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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter XI. Farewell to India

BUT there is a limit to what the strongest constitution can endure, and Dr Duff was now obliged to yield and bid a final farewell to India. In 1863 Sir Charles Trevelyan, to whom the Viceroy had offered the post of Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, wrote to Lord Elgin submitting that Dr Duff should be appointed in his stead. But Duff's growing physical prostration, increased in July, by a return of his old enemy, dysentry, the effects of which even a sea voyage to China did not completely throw off, forbade his acceptance of office. There was another constraining reason why he should now return to his native land for good. Away back in 1847 Dr Candlish had appealed to him "Come home to save the Missions." Duff could not do so then. But now that one Convener after another had passed away and Dr Candlish had temporarily undertaken the duties, Duff, on the call being powerfully renewed, felt it could no longer be resisted. Thus it was arranged that on his return to Scotland he would take the helm as Convener of the Missions of the Free Church.

In a general valedictory address at Calcutta he contrasted the hopes that inspired him on first coming to India with those which stirred him now when he was sorrowfully compelled to abandon the shores of the much- loved couutry. He left, he said, with "a stronger faith and a livelier hope of an early, bright, and glorious future for India than I had dared at the outset to dream of entertaining." In closing his farewell address to his students he said:- "And when at last this frail mortal body is consigned to the tomb, while I myself think that the only befitting epitaph for my tombstone would be: 'Here lies Alexander Duff, by nature and practice a sinful, guilty creature, but saved by grace through faith in the blood and righteousness of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; 'were it by others thought desirable that any addition should be made to this sentence, I would reckon it my highest earthly honour should I be deemed worthy of appropriating the grandly generous words, already suggested by the exuberant kindness of one of my oldest native friends, in some such form as follows: 'By profession a missionary, by his life and labours the true and constant friend of India.' Pardon my weakness, nature is overcome; the gush of feeling is beyond control;. amid tears and sadness I must now bid you a solemn farewell."

On the 20th December 1863, Dr Alexander Duff sailed from India to make the journey by the Cape of Good Hope to the homeland.

Visit to South Africa

With returning health and strength he acted as chaplain to the ship's company, and endeared himself to all so much that when he left the ship at Cape Town the sailors and soldiers paid him the unusual compliment of cheering him. He broke the voyage at the Cape in order to gain at first hand some knowledge of the conditions of the work, the progress made, and the needs of the Church's mission stations in South Africa, which afterwards proved valuable to him in the direction of the Church's missionary efforts. In South Africa he found the attitude of the natives towards missionaries generally was distrust, for which they had some reason. A chief to whom a missionary complained of the thieving which was common, drew himself up,' went to the door of the missionary's house, and replied, as he swept his hand on the scene before him, "Yes, Mr - stealing is very bad, all that country belonged to my fathers, yes, Mr stealing is very bad." On the other hand, there was evidence that the natives understood what they owed to the missionaries and willingly showed their gratitude. What they could not understand was why the Gospel had not been sent to them sooner. The Kaffirs could not understand how any responsibility could rest upon them for the death of Christ. They could not see why God who is almighty did not prevent the devil from tempting man. Christianity was the white man's religion as dancing and other customs were theirs. Many white men were not Christians. Might they not do without it too?

Travelling through the country had its trying conditions. Sleeping would not be easy in the following conditions:- "Horses browsing near the waggon in which you had to sleep, neighing donkeys also braying and rubbing themselves on the waggon wheels, huge flocks ot sheep around and under it, dogs barking making them run thither and hither with great noise, sheep bleating and lambs maying, bulls in the kraal near bellowing, cows lowing, geese cackling and ducks quacking all night." The doctor rose once and drove the tormentors off with a whip, but they soon returned.

The Boers, Dr Duff soon perceived, were as hostile towards the natives as in Moffat's day, and the feeling of Europeans towards the Boers made matters more difficult. Amid all these conditions he went on visiting the different missionaries at their stations, gathering information at first-hand, and was much refreshed in spite of what he saw and heard. It was no mere curiosity that actuated him. "I am content to go on having only one object supremely in view, to ascertain the prospect of things in these regions in a missionary sense, so as to have authentic materials for future guidance if privileged to take the helm of our Foreign Mission affairs."


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