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The Life of James Stewart
At Livingstonia, 1876 - 1877


Two Native Missionaries—At Quilimane—On the Shire—On Lake Nyasa—A Flitting—At Blantyre—The First Lord’s Supper in Nyasaland.

‘If we contend, let us contend like the olive and the vine, which shall produce most fruit. ‘—A Saying of the Rabbis.

‘Every great work must be born of enthusiasm and carried out with common-sense and perseverance.’

Use temporary failure as a stepping-stone to success. ‘—Dr. Stewart’s Journal.

IN the summer of 1876, Stewart started for Livingstonia with a party of seventeen Europeans and four natives. Major Malan, Stewart’s devoted friend and helper, had written to him, ‘Think much over native agency at Nyasa. I hope you will take some labourers there—to remain. Black men will listen to black men who come with white men, and to white men who come with black.’

As many of the pupils at Lovedale speak the same language as the Ngoni on Lake Nyasa, Stewart had appealed to the senior students for volunteers. Of the fourteen who responded, four were accepted. One of them was William Koyl, an ex-bullock driver, who made a wonderful impression upon both blacks and whites, He said that he could go only as a hewer of wood and drawer of water, that he had only half a talent which he wished to use for Christ. ‘He was the human agent largely used by God,’ Stewart said, ‘in opening the way for the Gospel among the Ngoni—a tribe as cruel, as fond of bloodshed and raiding as any in Africa.’ Near the end of his life, Stewart declared with deep feeling that William Koyi was one of the best men he had ever known.

Large and enthusiastic meetings were held in honour of the missionaries at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Stewart records that one of the speakers struck the right key-note by saying that ‘civilisation without Christianity was a dry stick to plant in Africa or elsewhere.’ A friend then gave him a donation of £2000 for the mission. Stewart writes:

‘We were going as civilisers as well as preachers, and we took Scotch cart-wheels and axles, American trucks, wheel-barrows, window-frames, and many other additional tools and implements which a sailor would describe under the one word gear. . . . A year later, Captain Elton, H.M.’s Consul at Mozambique, visited Livingstonia. As we walked up from the beach together, I saw him looking steadily down at some mark on the road which led from the beach to the station. I asked him what he was looking at. He said, "Are these wheel-marks? If they are, it is more than we have at Mozambique even after two centuries." This was true, for no wheeled vehicle of any kind was to be found there then.’

One of Stewart’s children was born shortly before he started. He inserted ‘Nyasa’ in her name, ‘because,’ he said, ‘I was not sure that I would see her again.’

The party safely reached Quilimane on August 8, 1876. Stewart, with deep emotion and fervent gratitude to God, visited the room in which he had spent six weeks thirteen years before, as a fever-stricken stranger. ‘Then,’ he wrote,’ I had come down all alone in a canoe after a journey of four hundred miles on the Zambesi. I was very sick, very poor, very depressed. Things looked very black that night. To-day we have a strong party with a good steamer, and a force of twenty-three men. We have made a good start, and soon will come the struggle for the life of the enterprise. So strange is the contrast between the present and the past, that I can hardly think that I am the same man who was here in 1863. Patient waiters are sometimes rewarded, you see. . . . Does John remember when the word Livingstonia was first uttered? He was sitting on one side of the fire and I on the other.’

They had a fleet of seventy canoes, and ‘the number of natives employed altogether was nearly one thousand men, six hundred of these being required at the Murchison Cataracts.’ The efforts of the rowers drew forth his hearty admiration. He writes:

‘It was a pleasant sight to see all these boats flying along under a steady breeze on the broad African river. This also relieved the wearied rowers. Those in canoes had still the same daily hard toil of punting and paddling against a swift current from dawn till dusk. . . . We speak of their indolence and laziness, but it would be more sensible to speak of their endurance, their willing loyalty to the white man, and their contentment with but the smallest share of this world’s good things, either to eat or to drink or to wear. All three for him are of the roughest and poorest, the scantiest and most precarious, and yet there is a perfectly wonderful, lighthearted cheerfulness when the day is done.’

He wakes in the night, and hears one of his Lovedale boys on watch, ‘pacing his round with his rifle on his shoulder, singing low and sweetly, and apparently much to his heart’s content, one of Sankey’s hymns, "Jesus loves me, even me." He did not know that I was stirring.’ This singing watchman was Shadrack Ngunane, one of the Love-dale volunteers, whom Stewart, by an act of grace, had allowed to remain in Lovedale after a grave offence. ‘He has been as busy and useful,’ Stewart adds, ‘as a white man could have been, always well, always cheerful, always ready for everything. The picture of this once wild Kafir, formerly rather troublesome, now cheerfully keeping his midnight watch in this fashion and on such a venturesome journey, is one I shall not forget. It made me hope for the day when out of the regions we are now in there will be many who will prove themselves as worthy of the labour bestowed on them as this lad has done, and help to convey the Gospel still farther on. . . . Day or night I never found my Kafir friend sleeping when he ought to be waking, or elsewhere than at the post of duty. There are many such Kafirs, if all are not. There are also such men to be found in other African tribes as well— men you can trust—if there are also among them, as amongst all other sorts and conditions of men, those whom you cannot trust. Such at least has been my experience of thirty years amongst Africans. Let us not grudge to state what is true about a race whose capacity and trustworthiness so many doubt, and often speak of with needless contempt.’

Many were the anxieties of the leader. It seemed to a native much easier to run off into the forest with a bale of cotton, than to work a whole month for it under the broiling sun. One evening seventy men deserted in the darkness, taking with them a large quantity of calico. They were brought back with difficulty. ‘We have come successfully through it all,’ Stewart wrote, ‘by God’s care and help.’

Mr. Young met the party at the Murchison Cataracts, and on October 21st the Ilala sailed into the bay. ‘She entered the lake at six in the morning,’ Stewart wrote, ‘ and according to our custom we had worship, the engines having stopped for a few minutes. At Mr. Young’s request, we sang "From Greenland’s icy mountains," all joining in with a fervour which was no doubt helped by the peculiar associations of the place and hour.’

Stewart took charge at Livingstonia for fifteen months. He and Dr. Laws made the second circumnavigation, but the first exploration, of the stormy lake, and were the first white men to set foot on its northern shores. They ran the Ilala, each three months at a time, ‘steering, stoking, and repairing the steamer themselves.’ Their chief difficulty was to secure enough of firewood. This work on the steamer caused not a little anxiety to the two landsmen, but it had to be done. [Consul Elton spent some time with the Livingstonia missionaries, and he and his partly were conveyed in the Ilala to the north end of the Lake Nyasa. In his In Eastern and Central Africa he warmly praises the work of the mission, and he adds (page 307): ‘Dr. Stewart looks worn and anxious. He has a great deal of responsibility about the steamer, of which he—as well as Dr. Laws—should be relieved. It is not legitimate work, and it prevents him from concentrating his attention and care upon subjects of higher importance.’ Again he says, ‘Dr. Stewart is really ill.’] They found that the lake is three hundred and fifty miles long, and that its breadth varies from sixteen to fifty miles. The men were the most uncivilised they had seen anywhere in Africa. The most of them were entirely nude, or ‘go-nakeds,’ to borrow the African phrase. Their only covering was a coat of red ochre and paint, which, as in our houses, served as a protection against the sun and the rain.

His Journal records careful observations about all the objects he saw. But there are many blank leaves with only the date. Each of these represented a fever-day.

The mission station was then at Cape Maclear, at the southern end of the lake, a very beautifu’ spot, but unhealthy, and not well watered. After prolonged and very anxious examination of many sites, Stewart recommended that the mission should be removed to Bandawe, half-way up the western side of the lake. The bay in front of it he called Florence Bay, after one of his daughters. It is still so named on the maps: it was the only place in Africa to which he gave a name. At Florence Bay he had so severe an attack of fever that he quietly gave instructions about his papers. In one of his letters he placed several mosquitoes, and wrote underneath:

‘Our worst tormentors. We are more afraid of them than of elephants.’

‘When I walked down the west side of Lake Nyasa in quest of a site for the mission,’ he wrote, ‘I saw nothing in the quiet lagoons and shores of that great inland sea but elephants in abundance, and buffaloes, one startled lioness, and hippopotami without number. There were the native people of course. The most of them were living in triple stockaded villages for fear of the dreaded Ngoni. There was not a single native Christian, nor a church or school-book or Bible, or printed page, nor a single native who could tell the first letter of the alphabet.’

One day, while waiting by the shore till a younger missionary secured a dinner for them both, the idea flashed into his mind: ‘How much easier it would be for all African workers, if stores were opened near to or at their principal mission stations.’ This was the real origin of the ‘African Lakes Corporation, Ltd.’ A letter was forthwith drafted, indicating the advantages to be gained by opening up the country to wholesome trade and commerce. This letter was sent to the convener of the Livingstonia Mission Committee, and the result was the formation of the Company. All the original shareholders were members of the Livingstonia Committee, but they formed an independent Mercantile Company, which has had great success, and has rendered immense services to missions and the country. It has also had an influential share in the abolition of the slave-trade. The shareholders were content ‘to take their dividends out in philanthropy,’ but they now earn a dividend of ten per cent.’

[Mr. Fred. L. M. Moir, the Secretary of the Company, writes ‘At a very early stage it was found that, unless the time of the missionaries was to be unduly taken up in attending to absolutely necessary commercial affairs, a separate organisation was not only desirable but essential. In the interests of the natives themselves, and as discouraging the slave-trade, it was also obviously expedient to foster legitimate commerce and to establish steam communication with the coast. In the summer of 1878, as a result of representations made by Dr. James Stewart and others, a Company—the Livingstonia Central Africa Company, Limited (now known as the African Lakes Corporation, Limited)—was formed by gentlemen in Glasgow and Edinburgh. A steamer to ply on the Zambesi and Shire rivers was despatched along with consignments of barter goods and, later on, the s.s. Ilala, brought out to Lake Nyasa by the first Livingstonia party, was taken over by the Company. Trading and transport stations were opened at Quilimane on the coast, on the Zambesi and Shire rivers, at Blantyre, and on Lake Nyasa, the Company gradually enlarging the scope of their operations as opportunities presented themselves. From small beginnings the Company grew until now they have numerous stations in Nyasaland, Portuguese Zambesia, North- Eastern and North-Western Rhodesia, and, in addition to other craft, eight steamers on the Zambesi and Shire rivers, two on Lake Nyasa, one on Lake Tanganyika and one on Lake Mweru. The Company act as agents for various Missionary Societies, and carry on an extensive trading, transport, and banking business, besides interesting themselves in planting operations, etc.

‘The original Company suffered severely at the hands of coast Arabs who, resenting attempts to introduce legitimate trade, made a determined effort to clear the white men out of the country so as to remove any obstacle to the continuance of slave-raiding operations. Fighting ensued, but eventually, after a large sum of money had been expended by the Company, the Arab slave.raiders were suppressed, and the country came under the direct control of the British Government, the Company handing over their treaty rights.

‘With the moral and intellectual advancement of the natives of Central Africa, there has also been a steady development of the resources of the country, and during the comparatively short period since the formation of the Company, many changes for the better have taken place, and the conditions of life have vastly improved. Natives, who in other days would have contented themselves with lolling about in their villages, are now employed as storekeepers, carpenters, printers, telegraphists, typists, etc. In great measure the advance indicated is due to the devotion and energy displayed by the missionaries of our Scottish Churches.’

Situated in the Shire hills, and so named after Livingstone’s birthplace.]

Stewart spent three months at Blantyre’ Mission, whose existence was then imperilled. He was accompanied by his cousin, James Stewart, C.E., F.R.G.S., who directed the reconstruction of the mission and the making of the roads. These services were warmly acknowledged by the Established Church. ‘In 1877 Dr. Laws of the Livingstonia Mission and myself,’ he wrote, ‘went to assist the Blantyre men to found their station. When we marched into what is now Blantyre, it consisted of five habitable huts, and three old ones which were not habitable. As to church or school, Bible or books, no such things existed. They had never been heard of.’ Now, there is a famous and well-filled church, built of brick and by natives. Blantyre has now a municipality, a weekly newspaper—The British Central African Gazette—and some monthly sheets of a missionary kind. There are four or five out-stations, at distances of thirty to forty miles, at each of which there is a church and school and real missionary work going on. The railway now reaches Blantyre.

In the midst of all these preliminaries Stewart asks: ‘Are we not in danger of forgetting our real purpose in this land? All this work, pleasant to see, and beneficial as it will be in its results, is material only. It is of the earth earthy. It begins and ends with time. A certain text kept constantly recurring to my mind as I walked about the place, "One thing is needful."’

The Lord’s Supper was celebrated on Lake Nyasa for the first time on November 26, 1877. As in the Upper Room at Jerusalem, twelve gathered around the Table with the Master. They have now about four thousand native communicants, and about five thousand candidates for communion.

In the end of 1877 Stewart handed over the mission to Dr. Laws, and returned to Lovedale. He had spent nearly five of the best years of his life in the establishment of Livingstonia.


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