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The Life of James Stewart
The Father of Blythswood, 1873 - 1880


[The following books have been consulted for this chapter:- African Wastes Reclaimed, by Robert Young; Dawn in the Dark Continent, and Light in Africa, by the Rev. James Macdonald (for ten years Principal of Blythswood).]

A Novel Appeal—A New Mine of Liberality—Native Oratory—A Grand Function—The Rev. R. W. Barbour’s Report—Blythswood To-day.

‘This work is an answer to the statement often made that the natives are unimprovable. We who work with you know better. There is the same limitless improvement possible to the natives as to any men of any colour God has made. ‘—From Dr. Stewart’s Speech at Blythswood.

To the east of Cape Colony, and alongside of the great Kei River, lies Fingoland, the Transkeian home of the Fingoes. They are the broken remnants of tribes scattered during the endless intertribal wars. Fifty years ago they were sunk in degradation and slavery. But ere long a great change was wrought among them. They discovered the value of education and turned wistfully to Lovedale for a model, and for help to realise it. Pupils of Lovedale were living among them, and they wished that their own Sons and daughters might also learn the arts of civilisation. The Fingoes were encouraged and guided in their aspirations by their magistrate, Captain Blyth, and the Rev. Richard Ross of Toleni. Early in 1873 they appealed to Stewart to plant among them a second or minor Lovedale. ‘A child of Lovedale,’ as they called it in their poetic fashion, and a ‘shadow of rest for their children.’

Stewart hesitated. He was then overburdened with the growing work at Lovedale, and the road to Fingoland was a three days’ journey, very rough and sometimes dangerous. He was not sure that the hour bad come for such extension. However, here were Ethiopia’s hands outstretched to him, and he felt that his outstretched hands should meet theirs. With some hesitation he started from Lovedale, but at King William’s Town, about four hours’ drive from the Kei, he shut himself up for a day in his room, and next morning turned his horses’ heads homewards.

That resolution or want of resolution was the real foundation of Blythswood. He decided to test the people and especially their leaders before committing himself. He afterwards visited them, met with their head-men, and promised that he would help them if they raised £1000 as a proof of their sincerity and earnestness. It was an audacious proposal. The idea was entirely new to the natives, many of whom were violently opposed to Christianity. They had never before been asked to contribute to a piece of mission-work.

After four or five months, a telegram reached Stewart: ‘Come up, the money is ready.’ At a public meeting of the whole Fingo tribe, it had been resolved that every man liable to be taxed, should contribute five shillings towards the proposed building. This was the birth certificate of a new era, and a more impressive tribute to Lovedale could not be imagined.

Stewart then visited the tribe. The meeting was held in the veldt, as no building in the district was large enough for the great throng of men, women, missionaries, and children. On a deal table standing on the grass lay a shining heap of silver, over £1450. The substance of the native-speaking that day was given in a sentence by one of their orators. Pointing to the money, he said, ‘There are the stones; now build.’ This was a very wonderful achievement among a heathen tribe in which there was only a very small minority of Christians.

Stewart drove off to King William’s Town, with £1450 in silver tied in a sack behind his trap. ‘The silver was heavy,’ he said, ‘but my heart was light.’

It will be better both for the reader and the writer to tell the whole story of Blythswood in this chapter.

Stewart there ‘struck oil,’ and thrice it burst up responsive to his touch. This was the biggest sum ever given by natives. He had discovered an unsuspected mine of liberality. It was as definite a discovery as that of gold on the Rand, of diamonds at Kimberley, or of Cullinan when, prospecting for coal on the brown moors near Pretoria, he located the Premier Diamond Mine and the Cullinan Diamond.

The building was begun in 1875. Stewart then returned from Scotland, bringing with him four masons from Aberdeen, and £1500 in fulfilment of his promise. In giving thanks for this gift one of the chiefs said, ‘We shall best please our friends in Scotland by doing our utmost to help forward this school, and by sending our children there, and doing all we can to become a God-fearing, loyal, and civilised people.’

As the building grew, the people desired that it should be made larger. ‘Very well,’ said Stewart, ‘let us have another subscription.’ There was another meeting, speeches, and more thanks, and more trouble in carrying all the silver (about £1500) to the nearest Bank, which was about one hundred miles away.

The Institution was called Blythswood, after Captain Blyth, one of the ablest of British administrators and a ‘thorough Christian of the working kind.’ He gained the affections of the people, and when he died, they spent £500 in completing the unfinished tower of the building as a memorial to him. The Institution, which is about one hundred and twenty miles east of Lovedale, was opened in July 1877. A national character was given to the event. The natives have a real genius for public functions and feasts, but it is not gratified now as it used to be when their chiefs and counsellors had supreme power. The newspapers of the day say that about four thousand natives and a large number of Europeans and missionaries were present. [Captain Blyth wrote, expressing his regret that he could not be present. Nothing, he said, had ever given him greater pleasure than his connection with the Institution.] The building was decked with fluttering flags. The proceedings were opened by public worship, and addresses followed. Many of the natives spoke and spoke well. ‘Even the women,’ it is said, ‘were unable to keep silent, and spoke with effect.’

The Kafir women are better orators than the men, though almost every native is a ready speaker. But the women have clearer voices than the men and manage them better, and their language is usually more beautiful. When a woman begins to speak, she usually secures dead silence and great attention. At such gatherings they use great ingenuity to get a man to speak who does not intend to do so, for, according to native etiquette, a man cannot speak without making a contribution, though he may contribute without speaking.

One native orator after another made loyal speeches, and finished by laying a contribution on the table, or by promising to send a sheep, a goat, or an ox. About £300 was then contributed in money or kind. [Principal Lindsay of Glasgow tells that on a similar occasion he saw a portion of the collection running away with the beadle, who was pulled round the corner by a lively sheep he was trying to halter.] The natives expressed their willingness to give another subscription to clear off the whole debt. The function was closed with a general and generous feast in the right royal Kafir style. They slaughtered twelve sheep, twelve goats, and over twenty oxen, and they had an enormous supply of Indian corn (maize), bread, and coffee.

The buildings cost over £7000, and provided accommodation for one hundred and twenty native, and thirty European boarders. The native committee in charge of it was composed of four magistrates and thirteen head-men, who were associated with the European missionaries.

Blythswood was open scarcely a year when the fourth Kafir war broke out. The building, which was of stone, and by far the largest and strongest in the whole district, was converted into a fort, and used for some months as a place of refuge for about one hundred and forty Europeans, with their families, who then formed the small white population of the Transkei.

In 1878 there was a debt on Blythswood of £1600. When Sir Bartle Frere mentioned the fact to one of the head-men, he replied, ‘That thing about the Seminary is already settled, we are going to pay all the debt when it is called for.’ And they did. Dr. Stewart had another large gathering with the natives. Captain Blyth and he gave £25 each, and the natives gave the rest Captain Blyth described this as ‘a brilliant page in their history.' [The native contributions to the buildings at Blythswood amounted to over £4500. To the end of his life, this noble gift of the Fingoes lived in Stewart’s memory, and gave to his words a touch of intense feeling and unchanging admiration. ]

The Rev. R. W. Barbour of Bonskeid, who spent the first year of his married life in South Africa, and assisted Stewart at Lovedale, published in the Christian Week very interesting accounts of the meeting at which the natives cleared off this debt in 1880. He was greatly impressed by the immense crowd of native horsemen who assembled to give Stewart such a welcome as they used to give only to their greatest chiefs. ‘They rushed down the hill like the thunder of a torrent in spate, with dust and noise. Five hundred and twenty went past, besides foals in proportion, who kept their places in the procession and enjoyed it vastly.

‘The great hall was crammed. All were wearing an aspect of vivacity, earnestness, and cheerfulness, such as seems never to fail the African race. They were almost all head-men. The most beneficent forces that the world has known seemed to be livingly exhibited here, in contact with the material most in need of them, most conscious of its need, and promising most from the influence of them.

‘While they were being arranged, one after another of those in arrear would step up with a grave and dignified mien, and, slowly undoing his purse or handkerchief, take from it the half-crowns or gold it held. These were watched by their fellows with interest but no curiosity: they are a singularly self-possessed people. After a time silence was made among the audience, which was kept, with intervals of applause, for nearly four hours. Captain Blyth asked one of the native men to engage in prayer, which was done fervently but briefly, and closed in a general loud "Amen." Then the speaking began. The Captain talked in an easy but forcible way, rolling out his speech in short, pithy sentences. These the Rev. Mr. Ross took up and twined into flowing Kafir, seemingly enlarging upon his original, unless the language did this of its own genius, which resembles that of the Ancient Mariner in expecting you to sit under it for hours. Then he bade the magistrates read their reports. One of them told us he had fourteen thousand souls in his district, that they had collected £450, and would make it £500. Every man had given his five shillings. They had most of them only the little beehive huts to live in, yet they made the effort, and brought their last contribution to this their great house, which they had built for themselves and their land and their children, dedicating it to the future welfare of the native people of the Transkei.

‘After each magistrate had given in his account, Dr. Stewart rose. His rising was the signal for renewed and closer attention. With his great stature and broad, square shoulders, he looked in the people’s eyes and in ours a natural "king of men" every inch of him. You could see this, but he did not seem to see it or take any advantage of it, except that of the royalty in look and influence which it forces on all who have it. For as he warmed to his work and spoke out unmistakably in defence of mission and education labour among the natives, and flung down the gauntlet to the many here who rail against anything done for them, and stop it when they can, one felt that his greatness lay in his being a man, and that this gave him greater power over the men, black before him and white beside him, than any robes of office or investiture of human authority. But he spoke throughout as a Christian man, not more sore and smitten with the unrighteousness of Europeans and their contempt of Africans than solemnised by the shortness of life as a time for doing good, and the pressing reality of the need of the Gospel, both for ruler, subject, and magistrate, as well as Fingo. It was grand to see the Gospel in its true place, towering over rulers and authorities, and commanding the honour of all as the Doctor spoke. He did not flatter the natives or accuse the English; he neither instigated the one nor insinuated against the other. He dealt in even-handed justice to all. He spoke in short, nervous sentences but you could as well gather his speech from what you will find in the Mercury, as you could make out our Gladstone’s greatest power from his printed words. In both the supreme effect is produced by the flexion of their face when seized by passion and at burning heat. The exquisite, almost dramatic, sarcasm which gathers up the face into a fasciculus of wrinkles, is a thing quite palpable but not describable. The pleasure, the confidence of these men in the Doctor was delightful. It was the shout of a king among them when he closed. They then answered for themselves.

‘With difficulty Dr. Stewart toiled out of the hail, having his huge bag in his arms containing £1100 mostly in silver. As we climbed the hill with him in his spider, we heard now and then a handful of horsemen thundering up behind us, riding at breakneck pace and waving Good-night. In a second they were a speck on the ridge against the night sky. In a second more it was silence. We rolled along over endlessly rolling wolds like the green downs of South England, or the moors at Wanlockhead, where nothing broke the monotony till it reached the rugged black buttresses to north and west, which form the banks of the Kei.’

In 1890 the Rev. James Macdonald wrote: ‘Today the Fingoes of Transkei are half a century ahead of their countrymen in wealth, intelligence, and material progress, agricultural skill, sobriety, and civilised habits of life, both in food, clothing, and dwellings’ (Light in Africa, p. 49). Blythswood was an effect and a cause of that happy revolution. The reason why the Fingoes have outdistanced the other tribes is that as slaves they were inured to labour, and thus discovered the value of their services. When set free they went into European employment, and imitated the European farmer in their methods of agriculture. They were also among the first to discover the advantages of education.

Of Blythswood, Stewart wrote with his extreme dislike of exaggeration: ‘It has been a place of intellectual light to many, and perhaps of spiritual light to some.'

[The Rev. D. D. Stormont, M.A., LL.B., L.C.P., Loud., the Principal of Blythswood, has kindly furnished the following statement regarding the present position of the Institution:—‘ The staff of Blythswood number 18 in all, of whom 11 are Europeans and 7 are natives. In 1907 the pupils in the Training School numbered 160. These were preparing for the examinations for teachers. The total number in the various schools was about 370.

‘There are ten branches in the Institution. The first is the Church. More than half of the pupils who attend the Church are communicants.

‘In the Training School, four European teachers are employed for the ordinary branches of knowledge, and two special teachers, one for woodwork, and one for needlework. This department aims at the training of teachers according to the three years’ course of the Education Department of the Cape Colony. A pupil-teacher remains three years in the Training School before he obtains the teacher’s certificate of the third class. When he passes the final examination, he readily gets an appointment at £40 a year, and can rise to £100 or £110 after several years’ service.

‘There is also a Practising School, which is conducted by native teachers under European supervision, and in which the pupil-teachers receive their practical instruction in teaching.

‘Twenty-eight native boys, from seventeen to twenty-one years of age, are apprenticed in the Boys’ Industrial Department, which is devoted to the teaching of woodwork, carpentry, painting, and building construction.

‘In the Girls’ Industrial Department, the girls are taught domestic work, including needlework, laundry, housekeeping, cookery, and domestic economy. They are under the supervision of a certificated teacher and trained teacher of domestic economy. As servants, their wages are three or four times more than are given to servants of the ordinary class.

‘In the public examinations during the years 1901-6 the pupils gained nearly a thousand certificates.

‘The Farm Department is supervised as extra work by one of the members of the European staff. The Government gave to the Institution title-deeds for a grant of 1100 acres. The farm has now a flock of 400 sheep. It is being extended with the view of contributing to the expenses of the Institution.

‘The Blythswood Book-room supplies the Institution and the district with books and stationery.

‘The Boys’ Boarding Department can accommodate 150 boys.

‘The Girls’ Boarding Department accommodates 100 girls. The majority of the boarders are pupil-teachers in the Training School.

‘The financial turn-over of all the departments amounts on an average to £10,000 a year. The work has been conducted at a minimum cost, not only to the natives, but also to the Church. According to the recent returns, the value of the mission property at Blythswood is £20,000.’]

One of the Blythswood missionaries reports that twenty years ago the Fingoes realised in perfection the old line, ‘Round about the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran’; but now they are decently clad, they work diligently, and prize education highly. At the last census about one-half of the tribe returned themselves as Christians, and they recently voted £10,000 for the Inter-State Native College.


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