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The Life of James Stewart
The Zambesian, 1862-1863


His Chief Aim—An Explorer—His Apprenticeship —Two Letters from Livingstone—’ Hell’s Highway ‘—Methods with the Natives—A Good Laugher—Human Brotherhood—How gods are Made.

‘As for me, I am determined to open up Africa, or perish.’ —Livingstone.

‘Trade in Africa has been in two ivories, white and black—slaves and elephants’ tusks. ‘—General Gordon.

‘Misfortune, that grand instructress of impatient men.’—Dr. Stewart’s Journal.

IN his Journal Stewart describes himself as ‘a Zambesian.’ He was a Zambesjan in that nobler than geographical sense in which a student at Oxford is called an Oxonian. In Zambesiland he served an apprenticeship without which, so far as we can see, he could not have been the successful founder of Livingstonia, nor the pioneer of the East African Mission. His whole after-life was greatly enriched by the unique experiences of these days.

While he owed much to Livingstone, he was largely a self-taught expert in African affairs. His admiration of Livingstone was great, and it was the admiration of a kindred spirit. It was his desire to carry forward the moral and missionary side of Livingstone’s work. On leaving for Africa he wrote: ‘I give my life to work out his (Livingstone’s) ideas if they are practicable, that is, if climate and national position will permit. I have left my chance of a good position at home. Health must be given up to whatever risks, etc., and a huge amount of labour undergone.’

Stewart’s grand tour during these two wander-years had an immense influence over him. He then gained his diploma as an explorer. His services in this field were fittingly recognised when he was made, like Livingstone, an Honorary Member of the Geographical Society. He was among the very last of the interesting order of explorers. For little room is now left in our little planet for the pioneer save amid the snows of the North and South Poles. Tibet was the last of the great explorations possible in this world. The would-be explorer may now, Alexander-like, sit down and mourn that there are no unknown regions to conquer.

Stewart, like Livingstofle, was a born traveller. African travel was far more dangerous then than it is now. It is plain that he had the courage that can serenely face formless and unknown perils, and is thus greater than the physical courage of the soldier on the battlefield. Strong in him also was that craving to get beyond the limits of the known, which distinguished his Viking forefathers in the Saga times. But his love of adventure and travel was only the obedient and helpful handmaid of a nobler passion. In him the missionary came before the explorer, and both were combined. It was not the Spirit of travel that whispered in his heart, but the voice that still speaks from heaven to him who has an ear to hear, and to which James had responded as he was leaning on his plough.

His powers had been tested and developed by his hard African experiences. Stanley and other African travellers have noted that African travel reveals a European’s character more than any other mode of life does. Stewart endorses that view, for he wrote: ‘African travel tries to the utmost every power and quality a man possesses—his temper teeth and tact, his patience, purse and perseverance all alike heavily.’ These tests helped to make hini the strong and self.reliant man he became.

He had already gained a rich treasure of Africar experience which qualified him to speak with decisior and authority upon the conditions of travel, life, and missions in that land. He was thus delivered from the tentative timidities and those initial mistakes which brought disaster to more than one mission in Central Africa. No other man in Scotland was then so well qualified as a pioneer of missions, to smooth the path for others.

On the Zambesi he was introduced to three men who rendered essential service at the founding of Livingstonia. These were Mr. Edward D. Young, R.N., Captain Wilson, R.N., and the Rev. Horace Wailer.

His life was enriched through his comradeship with Livingstone, who often said: 'I am very glad that you have come,’ [When in Bombay, Livingstone ‘spoke very kindly of Stewart, aid seems to hope that he may yet join him in Central Africa.’— Blaikie's s Life of Livingstone, p. 362.] and he advised about all the details of the proposed mission. He strongly recommended Nyasaland as the best centre whence the great Light should shine forth on Darkest Africa. He much desired that ‘that most energetic body’ (as he called it), ‘the Free Church,’ would soon occupy the field. And he gave the strongest possible proof of his appreciation of his young companion. He wrote to him: ‘If the Government pays for the Lady Nyasa’ (a steamer built at his own expense), ‘I shall be in a position to offer you all your expenses out, and £150 a year afterwards. It will be well-spent money if we check the slave-trade on the lake, whoever pays for it.’ So eager was he to see the mission begun at once.

In a letter to the Foreign Mission Committee of the Free Church of Scotland, Dr. Livingstone set forth the very serious difficulties a new mission must encounter in Central Africa. He then adds this pregnant postscript :—

‘March 1, 1862.

‘I have shown this (letter) to Mr. Stewart who is now with us, and I would add that my remarks are framed to meet the eyes of the ordinary run of missionaries; but for such a man as Mr. Stewart I would say there are no serious obstacles in the way.’

He also wrote the following letter to Dr.Candlish:—

‘SHUPANGA, ZAMBESI, March 12, 1862.

‘I am happy to inform you that Mr. Stewart arrived off the mouth of this river on the last day of January, and as it appeared that the most satisfactory way of going to work would be for him to come and see the country and people with his own eyes, I invited him to accompany us while trying to take a steamer up to Lake Nyasa. . . . I have given Mr. Stewart a hearty welcome and rejoice in the prospect of another mission where there is so much room for work. Nineteen thousand slaves pass annually through the custom-house of Zanzibar, and the chief portion of them comes from Lake Nyasa. We hope to do something towards stopping this traffic, but it is only by Christian missions and example that the evil can be thoroughly rooted out.

‘From all I have observed of Mr. Stewart he seems to have been specially raised up for this work, and specially well adapted for it. Before becoming acquainted with him I spoke cautiously, perhaps gave too much prominence to difficulties of which I myself make small account, and may have been led to it by having seen missionaries come out with curious notions; willing to endure hardships, but grumbling like mountains in labour when put about by things that they did not expect; but to such a man (Mr. Stewart), I would say boldly, "Go forward, and with the divine blessing you will surely succeed."

We also add two letters of Dr. Livingstone to Stewart.

The first was addressed to ‘the Rev. James Stewart in Nubibus, or elsewhere’ —

‘SHUPANGA, December 24, 1862.

‘Possibly I underestimate difficulties, and I may not fully realise those which must be encountered by the men who will be honoured to introduce the Gospel into the centre of the slave-market of Eastern Africa. But were I young again, and planning how I could best lay out my life, without hesitation I would go in for this new field of missionary labour. If an efficient minister settles in almost any parish at home, or goes to India or other country where he could enter into other men’s labours, the conversions that may be attributed to the labours of his life might probably far outnumber those which may result directly from your efforts here. But I believe that work here would eventually tend most to the advancement of the Kingdom. I undervalue the preaching of the Cross nowhere. The case, however, under consideration seems to be very much that of a professor of theology giving up the pastorate and direct effort to save souls in order that, by preparing other minds for the work, he may indirectly convert a hundredfold more than he otherwise could have done.

‘The effects of missions are cumulative. You here begin a work which in influence and power will go on increasing to the end of time. Much good will also be done in the way of eradicating the slave-trade, and in wiping out guilt which we as a nation contracted. Africa must be Christianised from within outwards, and those who help to overcome the great obstacles now presented will, as men speak, deserve the most credit. . . . I suppose you have more pluck than that. But do it who will, the Gospel will be planted.

‘In conclusion, I would say that, were I in your case, I should place myself without reserve in the hands of my elders—men anxious to do just that which will best promote the cause of Christianity which they have at heart. Taking it as a fact that, if two of such men agree as touching a matter and ask the Hearer of Prayer, the request will be granted, how much more when a large number of Christ’s people agree to ask His guidance. Wisdom will, of course, be granted. May the All-Wise One direct your steps.’

The second was addressed to Stewart at Quilimane, ‘or wherever he may be found (ou onde estiver).’

‘RIVER SHIRÉ,
‘February
19, 1863.

‘MY DEAR SIR,—I am very sorry to hear from Mr. Procter that you have been very ill after we left Shupanga, but I hope the change to Vianna’s will be beneficial. I was so eager to get up to our work that I may have seemed heartless in leaving you at all, but you appeared to have got over the attack of fever, and I expected you to recover soon, and hoped that you would have experienced the beneficial effects which usually attend a change of residence, in this complaint. I earnestly trust that you are better.

‘The country is completely disorganised and a new system must be introduced with a strong hand. We have counted thirty-two dead bodies floating down the stream, and scarcely a soul is to be seen in the lower Shire valley.

‘I never witnessed such a change. It is a desert, and dead bodies are everywhere. I fear that your friends may find in the deaths and disorders reasons for declining all share in the work of renovation, but it will be done by those who are to do it, and the devil’s reign must cease.

‘Be sure and let me know how our Free Churchmen deal with the important question you will bring before them.’

Livingstone also gave Stewart a letter in which he said, ‘While confidently recommending him to the kind offices of our countrymen, I declare myself ready to pay any expenses he may incur in his Passage to the Cape or homewards.’

Stewart fully sympathised with his chief’s detestation of slavery. In 1859 Livingstone explored the Shiré River, which till then had been absolutely unknown, and he also discovered Lakes Shirwa and Nyasa. The Shire valley had then a teeming population. Stewart visited it in 1862, and found everywhere traces of desolation. He denounces in the most energetic language the Portuguese who had hired one warlike tribe to enslave their neighbours. ‘The truth is from the Zambesi to Lake Nyasa on the north and east banks of the river, there is nothing but slaving—Africans selling each other. . . . The Ajawa are in their pay, and attack village after village of the Manganja. They kill the men and sell the women and children. When men are taken, they are sold for five yards of calico (2s. 6d.), women for two yards (Is. in value). The Portuguese are at the bottom of all the fighting that has occurred.’

In the end of 1862 Livingstone steamed up the Shire with the Pioneer, having in tow the Lady Nyasa, which he hoped to launch on Lake Nyasa, [In this he was sadly disappointed.] the key of Central Africa. On every side he found heartrending evidences of recent slave-raiding. The air was darkened with vultures; hyenas abounded; bodies too numerous for the over-gorged crocodiles and alligators to devour, floated down the stream and clogged the paddles of the steamers. ‘Blood, blood, everywhere blood,’ Livingstone wrote in agony of soul. Of such scenes he wrote: ‘It gave me the impression of being in Hell. . . . It felt to me like Gehenna without the fire and brimstone.’ To him the slaves’ route was ‘hell’s highway.’

Mr. E. D. Young, who was then with Livingstone, told at a meeting in Glasgow that he saw a woman in a slave-gang sinking down exhausted. She had a load on her head and a baby on her back. The slave-driver asked her if she could go on. She shook her head. He then took her baby, dashed its head against a tree, flung its quivering body on the ground, and ordered the mother to take up her load.

Stewart closely studied Livingstone’s methods with the natives. Here is an extract from the report of a speech of Stewart’s in 1875: ‘Without mentioning any names, he wished, as a man and as an African missionary, to take this opportunity before this venerable Assembly which represented so large a section of public opinion in Scotland, of uttering his solemn protest against all explorations carried on in Africa by means of force and bloodshed. It was necessary to open up Africa, but it was not necessary to leave their footsteps tracked in blood. When first, to quote a line from the "March of the Cameron Men," he "followed his chief to the field"—he meant the great chief of African exploration, David Livingstone, who had traversed more of Africa than any man, living or dead—he had got some advice from him (Dr. Livingstone) which he afterwards followed. That advice was, never to shed blood unless he was certain his own would otherwise be shed; and with any quite new or strange people, it was better to retire for a little than bring on a collision.’

Stewart soon discovered the secret of his master’s power over the natives. He soon learnt that the surest way to establish confidence among the Africans was to show it yourself by meeting them with frankness and geniality. In his Journal he writes: ‘Simple acts of Courtesy and kindness are never lost even among savage people.’ Livingstone agreed with Dr. Samuel Johnson, who held that every man may be judged of by his laughter; with Carlyle, who says that ‘no man who has once heartily and wholly laughed, can be altogether irreclaimably bad’; and with Sir Walter Scott, who used to say, ‘give me an honest laugher.’ Whenever he (Livingstone) had observed a chief with a joyous twinkle of the eye accompanying his laugh, he always set him down as a good fellow, and had never been disappointed in him afterwards. ‘An ill-natured or vicious fellow would not laugh in that way,’ was his remark regarding such a laugher. The clever chief Chibisa, whom Stewart visited, he thus describes: ‘A jolly person, who laughs easily, which is always a good sign. Chibisa believed firmly in two things: the divine right of Kings, and the impossibility that Chibisa should ever be in the wrong.’ . . . Livingstone evidently made a great impression on Chibisa; like other chiefs he began to fall under the spell of his influence. Concerning another chief Stewart says: ‘As a laughing fellow we felt safe with him. If a fellow laughs you know that you are likely to be well off: an ill-natured or vicious man does not, nor do great potentates.’

He saw also that Livingstone treated every black man as if he were a blood-relation. He tells that ‘Livingstone saluted the poorest with a very pleasant smile, and raised his gold-laced cap (the badge of his high office) a little above his head. Before the poorest African he maintained self-restraint and self-respect as carefully as in the best society at home.' [I once remarked to an aged woman who knew Livingstone in his youth, that in one of his books he says that he had always used his mother’s methods in managing the natives. ‘Ay, an’ ye may be sure,’ she added, ‘that Dauvid used his mither’s tones tae. He was by ordinar’ saft spoken, and gin ye had shut yer een, ye wad hae thocht that it was juist his mither hersel’ speakin’, guid woman.’]

His keen sense of human brotherhood secured a never-failing princely courtesy towards the blacks. They loved him as the white man who treated black men as his brothers. ‘If some travellers have engraved their names on the rocks and tree trunks, he has engraved his in the very hearts of the heathen population of Central Africa. Wherever Livingstone has passed, the name of missionary is a passport and a recommendation.’ (Coillard.)

Livingstone says: ‘When a chief has made any inquiries of us, we have found that we gave most satisfaction in our answers when we tried to fancy ourselves in the position of the interrogator, and him that of a poor, uneducated fellow-countryman in England. The polite, respectful way of speaking, and behaviour of what we call "a thorough gentleman," almost always secures the friendship and goodwill of the Africans. . . . It ought never to be forgotten that influence among the heathen can be acquired on1y by patient continuance in well-doing, and that good manners are as necessary among barbarians as among the civilised.’ Livingstone used to say that it was a very dangerous thing to despise the manhood of the meanest savage, and that some white men he had known had lost their lives as penalty for their scorn.

These facts help us to understand how the image of Livingstone is cherished and deified in the tenacious and grateful heart of Ethiopia, and also how men were canonised as saints in the Middle Ages, and how gods were manufactured out of heroic men in the childhood of our race. Full light is shed on this interesting subject in these two admirable books—Coillard of the Zambesi, p. 272, etc., and also Coillard’s On the Threshold of Central Africa, p. 60. We there learn bow Livingstone is clothed with divine virtues, and set forth in celestial proportions. The old people were never tired of talking about him, and they often closed their ‘praise-words’ by saying, ‘he was not a man, he was a god.’ He has already acquired a halo of legendary divinity.

Stewart closely resembled his hero in his unfailing reliance upon God and prayer and the Bible in his hours of need. Converse with God in African solitudes had fostered his piety, his self-knowledge, and self-reliance. Under the depression of fever he used to calm his mind by prayer, and so restore it to a quiet confidence in God. In one of his journeys he was deserted by many of his carriers who took with them some articles which he needed, and which he could not replace. He thought that he must turn back at once. But on that day he was reading Hebrews xii. i : ‘Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses let us run with patience (endurance, holding on and holding out) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.’ The words came to him as on angel’s wings: he marched right on and reached his goal. From the very first he bore himself as a hero of the Dark Continent. [There is an exactly parallel passage in Stanley’s Darkest Africa, vol. i. pp. 2 and 291. Stanley twice describes this incident at length. He says regarding one of his greatest dangers: ‘The night before I had been reading the exhortation of Moses to Joshua, and whether it was the effect of the brave words, or whether it was a voice I know not, but it appeared to me as though I heard, "Be strong and of a good courage." . . . I could have sworn that I heard the voice. I began to argue with it, and it replied, "nevertheless, be strong and of a good courage."]

In the originality of his career, in tenacity of purpose, in his habit of never quailing before difficulties, in splendid audacity of programmes in energy, in sanctified common-self, and in his inexhaustible faith in the elevation of the African, Stewart set an inspiring example to missionary pioneers. One of his discoveries was that to him to whom God is a Father, every land may become a fatherland.

Central Africa was thus to him what Arabia was to Paul—a retreat in which he examined his own heart, revised his life, developed the self-reliance which is based upon the reliance of faith, and sought complete consecration to Christ and His service. In these great solitudes he bad his musing times and seasons of sweet thought, and heard the voice of God more distinctly than elsewhere. ‘His faith in God, always strong,’ Dr. Wallace writes, ‘though not effusive, was strengthened by his experiences of the solitary life in the heart of Africa, entirely cut off from Christian fellowship. In a letter to me written when his only companion was a native boy, he said that he had never felt so near heaven, and added that now to him, "God, holiness and heaven are the only things worth living for."

‘Pain, sorrow, loss he deemed not wholly ill,
But heaven’s high solvents to release God’s gold
In men from base combines, yea to unfold
The nobler self of love, faith, Godward will.’


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