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The Life of James Stewart
The Medical Missionary


Medical Skill—The ‘Cor Medicum ‘—Promptness—Grateful Patients—The Medical College—The Victoria Hospital— Africa’s Noblest Womanhood—The Reverend D. Doig Young.

‘A good doctor should be at once a genius, a saint, and a man of God.’—Amiel.

‘I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had only one Son, and he was a missionary and a physician. A poor imitation of him I am or wish to be. In this service I hope to live, and in it I hope to die. It is something to be a follower, however feeble, in the wake of the great Teacher and only model Missionary that ever appeared among men. May we venture to invite young men of education, when laying down the plan of their lives, to take a glance at that of missionary? We will magnify the office.—David Livingstone.

‘A good surgeon must have an eagle’s eye, a lion’s heart, and a lady’s hand.’—Old Proverb.

‘Let me be sick myself, if sometimes the malady of my patient be not a disease unto me. I desire rather to cure his infirmities than my own necessities. ‘—Sir Thomas Browne’s ‘Religio Medici.’

DR. STEWART was a pioneer in medical missions as in other enterprises. Dr. Vanderkemp and Dr. Livingstone had preceded him in South Africa, but neither of them had done much for medical missions. Dr. Daiziel, of the Gordon Memorial Mission, was a thoroughly qualified medical missionary, and nearly all the missionaries dispensed medicines to the natives for ordinary ailments. Stewart was the first to found a hospital, begin the instruction of native nurses and hospital assistants, and lay the foundation of a medical school. It is remarkable that before his day so little had been done for healing in South Africa, although twenty-three of Christ’s miracles, two-thirds of the whole, were miracles of healing.

His skill is guaranteed by his high estimate of medicine as an ally to the Gospel; by the zeal with which he pursued his medical studies; by the large practice which, during the first twenty years, he somehow managed to crowd in among many other strenuous enterprises; and by his reputation, which was probably increased by the fact that he would receive no fee or reward. The self-respect of the natives, however, was fostered by charging a small sum for medicines at the Lovedale dispensary.

His skill found the amplest scope, for the natives are more liable to sickness than the whites, and they suffer from many ailments which their doctors cannot cure and ours can. One of the names for a native doctor means, ‘Something fearful to look at,’ and his appearance usually justifies his title. Witch-doctors and rain-makers used to hold the lives of the people in their hands. The aid the native needs most is deliverance from the cruel and deep-rooted superstitions which have caused numberless miseries and still lead to social persecution. These evils must perish in presence of the most elementary medical knowledge. The Native Affairs Commissioners say: ‘The multiplying of District Surgeons and the establishment of Dispensaries and Hospitals in connection with Magistracies in Native areas, would have a beneficial effect, not only for the restoration or preservation of health, but also for weaning the Natives from faith in witch-doctors, diviners, or soothsayers, or men who profess to have supernatural power or knowledge whether as medicine men or otherwise.’ Africa’s murdered millions supply the most powerful plea for medical missions.

Dr. Stewart’s spirit added greatly to his success as a physician and a missionary. The ‘mens medica’ and the ‘cor medicum’ were his. He had a very large share of the spirit of the Great Healer, of whom we often read that He was ‘moved with compassion,’ i.e. with a yearning pity which filled the heart, and sent an answering thrill through the whole body. Stewart had what Sir J. Y. Simpson earnestly commended to his students, ‘that sympathy which is one of the most potent agencies of cure, that gentle womanliness of heart which the sick in depression and pain so often look for, long for, and profit by.’ His heart went out at once to any sufferer, black or white, especially to the aged, the humble, the weak, the lunatic, and semi-lunatic. His ready sympathy overflowed even upon animals. His poorest patients saw him at his very best, and were deeply impressed by some qualities which were not suspected by those who saw him in his other capacities. Dr. Laws writes: ‘For the sick and the suffering his sympathy and help were ever ready, and he had the gentlest of hands for the patients under his care. To watch by a sick-bed along with him for a night was a lesson to be remembered for life.’

His self-sacrificing diligence and promptness were highly appreciated. During many years he had the sole medical charge of all the boys and girls in the Institution. To his ministerial work in Alice he also added that of medical adviser for the town when there was no resident doctor in the district.’ The inhabitants presented him with a sum of money ‘to obtain an oil-painting of himself.’ In the address accompanying it, special reference was made to ‘the extreme kindness always manifested by Dr. Stewart to those who were sick or in trouble.’ In the early years, by day and night, he was at the call of the needy. Once he travelled one hundred and fifty miles over a rough road to visit a poor black woman. Her life was saved, and the father afterwards visited him, wished to kiss his feet in token of gratitude, and offered him two sovereigns. Here are some extracts from the Christian Express

‘What a full life was Dr. Stewart’s in the summer of his strength. Oftentimes the dawn of a new day saw him busy overtaking the work of that which had gone before. He was ever a strenuous worker, but twenty to thirty years ago, when Loved ale was shaking itself out to its ampler manhood, he deemed fourteen, sixteen, or even eighteen hours of incessant toil a common daily task.

‘He taught in the Institution, he edited this paper, he had medical charge of the Mission, in addition to week-day services he preached two sermons every Sabbath, he saw to every detail of the work, he guided every distinct department, he examined the classes, he superintended the field companies; he was here, there, and everywhere, tireless, commanding, inspiring.

‘At a period when medical aid was difficult to obtain in the district, many were the calls made on Dr. Stewart’s time and strength. Yet he gave both ungrudgingly, and no home was too far, no road too difficult, no night too stormy, to hinder the great missionary in his errands of mercy. In these days he was the beloved physician in many a home.’

Here are some testimonials from his grateful patients and their friends. ‘He had an almost unerring instinct in detecting the seat of disease.

He himself saw to the well-being and nourishment of his patients, often bringing them the food they needed to restore them to health.’

Of one case it is told: ‘He came—saw it to be a very bad case. He got a nurse to be there during the night. We found him hatless at the door one night, with a saucepan in one hand and his slippers in the other, and thus he entered the sick - room. With much care and attention he was able to master the case and to get the patient on her feet again.’

‘It seemed the most natural thing that he should be told when sickness occurred. If it seemed urgent, his response was immediate. And he was there more as a friend than as a doctor. How often has his presence in the sick-room lightened arid lifted the load of anxiety that weighed heavy on troubled hearts. I can remember the case of a child seriously ill with croup. The anxious parents sent for Dr. Stewart. He stayed the whole night, applying the necessary remedies until the immediate danger was over. . . . Many a poor old native will miss the new warm blanket when the cold weather sets in, and many an invalid will miss the jug of rich soup or other "comfort" which was sure to be sent, or more often carried by his own hand. . . . He had infinite patience and consummate tact. He could be as tender as a woman with the sick, the ignorant, the wayward, but wrong ever roused in him a fierce and fervid anger.’

‘A distinct mental picture of him still remains— that of his stealing into a house one evening, boots in one hand and a pan containing soup in the other. He had saved two lives in that house that day, and in this style, so like the man, he paid his evening visit.’

The Medical College.—An up-to-date Hospital at Lovedale was one of Stewart’s many ambitions. In the nineties there were only five legally qualified medical missionaries south of the Zambesi. Though that district was considerably larger than British India, it had no properly equipped mission hospital where natives could be trained to help their own people. Even the Christian natives were afraid to go near the sick, and invalids were often left to die without medicine or nursing, or—a still sadder fate—were handed over to the witch-doctor.

Stewart’s first efforts to remedy this defect were unsuccessful. But in 1895, by the generous aid of Mr. D. A. Hunter, a large sum was collected, and the Colonial Government aided on the pound-for-pound system. The beautiful Victoria Hospital was opened in 1898, and additions have since been made to it. Its dual aim is to relieve the sick and to train native young men as hospital assistants and native young women as nurses. Dr. James M’Cash and Miss Wallace took charge of the hospital as unsalaried agents. The prejudices and distrust of the natives were gradually overcome, and last year there were about five thousand attendances at the hospital, and patients are now coming to it from great distances.

Two native nurses have completed their three years’ course, and one of them is in charge of a Mines’ hospital, and has a salary of £12 a month, with board and quarters. Three young men have been fully qualified as hospital assistants, and have found useful spheres.

But this is only the beginning. ‘instead of twos and threes,’ Mr. Hunter writes, ‘we should be turning out these trained natives in scores and hundreds if the great need of their vast land is to be met.’

The present superintendent of the hospital is Dr. Neil Macvicar, ‘an ideal medical missionary.’

Dr. Stewart even dared to dream that Lovedale in the fulness of time might become a Medical College where the sons and daughters of Ethiopia might receive a complete medical education, and that this hospital might do for it what the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh does for the University. This bold dream of his will probably be realised as his other dreams have been. When the native M.D. has a degree conferred by a Native University, some may remember that James Stewart was the first on the mountain-top to hail and herald the Dawn on the southern side of the Dark Continent. Meanwhile this hospital is giving a death-blow to the miserable superstitions which sometimes cleave to those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Great Physician. The lancet has proved mightier than the sword in opening closed doors among heathen nations, and it is far mightier than the sword in destroying some of the worst foes to human happiness.

The Victoria Hospital, with ‘its clinical Christianity,’ is the parable of the Good Samaritan done in stone, a concrete gospel which reveals love by deeds. In contrast with their squalid huts, the sweetness and cleanness of this beautiful building, its pervading atmosphere of Christian love in a loveless land, its power to bless and its abundance, may well seem to them scarcely to belong to this poor world. It is an impressive monument to the Great Physician and a memorial of the Christian faith. The medical missionary effectually illustrates Christ’s mission by reviving it. Among rude heathens our religion is never so intelligible or winsome as when presented in such deeds of ministering love. It is the only exhibition of our holy religion which some of them can comprehend. In the ceiling of one of Rome’s chapels is a splendid painting which cannot be seen plainly at such a height, but a mirror has been placed on the table under it, and visitors see the whole picture in the glass. In the Mission Hospital the dullest may thus gain a true vision of the Great Healer, as He is mirrored in the lives of His under-healers. The Lovedale Bethesda thus becomes a fifth Gospel and an appendix to the Acts of the Apostles.

A member of his staff writes:—‘ We of Lovedale in the past know what Dr. Stewart was in the sickroom. Skilful, gentle, and sympathetic to a degree, his presence inspired confidence, and his words gave wonderful comfort. Memory carries one back to days of sickness and bereavement in the house. I can see him now, sitting with the little suffering one in his arms, watching every symptom and change, and with us he watched until he laid the little one on the bed, and said, "Your child is with Jesus."

The warm words of the Rev. D. Doig Young, one of Stewart’s colleagues and patients, are worth recording :—‘ Dr. Stewart as an Angel of Cornfort.—That Dr. Stewart was a strong man, a keen debater, and knew how to demolish an opponent, was well known. Many thought him hard, dictatorial, and void of consideration for the feelings of others. They saw a mighty man, consumed with jealousy for his beloved Lovedale, and determined that nothing, no man even, should stand in the way of what he conceived to be necessary for the truest progress of that noble institution.

‘But it was given to some to meet with another Dr. Stewart, the gentle, Christian physician. When one was ill or in trouble, then Dr. Stewart was manifested as a true Angel of Comfort. Sometimes he would have the invalid taken to his house to be not only nursed and doctored, but given those hundred-and-one little attentions that are so comforting to the sick one. Though he was an extremely busy man, he would nevertheless find time to sit by the bedside, conversing with and even reading to the patient in that low, gentle, attractive voice, that was peculiarly his.

‘When one of the staff was seized with brain fever and pneumonia, though the Alice medical doctor was in charge of the case, Dr. Stewart would at all hours of the night, as well as of the day, walk down the avenue and enter the house so silently that the one watching by the bedside would only become aware of his presence by hearing a gentle voice asking, "How is he now?" One at that time wondered when he himself found his much-needed rest. Wherever there was sickness or trouble in any house in Lovedale, one was always sure to find Dr. Stewart a constant visitor there, doing all he could to give relief and comfort. He had a very large, sympathetic heart, and was spoken of as the "Angel of Comfort." In all such deeds of kindness, he was backed by her who was a true helpmeet. She would send hour after hour some delicacy to tempt the appetite and keep up the strength of the invalid.’


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