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The Martyres of Blantyre
Chapter III. Blantyre


Blantyre is the first white settlement which the traveller meets in East Central Africa. It is the one star which the Church of Scotland has kindled in the firmament of African Missions in memory of Livingstone, and it was so named after the far-away Lanarkshire village in which he was born. It lies in the heart of the Shire Highlands, and to reach it the traveller enters Africa from the east coast, sailing up the Zambezi and Shire. By the recent discovery of the channel through the Chinde mouth, the Zambezi has become an open highway from the ocean, and the tedious delays hitherto occasioned by having to land everything and everybody at Quilimane, sail up the Ivwakwa, and then carry overland to the Zambezi will in the near future be avoided. After sailing up the Zambezi for about a hundred miles the traveller comes upon a river which twists away northwards among the mountains. This is the Shir£, one of the tributaries of the Zambezi; but being narrower and deeper in its channel, the tributary is a better stream for navigation than the main river itself. Continuing his journey up the Shire for a distance of some 160 miles, the traveller reaches a place called Katungas, so named as having been the village of Katunga, a Makololo chief, who had formerly-been one of Livingstone’s men, and who died only quite recently. This is the landing-place for Blantyre, and here he must disembark, and leaving the river, strike inland, taking on foot a journey of nearly thirty miles steadily uphill all the way, by a hot winding road, passing through pleasing highland scenery, although the chances are that, with his hot tramp under an African sun, he is,—especially during the latter part of his journey,—rather too tired fully to appreciate and enjoy the beauties of the scenery, and it is with a sense of thankfulness and relief that at length he finds himself in Blantyre.

And now, reader, shall I try to describe for you the Blantyre that was or the Blantyre that is?—for indeed they are not the same. It is sixteen years since the foundations of the Mission here were laid. Such a period works great changes on any place. One thinks, for instance, of what changes the last sixteen years have wrought on one’s own town or district. But by no such comparison can you form any idea of the changes which these same years have wrought at Blantyre. At home the changes wrought have been on the face and features of things; at Blantyre they have changed the very soul of the place—the habits, the character, the life of the people. I cannot, iudeed, show you Blantyre “before it was made,” though I might perhaps try to give you some idea of what they saw who came here sixteen years ago to seek a home for Christianity among these hills. A picturesque country it was into which they came, marked by hills and valleys, with here and there a rocky ravine, through which a mountain burn may be heard gurgling its way to the Shire, while away in the distance great dark mountains, like the Zornba range and Mount Soche and Ndirandi, each 5000 feet high, may be seen clear on the sky-line.

The country is well wooded, there being wide tracts of forest, though the trees as a rule are not large. The hills are in many instances clothed to the top with dense “ bush/’ denser and darker along the lines of the mountain streams, as you have seen the brushwood marking the course of the burns on the hillsides at home. African villages, many and populous, are to be seen—not bright, tidy, home-like villages such as one sees dotting the landscape from a Scottish hill-top, but clusters of rude mud huts, hiding as it were in the forest, each in terror of the other, and all dreading the slave-raiding Arab, whose visit is ever the precursor of scenes of cruelty and blood.

Life in an African village is a curious kind of existence—a sort of lazy, indifferent, amused contentment. The native has few wants, and is naturally of an indolent, peaceable disposition, having little to compel him to work. He wears next to no clothes, and his food is of the simplest kind. Twice a day he has a big feed of native porridge, made from a kind of millet-seed, to cultivate which only a few weeks’ work in the year is required. The women pound it in a big kind of mortar, and do the cooking and other work; while the men, though sometimes doing a little in the way of beating out bark-cloth, weaving cotton, or making baskets, for the most part lounge about talking and smoking. Were you to enter a native village you would probably find a man here and there sitting astride a log of hard wood on the village green, tap, tap, tapping away with his hammer, making his cloth from the Njombo bark, and perhaps a basketmaker at work at the door of his hut; but you would most likely find the chief or headman stretched on the grass under the great council-tree of the village, with most of the men gathered round him, all smoking their bhang pipes and talking and joking away, while a huge pot of pomb6, standing within convenient reach, is appealed to from time to time as the palaver proceeds.

Periodically this easy-going life is rudely broken in upon by a tribal war and the unexpected attack of a hostile tribe, or by the incursion of the Arab slaver, when a fierce excitement takes possession of all and the air of indolent ease gives place to a scene of the wildest confusion.

At the time when the pioneers of the Blantyre Mission appeared there were two distinct tribes of people in the district—the Manganja and the Wayao— speaking different languages, often at war witli one another and among themselves. When Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambezi was recalled in 1863, the Makololo who had accompanied him as porters and carriers settled down on the Shire, and soon by force of their determined character assumed the chieftainship over the Manganja, who were at the time in danger of being destroyed by the Wayao and the slavers. The Manganja rallied round their new chiefs, and by-and-by the Makololo became a power in the country along the river.

It was to this tribe that Ramukukan, Katunga, Mulilema, and other chiefs, whose names are now familiar in connection with places in the country, belonged, while among the Wayao, chiefs like Ivapeni and Malunga were able to hold their own. Besides these two tribes, however, another people, wild and war-like, dwelt in the hill-country away to the northwest beyond the ShirA These were the Angoni, and from time to time they came down in fierce raids and swept across both the Yao and the Manganja, who lived in terror of them and fled from their villages at the rumour of their approach. Many a bloody war and blackened stretch of country testified to the fierce character of these Angoni chiefs and their warriors when on the war-path.

This, then, was the country and such were the people to whom the Scottish missionaries came in 1875. This is Blantyre as it was before it was Blan-tyre! I shall not attempt to describe for yon in detail the work which the missionaries did in those early days—how, when sick and weary with their journey up the river, they began to clear and level a site for a mission-station, and to erect dwellings for themselves, houses of bamboos and grass and mud, which they were to try in future to call by the name of home!— how they overcame the prejudices and secured the confidence of the natives, and induced them by the offer of yards of calico as payment to come and join them in learning to work and to continue at work. This they did with such success that it was not long till every Monday morning saw a crowd of both men and women waiting eager to be hired for work in laying out the station, making roads, building houses preparing the garden, hoeing the fields. A series of terraces was made. "Water was brought a distance of two miles, and irrigation made easy—an invaluable element in the development of Blantyre. In conjunction with the Livingstonia Mission, a road was surveyed and made from the station southwards to Bamukukan’s, at the foot of the cataracts on the river, a distance of some thirty miles, and another of greater length northward to the Upper Shire.

I cannot wait to speak as I should like of the first experiments in gardening and agriculture, the sowing of various seeds, and the patient waiting to see whether anything would grow, and if so, what. Very interesting, too, is the story of four little slips which Mr. Duncan, the gardener, took out with him from the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh—one tea and three coffee plants. If these would grow, how much it might mean for the new country! Carefully they were tended, and anxiously watched and watered; and we can understand with what feelings those who watched them saw first one, then another, then another of them die. Only one little tiny struggling slip was left, and it looked as if it were to die too; but it didn’t—it lived; and that one little slip has grown into the coffee plantations, not only of the Mission at Blantyre, but of Buchanan Brothers at Zomba, of the African Lakes Company at Mandala, and of Messrs. Sharrer, Duncan, and others, till in this year (1891) we learn that the Messrs. Buchanan have in their plantations alone 1,000,000 coffee-plants, and that the highest price quoted in the London market for the season has been for this very Shire Highland coffee! That little tiny slip, so feeble-looking, and once so nearly dead, yet so marvellously fruitful, is a fit emblem of the Mission itself.

I cannot wait, either, to speak of the personnel of the Mission—of the brave men and women by whose life and labour it has been built up. Henry Henderson, as has been said, was its pioneer and guide. In its earliest days the Free Church missionaries at Livingstonia lent it valuable aid, Dr. Stewart visiting it in 1877, and during a stay of three months helping to organise the work; while his relative, Mr. James Stewart, C.E., who accompanied him, directed the laying out of the place and the making of the road. The Rev. Duff Macdonald, B.D., its first ordained missionary, went out in 1878, Mrs. Macdonald being the first white woman the natives had ever seen. Dr. T. T. Macklin was its first medical missionary. Mr. Buchanan, now of Zomba, and Mr. Jonathan Duncan, the gardeners, began the work of cultivation in garden and field.

Around these and their companions the natives gathered, settling in villages on the Mission ground. At the close of each day all the workers, summoned by a bugle-call, gathered together to listen to a Gospel address—“a talk about God.” A school was begun for the boys, conducted in a little grass-roofed building, where also every Sunday the little community gathered together for Christian worship.

So the work grew and extended, additional missionaries coming out from time to time to strengthen the staff. The Mission, however, was not without its dark days, times of trouble and anxiety, when it seemed as if it might even be necessary to retire altogether from the field so hopefully occupied. In 1879-80 it was shaken to its very foundations by troubles arising out of a policy which acted on Livingstone’s idea of regarding the Mission as a Colony as well as a Church, and the exercise of a jurisdiction based upon that idea. Very sad and trying were the experiences of that time, but there is no need to recount them here. The storm passed, the night wore away, and the work was not destroyed. On the contrary, the Church at home addressed herself anew to it in a spirit of chastened earnestness, and it seemed as if the sun of a new morning shone out when in the summer of IS81 the Rev. David Clement Scott, B.D., and his brave young wife, accompanied by a medical missionary, went forth to gather together the shaken elements of the Mission, and proceed with the task of founding and building up in the territory of a native chief a Christian Church, not a British colony. How nobly they have discharged the trust committed to them no words of mine can fully tell.

In 1884 the sky darkened again over the Mission. Three times in succession during that year not only the interests of the Mission but also the lives of the missionaries were seriously endangered, first, by disturbances consequent on the murder of Chipetula, a Makololo chief, then through a revolt of the Machinjiri against the Portuguese, and lastly by a fierce raid of the warlike Angoni on the Yaos and Chipetas in the neighbourhood of Blantyre. During this last, the calm courage of Mr. Scott and his wife, who, accompanied by Dr. Peden, undertook a journey of three hundred miles to brave the fierce Angoni chief in his own land and in the midst of his armed warriors, so impressed the chief that the attack was averted and the raid of 4000 Angoni warriors sweeping across the Shire Highlands was turned aside from the villages around Blantyre. Since then the endurance, the resources, and the tact of the missionaries have been tried again and again by the political complications, the Arab wars, and the Portuguese difficulties which have so largely made up the history of these recent years. Often they have been for months cut off from all communication with the coast and with home. At times the difficulties of the situation have been very great and the strain of suspense and anxiety very heavy. Sorrow, too, and death have crossed their path, but they have never lost heart; their faith in God has never failed, their love for Africa has never grown cold, and the work of the Mission has never stood still. Through storm and sunshine its growth has steadily continued. Already new stations are beginning to grow up around it. At Domasi, away beyond Mount Zomba, near Lake Shirwa, fifty-five miles from the parent Mission, a new station was started some years ago under the charge of the Rev. Alexander Hetherwick, M.A., F.R.G.S. It is situated in the midst of the Yao tribe, and in both its methods and spirit is a true child of Blantyre. It has church and school, as well as hoeing, planting, building, &c., with which to train and help the natives. At Chirazulo, too, as will be found in the story of Robert Cleland, a new post has been occupied and a new centre of Christian life planted; while at Mount Milanji, also, the field has been surveyed and the land claimed by the sacrifice of a life. I wish, reader, I could close this chapter by taking you to have one look at Blantyre as it is to-day, through the patient endurance and the much Christian labour of these sixteen years.

Blantyre stands to-day where it did on the lofty plateau, but you would hardly recognise the old place. There now passes through it the well-made road from Katungas, on the river below the cataracts, to Matope on the Upper Shire—the route along which all who are bound for the great Central Lakes must pass. It thus occupies an important position on the direct highway into Central Africa, and every traveller going thither passes through it. Approaching it now, we pass along an avenue, nearly a mile in length, of tall beautiful Eucalyptus trees (blue gums) planted in 1879, and already many of them sixty feet high, with a clean, well-kept road between them. Passing through these we find ourselves in a large open square, in the centre of which stands a handsome church, just completed, and which by its beauty at once arrests the attention of the traveller and strikes him with astonishment. We pass on in the meantime, however, for we must return and take a leisurely view of it. On one side of the square, on a terraced slope, lies a garden planted with fruit-trees and vegetables, and bright with flowers both European and indigenous. Grouped around the square on its other sides are the school, the Manse,—with its thatched roof and wide verandahs,—the houses of the doctor and the other missionaries, the joiner’s workshop, the smithy, the zinc-roofed store, &c. The square itself is tidy and trim-looking, ornamental trees here and there, while the Manse garden is bright with geraniums, roses, dahlias, and other English flowers, as well as tall shrubs and gay flowering creepers. As we pass along, we hear the ring of the hammer on the anvil and the sound of the carpenter’s saw and plane, and we learn that it is the brown Manganja hand that is wielding these. We see numbers of native men and women, clean and tidy-looking in their white calicoes, busy at work in the garden, or “hoeing” in the fields belonging to the Mission farm behind the houses. As we pass through the square we may take a look into the school. Here we find over two hundred boys and girls, some of them day-scholars, and others boarders who have been sent by their parents from villages at a distance, many of them being sons of chiefs. When one thinks that by-and-by these will be chiefs themselves, one feels how important is the work of the Christian schoolmaster here. It reminds one of Luther’s schoolmaster lifting his hat to his boys for what they might one day be. We find the classes going on just as we see them do in a school at home. The children are smart and learn easily. They are taught not only to read and write, both in their own language and in English, but also grammar, history, arithmetic, &c., and we can see for ourselves, as we look at their copybooks, writing and figures that few children in our Scottish schools could beat. There are altogether, besides the European missionaries, some twenty native teachers; and as one looks at their brown faces and dark, black eyes one’s thoughts go back to the time, only sixteen years ago, when these young men and women were playing around the mud-huts of an African village, before Blantyre was there. What a change!

Suddenly a bugle-note rings out. It is half-past one; and immediately we see, from garden and field and workshop and school, men, women, and children gather together. It is the hour for the daily midday service, which all the workers on the station attend. It is a simple native service, a hymn, a short address, and prayer, taken by the members of the Mission and by the native teachers in turn. The hours of work are 6 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., and all who come to work assemble daily for this service before going out to the work of the afternoon. In this way the gospel is preached to every one who comes to work in the service of the Mission, and some of these workers come from places from five to a hundred miles distant, some coming even from Angoniland. The other regular services in the Mission are, daily native service in the morning, and an English service every evening, besides the four services on Sunday.

We cannot wait now to follow these workers as they disperse to their different departments of work, though each of these would furnish much that would interest. Nor can we go to the Manse to see the class for sewing, &c., which at this hour Mrs. Scott will be conducting in the verandah; nor to the laundry to see how beautifully these African women and girls have learned to do such work as is done there.

But we must not turn away without pausing to let our thoughts rest, if only for an instant, on the handsome church, so striking in appearance, and which means so much. Standing there in the midst of the square, it is not only, in its elegance and beauty, the most striking feature in Blantyre, but it is a signal token of the progress of the Mission. I shall not attempt to describe it, with its pillars and arches and towers and dome, so harmonious in proportions and so ornate in design. The accompanying illustration will perhaps serve better to give some idea of it. The Illustrated London News, in which a picture of it appeared in August last, spoke of it as “ an edifice which would be creditable to any town or city in Great Britain, and which is said, truly for aught we know, to be the handsomest church in Africa, including such cities as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban.” But to me it seems that far better than the beauty of the building is the testimony it bears to the marvellous work which, by the grace of God, the missionaries at Blantyre have been able to do in Central Africa. We have just been telling how, when they came to these Shir6 Hills, they found Yao and Manganja at war with one another, while the fierce Angoni were the terror of both. Now here is a church constructed entirely by native labour. Mr. Scott was his own architect, and with the assistance of Mr.

M'llwain, artisan missionary, and his neighbour, Mr. Buchanan of Zomba, the master-builder as well; but the native Africans did the work, making their own bricks, burning their own lime, hewing their own timber, and, in short, building their own church, the building materials, which are of the best quality, being obtained wholly from the district, except the glass and some internal fittings. Nor is this all. It occupied three years in building, and during that time Yao and Manganja and Angoni have been living and working and worshipping together. Together, in more senses than one, they have been building the Church of God. In the words of The Mission Record, “The brickmakers and bricklayers, the pointers and the carpenters, were Yao and Manganja men trained in the Mission. The hewers of wood and drawers of water were the Angoni. They laid aside their spears and shields for the hoe and the pick. Instead of plundering the native granaries, they carried the bricks and the mortar; instead of spreading the desolation of war and carrying off the captives to slavery, they helped to build the temple of the God of peace, where the slave may hear the glorious gospel of freedom in Christ Jesus.” Truly it is the doing of the Lord and wondrous in our eyes.

What a delight it would be if one could go to spend a Sunday in Blantyre! How it would bring one into touch with the work of God if one could see the native congregation assemble for morning service in that beautiful church at 8.30, then join in the worship of the English congregation at eleven, visit the Sunday-school in the Manse at three, or accompany the evangelists, who at that hour go out into the villages round about preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and then close the day in the quiet worship of the evening service at half-past six. What a busy, worshipful, Christ-like life is theirs!

But what must it have been to be present at the service of Holy Communion on the first Sunday in the new church, to feel the touch of the impressive stillness and taste the joy of its worship, and join the company that sat down together at the Holy Table— not only the missionary and the traveller and the explorer and the trader, but—most blessed of all— thirty of these native Africans, humble Christian communicants in the Church of God, sitting down together with those who came bringing them the glad tidings in the fellowship of the one faith and the one Lord and Redeemer! Ay! and more also. It was for this that Henry Henderson, John Bowie, and Robert Cleland had laboured and died. Blessed dead! They rest from their labours and their works do follow them. Surely they too, in their glorified rest, had a share in the joy of that day of reaping, when the fruits of their toil were seen. Blessed be God for the communion of saints in heaven and on earth!


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