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The Martyres of Blantyre
Chapter II. The Prayer of the Dead Livingstone and its Answer


Every one remembers bow, on May Day 1873, in a poor grass but at Ilala, on the shores of Lake Bangweolo, the dead Livingstone was found kneeling by bis bed in the attitude of prayer. In loneliness and weakness, wasted by sickness and weary with many wanderings, be bad died as be bad lived—praying,—and on the breath of that last prayer the weary spirit had gone home to God. It was a sight to touch men’s hearts; but there, in the lonely African forest, there was no white man to look on it or to tell the world what it was. Only tbe dark African saw it, and though be bowed reverently before it, what was be that he should be able to catch the spirit of that scene or interpret it for the strange world without? Yet the silent prayer of those cold lips, the pathetic appeal of that pale face buried in the folded hands, spoke with a voice that would not be silent, and with a power that would not be repressed until it had not only reached the ear of God, but moved the hearts of men to the uttermost ends of the earth. Wave upon wave, in ever-widening circles, the voice of that prayer was borne till from all Christendom there came an answer to its cry. The cold lips were now dumb, but the prayer of the life spoke instead till men could not help but hear. That poor kneeling form seemed the very embodiment of all the prayers, the expression of all the labours of the devoted life which had been poured out, a sacrifice for Africa. It seemed to pour a spirit of burning fire into many a prayer that he had offered and many an appeal that he had made while he was here, till they came back and scorched the hearts that had been deaf to them before. “May the blessing of God rest,” those lips had once said, and now the spent life seemed to echo it—“May the blessing of God rest on the man, be he Englishman or American or Turk, who will heal this open sore of the world.” “I have opened the door,” the living voice had said to the students at Cambridge, and now the voice of the dead seemed to repeat it—“I have opened the door: see that you let no man shut it! ”

How the cry of that finished life was borne from land to land! First the dark Makololo heard it as they looked into the empty hut, and it caught them like a spell. Under its influence they tenderly lifted the body of their dead leader and bore it through countless miles of forest to the sea-coast, and thence across the sea, till they saw it laid with the honoured dead of his own land. But they did more, else -the voice of the dead had lost half its power. They gathered together with affectionate carefulness all those note-books and papers of which he had taken such care, and at which they had so often seen him writing laboriously when head and hand were alike weary; and with such scrupulous care did they carry them to England that, when they were opened and examined, it was found that the papers presented a continuous narrative of .seven years’ exploration and experience without a single break,—not one entry being lost or one word destroyed! One hardly knows whether most to admire the faithfulness or to marvel at the feat. Surely God had designed that the appeal of the dead Livingstone should not be silenced, even by death in the solitude of the African forest.

Then Europe and America heard, and stood still a moment to listen, as to a cry for help. That cry awoke in the heart of civilization feelings of indignant shame that the horrible trade in human flesh should be allowed to continue after Livingstone had shown it up and died to destroy it. Once awakened, civilization called for more light and fuller knowledge of “that unknown land,” and time and again the explorer went forth to search its depths and bring back such knowledge of it as could be gathered. Stanley, Thomson, Cameron, Keith Johnstone, Wissmann, and other travellers followed each other in rapid succession, till by-and-by the world began to know something of the land and the people that were enshrined in the prayer of the dead Livingstone.

But,—most momentous of all,—that cry awoke the Church of God. At sound of it men caught the glow of the Livingstone spirit—that spirit which he had caught from a Greater than himself—and a desire arose to enter this land of suffering and blood, to cleanse it of its horrors and claim it and its people for the living Christ. As with one impulse, the hearts of men in different branches of the Christian Church were moved to send to its down-trodden races the glad tidings of salvation, liberty to the captives, and joy to the oppressed. In the words of Livingstone himself, “the end of the geographical feat was the beginning of missionary enterprise.” The dreams of one period became the realities of the next. The vision that had cheered the weary steps of the great explorer began almost at once to be realised. He had tracked the path of the Arab caravan along the great slave-route from Zanzibar into the interior, and again up the great waterway of Central Africa by the Zambezi and the Shir^, through the Shire Hills to Lake Shirwa, and over the tableland to Lake Nyasa, and everywhere along both routes he saw the slaver’s trail. Everywhere he saw the villainous Arab march inland in quest of ivory, provoking war, burning villages, scattering slaughter and ruin among the natives, and then return with his capture of ivory and his gang of slaves, who had to drag their way through such unspeakable suffering and horrors that only one out of every ten of them ever reached the coast to be sold and shipped off, although a British Consul at Zanzibar has stated that no fewer than 19,000 slaves are exported annually from that part of Africa alone. It made him heart-sore to see, as he said, “strings of wretched slaves yoked together in their heavy slave-sticks, some carrying ivory, others copper, or food for the march; whilst hope and fear, misery and villainy, may be read off on the various faces that pass in line out of this country, like a serpent dragging its accursed folds away from the victim it has paralysed with its fangs.” Then he prayed for a time when along that same route there would flow from a Christian world without, into the heart of that Dark Continent, thus cursed with sin and suffering, a stream of life bearing the light of God and the blessings of Christianity. He knew that that time would come, and that it could only come through a great uprising of missionary devotion, and he prayed for that. Now, when his eye was not there to see nor his hand to welcome it, the answer to his prayer came. As you have seen star after star break through the darkness of an autumn night, so did Mission after Mission appear shining out in that African darkness, each star a little world of life and love,—each a Bethlehem star telling by its light that the Redeemer had come. Entering from the east coast and moving up that great waterway which he himself had discovered, the rising tide of the new life began to flow, bearing on its bosom God’s answer to his prayers.

The first to come was The Universities Mission. Like an evening star shining faintly before the sunset, it came before Livingstone had died, but it was the first-fruits of his labours. So far back as 1857 he had, when in England, addressed a crowded meeting of students at Cambridge, and in closing an impassioned appeal to them he said, “I go back to Africa to try to make an open path for commerce and Christianity. Do you carry out the work which I have begun. Leave it with you.” The response to that appeal was the combination of the universities of England and Ireland for the formation and support of a Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, and the despatch in October 1860 of a Mission party, under the direction of a Scotchman, Bishop Mackenzie, who was accompanied by two clergymen and the now famous Horace Waller, afterwards editor of Livingstone’s last Journals—not then, however, in Holy Orders, but acting as a lay superintendent.

Their instructions being to establish a Mission cc in the footsteps of "Livingstone,” the party settled at Magomero, near Lake Shirwa, among the Manganja people dwelling on the hills to the east of the River Shira. The sad story of this Mission, its misfortunes, and the circumstances which led to its withdrawal after the death of Bishop Mackenzie, who died of fever at a place near the mouth of the River two hundred miles inland, have already been told. It had to retire from the Shird region, transferring the sphere of its operations to Zanzibar, but it left behind it as one of the landmarks pointing the way, the grave of Bishop Mackenzie, with a rough iron cross which Livingstone afterwards planted over it, and the memory among the natives of a brave and good man, whom they remembered as “Muntu oa nkoma ntima”—a man of a sweet heart.

In more recent days the Universities’ Mission has again worked its way, by a succession of mission-stations, from Zanzibar northward to Usambara on the one hand, and on the other along the line of the Rovuma westward to those Shire Hills and Nyasaland, one of its most interesting and active stations being on Likoma Island in Lake Nyasa, a centre from which, by means of its missionary steamer, the Charles Janson, it carries the light to various places along the shore of the lake; while the repeated journeys of Bishop Smythies over the wide tract of country placed under his care, and the devoted labours of such men as Archdeacon Maples, the Rev. W. R Johnson, and other members of the Mission staff, are fast kindling the light of God in the heart of that land of darkness.

But the early days of this Mission were before the Church had awakened at the news of Livingstone’s death. When that came men’s hearts were stirred, and his own countrymen especially felt that it would be shame indeed npon them if that opened door were now allowed to be closed. Accordingly, almost simultaneously there arose in all the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland a movement in favour of organising a missionary invasion of East Central Africa, with the Zambezi and Shire as its route, and Lake Nyasa and the Shire Highlands as the field of its conquest. The enterprise of the Free Church led the way; the Church of Scotland, inspired by the zeal of the late I)r. Macrae of Hawick, cordially joined; and the African experience of Dr. Stewart of Lovedale gave practical direction to the movement. A pioneer expedition composed of representatives of the different Churches, under the command of Mr. E. D. Young, R.N., was despatched in 1875, the representative of the Church of Scotland being Henry Henderson. The story of its experiences will be found in another chapter.

Out of this expedition two Missions grew. At Cape Maclear, on the shore of Lake Nyasa, is Livingsionia, one of the Missions of the Free Church of Scotland, in the working of which the United Presbvterian Church and the Reformed Dutch Church of South Africa also share. It was founded in 1876 by the Rev. Dr. Stewart of Lovedale, who, on returning to his work at Lovedale in 1877, placed it under the charge of Dr. Robert Laws, its present head, and the only member of the original pioneering band now remaining in Africa. Under his able administration, and by the indefatigable efforts of him and his colleagues, it has grown up, a bright spot amidst the dark life along the margin of the lake, a centre of Christian civilization, where not only the church and the school, but well-built houses, well-tilled gardens, and a quiet and industrious people, bear witness that the reign of peace and goodwill has begun and the kingdom of God has come.

This, however, has not been achieved without struggle and death—struggle, not with the native tribes, but with the more deadly malaria which haunts the banks of the river and the fever-swept shores of the lake. How terrible that struggle has been is graphically presented by Professor Drummond, when he thus describes a visit he paid to it five years ago :—

“It was a brilliant summer morning when the Ilala steamed into Lake Nyasa, and in a few hours we were at anchor in the little bay at Livingstonia. My first impressions of this famous mission-station certainly will never be forgotten. Magnificent mountains of granite, green to the summit with forest, encircled it, and on the silver sand of a still smaller bay stood the small row of trim white cottages. A neat path through a small garden led up to the settlement, and I approached the largest house and entered. It was the Livingstonia Manse—the head missionary’s house. It was spotlessly clean; English furniture was in the room, a medicine-chest, familiar-looking dishes were in the cupboards, books lying about, but there was no missionary in it. I went to the next house. It was the school; the benches were there and the blackboard, but there were no scholars and no teacher. I passed to the next. It was the blacksmith’s shop; there were the tools and the anvil, but there was no blacksmith. And so on to the next and the next, all in perfect order, and all empty. Then a native approached and led me a few yards into the forest; and there, among the mimosa-trees, under a huge granite mountain, were four or five graves. These were the missionaries’. I spent a day or two in the solemn shadow of that deserted manse. It is one of the loveliest spots in the world; and it was hard to believe, sitting under the tamarind-trees by the quiet lake-shore, that the pestilence which walketh at midnight, had made this beautiful spot its home.”

That was the battle-day. The losses were heavy, men’s hearts were tried, but the little band were not dismayed, and this star of Christian promise was not quenched. The station was not deserted, but the missionary centre had by that time been moved from Cape Maclear to Bandawd, 150 miles northward, on the same lake-coast, but somewhat higher up the hill, where the brave missionaries began their task again, the old station being worked by native agents and visited from time to time. Here and at other points along the lake, though often harassed and hindered by native wars and political turmoil, Dr. Laws and his fellow-missionaries have by much patient labour built up a noble Mission, industrial, medical, educational, and evangelistic, and are year by year giving to Africa more and more fully that for which Livingstone hoped and prayed.

Two or three days’ journey to the south of Lake Nyasa lies the mountainous district called by Livingstone the Manganja Highlands, but better known by its more recent name of the Shird Highlands. These highlands lie to the east of the Cataracts of the Shire and extend for a considerable distance inland, the grouud rising in a succession of terraces. On the third of these terraces, on a breezy upland about 3000 feet above the level of the sea, stands the other Mission which grew out of Captain Young’s pioneering expedition. This is Blantyre, the African Mission of the Church of Scotland. This is the Mission to the building up of which the three brave missionaries whose story it is the purpose of this little book to tell gave their lives. It may help, therefore, to a clearer appreciation of their work if some slight description of it and its work is given, but this must be reserved to a separate chapter. It may not, however, be out of place here to quote regarding it also the impression formed by Professor Drummond during his visit to Africa. Speaking of it he says :—

“Towards sunset the following evening our caravan filed into Blantyre. On the beauty and interest of this ideal Mission I shall not dwell. But if any one wishes to find out what can be done by broad and practical missionary methods, let him visit the Rev. D. Clement Scott and his friends at Blantyre. ... I will say of the Livingstonia missionaries and of the Blantyre missionaries, and count it an honour to say it, that they are brave, efficient, single-hearted men, who need our sympathy more than we know, and are equally above our criticism and our praise.”

Since these words were written three of those brave, single-hearted men have laid down their lives in the work. Here also the Church has come in answer to the appeal of Livingstone’s life, and truly the print of her footsteps has been the graves of her sons.

Close by Blantyre and Livingstonia, and working with them in the interests of Christianity, though not directly part of the Church’s missionary organisation, are two Scottish trading companies, The African Lakes Company and Buchanan Brothers. The former is a trading and carrying company, formed in 1878 with the distinct object of carrying out Livingstone’s idea of opening up and developing the regions of East Central Africa from the Zambezi to Tanganyika, making employments for the natives and substituting for the horrible trade by which ivory was formerly brought to the coast a legitimate trade conducted in a Christian spirit, excluding rum and, so far as possible, gunpowder, and strengthening by all its influence the hands of the missionary. This company, whose representatives in Africa are Messrs. John and Fred. Moir, two young Scotchmen, have established stations at various points along the route, and placed steamers both on the Shire and on Lake Nyasa, their principal station being Mandala (which in the native tongue means “glass”), a place within a mile of Blantyre, and so named by the natives with a reference to the spectacles of Mr. John Moir as the distinguishing feature of the place!

The Messrs. Buchanan are three brothers — also Scotchmen—who have coffee and sugar plantations at Mlungusi, on the slopes of Mount Zomba, about forty miles from Blantyre, and who have been the chief agents in developing the coffee industry in Africa. Besides giving work, with its civilising influences, to a large number of natives, this station forms a centre at which missionary work may be carried on by means of regular Sunday services and a school for the children. Thus are both these companies pouring their influence into the stream of new life that is flowing in for the Christianising of Africa, and are to be numbered among the missionary stars that are already brightening the African night. Two new stars, also, have been lately kindled in the north of Nyasa-land, which though as yet faint will by and by brighten the glow of missionary light. Recognising their national responsibility to the peoples of that region now placed under the German Empire, the Moravian Brethren and the Berlin Evangelical Society of the Lutheran Church have each sent out a little band of eight missionaries—the earnest of more to follow—whose sphere of work is to be in German East Africa, at the north end of Lake Nyasa.

Still more recently another Scottish Presbyterian Mission of a singularly interesting character has been sent out, promoted mainly by members of the British East African Company, although not directly connected with the Company. On the 6th July 1891, a party of six missionaries—including doctor, teachers and artisans—set out under the leadership of Dr. Stewart of Lovedale, who has done so much for Africa. Already they have reached the Kibwezi River,—a tributary of the Sabaki—a place about 150 miles inland from Mombasa, and here it is proposed to establish a Mission, industrial, educational, evangelistic and medical. An interesting feature which links this with the early days of African Missions is the fact that Dr. Stewart, its leader, was Livingstone’s companion in travel; Sir William M‘Kinnon, its chairman, is one whose well-known philanthropic efforts on behalf of Africa owe their inspiration to his regard for Livingstone; Mr. A. L. Bruce, its Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, is the son-in-law of Livingstone; and Dr. Robert U. Moffat, its medical officer, is the grandson of Dr. Moffat, the veteran African missionary. As we write, tidings have just arrived of the death of one of the members of its staff—Mr. John Greig, superintendent of its industrial department,—so that here also, as in so many other cases, the land has been claimed by a grave.

Were we to reach forth a little from this heart of Nyasaland we should find ever as we journeyed new stars gleaming through the darkness. North of Lake Nyasa a lofty plateau, cool and healthy, extends for 250 miles to Lake Tanganyika, whose mighty waters stretch for 450 miles farther; and beyond that lies the route to the Victoria Nyanza and the Albert Nyanza. Were we to climb to this plateau we should not only be in touch with all those great lakes, but near us would be the watershed of the mighty Congo. The very mention of these names recalls to our thoughts memories of missionary enterprises glimmering away in the distance like far-off stars in the murky night.

First, like a bright forelight, is the Mission planted on Lake Tanganyika by the London Missionary Society— the Society, it will be remembered, which sent Livingstone to Africa at the first. Looking towards it, we recall its story of struggle and trial since the days when, in August 1878, the leader of its first expedition, the Rev. J. B. Thomson, after sixteen weary months of travelling, reached Ujiji, to spend only one short month in the field of his choice ere he was laid in his African grave; to be followed only too soon (the next year) by the Rev. A. W. Dodgshun, who also died at Ujiji seven days after his arrival; and Dr. Mullens, the devoted secretary of the Society, who died while yet only on his way thither. Since that time its chief centre has been removed to Kavala, on the other shore of Lake Tanganyika, where, with the aid of their missionary steamer on the lake, these direct followers of Livingstone are, with life and labour, following up his work.

Beyond that is the field occupied by the Church Missionary Society, lying towards the Victoria Nyanza, bright with the names and work of such men as Bishops Hannington and Parker, Dr. John Smith, and Mackay of Uganda, and many another faithful witness and martyr who sealed his testimony with his blood. Facing westward, and looking away far beyond what eye can reach along the line of the Congo, our eyes are towards a region where missionary enthusiasm has multiplied martyrs with a determination and devotion that to some have seemed almost reckless. Thus does a chain of graves stretch over the land, all brightened with the glow of consecrated lives and martyr deaths, and telling at what a cost the Church of Christ has gone forth to the redemption of Africa, answering the appeal which she heard from the lips of the dead Livingstone.

And although we do not attempt to trace the political developments through which it has been brought about, we cannot but remember, and thank God at the remembrance, that after sixteen years’ delay—years wherein the missionary and the Christian trader have been preparing the way for it—Nyasaland has become British Central Africa, and now from the Zambezi to Tanganyika the flag of Britain waves over the land in the midst of which the heart of Livingstone is buried, so that in this also the day which he longed to see has dawned.


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