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The Life of James Stewart
Stewart of Lovedale, 1867 - 1874


Marriage—At Lovedale—Origin of the Mission—The Mother-idea—The New Lovedale—The First Fees—The First Child of Lovedale.

‘Honour the beginner, even though the follower does better.’

‘Height is not reached in a hurry.’ —Kafir Sayings.

While we are entirely Presbyterian, we are also entirely and openly undenominational. We are both colour blind and denominationally blind. ‘—Dr. Stewart.

‘Lovedale Mission Station, the best of its kind in South Africa.’ —Molyneux’s ‘Campaigning in South Africa.’

IN November, 1866, Dr. Stewart was married to Mina Stephen, youngest daughter of Alexander Stephen, shipbuilder, Dundee and Glasgow. Accompanied by Miss (now Dr.) Jane Waterston, as Principal of the Girls’ School, they arrived at Love-dale on January 2, 1867.

The Rev. John Knox Bokwe, then a little Kafir lad, thus describes that arrival ‘As a lad of eleven or twelve years old, the writer, along with three companions from the native village, heard of the arrival at Lovedale of a new missionary accompanied by two ladies. Heavy rains had fallen during the week, and these little boys felt some pleasure in puddling the muddy pools of the main street that passed the house where the new arrivals lived. We were anxious to get a sight of them, and be the first bearers of news to our parents what they looked like. A thick pomegranate fence partly hid the front view of the mission-house, and it was not easy from the street to gain the object of our visit unless by entering a narrow gateway which led into the house. Halting there, the quick ear of one of the little fellows was arrested by sounds which he thought never to have heard before. He stood still to listen, while his mates continued their puddling excursions. At the gate, the listener stood entranced at the music strains coming from within. Peeping in to explore, he saw a young lady seated before a musical instrument. [It was in a thatched house, which had no bedstead.] The lower sash window was open. The temptation to the dusky, mud-bespattered lad to enter the gate, even at the risk of rudeness, was too strong for him. The lady observed his slow, frightened approach, and quickly wiped off something trickling down her flushed cheek. The music was "Home, sweet Home." No wonder the tear! Recovering herself, with a winsome smile she encouraged the intruder to come nearer.’ Thus began the friendship with the Kafir who, for twenty years, filled the post of private secretary to Dr. Stewart.

The names of ‘Stewart’ and ‘Lovedale’ have been wedded for forty years, and this is the title by which he will be remembered, so long as men can appreciate Christian heroism.

It was very like Stewart to explain that the name of Lovedale was not given from any sentimental reason, or because the place was some happy valley where love was more common than elsewhere. It was named after Dr. Love of Glasgow, one of the earliest promoters of Foreign Missions. After the same fashion names were given to many of the neighbouring missions—Burnshill, Pine, Blythswood, Rainy, Main, Somerville, Macfarlane, Gordon Memorial, etc., etc. This habit is indigenous to the soil: witness Rhodesia, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Port Elizabeth, Alice, etc., as also the names of streets.

Lovedale lies near the eastern boundary of Cape Colony, 700 miles N.E. of Cape Town and 8o miles N. of East London. It is on the western edge of what was Independent Kafraria, the home of the Kafir race before they became British subjects. It has been often desolated during the nine Kafir wars. Thrice has the mission-work been interrupted by war, while the class-rooms were turned into barracks. What is now the mission land was originally the military station of Fort Hare, on the banks of the beautiful river Tyumie.

The site was then a barren veldt, with bare hillsides and a flat valley covered with mimosa-trees. But Lovedale has completely verified Darwin’s saying, ‘The presence of the missionary is the wand of the magician.’ The traveller could scarcely find in South Africa a more beautiful or better kept spot than Lovedale. It now literally blossoms like the rose. A Scottish visitor wrote, ‘The Lovedale buildings are prettily nestled among the grassy hills, reminding us of Moffat.’

In the early twenties, a mission was planted in that valley by representatives of the Glasgow Missionary Society. The Church of Scotland, then dominated by moderatism, was not prepared to espouse Foreign Missions. After some twenty years, the necessity for the training of native agents had become apparent. Thus in the year 1841, the Lovedale Missionary Institute was founded by the Rev. W. Govan, an admirable missionary and educationalist. He began with only eleven natives and eight Europeans, the Sons of missionaries, magistrates, and traders, for whom there were then no schools within convenient reach.

It was a day of very small things, but despise it not. Among these eleven natives was a herd-boy, the son of a raw Kafir, and clad in sheepskin. He became a cultured Christian gentleman, received a complete university training at Glasgow, was the first ordained preacher of the Kafir race, and the first translator into Kafir of the Pilgrim’s Progress. A learned and eloquent preacher, he gained the entire respect, both of the natives and the Europeans. The opening day of the tiny Boarding School was the birthday of a new era for the native races. Then for the first time in South Africa the principle was adopted and avowed that blacks and whites should meet in the same classes, and dine in the same hall, though at different tables. [This is due to the fact that the whites pay a larger sum for board than the natives do, and receive more costly food.] This was the first practical recognition that the Africans are our fellow-men; that they have the rights of British subjects, and must be treated according to the laws of the Empire; and that earnest efforts must be made for the healing of racial prejudices. This was an entirely new thing in South Africa, and there was not then such a full recognition of the native anywhere else, in Africa or America, in educational circles or in Christian churches. Lovedale and Blythswood have been from their origin embodiments of the precept ‘honour all men’ in its application to the natives. Mr. Govan invented a new thing in philanthropy, which Stewart enlarged and perfected. This new thing was very old, for it was the application of the principle of the common origin of the race.

In accepting Lovedale, Stewart had expressly stipulated that if a mission were planted in Nyasaland, he should be at liberty to join it.

In describing his first year in Lovedale, Stewart says, ‘I hardly think I read a book quite through in 1867. My student life had to be set aside for a time, and I had to work within the Institution, and outside like a navvy on the roads, which were still the untouched primeval soil of Africa.’ Through life he was a great road-maker: he must find or cut a straight path to everything he had to do with.

Mr. Govan retired in 1870, and Stewart, as Principal, was then at liberty to mould the Institution.

There are three stages in the history of Loved ale— Reconstruction, Expansion, and Consolidation. The period of Reconstruction was from 1870 to 1874.

Stewart began in Lovedale with one idea, but it was what the French call ‘a mother-idea,’ and it gave birth to a very large family. This mother-idea was his own and original, and loyalty to it through life saved him from vacillation and mere trial-work. Probably in 1870 no other person cherished the same idea in the same form, and was prepared to realise it. His aim was to uplift the native by touching him at every point, instructing him in all the arts of civilised life, and fitting him for all Christian duties. As an original Educationalist he is entitled to rank alongside of Dr. Alexander Duff of Calcutta. [His letters to Dr. Duff in 1864 show that the plan which he adopted was matured at that early date, and that it was not essentially modified by after-thought.] In his own sphere he was at least as great an Imperialist as Rhodes, for his atubition soared to an intertribal, interstate, and interchurch university, where the most gifted of the natives of South Africa might receive an education that would fit them for the higher walks of life. As a leal-hearted son of John Knox, he wished to have church and school side by side, to provide a sound elementary education for all native children, and to make an open path from the school to the college within reach of every scholar ‘of pregnant parts.’ And he had the daring to plan all this for heathen Africa. Before he died he had the satisfaction of knowing that his idea had been accepted by many of the leading statesmen south of the Zambesi, while the ‘Lovedale method’ had been adopted in all the large missionary institutions in the land.

He saw clearly what the native races needed, and began to provide it with remarkable far-sightedness, wisdom, and perseverance. After a hard struggle, he discontinued the teaching of Latin and Greek, and adopted English as the classic. [Captain Younghusband—now of Tibet fame—when visiting Love-dale in the nineties, asked a native if he was satisfied with the education there. ‘No,’ be replied, ‘they are not teaching our children Greek and Latin. Dr. Stewart says that English is to be our Greek and Latin.’ This was a sore point with the natives for some time. They thought it a hardship that they could not get a full European education. They regarded Greek and Latin as among the chief charms of the white men and the hall-mark of gentlemen, and they wanted to know why they had been deprived of them.]  Like every man who is in advance of his age, he had to fight every mile in his marches towards reconstruction, but he was inspired by his vivid vision of the things that were coming. ‘Genius conceives, talent executes,’ Abraham Lincoln has said. Stewart had the genius to conceive, and the talent to realise the greatest and most beneficent scheme that has yet been devised for the elevation of the African races. In this he stood alone among the men of his time. At first, most people, and among them some of his colleagues, believed that a mere mirage was alluring him into the desert of utter failure. Opposition was just what was needed to make him take off his coat. His was the trained self-reliance of a strong and fully persuaded man, and few were ever more amply dowered with tenacity of purpose. With him the last moment of conviction was the first moment of action. He had a wonderful power of getting things done even by the natives, and a wonderful faculty for getting shrewd business men to believe in him, and entrust money to him. Among his relatives and personal friends were several who were able and very generous helpers, and he got not a little support from men who did not belong to his own Church.

[In Dawn in the Dark Continent, we find the following foot. note (194):—

'THE BUILDERS of LOVEDALE.—The names of the chief benefactors are as follows :—The late Mr. D. P. Wood, Natal and London; the late Mr. John J. Irvine, a member of the Legislative Assembly, Cape Colony; Sir William Dunn, London and Port Elizabeth, M.P. for Paisley; Sir John Usher of Norton; John Stephen, Esq., Glasgow; the late James White, Esq., of Overtoun; Lord Overtoun; John S. Templeton, Esq., Glasgow; James Templeton, Esq., Glasgow; Harry W. Smith, Esq., W.S., Edinburgh; and many other generous donors.

‘The excellent Christian man whose name stands at the head of the above list, Mr. D. P. Wood, merchant, of Natal and London, sent 5000 in two donations, without one word of solicitation.’]

The aim was to give the native, not a mere storage of information, but a practical training of brain, eye, hand, and heart.

Lovedale soon became a hive of many industries. Dr. Stewart brought skilled artisans from Scotland, and new buildings arose around him. The growth was steady and even rapid. He then set himself to get fees from the native boarders, and made a great and fruitful discovery. The natives did not see what good ‘working book’ or ‘speaking from a book ‘—their phrases for reading—could do to the children. They concluded that it must do good to the missionary, and that their children should be paid for it. The school seemed to them like a prison, and they considered that their children should be rewarded for sitting all day in a house and ‘making a book’ for the white man. The pupils were at first drawn to the school by presents of beads, buttons, and brass wire—the currency of the country then. [The missionaries at Livingstonia had a similar experience. After they had mastered two or three letters of the alphabet, the scholars said that they were tired, and they took a rest for a fortnight or three weeks. In some of the schools the teachers kept a jar of syrup or treacle, with a stick in it. They gave every scholar a lick of the savoury stick, and so introduced them to the ‘sweets of literature.’ A scholar, when catechised, would say that his teeth were tired, and that he could not answer the missionary any more. The native workmen were paid to build a house. The schoolboys then came and said that they must be paid to learn as the others were paid to build. The teachers declined, so the boys struck and left school. After a while the boys came back and asked for pay. ‘No,’ was the reply, ‘but if the better scholars teach the younger, we will pay them.’ This suited the boys, who began as monitors. In this way the monitorial system was introduced into the Livingstonia schools.]

Stewart had a two days’ palaver with the natives about fees. At last a man, Nyoka, arose and said, ‘I will pay 4 for my son.’ In after-years Stewart often thought gratefully of that man as the fair beginner of a nobler time. He then stood alone in the persuasion that the natives would pay for education. It was a new and daring idea. A uniform fee was introduced for all natives of whatever Church, and all denominations were put on the same level, though all the missionaries at Lovedale then belonged to the Free Church of Scotland.

The payment of fees was an excellent education of the natives in independence and honesty. Experts say that the character of the native is injured when he receives education gratis.

The aim was to make the Christian religion supreme without respecting denominational differences. At the same time he did nothing to weaken the denominational connections or preferences. He thus gained the entire confidence of all the Protestant churches, and they gladly placed their students under his care. Stewart says: ‘All denominations and a dozen tribes have been represented at one time or another within the place, some coming from even as far as the Zambesi.

But broad Christianity does not mean lax Christianity.’

Another epoch-making feature in the new Love-dale was the admission of native girls, and their training for all domestic work.

A lady thus describes her visit to the new Love-dale:—‘ A very bright, happy spirit pervades the place, and the radiant, intelligent faces of many of the natives, and their quiet self-possession, were very striking. It is a hive of industry, and yet one feels that the spiritual side is never neglected. Dr. Stewart is a big-hearted and most lovable man. A most happy spirit pervades all the staff.’

During the four years from 1870 to 1874, the numbers had steadily risen from 92 to 480, and the fees from nothing to 200, 400, 800, and 1300. The humble thatch church at Lovedale, which may have cost 100, had now grown into many large buildings.

Many other colleges have risen after the model of Lovedale, but they are all either tribal or denominational. Lovedale, Blythswood, and Emgwali still remain the only missionary institutions which rise above all tribal and denominational barriers, and present the note of universality.

In 1870 Stewart selected the site and arranged for the establishment of the Gordon Memorial Mission at Umsinga in Natal, near the Tugela, about one hundred miles north of Petermaritzburg and thirty-five from Dundee. [On this errand Stewart rode about one thousand miles in a very rough country and in districts little known, sleeping at any house, shop, or hut he could find. He spent one night in an outside hide store, and another in a miserable house, where he got for supper ‘apparently salt beef or salt horse perhaps; but at any rate it was very good, as I was very hungry.’ He asked to be allowed to sleep on the clay floor of the kitchen under the table, as it was better than the veldt. On another night he came to a German mission-house that was shut up. He managed to get in somehow. Seven or eight years afterwards a German missionary on board a steamer told Stewart how, during his absence, his house had been commandeered. ‘Did the intruder behave himself well and pay for what he took?’ Stewart asked. ‘Oh yes,’ replied the German, ‘he left money on the table.’ ‘I was that man,’ Stewart added.]

The Honourable James Gordon, brother of the present Earl of Aberdeen, and grandson of the great chief who once wielded the destinies of the British Empire, had resolved to devote his life to the work of Christ among the heathen in South Africa. His purpose was, however, frustrated by his early death in 1868. In a letter to a friend in the end of 1863, he said: ‘The old year will soon be gone. Last New Year’s Eve, I went to bed with scarcely a thought of my soul. But the very next day, by the grace of God, I was brought to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Yes, New Year’s Day, the birthday of the year, is the birthday of my soul.’ It was also the birthday of a very interesting mission, and the first child in the Love-dale family of missions. The Countess of Aberdeen and her family resolved to found a mission among the Zulus, in memory of the deceased, and they entrusted it to the Free Church of Scotland. [See The True Nobility: Sketches of the Life and Character of Lord Haddo, and of his Son, the Honourable. H. H. Gordon,’ by Dr. Alexander Duff.]

Stewart had now laid the foundations upon which he was to build during the next thirty years. The period of reconstruction was over, and the time of expansion had begun. But events of the highest moment were soon to withdraw him from Lovedale.

Before attempting to rehearse these exploits, a story must be told which claims a foremost place in the romance of liberality and Christianity.


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