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Robert Moffat, Pioneer Missionary

by J. H. Morrison

Robert MoffatI. A Scots Gardener

Robert Moffat was born at Ormiston in East Lothian on December 21, 1795. His boyhood, however, was spent at Portsoy on the Moray Firth and at Carronshore near Falkirk. When fourteen years old he was apprenticed as a gardener and for some time lived in a bothy with seven other men, not altogether a bad preparation for the rough life of a pioneer missionary. He grew up, a tall, strong lad, with dark, piercing eyes and a frame capable of more than ordinary endurance. He became a powerful swimmer, and on one occasion rescued a companion from drowning in the Firth of Forth. On finishing his apprenticeship he obtained a situation at High Leigh in Cheshire where he came into contact with the Methodists, to whom he owed his conversion. From childhood he had been under strong Christian influences. Both his parents were deeply religious after the somewhat stern old Scottish type of piety, and his mother had exacted from him, on leaving home, a solemn promise to read his Bible every day. Now, however, they were not without some suspicion of the confident faith and warm religious feeling that breathed through their son's letters. His father, while welcoming the news of his conversion "as cold water to a thirsty soul," proceeded at some length to exhort his son "not to be high-minded but to fear," and to this he added the warning, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

Mainly through the influence of Mr. Roby of Manchester, Moffat's mind now began to turn to the mission field. The seed had indeed been sown much earlier in his childhood's home. Writing to his aged mother after many years of service in Africa Moffat warmly acknowledges this. "Mother, dear mother, your many prayers have been heard... Wherever I am I never forget how much I owe to your prayers. The first dawn of reflection respecting my soul commenced with hearing you pray." His mother's influence seems to have been felt in other ways. "My dear old mother, to keep us out of mischief in the long winter evenings, taught me both to sew and knit, and when I told her I intended being a man, she would reply, 'Lad, ye dinna ken whaur your lot will be cast.'" While the circle round the fire was thus usefully employed their mother was accustomed to read such missionary news as was then to be had, especially the heroic stories of the labours and sufferings of the Moravians in Greenland and among the plantation slaves in the East Indies. Now it became the settled ambition of young Moffat to emulate these pioneers of the Gospel among the heathen.

Mr. Roby, in order to have his young friend nearer him for supervision and help, got work for him in the nursery garden of Mr. Smith of Dukinfield, a warm supporter of missions. "Thus was I led by a way that I knew not," writes Moffat, "for another important end, for otherwise I might not have had my late dear wife to be my companion and partner in all my hopes and fears for more than half a century in Africa. As it was, Mr. Smith's only daughter possessing a warm missionary heart, we soon became attached to one another, but she was not allowed to join me in Africa till nearly three years after I left."

In physique the future Mrs. Moffat presented a contrast to her husband, being under ordinary height, with blue eyes, and a complexion that never lost its delicate girlish bloom. She was never strong and often her mind was oppressed by gloomy forebodings, but so perfectly did she become united with her husband in mutual love and trust, and in all their religious aspirations and labours, that their life story was fittingly recorded by their son in one common biography, The Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat.

After a first application to the London Missionary Society had been refused Moffat was at length, through the influence of his friend Mr. Roby, accepted for service in Africa. On September 30, 1816, he was solemnly set apart for the work, with eight others, at a meeting in Surrey Chapel, London. Five of the young missionaries were allocated to Africa, four to the South Seas. Among the latter was John Williams, the Apostle of Polynesia, whose devoted life was destined to be crowned by glorious martyrdom on Erromanga. It seemed at one moment as if Moffat and Williams would have more than a passing connection, for it was proposed that both should go to the South Seas. Dr. Waugh, however, a Scots member of the committee, protested that "thae twa lads are ower young to gang thegither." Thus the little turn was given that determined a great career.

II. The Infant Colony

Moffat and his companions reached Cape Town in January, 1817. The Colony was then in its infancy, for only three years had elapsed since British power was established as paramount at the Cape. Of vital importance as the half way house to India, it was first occupied by the Dutch, then seized by the French, and so continued a bone of contention throughout the period of the Napoleonic wars. The Colony now extended northward to the Orange River, but in reality its northern boundary was vague and undefined. Scarcely a sprinkling of white settlers was scattered over the vast area, while roving bands of Boers kept moving farther into the interior, hoping thus to leave British justice behind them, and enjoy unfettered liberty to enslave the native races. Crossing the Orange River they occupied the territory between the Orange and Vaal Rivers, then, having crossed the Vaal, they spread themselves thinly over the country to the north, up to the Limpopo. Thus were laid the foundations of what became the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, whose relations to British rule were to prove a source of ever recurring trouble for nearly a century, and whose determined hostility to Christian missions had much to do in determining the work of Moffat and the career of Livingstone.

The multitudinous tribes of natives, Bantu in the east and centre, Hottentot and Bushman in the west, were in a continual state of unrest. Intertribal wars and especially the wholesale devastations of the Zulu chief, Chaka, caused frequent migrations, with the inevitable accompaniment of bloodshed and plundering. In addition, the increasing pressure of white settlers who rode rough-shod over native rights led to a growing bitterness which ever and anon burst forth in savage outrage and equally savage reprisal. Accordingly, life along the northern border of the Colony was full of ever recurring perils and alarms.

North of the Orange River there stretches east and west a strip of barely habitable country called Great Namaqualand which becomes more parched and barren towards the north till it merges into the Kalahari Desert. Here was the home of various tribes of Hottentots and Bushmen, while the somewhat more fertile region to the east, bordering on the Transvaal, was inhabited by the Bechuanas, a Bantu tribe. Many of these Hottentots had retired over the Orange River to escape the advancing tide of civilization, and their land being beyond the Colony gradually became the refuge of native marauders and malcontents. Perhaps the most powerful element in the country was the Griquas or Bastards, a group of Hottentots with some infusion of Dutch blood, whose possession of firearms and of horses made them irresistible against a purely native force. Their principal settlement was at Griqua Town not far from the junction of the Orange River and the Vaal.

III. Taming a Freebooter

In Great Namaqualand the London Missionary Society had been at work before Moffat's arrival. The Bushmen were found almost impossible to evangelise, owing to their being pure nomads with neither homes nor settlements of any kind. Among the other Hottentots some slight progress had been made. In particular the chief, Africaner, who for years had been the terror of the border, was favourably impressed. It was to his kraal that Moffat was now directed to proceed. The Government of the Cape at first refused permission to travel beyond the frontier, evidently from some vague idea that missionary work would tend to consolidate the roaming tribes and freebooters, and make them more dangerous to the Colony. This caused a delay of several months, which Moffat spent at Stellenbosch in acquiring the Dutch language. The veto of the Government having been at length withdrawn, Moffat travelled north, crossed the Orange River and readied Africaner's kraal in January, 1818, a year after his landing at the Cape. A Mr. Ebner, who had been at work here for some time previously but who, through some disagreement with Africaner's people, felt his life to be in danger, immediately departed on Moffat's arrival, and the young missionary was left alone to make the best of his novel and difficult position.

Moffat's stay in Namaqualand did not extend to two years, yet his connection with Africaner and the influence he exerted over that once wild and lawless bandit is one of the most romantic episodes in his life. On his journey north he had heard from Dutch farmers the most gloomy forebodings of the fate awaiting him. Some of their kindly vrouws even shed tears over this bonnie Scotch laddie going to an untimely death. Africaner was an outlaw upon whose head the Cape Government had set a price, and any hope that he might "tak' a thought and mend" was no more regarded than the ravings of lunacy.

Africaner's reception, though cool, was not unfriendly. By his order a rude hut was speedily erected in which Moffat settled down to a life of primitive simplicity. His meagre salary of £25 per annum was of no immediate use to him and he was compelled to subsist entirely on native food, chiefly milk and flesh. Often he had to tighten his belt over an empty stomach. The people among whom he laboured seemed hopelessly degraded. The constant struggle for a bare existence left no room for religion and but little for natural affection. The idea of God and the sense of right and wrong could hardly be said to exist. Undesirable infants were cast away and helpless old people left to perish.

In pleasing contrast was the earnestness of the chief, Africaner, who from the first seemed eager to learn and placed himself day by day with the utmost regularity under Moffat's teaching. He made rapid progress in Christian knowledge and character and actively promoted the work of the mission. The situation of his people, however, became impossible through long continued drought, and Africaner along with Moffat undertook a long journey to the north in the hope of finding a place suitable for a permanent settlement. In this they were unsuccessful, and returned after enduring many hardships in the desert. Moffat next went eastward to inspect a location offered to Africaner's people by the chiefs of the Griquas. On this journey he unwittingly drank of a pool which had been poisoned by the Bushman to kill game. Fortunately the effects passed off after a few days' illness. Having satisfied himself that Africaner should move east to Griqualand he returned and reported to the chief, who cordially agreed.

Moffat was now arranging to travel to Cape Town to meet his future wife, and to confer with deputies of the London Missionary Society who had been sent out to inquire into the work in South Africa. He proposed to Africaner to accompany him. At first the chief was startled and his people were thrown into violent alarm at the bare idea. For an outlaw, with a reward of £100 offered for his head, it might well seem madness to cross the Orange River, and the proposal was open to the suspicion of treachery. Moffat, however, saw great possibilities of good in reconciling the chief to the Government, and in exhibiting to friends and enemies of the mission this extraordinary trophy of the Gospel. Africaner at length consented and travelled through the Colony in disguise as Moffat's servant. On several occasions he had the curious experience of hearing Dutch farmers declare their utter scepticism as to his conversion, while they little dreamed that the subject of their remarks was standing by. Moffat himself was an object of interest. He tells with amusement of the alarm of one worthy farmer who took him for a ghost. "Everybody says you were murdered," he exclaimed, "and a man told me he had seen your bones." When informed that Africaner was now "a truly godly man," he replied, "I can believe almost anything you say but that I cannot credit. There are seven wonders in the world, that would be the eighth." At length, half convinced, he said, "Well, if what you say is true, I have only one wish and that is to see him before I die, and when you return, as sure as the sun is over our heads, I will go with you to see him, though he killed my own uncle." Trusting the discretion and goodwill of the farmer, Moffat said, "This is Africaner." The farmer was thunderstruck, but when by a few questions he had assured himself of the fact, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, "O God, what a miracle of Thy power! What cannot Thy grace accomplish?"

The Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, was equally sceptical at first, but Moffat's assurances and still more the appearance and manners of Africaner convinced him of the reality of the miracle, and eventually the Government reward offered for the head of the freebooter was spent in buying him a wagon in which he safely returned home to his people.

Moffat now received instructions to proceed to Bechuanaland which lies to the east of the Kalahari Desert, between that region of desolation and the Transvaal. His destination was Kuruman, a hundred miles north of Griqua Town, but after crossing the Orange River he was detained for several months in Griqua Town, waiting Government permission to go north. Here he parted, for the last time as it proved, from his friend Africaner. The chief had brought Moffat's goods across country from Namaqualand in his wagon, and he left hoping soon to bring his people east to Griqualand, but this design was frustrated by his death.

Griqua Town was at this time peopled by a miscellaneous collection of Griquas, Hottentots and Bushmen, with refugees from various other tribes. The Society had been at work among them for twenty years with some success, and the community had chosen as their chief a Christian Bushman named Waterboer, who conducted their affairs with great discretion and fidelity. Under his rule the Griquas became a power to be reckoned with on the border, and on one critical occasion they were the means of averting disaster from the Colony. In Griqua Town Mary Moffat was born, who afterwards became the wife of David Livingstone. After her birth Moffat, or Mosheté as the natives called him, became known as Ra-Mary (father of Mary), while his wife, by the same native usage, was designated Ma-Mary.

IV. The Romance of Kuruman

The Moffats now proceeded to Kuruman which will be for ever associated with their life and labours. The settlement depended for its existence on the water of the Kuruman River so called, though it was a fountain rather than a running stream. Westward the land rapidly faded into the desert, while eastward it grew more fertile towards the Transvaal. The Bechuanas were still in unbroken heathenism. "They looked at the sun with the eyes of an ox." Christian truth was received with stolid indifference or with shouts of derisive laughter. "Our labours," writes Moffat, "might well be compared to the attempts of a child to grasp the surface of a polished mirror, or those of a husbandman labouring to transform the surface of a granite rock into arable land, on which he might sow his seed." The rude hut of the missionaries gave them none of the privacy of home life, for men and women would crowd into it as often and as long as they had a mind, and, to make matters worse, they never lost a chance of pilfering. One of themselves fitly described their condition when he said to Moffat years afterwards, "You found us beasts, not men."

A long continued drought made the situation more difficult, for the missionaries were suspected of frustrating the efforts of the official rainmaker. The earnest looks which they were seen to cast towards the sky whenever a cloud appeared were sufficient evidence that they bewitched the rain. They were ordered by the chiefs to leave the country under threats of violence, to which the fearless answer was given, "You may shed our blood or burn us out. Then shall they who sent us know, and God who now sees and hears what we do, shall know, that we have been persecuted indeed." These solemn words awed their opponents, and in the end the rainmaker was the first to go.

In 1823 vague and disturbing rumours began to reach Kuruman of a savage horde of warriors advancing from the east, and spreading universal destruction along their path. They proved to be the Mantiti, a branch of the Zulu family, which, like the Matabele, had broken bounds and become the scourge of every tribe they encountered. Moffat, who at first did not regard these rumours seriously, took a journey to the northeast to visit the Bangwaketsi. As he advanced he soon had convincing evidence that a fearful danger was imminently threatening the Bechuanas and Kuruman. He hurried home and a meeting of chiefs and people was hastily summoned. Great was the consternation, and some proposed flight into the Kalahari Desert. To Moffat the only hope seemed to lie in the horses and guns of the Griquas and, his proposal being agreed to, he proceeded to Griqua Town to solicit their help. The Griquas, seeing their own safety imperilled, responded promptly to the appeal and brought to Kuruman a force of a hundred mounted men. Joining forces with the Bechuanas they advanced to meet the enemy. The hordes of the Mantiti came surging onward and refused every attempt at negotiation. They fought with incredible ferocity and scattered the Bechuanas like chaff. But the horses and guns of the Griquas, with which they were totally unacquainted, struck terror into their ranks and they broke and fled. But for this check they would without doubt have overrun the northern districts of Cape Colony.

Moffat's conduct throughout this crisis made a deep and lasting impression upon the natives, and gave him a prestige among them which he never afterwards lost. For some time the country continued in a very unsettled state. The scattered hordes of the Mantiti still roamed about, while lawless bands of Griquas took to the trade of freebooters and terrorised the tribes. On one occasion Moffat had an escape which he regarded as singularly providential. He had gone to the north to visit the Bangwaketsi, and a considerable number of Griquas travelled with him for the purpose of elephant hunting. They were to return home by different routes but at the last moment the Griquas, for no apparent reason, determined to return with Moffat. On the way they were attacked by a strong force of Mantiti, into whose hands Moffat would undoubtedly have fallen had he been alone.

Amid these alarms the work of the mission was steadily carried on, but still the heathenism of the people presented an unbroken front. There were many dark hours of despondency but faith triumphed. "We may not live to see it," Mary Moffat would say to her husband, "but the awakening will come as surely as the sun will rise to-morrow." Weak in body and naturally prone to depression and gloomy fears, she had an unwavering confidence in the future of God's work. Writing to a friend who had asked if there was anything she could send out for the use of the mission, Mrs. Moffat said, "Send us a communion service. We shall want it one day." Two or three years elapsed, and so fruitless did the work appear that the Directors of the Society were considering the advisability of abandoning the mission.

At length in 1829 the first clear signs of daybreak appeared. The services in the little mission church began to be crowded and a new interest and emotion seemed to awaken in heathen breasts. The record of it may best be given in Moffat's own words. "The simple Gospel," he writes, "now melted their flinty hearts, and eyes now wept which never before shed the tear of hallowed sorrow. Notwithstanding our earnest desires and fervent prayers, we were taken by surprise. We had so long been accustomed to indifference, that we felt unprepared to look on a scene which perfectly overwhelmed our minds. Our temporary little chapel became a Bochim—a place of weeping—and the sympathy of feeling spread from heart to heart, so that even infants wept. Some, after gazing with extreme intensity of feeling on the preacher, would fall down in hysterics, and others were carried out in a state of great exhaustion." After instruction and examination Moffat baptised his first six converts and partook with them of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. "Our feelings on that occasion," he writes, "were such as our pen would fail to describe. We were as those that dreamed, while we realised the promise on which our souls had often hung, 'He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.'" By a striking coincidence, the communion vessels which Mrs. Moffat had asked for years before, arrived on the Friday preceding that memorable Sunday.

V. The Matabele

The same year Moffat paid his first visit to the Matabele. For some time rumours had reached him of this powerful and warlike people, who were at that time settled beside the Limpopo, far to the east of Kuruman. They had come north from Zululand, and they afterwards overran the country as far as the Zambesi before their military despotism was broken by British arms. Their chief, Mosilikatse, anxious to learn of the white man and his ways, sent two of his headmen to Kuruman. They were greatly struck by what they saw, and pressed Moffat to visit their chief. He consented, and after a long and arduous journey reached the kraal of the Matabele king. Mosilikatse gave him a cordial welcome and handsomely acknowledged the kindness shown to his deputies as kindness shown to himself. "My father," he said, "you have made my heart as white as milk. I cannot cease to wonder at the love of a stranger."

Moffat on his part was much struck with the military discipline of the Matabele and the savage pomp of their king. It exceeded anything that was to be seen elsewhere in South Africa. A tragic example was given of the spirit of the warriors. One of the Indunas, being condemned to death, was pardoned on the intercession of Moffat but sentenced to be disgraced from his rank. At once he besought the king to let him die like a warrior for he could not live in disgrace. His request was granted and he was led forth to instant execution. Such was the missionary's first Sunday morning among the Matabele.

Soon after Moffat's return to Kuruman he travelled to Cape Town with his wife and children, in order to put the children to school and at the same time to arrange for the printing of some parts of the New Testament which he had translated into Sechuana. Throughout his whole career he occupied every spare moment of a busy life with translation work and never ceased till he had given the Bechuanas the whole of the Scriptures in their own language. Finding no printer in Cape Town to undertake the work he took it in hand himself under the guidance of a Government printer. This proved a fortunate circumstance for at that juncture a mission printing press arrived at the Cape, which enabled Moffat henceforth to do his own printing at Kuruman. The work of the mission was now proceeding hopefully. Schools were established at various centres with the help of native teachers, and pleasing evidences began to appear of a desire for improvement. Habits of personal cleanliness, greater decency in clothing, better houses and rude attempts at furniture were all welcome as signs of a new spirit among the people. A demand arose for candles, and the fat which had before been larded on to greasy bodies was now put to a better use. Everywhere the people were keen to learn the mystery of reading. To meet this ardour Moffat taught them to sing the ABC to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, but he confesses that sometimes, when it was rendered far on into the night, he "was ready to wish it at John o' Groat's House."

In 1835 Moffat again visited the Matabele and spent two months with Mosilikatse, who showed him round the country, travelling in Moffat's wagon. The corpulent monarch found the bed in the wagon much to his taste and invited its owner to come and lie beside him, an invitation which was politely declined. Soon after this visit the Matabele, being attacked by the Zulus and feeling also the pressure of the Boers in the Transvaal, migrated to the north where for some years they were lost sight of.

VI. Moffat and Livingstone

The Moffats had now been twenty years in Africa and had endured to the full the privations and hardships that fall to the lot of the pioneer. Though still in early middle life they were veterans in the service and their work had impressed the imagination of the home Churches to a degree they had little idea of. In 1838 they came home on their first and only furlough.

As happens in such a case with a popular missionary, Moffat immediately found himself overwhelmed with engagements. The clamorous public demanded its hero on every possible occasion, and his own ardent spirit made him only too willing to respond. Amid such distractions Moffat found time to see through the press the Sechuana New Testament and to publish an account of his experiences under the title of Labours and Scenes in South Africa. The most notable event of this visit, however, was the securing of a powerful recruit for the Bechuana mission in the person of David Livingstone, who sailed for the Cape in 1840, taking with him 500 copies of Moffat's Sechuana New Testament. The Moffats followed in 1842. Their visit to the home country, following, as it did, immediately after the visit of John Williams from the South Seas, gave a powerful stimulus to missionary effort in all the Churches.

The return to Kuruman, in its concluding stages, assumed the appearance of a triumphal procession. Livingstone met the Moffats at the Vaal to help them across the river, and from that point onwards the villagers poured out with boisterous welcome. Chiefs and tribesmen from far and near came to visit their old friends whom they had hardly expected to see again. Among these a specially welcome visitor was Mothibi, the paramount chief of the Bechuanas who had but recently, in his old age, professed the Christian faith.

Now commenced a second term of service which continued without a break for twenty-seven years till Moffat's retirement in 1870. During this period his fame was gradually overshadowed by the supreme romance and glory of Livingstone, but the achievements of the older man were very notable and he retained to the end the adventurous spirit of his youth. Livingstone went to open a new station, 250 miles north of Kuruman, to which he soon after brought his bride, the younger Mary Moffat.

In the subsequent explorations of Livingstone, Moffat naturally took a deep interest. They were entirely in accord with his own views. He had long felt that the missionary advance northward from the Cape had reached its limit. "I feel persuaded," he wrote in 1840, "that the period has arrived when we must abandon the idea of long, expensive, tiresome, and in some instances dangerous journeys, either from the promontory of the Cape, or from Algoa Bay, to remote distances in the interior. It is now quite time to look to the eastern and western coasts of the continent, and form a chain of stations from either or both, towards the centre." From these words it will be seen that Livingstone was following no hasty and impulsive scheme of his own.

Another determining factor in the situation was the hostility of the Boers. They had deliberately resolved to cut the chain of mission stations which stretched towards the north between Transvaal and the Kalahari Desert, and thus bar the way to the interior. In face of this policy Moffat therefore felt that Livingstone's journeys were a vital necessity if the Gospel was to he carried to the teeming millions of Central Africa.

Meantime at Kuruman the arduous routine work of a mission station went on steadily from year to year. In many respects the second stage of work in a mission field is more trying than the first, for the upward progress of a heathen people is wavering and painfully slow. Converts suffer, in many cases, grievous relapse, and even when they continue steadfast their conceptions of the Christian life are very frequently disappointing. So we find Moffat writing sorrowfully in 1851, "We are instant in season and out of season in our public duties and in the work of translation, but the progress is slow, very slow." Mary Moffat also, writing to her father, says, "There is much to discourage, yet we feel we must not despair." Very sensibly she recalls the state of the people thirty years before, and reckons up the progress already made. Such thoughts having passed through her mind as she sat in the little native prayer meeting and listened to the singing of the Bechuana Christians, she adds, "I came home stronger in my hopes and expectations for the kingdom of Christ in poor Africa than I had been for some months."

In 1853 Moffat paid his third visit to the Matabele who now occupied the country up to the Zambesi. He found Mosilikatse, the once proud warrior king, now an aged cripple, and was fortunately able to restore in some measure his shattered health. One object of this journey was to convey supplies to the Zambesi for Livingstone who had gone into the unknown interior the previous year. Finding it impossible to reach the Zambesi in his wagon Moffat procured Matabele carriers who went forward with the supplies. On reaching the river they left the packages on the bank as the natives could not be induced to come over and receive them. After the departure of the Matabele, however, the timid river folk stored the goods carefully on an island where Livingstone found them all safe on his arrival from the west coast.

Moffat returned to Kuruman and resumed his work of preaching and teaching, translating and printing. Meantime Livingstone, having reached the west coast at Loanda, recrossed the continent to the east coast and carried home to England the story of his discoveries. The great interest aroused by his unparalleled journey led to an expansion of missionary enterprise. The attention of the London Missionary Society was directed to the Matabele on the south side of the Zambesi, and to the Makololo, on the north side of the river. Two missionary expeditions were fitted out to commence work among these tribes. It was proposed that Moffat should lead the expedition to the Matabele, as his influence with Mosilikatse would do much to pave the way. This was in 1857, when Moffat was sixty-two years of age and had forty-one years of service behind him. Far from refusing this new call he set off at once to prepare the Matabele for the arrival of the mission. It meant a seven hundred mile trek to the northeast, through a thirsty and difficult country, and the task before him was no easy one. Mosilikatse had confidence in Moffat but of strangers he was suspicious. Isolation had for long been the policy of the Matabele. They feared, not without reason, that the advent of the white man would be the beginning of the end. Moffat, having overcome these scruples and obtained a reluctant consent to the establishment of the mission, now hurried south to Cape Town to meet the new missionaries and to say good-bye to Livingstone who was going out to his post as British consul on the Zambesi. Among the missionaries for Matabele land was Moffat's own son John, whose salary for five years was guaranteed by Livingstone. To him Mrs. Moffat wrote feelingly, "On the tenth of next month it will be twenty-five years since I parted with your father when he visited the tyrant Mosilikatse the second time, he being then the terror of the tribes in the latitudes north of us, and it was deemed prudent to conciliate him that the interior might not be closed against the progress of the Gospel. How little did I then think that the very babe who sat before me on his nurse's lap was destined to go to that savage people to hold before them the lamp of eternal life. Unable as I then was to hold you in my embrace, your sweet smiles, which in my solitude I so often witnessed, are yet engraven on my now shattered memory. Methinks they said, 'Cheer up, dear mother, though you think your course is nearly finished, I am destined to live to fulfil your heart's desire.'"

In 1859 the expeditions to the Makololo and the Matabele set out from Kuruman. The Makololo mission was a disastrous failure and forms one of the most tragic episodes in missionary history. The mission to the Matabele was established only by the influence and efforts of Moffat who spent a year with that war­like people, soothing their suspicions and organising the mission station at lnyati. His activities are thus described by one who witnessed them. "There were houses to be built, wagons to be repaired, garden ground to be broken up. Early and late Moffat was to be found at work, always at work, it might be at the saw-pit, or the blacksmith's forge, or the carpenter's bench, or aiding the younger men where their own knowledge and skill failed them." Having completed his work he took his last leave of Mosilikatse and returned to Kuruman.

VII. Farewell to Kuruman

The closing years of Moffat's life in Africa were as busy and arduous as any, though less romantic and adventurous. His failing strength made long journeys impossible, and he confined his energies to administering the affairs of the central station, while younger colleagues went farther afield. His name was a house-hold word among all the tribes north of the Orange River, many of whom believed him to be the paramount chief of the white men. Unscrupulous traders, taking advantage of this, represented themselves as his agents, delivered messages in his name, and declared that they dared not face their great chief at Kuruman unless they got more ivory and better prices for their goods.

The home at Kuruman was shadowed again and again by heavy sorrows. In 1862 the Moffats' eldest son Robert died when on a wagon journey, only a few hours distant from Kuruman. About the same time the sad news arrived of the death of Mrs. Livingstone on the Zambesi. In 1865 Moffat himself was savagely attacked by a crazy native armed with a knobkerry who struck him some terrible blows that endangered his life. It was months before he recovered from the shock. Next year M. Fredoux, a French missionary who had married Ann Moffat, met his death under tragic circumstances. He was endeavouring to reason with a trader whose atrocious conduct had roused the hostility of the natives, when the desperate man blew up his own wagon which was loaded with gunpowder, instantly killing Fredoux and himself and a dozen natives.

The long day of service was drawing to a close. In 1868 Moffat was joined by his son John, at Kuruman, in whose care he was happy to think he would leave his beloved work. The Directors had for some time been urging him to come home, and he now felt that his strength was no longer equal to his task. In 1870 he took his last farewell of the people among whom he had laboured for more than half a century, and by whom he was now regarded with feelings of deepest veneration. The scene is thus described by his son. "On Sunday the twentieth of March, Robert Moffat preached for the last time in the Kuruman church. In all that great congregation there were few of his own contemporaries. The older people were for the most part children at the time when they had first seen the missionaries. With a pathetic grace peculiarly his own, he pleaded with those who still remained unbelieving amid the Gospel privileges they had now enjoyed so many years. With a fatherly benediction he commended to the grace of God those who had been to him a joy and crown. It was an impressive close to an impressive career. On Friday following, the departure took place. The final scene was such as could scarcely be described in words. As the old missionary and his wife came out of their door and walked to their wagon they were beset by the crowds, each longing for one more touch of the hand and one more word. As the wagon drove away it was followed by all who could walk, and a long and pitiful wail rose, enough to melt the hardest heart."

Amid the universal sadness it must have been an inspiration for the two veterans to reflect on the contrast between the manner of their departure and the reception they met with on their first arrival. Few workers in the Kingdom of God are privileged to see so profound a change produced as the result of their labours. It is the rich reward sometimes given to those who have gone forth in faith into the wilderness of heathenism, to sow the seed, to tend and water it, until at last they gather in abundance the rich fruits of the garden of God.

VIII. A Missionary to the Last

A few sentences may suffice to give an outline of the last years of Moffat's life. It is proof of the extraordinary vitality of the man that, having come home after so arduous a life, he continued his services to the missionary cause with great activity for thirteen years. Even the death of his wife in 1872, though it made him feel very desolate and homeless, did not crush his spirit. He travelled extensively in England and Scotland on missionary deputation work, and once he went as far as Paris, where he addressed several meetings, notably a great gathering of 4000 French Protestant children. Everywhere he went his presence excited the strongest interest, for he had come to be regarded by universal consent as "the venerable father of the missionary world." Various honours were conferred on him, including an audience with Queen Victoria. Several thousand pounds were subscribed for a Training Institute at Kuruman, and Moffat himself received a gift of £5000. On one of his journeys to Scotland he visited the home of his boyhood, where he had some amusing encounters with his old school fellows. Not without difficulty did he convince them that he was really "the great Moffat."

Are you aware, sir," said the village tailor oracularly, "that if you are really the person you represent yourself to be, you must be the father-in-law of Livingstone, the African explorer."

"And so I am," said Moffat.

The old tailor got to his feet. "Is it possible," he exclaimed, "that the father-in-law of Livingstone stands before me, and under my humble roof?"

In 1874 the body of Livingstone was brought home, to England and interred in Westminster Abbey. Moffat escorted the remains from Southampton to London and was present at the funeral service in the Abbey. To him it was a deeply affecting occasion, and must have brought a rush of memories out of the heroic past, of African travel and toil.

His last days were spent at Park Cottage, Leigh, where, tended by the loving care of his daughter, he died on August 10, 1883. Many tributes were paid to his memory and the value of his work. The following sentences from a leading article in the Times may serve to indicate the nation's estimate of his life. "Dr. Robert Moffat has left an abiding name as a pioneer of modem missionary work in South Africa... It is the fashion in some quarters to scoff at missionaries, to receive their reports with incredulity, to look at them at the best as no more than harmless enthusiasts, proper subjects for pity, if not for ridicule. The records of missionary work in South Africa must be a blank page to those by whom such ideas are entertained. We owe it to our missionaries that the whole region has been opened up... The progress of South Africa has been mainly due to men of Moffat's stamp. It would seem indeed that it is only by the agency of such men as Moffat and his like that the contact of the white and black races can be anything but a curse to the blacks... Moffat's name will be remembered while the South African Church endures, and his example will remain with us as a stimulus to others, and as an abiding proof of what a Christian missionary can be and can do."


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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