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Mackay of Uganda

by J. H. Morrison

Alexander MackayI. Stanley's Letter

On November 15, 1875, a remarkable letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph. It had been written by Stanley in Uganda and entrusted to a young Belgian who was to travel home down the Nile. The Belgian, however, was murdered by natives, and the letter, which was found afterwards on his dead body, came into the hands of General Gordon of Khartoum, by whom it was forwarded to England. It contained a stirring appeal to the Church to evangelise Uganda.

The situation was in the highest degree interesting and romantic. Less than twenty years before, that vast inland sea, the Victoria Nyanza, had been discovered, with the Nile pouring out at its northern end. On the northwestern shore lay the territory of Uganda, which in comparison with the savage tribes of Central Africa seemed to have made considerable progress in civilisation. It possessed roads and bridges, an army and a fleet of canoes on the Lake. Decent clothing was worn by the people, who showed some skill in agriculture, building and iron work. The King, an absolute monarch, ruled the land with the aid of his chiefs and high officials. Stanley speaks of Uganda as "the Pearl of Africa." At the time of his visit Mtesa the King, a man of intelligence, showed some interest in the Christian faith and expressed a desire that teachers should be sent out from England to Uganda. Hence Stanley's letter.

It was a challenge that could not fail to be taken up. It fired men's imagination to think that, when at last the ancient Nile had yielded up the secret of its birth, there should be discovered near its source a kingdom more civilised than any other in Central Africa whose king, prematurely described as "an enlightened monarch," seemed to be stretching out his hands to God. The Church Missionary Society promptly responded, and within six months of the publication of Stanley's letter a well-equipped party of eight missionaries left England for Uganda. Of these, the youngest but one, and, as the event proved, the most famous, was Alexander Mackay.

II. A Missionary Engineer

Mackay was the son of the Free Church minister of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, and was born on October 13, 1849. His father, who was a man of wide learning, personally supervised the education of his boy, hoping one day to see him a minister. This idea, however, was not quite to the lad's mind. He had a passion for mechanics, and along with that a sense of the romance of missions. On the long Sunday evenings in winter, when his father was holding service in some remote part of the parish, he never wearied of hearing his mother tell of Carey and Martyn, of Moffat and Livingstone. How to combine these diverse interests, in mechanics and missions, was the problem that began to occupy his thoughts. It was considered as prophetic of his subsequent career that when quite a child he used to go among the masons who were building the Free Church of Rhynie, and when they jocularly asked him, "Weel, laddie, gaen to gie's a sermon the day?" he would reply, "Please give me trowel, can preach and build same time."

Mackay's family having removed to Edinburgh in 1867, he entered Moray House, the Free Church Training College for teachers, and completed the two years' course under Dr. Maurice Paterson. Thereafter, while maintaining himself by teaching in George Watson's College, he made a thorough study of engineering, both theoretical and practical. In 1873 he went to Germany to study the language and perfect his knowledge of engineering. For over two years he worked in Berlin and made many friends among the evangelical Christians of the city.

Meantime the idea of going to Africa as an engineer missionary had taken definite shape in his mind, and he had some correspondence with Dr. Duff and others on the subject. His proposal was something of a novelty, but was essentially sound. The value of medical science as an aid to mission work had come to be recognised, and Mackay claimed that a knowledge of the mechanical arts might equally become a handmaid of the Gospel. Christian civilisation, including all the wonders of modern science, was a unity, which should be brought to bear, in its full weight, on the heathen mind. It was while revolving these things in his mind that he saw the appeal of the Church Missionary Society for pioneers for Uganda, and, as there appeared no immediate prospect of an opening in connection with his own Church, he volunteered and was accepted.

The Committee of the Society held a farewell meeting on April 25, 1876, and at that meeting Mackay made some very memorable remarks. Speaking last he said, "There is one thing which my brethren have not said, and which I wish to say. I want to remind the Committee that within six months they will probably hear that one of us is dead." These words, spoken by a slim, blue-eyed boy, were startling, and there was a silence in the room that might be felt. Then he went on, "Yes, is it at all likely that eight Englishmen should start for Central Africa and all be alive six months after? One of us at least—it may be I—will surely fall before that. But," he added, "what I want to say is this. When that news comes, do not be cast down, but send some one else immediately to take the vacant place."

In less than two years we find him writing mournfully, "There were eight of us sent out. Only two remain. Poor Africa! When will it be Christianised at this rate?" Of the six who had fallen, two had died, two were murdered, and two invalided home. Mackay himself was the last survivor of the band, and was enabled to give fourteen years of unbroken service in Central Africa ere he was laid in his grave beside the great Nyanza.

III. "Poor Moses"

It was determined that the expedition should approach Uganda from the east coast opposite Zanzibar, travelling up through the country which shortly afterwards became German East Africa. This involved an overland journey of 800 miles to the south end of Lake Victoria Nyanza. It was an undertaking of no small difficulty, not merely to make the journey, but to carry all the equipment necessary for the founding of the Mission, including a boat for service on the Lake. Mackay was in command of the rearguard of 200 carriers laden with the boat and the heavier baggage. He encountered all the vexations, delays, and unforeseen troubles which are inevitable in African travel.

"It occurs to me often as a poser," he writes, "if two hundred men on the march can give such endless trouble, what anxiety must poor Moses have been in on his march with more than two million souls? The Lord God was with him, seems to be the only explanation, and my fears are all calmed by the fact that this caravan is the Lord's, and He will give all necessary grace for guiding it."

Several of the party were down with fever, and Mackay himself at last became so ill that he had to return to the coast. Having speedily recovered his health, he received instructions from the Committee in March, 1877, not to start for Uganda till the rainy season was over, but to employ himself meantime in making a wagon road from the coast to Mpwapwa, 230 miles inland. This work he successfully accomplished in the summer of 1877, bridging the nullahs, and cutting his way in places through the densest bush. He writes, "Imagine a forest of lofty, slender trees, with a cop between of thorny creepers, so dense below that a cat could scarcely creep along and branched and intertwined above like green, unravelled hemp. The line of the road through it is a path wriggling left and right, as if it had followed the trail of a reptile, and almost losing itself here and there, where the creeping wild vine and thorny acacia have encroached upon it ... Now the densest jungle has yielded to the slashing strokes of a score of Snider sword bayonets, which I have given my best men to carry."

His next instruction was to arrange for wagon transport along the road. This was no light task, for not only the oxen but also the drivers had to be trained. In spite of these difficulties Mackay was successful in bringing his loads on to Mpwapwa, but he found that the natives of the interior viewed with great suspicion the long train of oxen on the white man's road. Accordingly, having arranged for the loads to be brought on by carriers, he pushed forward rapidly to the Lake.

IV. Into the Lion's Mouth

Meantime his comrades of the pioneer party had been sadly reduced. They reached the south end of the Lake, but within six weeks Dr. Smith, Mackay's great friend and fellow-countryman, was dead. Shortly afterwards, two others, Shergold Smith and O'Neill, having gone to the island of Ukerewe, were murdered in trying to shelter an Arab trader who had provoked the chief. Only one of the party had reached Uganda.

Mackay, in his own straightforward and fearless way, determined to visit Ukerewe at once, and if possible establish friendly relations with the chief, for he saw that the island commanded the approach to Uganda across the Lake. He felt, indeed, that he was putting his head into the lion's mouth, and the natives warned him that he would never leave the island alive. He went, however, in spite of these warnings, alone and unarmed. He remarks casually that he put some sulphate of zinc in his pocket, "in case I should require an emetic, Ikonge, the chief, being known as a poisoner!" His courage and frankness completely won the heart of the chief, who after a few days slew a goat in solemn pledge of blood-brotherhood.

Returning to the mainland he set to work to fit up the boat which had been brought from the coast. The Mission stores were in a state of absolute chaos. "Piled in heaps promiscuously lay boiler shells and books, cowrie shells and candle moulds, papers and piston rods, steam pipes and stationery, printers' types and tent poles, carbolic acid, cartridges, and chloroform, saws and garden seeds, travelling trunks and toys, tins of bacon and bags of clothes, pumps and ploughs, portable forges and boiler fittings—here a cylinder, there its sole plate, here a crank shaft, there an eccentric. Despair might well be found written on my features as I sat down after my two years' march, to rest and look round on the terrible arrangement." Ten days' hard work altered the scene. "The engines of our steamer now stand complete to the last screw, the boiler is ready to be riveted, tools and types have separate boxes, and rust and dust are thrown out of doors. It seems to me more than a miracle how much remains entire of the really admirable outfit which the able Directors of the Society supplied us with when we left England."

He found the natives friendly and filled with a never ending wonder at the marvellous things he did. "When they see the turning lathe at work, or find me melting down the fat of an ox and turning out beautiful candles, their wonder knows no bounds. Again and again I have heard the remark that white men came from heaven. Then I teach this and that more intelligent fellow the use of various things, and try to impress upon all a truth I find them very slow to believe—that they themselves can easily learn to know everything that white men know... Round comes Sunday, when tools are dropped, and the reason asked, 'Why.' I have my Bible, and tell that it is God's book, and He commanded the day of rest. Many know a little of Swahili which is, in fact, closely allied to their own language, and in that tongue I find many an opportunity to teach the simplest truths of religion, especially how God has come down among men. This 'great mystery of godliness' is the astounding story to them, and many I find eager to learn to read that they may know the book which I say God Himself wrote for men."

V. For the Soul of a King

After two months of this work the boat was ready and Mackay sailed across the Lake to Uganda, which he reached on November 1, 1878. Here he received a warm welcome from Mtesa, the King, who assured him of his friendship for England, and of his magnanimous resolve never to make war on that country! He fully believed himself to be the greatest monarch on earth, but though gifted with considerable intelligence, he proved in the end to be a sensual and capricious tyrant. For a time the omens were most favourable. The King, his chiefs and people were greatly impressed by Mackay's mechanical skill, so far surpassing anything they had ever seen. "Truly," they said, "Mackay is the great spirit." All the more readily they listened to him while he tried to teach them the wonders of science and the greater wonders of grace. "God has blessed, and is still blessing, our work here," he writes, "for he has made the King and people willing at least to be taught. Fortunately Swahili is widely understood, and I am pretty much at home in that tongue, while I have many portions of the Old and New Testament in Swahili. I am thus able to read frequently to the King and the whole court the Word of God, and there is a mighty power in that alone. On Sundays I hold regularly divine service in court, and all join as far as they understand. Stanley began the good work, and now we are enabled to carry it on."

On Christmas Day he held a special service, when all the chiefs were in full dress and he explained the significance of the day. An Arab trader having just arrived with guns and cloth which he would sell only for slaves, Mackay vigorously opposed him. He spoke of the marvels of the human body and asked why such an organism which no man could make should be sold for a rag of cloth which any man could make in a day. Early in 1879 a party arrived to reinforce the Mission, having travelled up the Nile. The work now went forward hopefully.

It was not long, however, before clouds began to darken the sky. In February a company of French priests appeared on the scene in Uganda, and commenced that course of aggression which was destined to bear such bitter fruit. It is difficult to speak with moderation of their policy and conduct. With all heathen Africa to Christianise, Rome seems to have deliberately chosen the policy of following and subverting Protestant Missions. No doubt in the case of Uganda there were political, as well as religious influences, at work. France, having interests in Egypt, coveted the head waters of the Nile, and was pushing in from the west coast. The French missionaries in Uganda, to say the least, sympathised with this aim. They secretly supplied arms to their followers, whom they taught to look to France as their friend. Even after Uganda became a British Protectorate the intrigue was carried on. The two Christian parties which arose in course of time were known as the Ba–Ingleza and the Ba–Fransa. The division, as Sir Frederick Lugard pointed out, was not a purely religious one, but was practically a division between those who obeyed the law and those who resisted it.

These things were as yet hidden in the future, but meantime the coming of the priests created a most difficult and trying situation. They refused to acknowledge the Protestant Mission as Christian, claiming for themselves an exclusive right to that name. Mtesa was flattered by the presence of white men at his court, and displayed a lively interest in the various religious views which were pressed upon him. He seemed never to weary of question and argument. Moreover, as if to complete the religious confusion, the Arab traders in Uganda were advocating the claims of Islam, and had won a party to their side. The whole situation was strange and probably unique,—a heathen King in Central Africa with Mohammedan, Romanist and Protestant competing for his suffrage. The strongest argument of the Arabs was that the white men would come and "eat up the country." They told the King how a steamer was now on Lake Nyasa, and slave raiding was killed in that region. This was a consideration which Mtesa could fully appreciate, for the slave trade was one of his most profitable activities.

As weeks passed and the discussion still went on, it became increasingly apparent that the King, for all his keenness and intellectual interest, was morally a trifler. He delighted to play off one party against another, but from first to last he remained a heathen. One day, in a moment of unusual candour, he summed up the position thus. "If we accept the white men's religion, we must then have only one wife each, while if we accept the religion of the Arabs, we cannot eat 'every kind of flesh."

All through the year 1880 Mackay bore the strain of this conflict, sometimes with brightening hope, sometimes utterly cast down. On the 23rd of December, after describing the departure of two plundering armies, he writes, "This is the fifth time in the course of two years that a great army has been sent by Mtesa into Busoga, not to war, but avowedly to devastate and murder, and bring back the spoil—women, children, cattle and goats. The crime is awful. The most heart-rending of Livingstone's narratives of the slave hunts by Arabs and Portuguese on the Nyasa and Tanganyika shores, dwindle into insignificance compared with the organised and unceasing slave-hunts carried on by this 'enlightened monarch and Christian king.' We feel sorely downcast. Our last hopes seem gone. The lads who had learned the most, and seemed most impressed, have been put out of the way. The few chiefs of whom we had hopes have gone back, while the other chiefs and the King seem only daily to become more hardened and hopelessly sunk in every form of vice and villainy. But is any case too hard for the Lord?"

VI. "Great News"

In March, 1881, three Baganda envoys, whom Mtesa had sent to England eighteen months before, returned home. They had seen the glories of England and been graciously received in audience by Queen Victoria, and it was hoped that their return would bring an influence favourable to the Mission. This hope, however, proved vain. The envoys had many wonders to tell, of seas and ships and cities. "We have no country at all," they said. But they immediately resumed their heathen life, and one of them showed himself a bitter enemy of the Mission.

About the same time a plague broke out in Uganda. Many died and the people became panic-stricken. Mackay, having no knowledge of the nature of the disease, refused to prescribe for it, but he urged upon the King the enforcement of sanitary precautions which did something to hinder the spread of the trouble. The Arabs had increased in their hostility towards Mackay and they brought the most atrocious charges against him, declaring that he was a criminal lunatic who had escaped justice in his own country and was plotting fresh crimes in Uganda. It suited the humour of the King to give ear to these charges, but he well knew them to be false, and besides he thought Mackay far too clever and useful a man to be driven out of the country.

Meantime Mackay went on steadily with the work. His barter goods were all either spent or stolen, and he must needs keep his forge going to earn his daily bread. But he began to gather round him an increasing band of disciples. Some would stand beside him at the bench while they recited their reading lesson, and when small portions of Scripture were printed in the language of Uganda they were eagerly bought up. One day in October, 1881 a slave brought a letter which he had laboriously written with a home-made pen and ink of soot. It ran thus. "Bwana Mackay, Sembera has come with compliments and to give you great news. Will you baptise him, because he believes the words of Jesus Christ?" It was "great news" indeed, for Sembera was a man of intelligence and exemplary life, and he became the first fruits of the Gospel in Uganda.

The following Christmas Mackay records a touching story of a boy who, after being under instruction for some time, took ill and died. Finding the end near he asked a heathen lad to sprinkle water on his head and name over him the names of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. "I do believe," Mackay concludes with conviction, "that this baptism by a heathen lad has been written in heaven." On March 18, 1882, the first five converts were baptised, and thus was constituted the native Christian Church of Uganda which was destined so soon to pass through the fires of persecution to a glorious victory.

VII. A Royal Funeral

The life of a pioneer missionary is full of the strangest vicissitudes and most extraordinary experiences. Within a week the King's mother died, and he determined to give her a burial of unusual splendour. Having learnt that the great ones in England bury their dead encased in three coffins, he was not to be outdone. Could Mackay make three coffins? Yes, if the material was supplied. It proved, however, a bigger job than Mackay had bargained for and cost him a month's hard work. Everything had to be on the biggest possible scale. A small army of native smiths and labourers was commandeered, trees were cut down and dragged in from the forest, while copper trays, drums, and vessels of every sort were hammered out to make the metal shell. After infinite trouble the three monstrous boxes were finished, the outermost "with strong ribs like a schooner and looking like a small house rather than a coffin." The body of the old queen was enclosed, packed in valuable cloths, and the whole was finally deposited in a huge pit thirty feet deep, which was filled with cloths and covered up. Mackay estimated,—and the Arabs by an independent calculation reached the same figure,—that £15,000 worth of cloth was buried in the grave.

The fame of these obsequies resounded through the land and gave Mackay a unique reputation among the people. One happy result flowed from it. Walukaga, the King's head blacksmith, was brought under the influence of Mackay and listened eagerly to the Gospel. By and by he became a Christian and a leading member of the Church.

Mtesa was ill of a tedious disease, and in his trouble he turned to the heathen witchdoctors. They recommended that human sacrifices on a large scale should be offered upon all the surrounding hills. This atrocious order was promptly carried out. Executioners lay in ambush along the highways leading to the capital and seized all passers-by. A chief or a rich man might ransom himself, but for a poor man there was no escape. When a sufficient number of victims was collected they were all slaughtered on the appointed day. In 1884 Mtesa died as he had lived, a heathen. Mackay's services were again in request to make the King's coffins. On this occasion two sufficed of more moderate dimensions.

VIII: Mwanga the Persecutor

The new King was Mwanga, a lad of seventeen, who had been on friendly terms with the Mission and promised to show it every favour. Like more august monarchs, however, when he came to the throne he forgot his promises. It soon became apparent that things had taken a decided turn for the worse. Mwanga was weak and vain, as well as vicious, and accordingly he began to display his power and to play the part of the haughty tyrant. He flung himself with zest into every heathen abomination, and because the Mission condemned these he became a bitter enemy and a persecutor.

On June 30, 1885, he set the crown of martyrdom on the heads of three native Christian lads. Mackay and his colleague, Mr. Ashe, were going down to the Lake accompanied by two of their boys when they were suddenly set upon and driven back home with violence, while the two boys were arrested. That night the Mission house was searched, but fortunately the Christians had gone into hiding. Next morning Mackay heard that the two lads, together with a third, had been burnt to death. It was said that in the fire they sang a hymn in the language of Uganda, "Daily, daily sing His praises." "Our hearts are breaking," Mackay writes. "All our Christians dispersed. We are lonely and deserted, sad and sick."

Mwanga, shortly after, sent for Mackay and pretended that the execution had been carried out without his knowledge. No doubt some of his principal chiefs were more bitterly hostile than the poor weakling of a King himself, who was swayed to and fro by his passions and fears. He now adopted an attitude of more friendliness, deposed seventeen heathen chiefs and put others, friendly to the Mission, in their place. Mackay writes, "The King has saved himself and us by this sharp stroke. God be thanked." Mwanga was now receiving Christian instruction, and things began again to look hopeful.

In the autumn, however, there occurred a tragic event which clouded all the brightness. This was the murder of Bishop Hannington and his party on the borders of Uganda. The story is one of the most familiar in missionary annals. Early in the year Hannington had been appointed the first bishop of East Africa, and after some time spent at the coast he set out for Uganda. Instead of journeying to the south end of the Lake as the pioneer party had done, he chose a route much farther to the north, and travelled inland from Mombasa through the country now traversed by the Uganda railway. This route was shorter and healthier than the other, and gave direct access to Uganda round the north end of the Lake. Unfortunately the Bishop was ignorant of the state of feeling in Uganda. The Arabs had never ceased to affirm that the white men would come to eat up the country, and this had recently been confirmed by German annexations at the coast. The King and his chiefs felt comparatively safe behind the great barrier of the Lake, but they believed that real danger would arise when white men approached the country by the north end of the Lake, where it lay most exposed towards the coast.

It was this very route that Bishop Hannington had unhappily chosen. When the report of his advance reached Uganda there was a great stir at the court and consternation at the Mission. Mackay sent the boat across to the northeast corner of the Lake in an endeavour to intercept the Bishop, but without avail. Unconscious of all this, the caravan from the coast moved forward till near the borders of Uganda. The Bishop, leaving the main body, pushed on more rapidly with fifty carriers, and approached the point where the Victoria Nile flows out of the Lake. Here the whole party were made prisoners, and after a week of suspense came the order for their execution. Hannington met his death like a brave man and a Christian, bidding his murderers tell the King that he died for the Baganda.

The news of this catastrophe soon reached the mission. Mackay heard the whole story from eye-witnesses, and fortunately recovered Hannington's private diary, which he sent home. But no word was spoken openly about the murder as Mwanga denied all knowledge of it and became very threatening. His favourite page, having ventured to say that it was wrong to kill the white man, was by the King's instant order taken out and burnt to death.

Of this sorrowful time Mackay writes, "We had been enjoying much blessing in our work, and many more have been baptised. Now no one is allowed to come near us under pain of death. Yet they do come, chiefly at night. Mwanga would be glad to be rid of us, yet he will not let us go, all of us at any rate, as he means to keep us as hostages, because he dreads punishment. At the same time he threatens to put us in the stocks, and challenges England and the whole of Europe to release us."

Yet not for a moment did the great missionary cease from his work, as the following brief entry shows, "Writing out revision of St. Matthew's Gospel. Ashe busy setting it up. Time of persecution has always been a printing time." He also arranged that the Christians should meet in small companies at the houses of the native elders, and thus they would be trained to rely upon their own resources.

Meantime things went ill with Mwanga. His eyes gave him trouble, then his store of powder blew up, killing a number of the people and burning down his house. He took refuge in the house of his Katikiro, or Prime Minister, but next day it was struck with lightning and another explosion took place. Mwanga was now certain that the missionaries had bewitched him, and he vowed vengeance. He was a contemptible creature, a poor besotted drunkard, brandishing a knife and boasting what he would do, but unfortunately for the country he was King, and the lives of millions were in his hands.

The storm burst at the end of May, 1886, when an order was given for the arrest of all the Christians. Eleven were killed the first day and a systematic hunt was begun in all directions. Of the murders, mutilations and tortures that followed there is no complete record, save in the books of God. But the bitterness of the persecution may be judged from the fact that in one day thirty-two Christians, including many of the leaders of the Church, were slowly burnt to death. These martyrs made a noble end, so that the head executioner, like the centurion at the Cross, was compelled to bear witness, reporting to the King that "he had never killed such brave people before, that they died calling upon God."

It will not surprise those acquainted with Church history that this persecution, instead of dismaying the Christians, inspired them with new faith and courage. Many seemed utterly fearless, and even rash. Others, who had made no confession previously, now came forward desiring baptism. Mr. Ashe tells the story of one, named Kiobe, who had asked for baptism. "'Do you know what you are asking?' I said to him. 'I know, my friend,' he replied. 'But,' I said, 'you know if you say you are a Christian they will kill you.' 'I know, my friend.' 'But,' I said, 'suppose people asked you if you were a reader, would you tell a lie and deny it and say no?' 'I shall confess, my friend,' he replied. Mackay and I both thought him worthy of the rite. So he was baptised there and then."

IX. "The Universe is God's"

As the persecution continued the two missionaries thought it might ease the situation for their converts, and lessen the King's dread of the white man if they left the country for a time and went to the south end of the Lake. Mackay, however, had been putting forth all his mechanical skill to win the favour of Mwanga and his chiefs. Accordingly he was considered too useful a man to be allowed out of the country, but permission was at length given to Mr. Ashe to leave. After his departure in August, 1886, Mackay was alone in Uganda for a year. It was a year of hard work and great anxiety. "I am plodding on, teaching, translating, printing, doctoring, and carpentering... 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 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 households, has thoroughly exhausted me. I am almost entirely broken down with fatigue and anxiety and want of sleep." Again he writes, "What sadness and melancholy comes over me at times, and I find myself shedding tears like a child! Then those wonderfully consoling psalms of David and Asaph, which send a thrill of joy through my whole being. This all but omnipotent reign of evil weighs one down, and then the exultant hope of its eternal destruction, and the ultimate triumph of good, cheers me up to more endurance, and perseverance to the end."

The hostility of the Arabs increased, and their cry about the white men eating up the country became more incessant. Stanley was now approaching Uganda from the Sudan, and it was said that if once he and Mackay met it would mean the ruin of the country. The French Fathers, also, who were playing a deep game of their own, encouraged this idea. "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."

In the circumstances Mackay felt compelled to press for leave to depart. Fortunately, at this juncture, a missionary called Cyril Gordon arrived at the south end of the Lake. Mwanga, who was familiar with the renowned General Gordon of Khartoum, took a fancy to having a missionary of that name in his country. So it was agreed that Mackay should cross the Lake, and Gordon come to take his place. He left Uganda in July, 1887.

Mackay, about this time, was earnestly pressing the condition of Uganda upon the attention of the Church at home. He saw that European control of some kind was inevitable, but he had little hope of the development of the country and the prosperity of the Mission unless a railway were built from the east coast to the Lake. He speaks of it as the one sure means of "breaking the backbone of native cantankerousness." He had no interest in the expansion of Empire, and he was no advocate of armed intervention, but his heart bled for the sufferings of the Christians of Uganda, and the more widespread horrors of the slave trade. Why, he asked, should Christendom stand by and see Christians slaughtered? Why should England supply the guns and powder that made the slave-raider irresistible? It seemed to him no sufficient reply to say that the African was only suffering what the early Christians had suffered, and that he must work out his own salvation. As well might one argue that he must be left alone to invent his own steam engine, and painfully build up his own civilisation, instead of being led by a shorter road and taught to profit by the experience of other nations.

Mackay was well aware of the difficulties of the problem, but like other missionaries he welcomed the appearance of civilised government in Africa in the interest of the common people of the land. Writing to his colleague, Mr. Ashe, who had gone to England to inform and rouse public opinion, he says, "To relieve men from the wrongs under which they perish, to secure freedom for the oppressed, yet not by 'blood and iron,' is a crux indeed for statesmanship. We want not so much an arm of flesh but heads of wisdom, human hearts, and helping hands. There is no need for gunpowder, that remedy is even worse than the disease... This African problem must be solved, and in God's name it shall be solved, for God means it to be solved. It is not for the sake of the few scattered and despised missionaries that we are determined that this end shall be attained, but for the sake of Africa itself. Brutality must cease in God's universe, for the universe is God's, not the devil's... The chronic bloodshed and cruelty, practised in inner Africa, cannot be ended by gunboats catching prizes on the ocean. What is that but plugging up the aperture that the pus may find no exit, while all the time we are destroying the blood by daily administering a deadly poison, arms and ammunition, support and countenance, to Mwanga and other butchers of our black brothers? The rights of poor men, who wish to live lives of peace, are more divine than are the rights of royal robbers and murderers."

X. "The Best Missionary Since Livingstone"

Mackay now settled at Usambiro at the south end of the Lake, where he set to work to organise a mission station, in preparation for the arrival of Parker, the new Bishop, who was expected soon with reinforcements. The party arrived, and for a short time Mackay, so long a solitary, enjoyed the delight of Christian fellowship. But very soon Bishop Parker and Blackburn, one of his companions, died, Walker crossed the Lake to join Gordon in Uganda, another was invalided home, and Mackay was once more alone.

Meantime there was serious trouble in Uganda. Mohammedan and Christian chiefs united to expel Mwanga, who had plotted a wholesale massacre. Then the Mohammedans, by a sudden coup d'etat, overthrew the Christian party and wrecked the Mission. Within a year the Christians had made terms with Mwanga, and restored him to his throne, as they vainly hoped, a humbler and a wiser man. In August, 1889, Mackay had the pleasure of welcoming Stanley on his return from the relief of Emin Pasha in the southern Sudan. They were three weeks together at Usambiro, and Stanley, who had long been familiar with Mackay's work, wrote of him with the warmest admiration as "the best missionary since Livingstone." "I was ushered in," he says, "to the room of a substantial clay structure, the walls about two feet thick, evenly plastered, and garnished with missionary pictures and placards. There were four separate ranges of shelves filled with choice, useful books. 'Allah ho Akbar,' replied Hassan, his Zanzibari head-man to me, 'books! Mackay has thousands of books, in the dining room, bedroom, church, everywhere. Books! ah, loads upon loads of them!' ... He has no time to fret and groan and weep, and God knows, if ever man had reason to think of 'graves and worms and oblivion,' and to be doleful and lonely and sad, Mackay had, when, after murdering his bishop, and burning his pupils, and strangling his converts, and clubbing to death his dark friends, Mwanga turned his eye of death on him. And yet the little man met it with calm blue eyes that never winked. To see one man of this kind, working day by day for twelve years bravely, and without a syllable of complaint or a moan amid the 'wilderness,' and to hear him lead his little flock to show forth God's loving kindness in the morning, and His faithfulness every night, is worth going a long journey for the moral courage and contentment that one derives from it. ... Like Livingstone he declined to return, though I strongly urged him to accompany us to the coast." Stanley's company passed on their way homeward, leaving "that lonely figure standing on the brow of the hill, waving farewell to us."

The next visitor to Usambiro was Bishop Tucker, but there was no Mackay to welcome him. Stanley was not alone in urging Mackay to come home. The Directors of the Society and his friends pressed upon him to take his furlough, but he would not quit his post till reinforcements should arrive. He sent home an urgent appeal for "a strong batch of good men," saying that the Continental idea of "every man a soldier," is the true watchword for Christian missions. Ere the reinforcements arrived his own call had come. After a brief, sharp attack of fever he died on February 8, 1890. His last work was the translation into Luganda of the fourteenth chapter of John's Gospel—the story of the many mansions of the Father's house. Then from his fourteen years of exile he went home.

Six months later Bishop Tucker arrived at Usambiro, and thus describes the scene. "The Mission station, having been the work of Mackay, was of course well built. There was the Mission house—there the workshops—over there the printing house, and away yonder the cattle kraal. To see Mackay's tools lying idle and rusting in the workshops—the forge with its dead embers, the lathe motionless—was a pathetic and touching sight. But still more touching was it to wend one's way to the little burial place some distance off, and to stand by the graveside of the three who lay there—Mackay, Parker, and Blackburn." ... "The loss of Mackay," he concludes, "was the heaviest blow that had yet fallen on the Mission. His faith, his courage, his intellectual capacity, his untiring industry, combined to form one of the most remarkable characters of the age in which he lived. It will be long ere the impress which he left on the lives and characters of the Baganda will be effaced. It will be longer still ere his noble example of devotion to the highest ideals, of courage in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties, of self-sacrifice and self-denial, ceases to inspire men to a participation in the noblest of noble enterprises,—the bringing to a saving knowledge of the truth those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Missionary Heroes of Africa by J. H. Morrison. New York: George H. Doran Co., ©1922.

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