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Alexander Murdoch Mackay, Missionary

Alexander MackayAlexander Murdoch Mackay (1849-1890), missionary, son of Alexander Mackay, LL.D., free church minister of Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, [Scotland], was born in the manse there on 13 Oct. 1849. After receiving his early education from his father he entered the Free Church Training College for Teachers in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1867, and distinguished himself during the two years' course. He had developed a taste for mechanics at an early age, and purposed becoming an engineer. For three years he studied the necessary subjects in Edinburgh University, and gained a practical knowledge of engineering by spending his afternoons at the works of Messrs. Miller & Herbert, Leith. His mornings he occupied in teaching at George Watson's College. In November 1873 he went to Germany to learn the language, and obtained a situation as draughtsman with an engineering firm in Berlin. In his leisure he translated Lübsen's "Differential and Integral Calculus," and constructed an agricultural machine of his own invention, which obtained the first prize at the Breslau Exhibition. His ability led to his promotion to the position of chief of the locomotive department in the firm.

Mackay resided at Berlin with the family of Hofprediger Baur, one of the ministers of the cathedral there. Under Baur's influence the fascination of missionary life, which he had felt in his youth, was revived in him, and determining to go as a missionary to Madagascar, he began to study the Malagasy language. In April 1875 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Church Missionary Society's post of lay-superintendent for a settlement of liberated slaves near Mombasa. The firm with which Mackay worked at Berlin was dissolved in September 1875, and he became draughtsman in a similar firm at Kottbus, sixty miles south-east from Berlin. When Mr. H. M. Stanley, the explorer, in a letter to the "Daily Telegraph," challenged Christendom to send missionaries to Uganda, Mackay offered his services to the Church Missionary Society in the proposed mission to Victoria Nyanza. The offer was accepted on 26 Jan. 1876, and he returned to England in March. On 27 April 1876 Mackay and four other missionaries set sail in the steamship Peshawur from Southampton. Arriving at Zanzibar on 30 May, he began his preparations for the march to the interior, and after long delay, caused principally through sickness, the remnant of the company that had escaped massacre reached Uganda in November 1878. There he remained till his death, making the district a centre for the evangelisation of Africa, and cultivating the friendship of its savage tribes. His knowledge of practical mechanics was of immense service to him. With King Mtesa [also spelled Mutesa] he formed a useful intimacy; but after the death of that ruler, in October 1884, he had a severe and protracted struggle with the new king, Mwanga, who dreaded the progress of the Christian mission. Mwanga was driven from his throne by a revolt in the autumn of 1888, and his successor, Kiwewa, regarded the Christians with suspicion. Nevertheless Mackay held on, despite the bloodshed by which he was surrounded, and was always hopeful of establishing a permanent station. On 4 Feb. 1890 he caught malarial fever, and four days later he died at Usambiro, the last survivor of the little band that set out for Uganda in 1876. "During the whole period of nearly fourteen years," the minutes of the committee of the Church Missionary Society for 22 April 1890 record, Mackay "never once left the shores of Africa," and for the greater part of that time he was in Uganda itself.

[A. M. Mackay, Pioneer Missionary of the Church Missionary Society in Uganda, by his sister, 1890.]


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1893.

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