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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter 1 - A Discovery


“And Afric, sunny Afric,-
Where the sand has drunk hot tears,
From the brimming eyes of millions,
Through the long ungracious years,­ -
Go, call her children brothers,
Bid their dark eyes flash with glee,
As they list the wondrous story
Christ hath made them men and free."

R. WRIGHT HAY.

IT was the year 1849, in Aberdeenshire. Summer and autumn had gone, the birch and the rowan were stripped of their leaves; the gowan was no longer under the foot; and the yellow broom and the purple heather were looked for in vain. True. Tap 0'Noth still towered his majestic head above Rhynie village, but this morning he seemed to have wrapped himself in his ermine mantle, for with the exception of here and there a rough-walled, low-­thatched cottage, or a crag or two projecting from his side, from summit to base he was white, snowy white. In the village too all was bleak and desolate and still, save for the eerie sough of the wind blowing across the moor, sighing and moaning among the stiffened branches of the trees, and improvising aeolian harps in the draughty windows of the cottages. Already lines of white marked the thresholds, and thistles of frost garnished the window-panes.

It was the first cold of the season, and seemed to have arrived too early and to be regarded as an intruder. The suddenness of the invasion had rendered work a little more difficult, and heightened the demand for courage and industry. So evidently thought a minister as he gazed on the dreary scene from his study window; for, with the scarcely audible reflection that a storm was at hand and that pro­bably there would neither be letters nor the Witness that day, he threw out some crumbs to a golden robin who was pleading hard for shelter on the sill, and resumed his chair and his book.

A cosy enough study it looked, as the ruddy fire lightened the dim atmosphere and shone out on two large book-cases, the glass doors of which revealed the names of the best thinkers of the day. A profusion of gazetteers, blue-books, atlases, and books of travel littered the table and floor. A picture of the Disruption worthies overhung the mantel, and engravings of the old Reformers filled niches in the walls. Presently the minister rose, and suspended a large map of Africa from a nail on the top of one of the book-cases, in near proximity to the window. A quaint-looking map it was. Certainly no ships sailed on its waters; neither did rhinoceroses, hippopotami, or ostriches disport themselves on its shores, nor yet had the engraver

“O’er uninhabitable downs
Placed elephants for want of towns”;

and yet strange it seemed, the greater part being delineated as an immense featureless blank, near the middle of which a solitary caterpillar crawled, with the label" Mountains of the Moon" 'distinctly printed on its back. For up to this time the continent of Africa had been, as it were, hidden, and its myriad peoples almost unknown. The Scottish traveller Mungo Park had, in 1796, explored the Niger, and corroborated the statement of Herodotus, which few geographers then believed, that the great river flows from west to east before it turns in a south-easterly direction towards the Bight of Benin.

Another Scotchman, James Bruce, had as early as 1770 traced the Blue Nile to its source, and although at the time many ridiculed his wonderful stories, more recent travellers have confirmed his re­searches; but the origin of the White, or main stream of the Nile, was still shrouded in mystery. The eminent travellers Burton, Speke, Baker, Grant, Cameron, and Stanley had not yet even dreamed of the honours that awaited them, to say nothing of another Scotchman, David Livingstone, who had been quietly pursuing his missionary labours at Kuruman and Kolobeng.

Events, however, had now begun to move apace, for on the 1st of August of this year (1849) Livingstone sighted Lake Ngami, which was the first of a long chain of remarkable discoveries by that celebrated missionary which have led to the opening up of the "Dark Continent" to European enterprise and to the messengers of the Gospel of Peace.

But the first explorers who penetrated the interior from the east coast of the continent were Johann Ludwig Krapf, and John Rebmann, pioneer missionaries of the Church Missionary Society. At the risk of their lives, and enduring untold privations - for they could not even enjoy the luxury of oxen, which Livingstone did - they traversed countries never before visited by civilised man; and although their object was simply to commence missionary labours among the heathen, the results of their geographical researches have been truly wonderful.

The minister's attention seemed riveted on this terra incognita of Eastern Africa; for, repeating to himself "Lat. 3° 30' S., long. 37° E," he proceeded, with pencil in one hand and magnifying-glass in the other, to note something on the map.

Presently a tap came to the door, and a very tall spare old woman entered with a soft, stately step. This was Ann McWilliam, or "the minister's Annie," as she was called in the parish. She was quite a character in her way, and, as was the wont with better-class servants in those old-fashioned days, was on familiar terms with her employers and had much of her own way with people and things in general. She had been housekeeper to the minister in his bachelor days, and although she had vowed that if he ever married she would quit the house, and really did adhere to her resolution, she very speedily reappeared on the scene; for, although Annie was no gossip, she liked to be considered as an authority on all matters that concerned her pastor, and found it gall and wormwood to be unable to answer the many questions that were asked her concerning the young wife, what "providin'" she had brought, and especially about the piano, for hitherto the fiddle and the bagpipes were the only musical instruments known in the village.

Annie had never laid claim to beauty, but what was better, she was good and true; and this morning a tender smile brightened and warmed the kind old face and made her heart glow with joy. The minister had neither heard the knock nor seen her enter, but as the firelight leaped up more ruddily as she threw on another log he gave her a passing glance, and she seized the opportunity to say, "I've brocht ye a present, sir." He took no notice of the remark, however, but said, "Do you see this pear-shaped continent, Annie? This is Africa; you see that, unlike all the other continents, it has few inlets, no great gulfs nor great river estuaries; in other words, although it is a mighty mass it has comparatively little coast-line, and as a necessary consequence it has made very little progress in civilisation. Though it is three times the size of Europe, it has far less coast-line than our continent, which fact explains more than anything else its past history and its backward condition. While Europe has surrendered herself to the ocean, as if aware of future prosperity through her navies, Africa has on the other hand shut herself up from the sea, and has ever remained isolated and uninfluenced by the pulse-beats of the world. But should any navigable rivers be discovered, so that missionaries and Christian traders could get with ease into the interior, then no doubt progress would be rapid.

"Till now, Annie, the east coast even has been quite unknown to us, but there has been a wonderful discovery. Two German missionaries in connection with the Church Missionary Society have made several journeys inland from Mombasa, and have discovered a great mountain mass of volcanic origin, the culminating peak of which is nearly 20,000 feet high, and covered with perpetual snow. Kilimanjaro, it is called.*  The results of this discovery will be far-reaching, for the information will give a zest to geographical exploration, and will probably lead to the Church Missionary Society sending inland a great host of missionaries before long, and that will be the first real check to the terrible slave trade which has been carried on for ages between this coast and the ports on the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The cruelty which takes place daily in carrying off these poor people from their homes and transporting them beyond the seas is frightful and beyond description. The slave-traders are chiefly Arabs. They buy or take captive the natives of the far interior, where no white man has as yet ventured to penetrate, and burn their villages. Thousands die on the march down to the coast, from the wounds and bad treatment they receive; the old and the infants are left to die from exhaustion and starvation, and of course only the strong and the hardy survive, to suffer still greater cruelty on the sea voyage. They are packed like herrings in a barrel, in the holds of wretched dhows, where the half of them perish from foul air and hunger, and then, if a British cruiser gives chase to these vessels and is likely to run them in, the slavers kill their victims by a knock on the head, or throw them into the sea and escape themselves."

“Ay, sir! it is dreadful; and I aften think we owe a debt o' gratitude to Africa, for it sheltered baith the law and the Gospel; for the Nile cradled the infant Moses, and our blessed Lord Himsel' learned to lisp and to walk by its banks; and the Spirit o' the Lord seems to have recognised the obligation, for in the early days o' the Kirk, Philip was ta'en awa frae a great revival in Samaria to send a missionary to the court o' an African queen, although we dinna read o' ony results."

"There must have been results, Annie, for we know that Christianity was established in the fourth century in Abyssinia, and prevails there still, although in a very corrupt form, and to this day the sovereign of that country traces his descent to King David, styles himself ‘King of Zion, King of Kings of Ethiopia,' and confers the order of Solomon on his favourite chiefs. Yes, Annie: ‘He shall speak peace unto the heathen; and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.' The Gospel banner will yet be planted at the very heart of this continent, altho' not likely in your day nor mine, Annie."

"But maybe it'll be in your son's, sir! and wha will say he'll nae hae a han' in it? "

Something in her tone made the minister look round, and for the first time he noticed that she was gazing with reverent love at an infant on her arm. The minister drew his hand through his hair: it took him some seconds to transport his thoughts from tropical Africa to his own fireside, but after some explanations, he said, "A boy! Bring him near the window, and let me see him."

"Sic a day, sir! It's awfu' unlucky to come on sic a day! He'll hae the win' in his teeth a' his life! "

"Annie! such superstitions are unworthy a Christian woman! Besides, you know what Samuel Rutherford says, 'Grace groweth best in winter.' He will be a better man for adversity;" and as his eye lighted on an old picture on the opposite wall, he added, "May he be another John Knox, Annie! may he defend the faith of his fathers before priestly antagonists I and may his tongue never quail before the sceptre of a queen!"

The actual height of the "great ice dome," which was first seen by Rebmann in 1848, has since been ascertained by Dr. Hans Meyer to be 19,700 ft. high. He declares it to be the loftiest mountain in Africa, and in the German Empire, and has named it "Kaiser Wilhelm's Peak." Mount Kenia, to the north of it, discovered by Krapf, in 1849, is said to be 18,000 ft. high. Dr. Carl Peters, however, estimates the height to be 23,000 ft.

“I hope he'll hae mair tact and prudence, and hae a safter tongue and a gentler hand, sir, than John Knox; though nae do at he was raised up for his time. Na! he is nae gaen to be a John Knox; he'll gang his ain gait and jest be himsel', jest Alexander Mackay!"

“Oh! and so you have settled the name, too, have you, Annie? "

"Of course, sir. Fat ither than hae the name o' his father named upon him?" And Annie retired in her dignified way from the room.

She did not quite get her own way in this matter, however, for when the christening took place the name of a Celtic ancestor was revived. This legacy the boy never appreciated, for although he used the initial “M." to distinguish him from his father, no amount of teasing would tempt him to divulge what it stood for.


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