorer left Livingstone and, with two natives and 300 slaves, set out to explore the country round Tete, north of Zambesi, where he fell in with a German expedition, led by Baron von Decken in the first ever European survey of the Kilimanjaro Mountains. The Baron got out of young Thornton everything that the hapless Livingstone had been unable to do. Thornton completed a thorough survey of the snow-capped equitorial mountains. His meticulously kept journals reveal an enthusiastic, dedicated and professional geologist.
In February 1863, Thornton visited the Universities Mission and found the missionaries in a most pitiable condition and suffering from famine.With malaria worsening, the young Cottingley explorer volunteered to return the 80 miles to Tete to purchase food and livestock for the station. The journey through the hot and fever ridden country took its toll on Thornton who managed to get back with 100 head of sheep and goats.
But within a week of his return he died of dysentery on April 22, 1863, at the age of 25.
Sir Roderick Murchison had refused to accept Livingstone's dismissal of Thornton and a year
later commended him in his presidential address to the Royal Geographical Society.
"So gifted and rising an explorer - had he lived, his indomitable zeal and great acquirements would have surely placed him in the front rank of men of science.
Thornton's death broke up the expedition and Livingstone went off on his solitary journey to be eventually discovered by Stanley. Perhaps he went with a bad attack of conscience of the way he had mistreated and misjudged the brilliant young adventurer, Richard Thornton. Both of these Cottingley men - William Wickham and Richard Thornton - for one reason or another escaped national recognition. It is only fitting that we in Airedale at least recognise their efforts.
Baron K. K. von der Decken, accompanied by a young English geologist, Richard Thornton, travelled from Mombasa to Chaggaland in 1861 and attempted the first conquest of Kilimanjaro.
Thornton, Richard. The Zambesi papers of Richard Thornton, geologist to Livingstone's Zambesi
expedition. Ed. by Edward C. Tabler. 1-2. London 1963. (HYK)
Thornton, Richard, 1838-1863