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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
The Gospel to the Negro


IT is just over a century since the first Scottish missionary went to work among the plantation slaves in Jamaica, and all that followed that humble beginning, in the development of the work, both in the West Indies and in the homeland of the negro, forms a record of heroic endeavour and tireless devotion which has few parallels even in the annals of missionary enterprise.

When Columbus, on his second voyage to America, sighted Jamaica on 3rd May 1494, overpowered by its beauty he could only exclaim, "Santa Gloria!" The island might, indeed, have stood for the original of that heavenly land which Christian saw from the battlements of the Palace Beautiful, "a most pleasant mountainous country, beautified with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold." Yet this sunny island has been the scene of two of the darkest episodes in human history. First there was the tragedy of the gentle Caribs, who flocked to the shore to welcome the white strangers, but soon found themselves enslaved, worked to death, and in the end exterminated. Then began the long-drawn tragedy of the negro. The haughty Spaniards must needs find other slaves. So they set agoing the execrable slave trade, which was carried to its height by our own country-men after Jamaica became a British colony. Men and women, boys and girls, were torn from their homes in West Africa, driven in chains down to the coast, and shipped across the Atlantic to work in the sugar plantations. It is estimated that over a million slaves were thus transported, exclusive of the sick, the dying, and the dead, who were thrown overboard during the dreadful " middle passage."

The condition of the plantation slaves was deplorable. From dawn till dark they toiled in the fields, and in addition they worked half of every second night in the sugar mill. Ordinary morality was unknown among them, and the elementary rights of human beings were denied them. They had no appeal from injustice, no escape from flogging, outrage, and death. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the awakened Christian conscience of Britain began to be troubled about the slave trade, but the fight for emancipation was long and bitter. Boswell recorded his " most solemn protest" against Samuel Johnsonís hostility to the slave trade, which he regarded as a benevolent institution for the negro. "To abolish the trade," he exclaimed, "would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind!" But in the end the friends of the slave triumphed. The trans-Atlantic trade was abolished in 1807, and the complete emancipation of all the slaves of Britain followed in 1838.

I

It was not to be expected that the owners and managers of the plantations would welcome missionary effort among the slaves. In 1802 the legislative council of Jamaica passed an Act making it a criminal offence to preach to the slaves, and some Wesleyan missionaries were thrown into prison. The Scottish Missionary Society had sent three pioneer missionaries to Jamaica in 1800, two of whom died shortly, while the third was stopped in his work by the Government. Nothing more was done by the Society till 1824, when, on the invitation of two friendly planters, the Rev. George Blyth, who had been working as a missionary in Tartary, was sent out, and broke ground at Hampden, in the north-east of the island. The authorities were urged to send him back by the boat in which he came, else there would be rebellion and bloodshed among the blacks. But the spirit of toleration had begun to prevail, and the Mission went on and slowly grew.

Still, the field was hard. Not that the slaves were hostile, but many were too weary to care for anything. "Massa," said one, "the living we live here is too bad. Our hearts are broke with hard work and punishment." Some of the overseers also, like Pharaohís taskmasters, increased the work to keep the people from the meetings. "Time for meetings," snarled the manager of Blue Hole; "I would not give five, minutes for any such purpose." Meetings and classes had to be held at night. Who can read, without emotion, the story of the weary slaves in the night school, reading and sleeping by turns, one half with their books round the table, the rest asleep on the floor ? "Whoever moved out of his place had to pick his steps among the prostrate scholars. When their turn came, the sleepers jumped up, rubbing their eyes, while the others took their places and were fast asleep in a moment." Under such arduous conditions the work prospered beyond expectation. In 1829 the Rev. Hope M. Waddell began his long and notable career at Mount Zion, in the parish of Trelawny. Other stations were opened at Port Maria, Montego Bay, Lucea, and elsewhere. In little more than a decade eight ordained missionaries were at work in various parts of the island. All these men, though labouring mostly under the Scottish Missionary Society, were ministers of the United Secession Church, which joined with the Relief Synod in 1847 to form the United Presbyterian Church. Accordingly in that year the Mission was handed over by the Scottish Society, and continued under the supervision of the United Presbyterians till the Union of 1900, when it became one of the missions of the United Free Church.

As the cause of emancipation made progress in Britain the slaves grew impatient for their liberty. Rumours reached them that the King had actually granted them freedom, but their masters were unjustly withholding it. At the Christmas of 1831 a number rose in rebellion, and the night sky was reddened with the glare of blazing sugar factories. About a dozen whites lost their lives, but in the swift vengeance that followed, hundreds of slaves were put to death. The missionaries, of course, as usual, were blamed for being at the root of the trouble, but it was afterwards proved that the Christian negroes, obedient to the advice of their ministers, had continued peaceably at work. At last the cause of emancipation triumphed, and the day of deliverance drew near. Among the slaves excitement rose to fever heat. The planters, on their part, predicted nothing less than universal pandemonium and the total ruin of the island. But the power of the Gospel was signally manifest. As midnight chimed the hour of freedom, all the churches were filled with kneeling worshippers, assembled to bless God for their redemption, and pledge their new-born selves to His service. Prayer ended, they spring to their feet with shouts of Hallelujah! They laugh, they weep, they dance, they sing, they embrace each other in a delirium of joy. They pour out of the church with freedom tingling in their veins like new wine. They climb the hills and, standing on the topmost peaks, they hail the rising sun with shouts and songs of jubilee.

II

Emancipation, however, did not bring the millennium, as perhaps some of the slaves expected. On the contrary, there followed a period of great depression and misery in the island. This, perhaps, was to some extent inevitable, especially as some of the planters, to quote the report of a Royal Commission, "having prophesied the ruin of the island, did their best to fulfill their own prophecy." Wherever the slaves got the offer of fair wages and fair treatment the bulk of them continued steady at their work, and to-day the Jamaica negro has the reputation of being the finest workman in the tropics. There was also developed a system of small holdings, of which there are now about 140,000 in the island, sustaining a peasant population of fine quality.

Throughout these difficult years the vitality of the native Church was remarkable. Not only did it hold its ground, but it initated a movement which led to the Calabar Mission in Nigeria. The slaves had never forgotten the homeland from which they or their fathers had been so cruelly torn. At death they hoped to return to their ancestors, and when they bade farewell to the dying they would wish them a good journey and send messages to their friends in Africa. When their lives were brightened by the Gospel they were fired with a noble desire to carry the glad tidings to their kinsfolk, and they appealed to the missionaries to lead the way. Such an appeal could not lightly be put aside, and at length, after long and prayerful consideration, it was felt to be the call of God. At the Presbytery which met in 1841, each of the eight missionaries present rose and offered himself for service in West Africa if God should open the way. When this was reported to the Home Church, there were at first grave doubts as to the wisdom of the scheme, but the Jamaica Presbytery, nothing daunted, sent home Mr. Waddell in 1845 the more effectively to plead the cause. When Mr. Waddell reached Scotland he found that the tide had turned, and the new Mission was adopted with enthusiasm.

Before leaving Jamaica, however, some account must be given of the more recent history of the Mission. There are two terrors from which the island is never safeó the cyclone and the earthquake. They may come in a moment without warning, and leave behind them universal ruin. When the cyclone rages over sea and land, trees are uprooted, sugar plantations laid flat, houses unroofed, and the people who in the morning had enjoyed the prospect of a bountiful harvest, are in the evening homeless and destitute. The great cyclone of 1880 was estimated to have destroyed five-sevenths of the produce of the island. More dreadful even than the cyclone is the earthquake when it smites the foundations of towns and cities. Port Royal, the old capital, once reputed the wealthiest and wickedest city in the world, was completely wiped out. Kingston, which succeeded it, was without a momentís warning laid in ruins on the 14th January 1907 at half-past three in the afternoon. Time after time special help has been needed to rebuild churches and to succour the destitute and the homeless.

Still more deadly are the moral and religious evils against which the Mission has to fight. Jamaica is nominally a Christian country, but ages of African superstition are engrained in the mind of the negro. Obeahism, or the belief in witchcraft, is a subtle power which dies hard, and at any time may lead to superstitious panics and emotional outbursts of the most injurious kind. Slavery also has left its ugly scar upon the soul of the people. Slaves are Proverbially thievish, lying, and immoral. It is the inevitable result of the system, and it takes more than a generation to root it out. So the work of the Mission is far from complete, in spite of the measure of success which has already been achieved. A Christian community of over forty thousand has been gathered in, and village churches have been organised under their own native pastors. The native Church is perhaps nearer the stage of independent self-support than the Church in any other of our mission fields; but for some time yet, if the danger of reaction is to be averted, both pastors and people will need the wise and enlightened guidance of the white missionary.

III

We must now follow the fortunes of the pioneers who left Jamaica to carry the gospel to the negroís homeland in West Africa. It was an enterprise which seemed to promise great results. Buxton, the friend of Wilberforce, had predicted that slavery would be overruled for good, that from the children of the Christian slaves in the West Indies would arise a race of teachers who would "return to the land of their fathers, carrying divine truth and all its concomitant blessings into the heart of Africa." It may be said at once that these high hopes have not been realised. The American negro has done very little for the evangelisation of Africa, and his influence, as in the Ethiopian movement, has at times been pernicious. In the case of Calabar the idea of working the Mission by native pastors from Jamaica had very speedily to be abandoned. Those who objected to the inception of the Mission did so on the ground of the deadly climate of the West Coast. Already about a hundred missionaries had been sent out by various Societies to Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast, of whom fifty per cent. had died within a year of landing. Scotlandís previous attempt in that region had been a bitter failure. It seemed madness to make any further attempt. But there is something strangely inspiring in divine madness of this sort, and the proposal caught on and excited the utmost enthusiasm. Money poured in; a schooner, the Warree, was gifted, and on 6th January 1846, Mr. Waddell sailed from Liverpool for Calabar with a little band of assistants, one of whom was an ex-slave and was the first to die in Africa. Subsequent reinforcements speedily followed from Jamaica and Scotland, notably the Rev. Hugh Goldie and the Rev. William Anderson, who together with Mr. Waddell are entitled by their long and devoted services to be called the fathers of the Calabar Mission.

Work was begun near the mouth of the Cross River, which enters the Gulf of Guinea a hundred miles east of the Niger. Thirty miles up its estuary the Calabar River comes in from the east, and near the junction, on opposite banks and with an island between them, lie Duke Town and Creek Town, where the Mission was established. At that time a few trading ships lay in the river for barter with the natives. No white trader was allowed to settle on shore, and few had any desire to do so, for the country was regarded as a white manís grave. "Kings" were plentiful in Calabar. Every town of any size had its king, some of whom were men of influence and prosperous traders, especially King Eyo Honesty of Creek Town. But mostly they were raw savages who sustained their kingship with ridiculous solemnity, robed in a strip of yellow cotton and crowned with a battered pot-hat.

This slight contact with the civilised world had done nothing to banish the superstitions or mitigate the savage customs of heathenism. Macgregor Laird, giving evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in 1842, said : "The most uncivilised part of Africa ever I was in was Old Calabar, where commerce has been going on for the last three hundred years. . . . The human skulls that are seen in every direction, and that are actually kicking about the streets, attest the depravity of feeling among the people." Belief in evil spirits was universal, witchcraft and the poison ordeal were widely practised, while cannibalism and human sacrifice were established customs. Twin children were buried alive or thrown away in the bush as monsters, and the unhappy mother was either killed or banished. At the death of a chief or any man of importance there was a cruel slaughter among the people. A huge cavern was dug for a grave, into which the body of the chief was lowered, resting upon the bodies of four of his wives, bound hand and foot, but living. Slaves were then brought to the graveside, their heads struck off, and their bodies tumbled in till the pit was full, when all was covered over with earth and trampled down. Add to these hideous customs the horrors of slave raiding and the curse of trade gin, and one may get some faint impression of the gross darkness that overspread the land.

The history of the Mission in its early days is an agonising yet thrilling record of perils and conflicts, of labour and weariness, of the ravages of a deadly climate, and of noble lives laid down. Eager as the natives were to learn English and the secret of the white manís magic, they were loth to change the cruel customs of their race. With a devotion above all praise, Christian men and women of refinement lived in the midst of all this savagery and witnessed against it, while daily their ears were assailed with the shrieks of the tortured, and their souls were sick of blood.

IV

Slowly and by degrees the powers of superstition and wickedness were broken down. Sunday markets were abolished, and the people began to gather in increasing numbers to the "God-palaver." Newborn twins were rescued and nursed at the Mission-house, and the native women, when at last they were induced to look at them, found to their amazement that they were just like other babies. The poison ordeal and the slaughter of the wives and slaves of the dead lingered long and died hard. To-day in great measure the old order of things has passed away, at least in the district round Duke Town and Creek Town, where British law is firmly established, and the foundations of a Christian civilisation have been well and truly laid. On a hill overlooking Duke Town stands the Hope Waddell Training Institution. Eighty years ago, when this hilltop was granted to the Mission by King Eyamba, it was thickly strewn with decaying bodies of the unburied dead, flung there by friends who could not be troubled to find them a grave. The natives employed to clear the ground could not face the gruesome work till the bush was burnt down and the bodies consumed, after which the bones were gathered and interred. Now on the same ground stands the finest educational institution in West Africa. The buildings are in the form of a huge square. There are classrooms and dormitories for two hundred boys, with schools for carpentry, tailoring, printing, and bookbinding, besides houses for the staff. The open space in the centre is the playground, and many a keen game is fought out between the goalposts. Besides preachers and teachers many of the pupils enter the Government service, others follow some useful trade. But all leave the Institution with some knowledge of the Gospel and some impression of what it means to be a Christian, and many of them, returning to their homes in the various districts, are becoming the apostles of their people.

Gradually the operations of the Mission have extended into the interior. The Cross River forms the natural line of advance, and, step by step, stations have been planted along its banksóat Ikorofiong, at Ikorama, at Unwana, and at Itigidi, one hundred and forty miles up. For years the work was confined to the east bank of the river, for the country lying to the west was closed to the white man. Strong, clever, cannibal tribes occupied the whole of the Ibo country, right across to the Niger. In the dark depths of their forest home they perpetrated every form of savagery. Little was known of them save the ominous fact that they poured down the Enyong Creek a continuous stream of slaves to the great slave market at Itu. A renowned centre of their barbarous worship was at Arochuku, near the head of the Creek, where stood a famous idol known as the Long Ju-Ju. Pilgrims to this shrine were often seized and offered in sacrifice, while the bloody slave raids of these fierce tribes kept the whole country in terror. At last, in 1902, a British force marched to Arochuku, subdued the tribes, and demolished the Long Ju-Ju. Thus a vast and densely populated country was thrown open to the Gospel. Five or six million people, all speaking the same language, occupy the region between the Niger and the Cross River, while to the north and east there is an almost illimitable opportunity of advance.

V

The pioneer of the advance into the interior was a woman, the world-renowned Mary Slessor, who arrived in Calabar in 1876 and continued in active service till 1915. Hers was an altogether extraordinary career. She was a woman of unusual strength of character, with more than a touch of the eccentricity of genius. Naturally timid and shrinking, her utter devotion made her fearless, and she could rise to the sublimest heights in moments of crisis and peril. Pressing on into the forest she lived a primitive life, walking bare-headed and barefoot, building her own huts, nursing successive families of rescued twins, and waging an incessant war against every form of heathenism and savagery. As the years passed on she gained an unparalleled influence over the natives, and became by common consent the arbiter in all sorts of disputes. In 1891 the British Government, which had begun to extend its authority into the interior, recognised her unique position, and appointed her Vice-Consul for the district of Okoyong. When the Enyong Creek was thrown open by the demolition of the Long Ju-Ju, she pressed forward and spent the closing years of her life in carrying the Gospel to the villages beyond Arochuku. In the end, when her years of service far exceeded those of any other worker in the field," Ma " Slessor, as she was called, came to be venerated both by missionaries and Government officials as one of the institutions of the country. Even the natives acknowledged that she knew their laws and customs better than they did themselves. In speaking of her work it is difficult to avoid the language of extravagance. She is entitled to a place in the front rank of the heroines of history, and, if goodness be counted an essential element of true greatness, if eminence be reckoned by love and self-sacrifice, by years of endurance and suffering, by a life of sustained service and purest devotion, it will be found difficult, if not impossible, to name her equal.

She died on Wednesday, 13th January 1915, just as the dawn was breaking. Her body was taken down the river by loving hands and buried in the cemetery on Mission Hill, at Duke Town. As the procession approached the grave amid the wailing of the people, an aged native woman exclaimed, "Kutua oh, kutua oh! Do not cry, do not cry! Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow. Ma was a great blessing." It was a simple but perfect eulogy. Mary Slessor was indeed a great blessing. She gave to heathen Africa a new conception of womanhood, and to the world at large an imperishable example of Christian devotion.

Another gracious figure deserving of mention is Dr. Hitchcock, who laboured for a decade in Calabar, till he died of overwork in 1919. On arriving in the country he was speedily sent "up the line" to the front, where he was warmly welcomed by Mary Slessor. "A rare man," she said, "a rare Christian, a rare doctor. A physician for soul and body. I am beginning to love him like a son." He, on his part, was amazed at the work accomplished by her along the Creek. Visiting Okpo, he remarks, "The people themselves have built the church, and the bulk of the £400 has been paid direct to the builders. To see the beautiful church in the centre of the squalid town makes one feel they must have given almost their all." Farther up the country he found the people marvelling at the wide roads that the Government was making, and rejoicing over the coming of the white manís goods into their country, but when asked if they had heard of the white manís God they only answered with "a blank look, and a silence eloquent and immensely appealing."

Dr. Hitchcock opened a mission hospital at Uburu, a great market centre in the interior, and laboured for a time with the utmost ardour and success. But, as his reputation spread, the work increased beyond one manís power. "Harrogate is not in it," he wrote. He was kept busy from half-past six in the morning till half-past eight at night, almost without a break. At one time he had nearly two hundred patients on his waiting-list for operation. It was impossible that any constitution could stand such a strain in the tropics. Summoned to the sick-bed of another missionary he cycled sixty miles through the bush, took the sick man down the river to Duke Town, and operated. His friends urged him to rest for a few days. "How can I ? " he replied. "My hospital is full, and I have a white sick man at Itu." He travelled up river in a native canoe, but next day he was down with malaria and sunstroke, and in a few hours he had passed away.

His case is but one of many in which the messengers of the Cross in heathen lands, in the ardour of their zeal, and urged on by the immense need they see around them, have, in Henry Martynís phrase, burned themselves out for God. Every mission field could supply similar instances, and they are a reminder to the Church at home of the price that must be paid for the evangelising of the world, while to the world itself they are a triumphant proof that the Spirit of the Crucified is not yet dead.


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