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The Life of James Stewart
The Founder of Livingstonia, 1874 - 1875


A First Love—The Burial of Livingstone—A New Word— The First Mission Party—The Murchison Rapids—The llala—A World’s Wonder.

[The best books to be consulted on this subject, in addition to those of Dr. Stewart, are: Daybreak in Livingstonia, by the Rev. J. W. Jack, M.A., and Nyasa, a Journal of Adventures, by E. D. Young, R.N.]

‘Low tide is not the best time to launch the ship. Some influences, as little capable of analysis as an instinct, seemed to draw or push me on.’—. Dr. James Stewart.

"The dawn does not come twice to awaken a man. ‘—African Proverb. ‘I can because I ought. Words carved by Caspari upon his desk.

STEWART’S biography now brings us to a landmark in the history at once of missionary enterprise and of imperial expansion. After eight years of unbroken service, he came home, not on furlough, but in order to raise £10,000 for the enlargement of the buildings at Lovedale, and also to secure £1500 for the mission at Blythswood, as he had promised to the Fingoes to raise pound for pound with them.

A mission in Central Africa was, as he used to say, his ‘first love,’ and during his seven years in Lovedale, he had ardently cherished the hope of planting it. But the founding of Livingstonia was no part of his programme when he returned to Scotland. Two months after his arrival he wrote:

‘When I came home, I had no more intention of proposing this scheme (Livingstonia) than of proposing a mission to the North Pole. It seemed, however, to be thrust upon me, almost to be waiting for me. I feel in one way more at rest and more quiet since I have taken up this burden.’

On April i8, 1874, he took part in the burial of Livingstone’s body in Westminster Abbey. ‘At that funeral,’ he wrote, ‘four of us met who, thirteen years before, met similarly and followed Livingstone in sympathetic and respectful silence to the grave of his wife under the large baobab tree on the Zambesi. These four were Sir John Kirk, the Rev. Horace Wailer, Mr. E. D. Young, and myself.’

Few events in the nineteenth century have so deeply moved the heart of our nation as the death and burial of Livingstone. To him we can apply the historian’s words about Caesar slain —‘ Never was he more alive, more powerful,’ and also the words of the poet concerning the hero of Chevy Chase—’ The Douglas dead, his name hath won the field.’ The wonderful interest created by his Missionary Travels had died down in the interval, but it was rekindled by his death.

The man and the hour had come. Stewart was a true Elisha on whom the inspiring mantle of Elijah had fallen, and he went straight from that grave to take up his master’s work. He caught, and responded to, ‘the wink of opportunity’: the tide was rising fast, and he must at once launch his long-considered and well-beloved scheme.

Some were proposing to erect a monument to Livingstone in Westminster Abbey. but he felt that the right place for it was Nyasaland. Why should not Scotland at once raise such a memorial to her hero? We must give his own words. In Livingstonia: its Origin (pp. 45, 46), he says: ‘On my return to Scotland from that funeral I consulted with some friends as to whether the time had not now arrived to again take up the idea of the projected mission. The subject was carefully considered through an entire summer night, and only when daylight was beginning to appear was the matter finally concluded. But the resolve was made to reopen the question of the South African Mission, and give it the name of LIVINGSTONIA. This was in Shieldhall, an old country-house near Glasgow, then the residence of my brother-in-law, Mr. John Stephen. The mission would thus be a memorial of Livingstone, and the one of all others which I knew very well he would have himself preferred.’

In the following May Stewart made his proposal to the General Assembly of his Church. It was after 10 P.M. when he began to speak, and the crowd had dwindled down. But he had among his hearers some who were able and willing to help. He threw aside his prepared speech and spoke with great effect. He closed with these memorable words: ‘I would humbly suggest, as the truest memorial of Livingstone, the establishment by this Church, or several Churches together, of an institution at once industrial and educational, to teach the truths of the Gospel and the arts of civilised life to the natives of the country, and which shall be placed in a carefully selected and commanding spot in Central Africa, where from its position and capabilities it might grow into a town, and afterwards into a city, and become a great centre of commerce, civilisation, and Christianity. And this I would call Livingstonia.' [This speech secured the valuable services of Dr. Laws. When he read the report of it in the newspapers, he said: ‘There is the very thing I have been preparing for all my life.’ When Stewart first met him, he said to himself, ‘There is the man for us.’]

Describing this speech in a letter to Mrs. Stewart, he wrote: ‘I said, I am not volunteering for this service. If some of my friends I now see were to hear me doing so, they would pull my coat-tails and say: "Remember the little woman at Lovedale." Ah, I did remember her, and the little ones playing about the door, or crawling over the floor.

Blessed are the bonds of flesh and blood! But I would say this for the little woman or little lady at Lovedale, I never yet found her shrink from duty.

I am not committed. But if by a few words I can raise a great result, I should be a coward if I did not say them. If it is not God’s time and work, it will perish. But if it were to take place, it would lift Lovedale up to a position that has never yet been dreamt of, and would give it a new importance as a base of operations. Lovedale will always be our headquarters and our home. Nothing will be done for worldly fame or honour or name. Ambition of that sort in me is nearly dead. For the sake of Him who loved us and died for us, for His sake only and for the furtherance of His kingdom, would I say a word on this subject.’

The name ‘Livingstonia’ was then used for the first time in public. He pled that a combined mission should be begun at once on the same lines as Lovedale. The next day Mr. James Stevenson of Glasgow promised £1000 for the new mission, and in a day or two he secured another £1000 from Dr. Young, the lifelong friend of Livingstone, who used to call him ‘Sir Paraffin Young.’ The desired sum of £10,000 was soon secured, and ere long it grew into £20,000. The first promoters of the mission were Mr. James Stevenson, Mr. J. Campbell White (afterwards Lord Overtoun), Mr. John Stephen, and the Rev. (now Dr.) Robert Howie, whose aid in collecting the money Stewart acknowledged in the warmest terms, describing him as ‘probably the greatest and most successful raiser of money in Glasgow, if not in Scotland.’

The Church had never had a mission like this before, and Stewart had to do nearly all the preliminary work single-handed.

Faraday loved to show that water in crystallising excludes all foreign ingredients, however intimately they might be mixed with it. Out of acids, alkalis, or saline solutions, the crystal comes sweet and pure. The founder of Livingstonia had many trying experiences. But it is fitting that, in harmony with the gentle processes of nature, they should be excluded from his biography, so that the purified product alone may remain to refresh and inspire.

When I was with Stewart at Lovedale, shortly before his death, he vividly recalled an incident of these days which had given him much pleasure. One day he had met me in the street. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I was coming to see you. We‘ll soon get the money for Livingstonia, if we could tell our friends that we had got the right man.’ ‘If you will come and conduct a service for me,’ I said, ‘you‘ll get the right man at the close.’ He came, and was introduced to Dr. William Black. ‘I remember it all,’ he said, ‘as if it had been yesterday. I asked him if he were willing to go to Livingstonia. He walked up and down the vestry with his eyes fixed on the carpet. Then he came in front of me, drew himself up and said, "Yes, with the help of God, I will."

Dr. Black was one of those who were ‘baptized for the dead.’ In the early Church the phrase was understood to mean one who by baptism or a solemn dedication took the place of another who had died. The death of Dr. Livingstone created in Dr. Black a desire to serve Christ in Central Africa. He was chosen as the first medical missionary for Livingstonia, though Dr. Laws was the first to reach the field. He was a man of great promise, but he died seven months after his arrival. His is the first European grave on the shores of Lake Nyasa. It may remind us of the bones of Joseph which were carried out of the land of Egypt and buried at Sychar, as a token of his faith that the land would be given to his seed. The tombs of missionaries are the stepping-stones over which the Gospel has made progress in Africa, and also the title-deeds of the Church. Of Dr. Black, Stewart said: ‘He was a man in every way admirably qualified, by his varied previous training, habits, and inclinations, for any mission field.’

In May 1875, exactly a year after the inception of Livingstonia, the first party started for Nyasaland. That year bad been one of the busiest of Stewart’s life. In a letter to Mrs. Stewart, he says:

‘Livingstonia is the heaviest piece of business I have undertaken in my life. The responsibility is very great from the amount of money, life, and credit that is at stake. When we look back at this, we can only say, "What hath God wrought." Of course it has taken an immense amount of toil and anxiety, and I think I can truly say it is two years’ work condensed into one. . . . Again and again the longing comes over me to get back to Africa. We at least have nothing to say against Africa; it has not treated us badly. Africa and its children are now our life-work. And I am not sorry that God’s Providence has led us there. Nor, I am sure, are you. We have nailed the flag of Africa to our mast, and there it must remain till God Himself take it down.’

Urgent affairs in Lovedale and the building of Blythswood hindered Stewart from conducting the party. But he selected all the men, made all the arrangements for their journey, drew up the regulations for their guidance, and held himself financially responsible for the venture. Ere long he joined them with a large staff of helpers. The Admiralty lent the services of Mr. E. D. Young, R.N., for two years, to lead the expedition. With Mr. Young were Dr. Laws, four artisan missionaries, and Mr. Henry Henderson, a representative of the Church of Scotland. They took with them the Ilala (in sections), a small steamer which got its name from the place where Livingstone died. Nomen, Omen. That name was a happy reminder that the great friend of Africa still lived in the hearts of many whose resolve was, ‘Livingstone shall not die: Africa shall live.’

Under Mr. Young’s skilful leadership, the party reached the lower end of the Murchison Rapids. Many delightful surprises awaited them. The natives treated each man as if he were another Livingstone. Their name for the British was, ‘that tribe that loves the black man.’ Their joy was so great that they could hardly contain themselves. These Makololo had been Livingstone’s men, and the reappearance of the British flag drew forth an enthusiasm beyond description. When the steamer was fairly into their territory, they crowded to the river-bank in thousands, clapping their hands and shouting at the return of their ‘fathers, the English.’ When Mr. Young told them the purpose of their mission, they were delighted, and promised their help to the utmost. They were filled with sorrow when they learnt that Livingstone was dead. Had all our fellow-countrymen in Africa been of the same spiritual kith and kin as David Livingstone, what might Africa have been to-day!

The Ilala was taken to pieces, and about a thousand natives carried it in five days some sixty miles over a serpentine, roadless mountain track, through long grass and thorny thickets, under a blazing tropical sun. This marvellous feat was achieved without a desertion or a dispute, or the loss of a single bolt or screw. The loads weighed about fifty pounds each, and contained seven hundred pieces of the Ilala. Among blacks as among whites, satisfying service is secured only by hearty goodwill between employers and employed. ‘We had everything delivered up to us,’ Mr. Young says, ‘unmolested, untampered with, and unhurt, and every man merry and contented with his well-earned wages of six yards of calico.’

The Ilala was bolted together on the river-bank, and, after steaming a hundred miles up the Shire, on October 12, 1875, it safely entered Lake Nyasa, four hundred and fifty miles from the sea.

It was the first steamer ever launched on an African lake. Its passengers had entered No-Man’s Land, taking their lives in their hands. An unbroken stretch of heathenism, about the size of Europe, then lay between them and the nearest mission.

The natives were paralysed with wonder as the ‘big iron canoe,’ ‘the fireship’ without oars or sails, a living, palpitating monster, snorted past their villages, guided by mysterious men from beyond the seas, with white skins and straight hair.

Many on board had prophesied that Mr. Young was taking out a number of young fellows to leave their bones on the Zambesi, and that the Ilala would never reach Nyasa. But the greatly daring deed had been done without a single mishap. The world owes much to its daring men who know how to dare wisely.

The entrance of this little steamer into the sea-like lake was the birth-hour of the greatest era in the history of Central Africa. Five slave dhows were then on the lake, and one of them lowered its flag to the British flag flying at the masthead of the mission steamer. The bell of the Ilala rang out the death-knell of African slavery. The sight and the sound filled the Arab slavers with consternation, for they knew that their slaving days would soon be ended.

‘God speed you,’ Mr. Young said reverently as they entered the lake. ‘Amen,’ his mates responded. The steam was shut off, the engines ceased to throb, and a hushed silence fell upon the little party. They assembled on deck and engaged in divine worship. With awed and rejoicing hearts they sang:

‘All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.’

Dr. Laws, the only survivor of that first band of pioneers, thus describes the feelings of his company:

‘Looking to the future with its vast possibilities, they were filled with a sense of awe, for the Nyasa horizon towards its unknown north end was but a symbol of the work before them.’ The rising sun was then gilding with his radiance the western mountains, and they hailed this as an emblem of the speedy rising of the Sun of Righteousness upon that long-benighted region, with healing in his wings.


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