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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter XIX - Deeds of Blood

“Yet, yet their deeds,
Their constancy in torture and in death –
These on tradition’s tongue still live, these shall
On history’s honest page be pictured bright
To latest times.

*          *          *

With them each day was holy, every hour
They stood prepared to die, a people doomed
To death - old men, and youths, and simple maids.”


OCTOBER of 1885 brought great trouble to the missionaries, and for a long time subsequently they lived in daily expectation of being put to death. The future was ominous and dark, but, as the sequel will show, God was better to them than they feared.

A Baganda army had gone raiding in Busoga, and sent word to the king that “there were two white men there, and some more behind with a great caravan.” The missionaries at once suspected that the strangers were Bishop Hannington and party, although they had never dreamed that they would venture to enter the country by the Masai route, which the king considered his “back door.” Mackay and Ashe were sorely perplexed, and after praying together they went to court at once, but failed in getting an audience. While waiting, they heard definitely that it was really the bishop, and that he had been put in the stocks; that Mwanga had held a great Baraza with his chiefs, after which he had sent messengers to kill the bishop and the whole party, servants and all, and fetch their goods to the capital. But the crafty king would not see the missionaries; he sent word that “if they had any reason to suppose that their brethren were prisoners they should tell the katikiro.” Mackay and Ashe next tried to bribe Koluji (a chief) to send after the man deputed to commit the murder, and tell him to wait for fresh orders from court. Koluji professed to agree. The following entries in Mackay's note-book tell the course of events:-

Oct. 26th. - Too nervous to sleep. Up long before dawn. Ashe and I wrote note to king, craving an interview, but we did not succeed in seeing him. The good Lord save our bishop and the brethren from the hands of these assassins!”

“Got Pere Lourdel to go to court and read our letter to the king, but the latter merely replied, ‘Let Mackay come and write a letter, and I shall send a message to have the bishop sent back.’ Lourdel came down in haste to tell us. Wrote letter and Ashe went with it, as I felt unwell. But fearing Ashe would not see king, on the pretext that he had not been ordered to write the letter, I hastened after him on the donkey. Got ourselves reported, but the king set off at once to the pond, in case we should see him!”

Oct. 29th. - Hear that the king goes to-morrow to the lake, to shoot. He has given the executioner orders to catch people here. It may be ourselves, or our boys, or mayhap readers, or pages coming to tell us news.”

“At once we sent away all our boys to hide among our Christian friends. Writing out revision of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Ashe busy setting it up. Time of persecution has always been a printing time.”

Oct. 30th. - After dark one of our friends came to tell us that messengers had returned from Busoga with the tidings that the white men had been killed and all their Wangwana. It appears that a great army had gone from the katikiro’s country to murder our brethren.”

“Oh, night of sorrow!  What an unheard-of deed of blood!”

“God alone knows the cause, and He alone knows what the consequences will be.”

Nov. 1st. - This day last week we heard of the arrival of our dear brethren in Busoga. What a week of dreadful anxiety and sorrow this last week of October has been!”

“Now is the time to actually carry out our former plan, - viz., to get our elders to assemble their friends in each neighbourhood and have worship in their house. We have now ten elders, and they could hold half as many meetings simultaneously. While the present suspicion lasts we only increase it by collecting crowds on our premises.”

Nov. 5th. - Nine lads baptised to-day. Had letters from ---, assuring us that bishop and party are killed outright. Musoke has got orders to go and fetch the white men’s goods [The goods arrived, and Mwanga dressed himself in the bishop’s robes, but could not understand how there were no sleeves.] by night, that the news might not get out.”

“We have no hope now. The worst seems over. Our dear brethren are happy, while we remain in the midst of death. Lord, Thy will be done! For me the bitterness of death is past. I have become at times almost unconscious to the most terrible realities.”

Nov. 9th. - Pere Lourdel sent a note to say that he has been told that the katikiro allows that the bishop and party are all murdered, and that the court is only waiting for the Church Missionary Society’s boat to come back; and when they know that the men they have killed are the very men we have sent the boat for, they then mean to kill us all! This is probably in the fear that we have power to punish them for their dreadful deed.”

Some of the Christians sent word to the missionaries that a gift to the authorities was necessary in order to remove suspicion of any desire to take vengeance. One of the princesses, a daughter of the late king, also sent them a message, telling them to make friends with the king without delay. Accordingly Ashe and Mackay made up a large present for his Majesty, another for the chief judge, and smaller ones for two of the chiefs, who had been instigators in the plot to kill the bishop. Seventeen loads in all! It was a great loss to the mission; but what was the use of hoarding barter goods, when the very existence of the cause, and their own lives, were in imminent danger?

The avaricious judge was in high glee, accepted the gift, and swore by the ghost of Mtesa that while he was in power he would never do the white men any harm. The king, however, was in a great rage, and demanded to know “why the present had been sent? Why should they rob themselves to give him what they lived upon? Had he come to the throne yesterday? or had the Church Missionary Society’s boat come? Let Mackay and Ashe come up at once, and explain the meaning of their gift.” They went, never expecting to return alive. All the wrath was because they had been informed of his wicked intention to kill them; and he tried hard, by threats and entreaties, to get them to tell the names of those who had revealed the plot. This the missionaries declined to do; and their punishment was that no one was to visit them, and they would both be arrested and killed if a single Muganda was found in their premises, whether by their knowledge or not. Then he insolently asked, “If I kill you, where shall I put your bodies?” They told him they were not afraid of him,. as they relied on protection from God. At this the whole court made merriment. After a tedious interview, lasting over two hours, he let them go, ordering two cows to be given them, “to pacify their minds”! They returned home, weary, but grateful to their Heavenly Father for preserving them in so great a danger.

As it has ever been, in all lands, from the early centuries downwards, so it was in Uganda. In the times of greatest trouble and trial, many pressed into the kingdom.

The missionaries set a watch at the gate to warn off all natives; nevertheless many lads pushed in, and their friends could only commend them to God, and send them off with a portion of the Scriptures. Gabunga (the young lord of the lake, and admiral of the fleet) sent at midnight to ask when he could be baptised. Two days afterwards Mr. Ashe performed the rite (see p. 237).

Meantime Mwanga did not prosper. First he had bad eyes, and he believed the missionaries had bewitched him; next his palace at Mengo was burnt down, and all his goods lost. His gunpowder kegs, which he kept in a straw hut, where a fire was continually burning, blew up, and caused terrible damage; while many of his people were killed, and others terribly injured. His Majesty took refuge at the katikiro’s, but he was not there long before his host’s store was struck by lightning and the powder exploded. The king was now absolutely certain that Mackay and Ashe were bewitching him, and fled, in great alarm, with only one or two lads, to Rubaga., with his drawn sword. He declared that “he felt sure he would be the last black king of Uganda, for white men were appearing on every side, and would soon take his country from him!” Still he continued his evil practices, burning converts now and again, sending out large raiding armies, and anon making plots to kill the missionaries. They, however, led a charmed life; something always occurred to frustrate his designs, when evidently he had some pangs of conscience, for on these occasions he sent Mackay presents of eight thousand or ten thousand cowries, with the message that he “remembered him and liked him.” Once, after plotting to entrap and kill him, he had the effrontery to say, “A great king like me should never be without a man of skill to do work for him. I will not let you go away, not even if they send seventy letters for you!”

But more troubles were looming in the distance, which are best explained by jottings from Mackay’s own journal:-

Sunday, May 23rd, 1886. - Very wet, and we expected few people, but by ten a.m. it faired, and a large congregation gathered. Little did we think that many of these faces we should never see again in this world. Service in our former chapel. Mattayo married. Last Sunday several couples were also joined together by the rites of the Church. After the Litany, Nua unexpectedly gave utterance to an earnest and impressive prayer, in which all joined audibly. Our lesson was upon the marriage at Cana of Galilee. How soon have the waters of the bitter river of death been crossed by most present, and now they drink freely of the glad wine in the kingdom above, where no more sorrow can ever be mingled with the cup!”

May 25th. - What we have been in daily expectation of for a long time has now taken place - an order for the arrest of all the Christians. The katikiro ordered one of his own lads to be killed at once, while almost everyone of the pages were immediately seized and carried off for execution. Eleven of our friends were thus killed the first day, and some of our old favourites condemned. May the Lord and Saviour whom they have learned to trust, be with the poor lads in this hour of horror and death, and give them a joyful entrance into the happy land! Armed bands were sent out in all directions, and a host of our best people arrested, and an effort made to get them to inform on others. Bilali arrived here with an armed band to seize people. Happily there were none about our place, at the time, as we had got warning a few minutes before. Even at Rusaka, the queen-mother’s place, many boys have been put to death.”

“Many of our pupils we know nothing of, but hope they have escaped.”

“The Lord mercifully look on the agony of these poor black children, who are laying down their lives for His name’s sake!”

“Six of our boys we sent a few days ago to live with the Arabs. We gave Mahommed (Tripoli) a letter authorising him to receive an honorarium from any of our brethren between this and Zanzibar, or from the Consul, should he deliver them up, in case of our being evilly handled by this king.”

It was a terrible time for Mackay and Ashe, and sorely perplexed they were as to the best course to take. When they saw the dear people, who had been taught by them, murdered in cold blood for the acceptance of their religion, they were at times driven to desperation. They then believed that they should insist on leaving the country, feeling sure that they would soon be asked back, if indeed they were allowed to go. Again, should they manage to get away, some of the Frenchmen would consider it their devoir to remain, in the hope of reaping a golden harvest from the neglected Protestant converts. The king was eager for Mackay to stay, for the work he could get out of him; and both missionaries not only made great progress in translation and printing, but they were able to distribute books and papers in vast numbers. It was the desire of both to remain at their posts, if it was at all possible to do so. Mackay went one day to see the king, and reminded him that he had promised to give him anything he liked to ask, provided the royal gunsmith was shown the way to make cartridge-cases. “Will you give me my reward now?” asked Mackay. “Yes.”  “Well, I wish the lives of those condemned, but not yet executed.” He declared that they were all already executed. Mackay pleaded earnestly, and told the king that he had been toiling hard at making him a loom and a spinning jenny, and that he had been successful in making some cloth for him. This apparently pleased him, and he agreed to spare whoever was left. Mackay pressed the point as far as he thought prudent.

At this time the miserable king was so often under the influence of bangh and beer that he was dangerous, and Mackay had to be very careful lest he irritated him, and thus cause death to more of the poor prisoners.

One day Mr. Ashe went to the capital, but obtained no audience. On the way home he met a ghastly spectacle, viz., a human head, newly cut off; and, farther on, arm and legs.

Two or three days after this the very flower of the Christian community, thirty-two in number, were slowly burnt to death, and that too by Mwanga’s express orders, after he had declared to Mackay that “only four or five remained alive, and that he would liberate these.”

These martyrs made a noble confession, praying to God in the fire, so that even the head executioner reported to the king' that “he had never killed such brave people before, that they died calling on God.” This caused Mwanga to laugh and say, “But God did not deliver them from the fire.”

Mackay and Ashe made an effort to get the Frenchmen to unite with them in trying to save the poor people, but they absolutely refused to help in presenting a united front to the king’s cruelties, either by word or deed. “The C.M.S. men could do as they liked, but they would not interfere. “They were afraid, just as they were in 1881, when Pearson and Mackay asked them to join in petitioning King Mtesa to countermand an order he had given for a kiwendo or massacre of common people to appease the gods. The C.M.S. missionaries based their request on the ground of common humanity, but on both occasions the Frenchmen asserted that it was as much as their lives were worth to interfere. On the occasion of the kiwendo, the C.M.S. missionaries sent in their petition to King Mtesa without the aid of the Romanists, and he granted it.

Very many of the Christians were now in hiding, and appeared after dark at the Mission-house; there were many inquirers also, and numbers were baptised by Mr. Ashe. On the 25th of July, 1886, the baptismal register read two hundred and twenty-seven names. That night fifty converts assembled at midnight, and two more elders were elected. It was the “Church in the Desert,” revived in the heart of Africa! The missionaries used their endeavours to get the people to meet in the houses of the “elders” on Sundays, especially when they were most watched; but many waxed very bold, and seemed reckless as to their fate. The rulers were quite aware of it, but could not put down the new religion, especially as many powerful chiefs had embraced it!

The king called in his sorcerers, to divine whether or not Mackay should be put to death, as some of the chiefs were complaining that their children were killed for reading what the missionaries taught. But the katikiro would not assent to Mackay being killed. He said, “No! he buried Namasole, and he buried Mtesa, and I shall take no part in such a plan; besides, if you do, no Arabs will come near us.” Mwanga replied, “I will go with my soldiers to their place at night and fight them, and if I prevail I will kill them both, before the katikiro knows anything about it.” The katikiro sent the king a handsome present for opposing his scheme.

In August, 1886, permission was obtained for Mr. Ashe to leave Uganda, [Mr. O'Flaherty had left some eight months previously.  ] and Mackay was once more alone. Sad enough he felt at times, for it was given out that the king intended to have another grand massacre of the Christians. The queen-mother, however, sent the king a message to tell him not to kill his lads, but to make them chiefs. “What harm are they doing?” she asked; “you are only being laughed at!”

At this time Mackay writes home: “I am plodding on, teaching, translating, printing, doctoring, and carpentering. Strange medley, you will say. That cannot be helped. Man was made to be like his Maker, who made not one kind of thing, but all things. There is no doubt but that your prayers on our behalf have been heard, and will be answered more and more. We have the assurance that the Lord’s people will be ‘brought out of great tribulation’; we therefore cannot take it to be His will that they will be for ever left in trouble.

“The king has sacrifice killed to bewitch the Christians! If he never goes farther than that, he will do them little harm. But there is trouble brewing, which only our loving Lord can save us all from.”

The Arabs were now very hostile, and were constantly accusing Mackay to the king, with a view to get him driven out of the country. They were most unscrupulous as to the means they used to gain this end. Their race and religion led them to calumniate all Europeans. Mackay’s exposure of the slave trade had made him obnoxious in their eyes for many years, and now he had manufactured weaving and spinning apparatus, and was actually teaching the Baganda how to make cloth out of fibre. Why, their trade would be stopped. No slaves to be got, and no demand for cloth! If Mackay could be killed, not only would he be out of the way, but other white .men would be frightened to come!

 So they reasoned. One of them reported to the king that crowds collected at Mackay’s place every Sunday, and that he said, “I came to teach, and mean to teach, while I remain in the country, or am alive; I will go and teach publicly in the marketplace, if people are afraid to come to the mission-house."

Next they declared that “all Europeans were evil, and land-eaters.” Mackay used the globe, to show the absurdity of thinking that all the world of white men were concentrating their thoughts on eating up a little patch in the centre of Africa!

But Mwanga still withheld permission for Mackay to go, and the katikiro and chiefs (many of them heathens) would not hear of his leaving them. Mackay says: “I was astonished to hear  Wakili explaining to some other chiefs that ‘we Europeans are striving only for the good and peace of Africa, and that our religion led us to spread ideas of mutual love and friendship among men and nations.’ This from a heathen is wonderful, and far more divine than the Arab creed of enmity and malice.

“By all accounts Mwanga seems to be meditating another massacre of the Christians, which our dear and ever-present Lord keeps his hands from doing. ‘God is our refuge and strength, in straits a present aid.’ Yesterday he was growling that he would not have me teach his people. He took an Arab dirk, and brandishing it, said, ‘Thus will I kill any Muzungu!’(white man). The Arabs said, Amen! They are making a desperate effort just now to establish their creed, and have Christianity crushed. Good Lord, this cause is Thine, and will triumph! Why do the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and His anointed?  ‘He that sits in the heavens shall laugh.’”

“Strange to say, the queen-mother sent me the present of a large fat cow very early to-day, without begging for anything. She must have heard of Mwanga’s words of fury yesterday.”

“Praise God! St. Matthew's Gospel is now published complete in Luganda, and rapidly being bought I merely stitch it, with title-page, and supply a loose cover. Binding, by-and-by. This work, with the packing and giving medicine to the Christians ordered off to war, and sitting up to all hours, teaching housefuls, has thoroughly exhausted me. I am almost entirely broken down with fatigue, and anxiety, and want of sleep.”

June 19th, 1887. - Read three chapters of Romans, vii., viii., ix., with good class this evening. The argument they seem to comprehend. Where is Thomson, with his feeble scheme of Islam for Africa? or Reichard, with his charge of extreme poverty of mental power in the negro?”

July 12th. - Since the last entry I have had a month of trouble and anxiety. The existence of the mission has been wavering in the balance, and even yet is undecided. Our enemies have tried their very utmost to prevail. Even Pere Lourdel seems, partly too by his own confession, to have helped to seriously bring increased suspicion on our objects, and therefore to lend a hand to our overthrow. The whole case I have given into the hands of our Master, whose we are. Whatever way He will lead, I am prepared to follow.”

“Pere Lourdel, I hear, told the king that ‘it was not well for me to meet Stanley here, as we would lay our heads together to eat the country.’ The king, at any rate, told the katikiro and Pokino, in court, that Lourdel had made this statement, whereupon the chief judge accused the Frenchman of jealousy. I wrote and asked Lourdel if he had given this advice? He denies having done so; but, from his own confession, there is some ground for the king’s statement He (Lourdel) allows to having said to the katikiro that ‘white men do not intend meantime to take the country; but by-and-by, he did not know!’ This imprudent remark will take us much pains to controvert in the days to come, as the king himself said that had the Arabs told him ‘not to let Stanley and Mackay meet,’ he would have looked on their words as merely enmity, but when a white man said this, it must be true!”

The katikiro again gave out that he was unwilling Mackay should leave, and the king also expressed great regret. On all sides much sorrow was expressed, and no one would hardly believe that he really meant to go. Mackay says:-

“I am at times sorely perplexed, but I think it well to bend before the storm till it breaks, and when a reaction comes we may lift up our heads. If their regrets are sincere, they will agree to another missionary coming on with the boat. I have gained one important point in getting permission to leave the C.M.S. station in possession of some of our pupils, and not to abandon it entirely, as the Arabs [They went to the katikiro and did their best to persuade that dignitary not to allow him to leave anyone in charge, nor a single article in the country, as he would (they said) be sure to write to England that he had been robbed, and much trouble would ensue.] were determined should be done. I have resolved, however, not to go unless they send a mubaka with me to fetch Gordon to take my place. I mean to make this point a test of their sincerity in asserting that they wish friendship.”

After many tedious discussions at Court, a mubaka was at length granted.

Many chiefs begged parting gifts, and gave him others in return. The king also sent farewell presents, with a message that he was to “return very soon.”

Finally, on the 21st July, he started for the port. He says: “I called on the Frenchmen on my way, and gave the keys to Pere Lourdel - Simeon Lourdel - Peter should have the keys!”

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