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The Life of James Stewart
Livingstonia, Yesterday and To-Day

After Thirty-three Years—Lord Overtoun—Dr. William Black—The Heart of Livingstone—The Stevenson Road—The Sweet First Fruits—Industrialism—The Iona of Nyasaland—Report by Dr. Laws and Rev. J. Fairley Daly.

‘The mission of Blantyre in its earliest days got a few coffee plants sent out. Two only survived the voyage and the inland journey. From these have come the now numerous coffee plantations of the Shire and Manganga hills. ‘—Dr. Stewart.

(These words represent in a symbol the history of the Livingstonia and Blantyre missions.)

‘The story of Livingstonia reads like a fairy tale.’—A Glasgow Merchant.

‘Greatly do I wish the Free Church to come forward. The men they would send would adapt themselves to the work and stick to it. I would recommend the Free Church to commence operations on the healthy heights near Lake Nyasa.’—Livingstone in 1874.

You, sympathetic reader, will want to know what harvest has been reaped from the good seed cast into this seemingly unpromising soil. It will be best to tell you at once. It is fitting to do so here as Stewart wished to live in, for, and by his mission-work.

It is now thirty-three years since the natives gazed upon the superhuman prodigy of the Ilala and fled in terror with their cattle into the tall grass, After 1877 Stewart had no direct connection with the mission. Since then it has been under the very

wise and successful leadership of Robert Laws, D.D., M.D., [Sir Harry H. Johnston has proclaimed Dr. Laws ‘the greatest man in Nyasaland.’] the only survivor of the crew who sang the 100th Psalm as the Ilala steamed into the lake. All along be has been supported by remarkably gifted and devoted helpers in every department of the work.

The mission was planned on the model of Love-dale, and the change it has wrought in a generation is one of the very greatest surprises and marvels recorded in history. [The first work of the founders was to dispossess the lions, leopards, and big game which were then the sole possessors of that district. The site chosen was on a lofty plateau, and about five miles from the Lake.] These thirty years have witnessed improvements which are usually the slow growth of centuries. The war-dresses of the wild Angoni have long ago rotted on the village trees, or been sold as curios to travellers. These bloody men are now, as messengers of the Prince of Peace, evangelising the villages they used to raid. The dreaded foragers are to-day foraging only for the great Captain. Livingstonia is now a rudimentary city and a station on the Cape-to-Cairo line of Telegraph. The Blantyre Telegraph alone brings in a revenue of £200 a month, and the annual value of the export of coffee from it is over £60,000. A recent traveller says that Livingstonia looks like a large industrial centre at home, [Dr. Stewart expressed his belief that ‘it would develop into a town and by and by into a city, and that there would yet be a Christian Africa.’ Forty years ago he predicted that ‘Central Africa would some day have large cities and well-cultivated valleys, that steamers would traverse its rivers and lakes, and that native common. wealths would be established.’] and that at some services he found hundreds outside the church as there was no room for them within. The disciples of the mission observe the Christian Sabbath as a ‘day of the heart.’

Livingstonia is now regarded as a health-resort for Europeans. It has also a splendid water-supply and an electric installation, each of which cost £4000, and both of which were the gift of the late Lord Overtoun, whose removal from us has brought sorrow to myriads of Africa’s dusky sons and daughters. They knew him well and loved him as the great Christian chief in the far-off white man’s land, who, from the love he bore them, gave them water and light and healing, and many other blessed things. [He paid the salary of three fully qualified physicians.] His name was, and will continue, a household word among them, for their ‘Lovedale,’ their great Institution, where they are taught the white man’s wisdom and arts, is called Overtoun. Lord Overtoun’s gifts to this mission were not less than £50,000, and the man was behind, and in, all his gifts. He had also in a very high degree the instinct of missionary affection, and all the missionaries found in him a genial personal friend.

An electrical engineer is on the mission staff. The station is now lighted, and the machinery in the large workshops is driven, by electricity; motors are used for flour-mills; and the natives are taught many of the arts and crafts of civilised life. Among the fourteen hundred students, ‘there is no pandering to African pride or indolence. Every one has to take his turn at manual labour. On Sabbaths the scholars scatter among neighbouring villages to preach. [‘Livingstonia Mission was mentioned in the British Commissioner’s Report as "first as regards the value of its contributions. to our knowledge of African languages." Its members have been obliged to master eight languages or tongues, and to work with five others. Two and a half millions of people were able to read the Nyanja Testament as soon as they could read at all. Everything visible of civilisation or Christianity in Nyasaland has been introduced within thirty years.’—Parson’s Christus Liberator, p. 231. Sir H. H. Johnston says of Bandawe, ‘the work done here is really remarkable. . . It is one of the most creditable and agreeable results of British missionary enterprise which ever gladdened the eyes of a traveller weary with the monotonous savagery of African wilds.’]

Plans have been prepared for an up-to-date hospital. ‘All these grand practical results of the labours of the missionaries,’ as a recent traveller describts them, ‘are found in a land where twenty years ago there was not a single native industrial mechanic. The native who, twenty years ago, could not be persuaded to work more than four days at a stretch, now submits himself to a five years’ apprenticeship, and becomes a fairly good workman.’ Men and lads are coming in crowds, some of them travelling on foot for six weeks, to be taught trades. The African is now appreciating the fact that there is industrial work for him to do, that he is needed for the work, and able to do it. The missionaries had lately to refuse over one hundred and twenty who wished to be trained as carpenters. We are told that in Ngoniland education is to-day as much prized as in Great Britain. The Ngoni lived as wolves among sheep till they were tamed by the messengers of Jesus Christ. ‘Give me a Gospel for an assegai,’ one of them said to the missionary, ‘as the love of war has been taken out of my heart.’

In October 1900 was celebrated the semi-jubilee of the arrival of the Ilala. Almost in the very region where Livingstone had been lost to the world for years, they were able to send by telegraph in less than three hours, and by the hands of native telegraphists, a message of greeting to Glasgow, and to receive felicitations from Edinburgh. [See David Livingstone, in the Famous Scots Series, p. 147.]

The little band of engineers who in 1900 laid the British South African Company’s telegraph line up the west coast of Lake Nyasa, had not a single armed man among them. A specific instance may help to impress these facts upon the memory and imagination of the reader.

In 1875 a meeting was held to bid God-speed to Dr. William Black and three missionary artisans who were about to start for Livingstonia. One of them said something like this: ‘I am to be the blacksmith of Livingstonia. I am to teach them ordinary blacksmith work, but also, by God’s grace, to teach them the blacksmith work they need most, and that is to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks.’

This story was told at a missionary meeting in 1897. On leaving the meeting I met one of the Livingstonia missionaries, then home on furlough. ‘You were referring to my friend, Robert Ross?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Well,’ he continued, ‘his hope has been fulfilled to the very letter. On my way home, I saw a field of wheat at Mwenzo, which belonged to the Mission. The Ngoni were reaping it with their spears. Not one of their assegais is now used for war. They have beat the iron of some of them into hoes, which are the native plough-shares. With other spears they cut their grain and prune their trees. These are their pruning-hooks. I took a snapshot of the Ngoni reapers, and I will send you a copy of it.’ This change took place in twenty-one years.

Lord Salisbury had good reason for describing these and the neighbouring missions as ‘splendid monuments of British energy and enthusiasm on Lake Nyasa.’

A glance at the map will show how the mission stations have spread into the hinterland. The last added to the number was Chitambo, where the heart of Livingstone is buried. It is two hundred and fifty miles west of Lake Nyasa, and one of the missionaries there is a nephew of Livingstone, and a grandson of Robert Moffat.

A stone monument has been erected recently on the spot. A still nobler monument is the work around. On the monument are the words, ‘He died here.’ Underneath might be written, ‘And he still lives here.’ The people there had never even heard of God or Christ. When the children were first enrolled for the school, the mothers were afraid that they would be eaten by the missionaries! ‘The converts,’ Dr. Law reports, ‘have liberality and a missionary conscience. All the adult members are expected to take part in the extension of the Church of Christ, as well as in its support.’ The Rev. Donald Fraser writes: ‘Last year four to seven thousand souls gathered day by day for a week to hear the truths of the Kingdom. When we go touring, we are often overwhelmed with presents of food. And when we ask for free labour to build a church or school, hundreds upon hundreds give their services without expectation of payment.’

Eight languages have already been reduced to writing by the staff in Livingstonia. There is there an educational department with a Normal School and a Theological Course. ‘Did Livingstone dream that within so short a period after his death there would be a Christian reading public on the shores of Lake Nyasa, subscribing to a native Christian periodical with such contents as a "Commentary on the Romans" and the "Imitation of Christ"?’

The rapid growth of the Mission is due, under God, to the zeal, ability, and sanctified common-sense of the missionaries. No part of the work has been arrested by the lack of suitable volunteers. Usually more have offered than could be accepted, and not a few of them have had the highest qualifications in their own departments. But it would not be easy to exaggerate the services given by the Livingstonia Mission Committee. From its origin, many of its members have been leading Glasgow merchants, who have enriched the Mission not only by their princely liberality, but also by their skill and personal influence. The map of Central Africa preserves the names of many supporters of the Mission. The road between Lake Nyasa and Livingstonia is called ‘The Stevenson Road,’ after Mr. James Stevenson, one of the founders of Livingstonia, who, in addition to other princely donations to the Mission, spent £4000 Off this road. Mr. James White of Overtoun was Chairman of the Committee from 1874 to 1884, and his son, the late Lord Overtoun, was Chairman from 1884 to 1908. During thirty years all the meetings of the Committee were held in the office of the Chairman, and to all the details of the Mission father and son and several other members of the Committee have given as earnest attention as our most energetic merchants usually devote to their business.

Stewart rejoiced greatly that Livingstonia did so much to unite the Churches. From the first the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the Free Church of Scotland— all now united in the United Free Church—had a share in the Mission. The Reformed Dutch Church of Cape Colony has been working for twenty years in alliance with these Churches. The Blantyre Mission of the Church of Scotland and the Livingstonia Mission have recently united in forming one native African Church.

The Rev. J. Fairley Daly, B. D., Honorary Secretary of the Livingstonia Committee, has supplied the following statement about the present position of the Mission: ‘The first ten years were largely years of exploration and pioneering, during which educational and industrial work were in their infancy. By 1885 the Mission was firmly established on the west side of Lake Nyasa, with Bandawe as its central station. But there were only nine baptisms during the first nine years.

‘The second period of ten years (1885-1895) were years of upbuilding and expansion. Houses, schools, churches, and stores had to be erected, and most of the brickmaking, brick-building, and carpentry work connected with these was done by natives trained by the European artisans of the Mission. Passing years wrought many changes. Out-stations and Mission buildings multiplied. The foremost place was always given to the preaching of God’s word, and the church roll rose to nearly three hundred. At the close of the decade nearly twelve thousand pupils were in daily attendance at the schools.

‘The third decade (1895-1905) saw the Mission not only spreading out its branches, but pushing down its roots more deeply into the soil. As schools multiplied, better preparation for the teachers became a necessity, and this led to the establishment of the Overtoun Institution at what is now the central station of Livingstonia. From places as distant as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru, from Khama’s town and Natal, selected pupils are being sent to the Overtoun Institution for higher training.

‘The work done has a literary and industrial side, and is for both males and females. Up to 1907 about seven hundred pupils have been enrolled as boarders on the literary side, and over three hundred have been received as apprentices on the industrial side, of whom between sixty and seventy have become journeymen. Four students have completed the Theological Course, and two the Medical Course. After passing through the Elementary and Middle Schools, five courses are open to the pupils on the literary side—Normal, Commercial, Arts, Medical, and Theological. On the industrial side there are five departments—Agriculture, Building, Carpentry, Engineering and Blacksmithing, Printing and Bookbinding. The Institution is a centre of evangelisation. Over seventeen tribes are represented. On Sundays, in addition to varied services, the villages for ten or twelve miles round are visited and the Gospel of God’s saving grace proclaimed. Livingstonia is the Iona of Nyasaland.

‘In thirty years the Mission has spread over a district west of Lake Nyasa two hundred miles from north to south, and three hundred miles from east to west. There are now eight large central stations, the last established being at Chitambo, where David Livingstone died. The progress made may be best illustrated in tabular form :—


1875 1907
European Missionaries 4 45
Native Teachers None 1000
Schools None 480
Stations 1 8
Out-stations None 500
Scholars None 36,419
Communicants None 3927
Catechumens (Candidates for Communion) None 5219

The future is full of hope, for the fields are white to harvest. Throughout Nyasaland there is a movement towards God, which promises great things for the native church.

‘Nine medical missionaries and three nurses are making widely felt the kindly influence of their healing art, and winning the trust and confidence of the people. In 1906 they treated over thirty-six thousand cases. At all the central stations are small local hospitals, and at Livingstonia a beginning has been made with the erection of a larger hospital, called the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, destined to become a training-school in medicine and nursing for Africa’s Sons and daughters.’

We add an extract from a letter of date October 22, 1906. It was sent by Sir Alfred Sharpe, Governor of Nyasaland, to the Secretary of State, after a second visit to Livingstonia. He writes: ‘It is a most interesting place. The object of the Institution is the industrial education of the natives, the very best form of mission-work, and I cannot too highly praise the undertaking which is being carried on. It is good, sensible work, which is useful to the country now, and will be still more so in the years to come. The whole place is worked on business principles, not on sentimental lines. I have not seen the Lovedale Institution in South Africa, which is larger than the Overtoun Institution, but, with that exception, I do not think there is any missionary institution in Central Africa of so useful and entirely satisfactory a description as that carried on by Dr. Laws. On the 1st of January of the present year he had a total number of one hundred and twenty-three apprentices.’

In this way the Livingstonia Mission, first suggested by Stewart, is a growing evangelistic, educational, medical, and industrial influence in Central Africa. The boys of its Overtoun Institution may now be met far from Lake Nyasa, bearing good testimony to Christ by word and action. Mr. Moffat, travelling to his new station by the Cape-to-Cairo Railway, wrote that a feature of his journey was the number of Livingstonia boys whom he met at various places, such as Bulawayo, Salisbury, Broken Hill, and elsewhere, and all doing well. Quite a number were church members, one had been ordained an elder, and some were holding Sunday services where they resided. Of these many will doubtless say in future years—as an old chief said to Dr. Laws regarding some of his young teachers—’God bless the day these lads came to our village.’

Thus was Livingstone’s prediction fulfilled: ‘Although I shall not live to see it, yet there will certainly come a day when the Gospel will be planted in this blessed land.’

Dr. Laws reports that the native congregation at Bandawe has 1348 communicants, of whom 1022 sat down together at the Lord’s Table, 20 elders, 26 deacons, 768 catechumens, 40 preaching stations, 7039 at Sabbath-schools and Bible-classes, 9252 on roll of week-day schools, with an average attendance of 4070. Last year they gave £187 for religious objects, and £73 for school fees. The Mission has covered with hundreds of schools an area equal to that of Scotland. At Overtoun they have 7 theological, 2 medical, and 4 arts students. There are 3 native licentiates, one of whom is about to be ordained. Four boys lately walked two hundred miles to be taught, and some students come from Lake Tanganyika and Garenganze in the Congo State. Some of the churches are beautiful brick buildings of native workmanship. ‘Our blessings have become our burdens,’ Dr. Laws says, ‘so great has been the growth of the Mission.’ Every communicant is expected to be a missionary. Over a hundred have already gone forth as certificated teachers and evangelists. They are creating a Christendom in the heart of darkest Africa. Dr. Laws has examined over nineteen hundred candidates for communion. The miracles of the early Church have been repeated, and they who were not a people are becoming the people of God. The Mission has founded a church and is moulding a nation.

We need not be curious about Stewart’s exact share in the great work of Livingstonia, in which there have been so many willing and successful helpers. The Rev. Horace Waller, the editor of Livingstone’s last Journals, in 1894 wrote to his fellow explorer, Stewart: ‘I can humbly perceive what a factor your own life has been in the regeneration of Central Africa after 1864. It wanted some one to keep hold of the thread of former experience and aspirations. . . . Meanwhile it was left to your Scots Churches to answer to the voice which you raised among them. All honour to you all for it. You know that it has been one of the pleasures of my own life to watch your efforts as churches, and where I could, to help.’

It has been said that the best cordial for drooping spirits is to study the history of the Church in the early ages. Probably few pages in it record any more inspiring miracles of missions than the story of Livingstonia. Three thousand years ago a Jew, possessed by a spirit greater than his own, rose above the extreme limitations of his age and race and gave forth this astounding prophecy: ‘There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains, the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon, and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed. And blessed be His glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with His glory: Amen, and Amen.

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