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The Martyres of Blantyre
Chapter I. Introduction


The eyes of the world are on Africa at present. One cannot take up a newspaper without finding the Dark Continent, in one or other of its great regions, —Northern, Southern, Central,—claiming attention by the doings of the explorer, the soldier, the politician, or the missionary. Every now and again a quiver of interest thrills through the Cabinets of Europe at the surgings to and fro in the great scramble for Africa; while, on the other hand, the inrush of European life —English, German, Portuguese—with its diverse influences, and the formation of great chartered companies, all eager to colonise, to claim, to annex, is stirring the stagnant pool of African life. The evolutions are rapid, and almost before the world has had time to take in the situation which one ferment has produced the state of things has changed and another has begun. Struggle and death, prospect and progress, initial defeat and final triumph, follow each other in rapid succession. The expectation of yesterday is realised to-day and to-morrow is left behind. The map of Africa is changing so quickly that the geographer has a hard time keeping it up to date, and the public can hardly find leisure to make and keep themselves familiar with it.

In that swift rush the changes are so many and the events so important, that we are apt to lose sight of the men whose courage and devotion are achieving these results. Once in a while a Stanley, a Gordon, or a Hannington rivets public attention for a moment and becomes known to the world. But of the large number of devoted men and women whose life and labours have gone to the making of Africa, only a very few are, to most people, anything more than mere names. Yet never to have had even if it were but a glimpse of such lives is to miss a great deal that helps one to understand Africa and the problems it presents.

This is emphatically true of those who have laboured and died in the mission-field, and nowhere is it more strikingly true than in that part of Central Africa opened up by the explorations of Livingstone, and which is now being won for Christianity by those who have followed in his footsteps. To know them and their work brings one into touch, not only with the progress of civilisation, but with the coming of the kingdom of God there.

Among the many followers of Livingstone the three whose story this little book tells were men that were “worth the knowing,” and many considerations make it fitting that the three lives should be linked together.

They were all Scotchmen. They were all sons of the University of Edinburgh. They were all in the service of the Church of Scotland’s Mission at Blantyre, in the Shire Hills, and so were intimate personal friends. One was a pioneer missionary, one a medical missionary, and one an ordained minister of Jesus Christ; but all three were men of the Livingstone type, unwavering in determination, unfailing in their faith in God, and unwearying in their devotion to Africa and their love for the African. A further and sad link of association is found in the fact that they fell almost together in swift succession. Although, by the goodness of God, the Blantyre Mission during its fifteen years of brave and trying work had never been called to mourn a man taken from its staff by death, yet within three short months (November 1890 to February 1891) these three —first Cleland, then Bowie, then Henderson—were each laid in an African grave; while Mrs. Henderson and their only child were also taken at the same time. It was a dark, sad time, and in its sorrowful remembrance the three names will be linked together. They did not fall by the spear or assegai of the savage, yet none the less truly did each of them, with a devotion which regarded not himself, lay down his life a witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each life had its own story, and it has been thought best to tell each by itself. It is believed, too, that the story of the lives will be more sympathetically read if their environment is understood; and therefore we give a short sketch of the great cause in which they enlisted,—the cause of Christian Missions in East Central Africa,— with a more particular account of the Mission at Blantyre, to the building up of which they gave their labours and their lives.


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