THE town had never witnessed such a tumultuous occasion, brought to a standstill as thousands lined the streets as local and national dignitaries followed the Union Jack draped coffin of a Victorian hero.

The whole route from Southampton docks to the railway station which encompassed the High Street and other major roads was fully a mile in length and lined with people, write Jez Gale and John Hoskins.

Every balcony crammed with spectators, all shops were closed or semi-closed with drawn blinds in salute - all consumed to pay homage whose death they pitied but proud of his achievements.

Such was the scene in April, 1874, when Southampton paid tribute to Dr David Livingstone, Africa explorer and missionary.

Though he was destined to be buried in Westminster Abbey, Southampton's dignitaries were determined to give the pioneer's body the most fitting reception when it arrived back in England.

Much of the last four years in the dark continent had been stricken with illness and it was on May 1, 1873, aged 60, he succumbed to malaria and internal bleeding from dysentery at Llala in present-day Zambia.

He was to literally to leave his heart in Africa, his faithful attendants burying it under a mvula tree that is now known as the Livingstone Memorial.

The rest of his remains were carried, together with his journal, for more than 1,0000 miles to the coastal town of Bagamayo for transportation back to Britain - and so it was the following April they arrived in Southampton to an unforgettable reception.

Preparations had began when the borough council learnt they had been placed on the P& O steamer Malwa and were determined that every respect should be the pioneer traveller, with a major programme of proceedings drawn up.

The Malwa's passage via Suez and Gibraltar was however far from smooth as the ship encountered a series of storms, so much that she was a day late before she neared the Hampshire coastline, with a telegraph from Hurst Castle announcing her presence.

The Malwa was to drop anchor at the entrance to Southampton Water and Livingstone's coffin and other cargo would then be transferred to a tug. So the dignitaries, led by Admiral Sir W Hall, a P & O director, Captain Black, the company's Southampton representative and major figures from the Royal Geographical Society, stepped on board the Aid for the solemn meeting.

On board they were met by the Malwa's commander, P S Tomlin, the explorer's son, Thomas and his faithful African servant Joseph Wainwright, who spoke warmly of his former master's character and life.

The guests were duly escorted into the mail room, part of which had been segregated into a temporary mortuary where the coffin, composed of black stained Zanzibar wood, lay, draped under the company's flag. The dark apartment was lit by two sailors with lanterns and around the sides were Manilla men and lascars..

The coffin was transferred to the Isle of Wight ferry Queen and on her arrival at the Royal Pier, all officials flags were lowered to half-mast and the local churches' bells rang out as hundreds of people lined the streets for the procession that began at the Audit House.