Project Canterbury

Eight Years in Kaffraria, 1882-1890.

By Alan G. S. Gibson, M.A.
S.P.G. Missionary to the Pondomisi, and Archdeacon of Kokstad

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1891.

Chapter X. Development of Work

THE advent of Messrs. Webber, Stainer, and Cross enabled us to undertake a great extension of work, more particularly in the European department, which was practically put into Mr. Webber's hands from the first, although, until he was priested, visits for quarterly celebrations from myself were a necessity. On these occasions we exchanged duty, Webber visiting some native station, while I was at the European hamlet.

The formation of the parish of Matatiela, to which Mr. Green had been appointed, had made provision for regular services at Matatiela and Mount Fletcher, to which the energetic incumbent soon added various farming centres in addition to his native work. But there were a number of hamlets within a radius of fifty miles from 8. Cuthbert's to which we were bound to supply ministrations. The monthly services at Tsolo and Maclear were resumed, and others were added at Mount Frere (where no regular Church services had ever been supplied before), Ugie (which was taken the same day as Maclear), and Qumbu (which before this had only been served quarterly). Owing to the apathy of the scattered white people in the neighbourhood of Tsolo, and the fewness of the inhabitants at the hamlet itself, it was found needful after a time to discontinue the services there in order to supply them to the farmers in the Maclear district, among whom Webber made two centres, at Umga, where was a band of communicants, and at Pot River, these two places being taken in turn alternate months. Much of my colleague's time was also taken up in visiting the white people from place to place. When new parishes were constituted at the end of 1888, his eighteen months' work was represented--as far as statistics are in any way a fair representation--by seven persons confirmed, twelve candidates for confirmation, twenty-four children baptized, and about £135 raised locally for Church purposes. An assembly room for religious as well as secular use had been built at Mount Frere, harmoniums had been provided, as well as altar-cloths, for this place, Qumbu, and Maclear, and a site for a Church had been given at the Umga.

In the natiye department of the work only one new station (in the technical sense) was opened in the year and a half, in addition to those at the Tsitsana and Roza, mentioned in a former chapter. This was at the Ngxa-kolo, near the Tina, in a heathen location of Tembu's. Unfortunately there was no man available for the place of sufficient strength, so that the work here never flourished as it should have done. Considerable operations were, however, commenced in the neighbourhood of Mount Frere. A number of native Christians had come up into this district, some from Mbokotwana, but the majority from the parishes of S. Mark's, S. Peter's, and S. Alban's, or from the diocese of Grahamstown. Services were at first supplied to these at Mount Frere itself, with periodical celebrations. Afterwards, in order to more thorough and constant supervision, the Rev. E. Jwara was moved to Mount Frere, and given itinerating work among these various congregations.

There were other places, falling outside the parish of S. Augustine's, which, for lack of any one else, had to receive such spiritual aid as could be given from S. Cuthbert's. Some three or four miles beyond the Umzimvubu, on the borders of the Wesleyan station at the Rode, a few native Christians belonging to the Church had settled, and these had to be visited from time to time. Further on at Mount Ayliff, twenty-four miles from Kokstad, was a considerable European community, most anxiously desiring the ministrations of the Church. On our visits to Kokstad, the Bishop or myself would hold service here from time to time, meeting nowhere with a heartier welcome from both civilians and military, or a better congregation for the size of the place. At the back of Mount Ayliff again, almost equidistant from it and Kokstad, is Fort Donald, a small military outpost. Here occasional services were held, en route to or from S. Andrew's, and the missionary was always received with the utmost kindness.

Before this date the archdeaconry of Kokstad had fallen vacant through the death, at the beginning of 1886, of one of the most successful missionaries in the diocese, Archdeacon Button, of Clydesdale. The mission vacated by him was put in charge of the Rev. J. Oxley Oxland, while the writer was called by the Bishop to succeed to his official appointment. The centre of the district, and the undoubtedly right place for the archdeacon's residence, was at Kokstad; but owing to the intimate relations subsisting between the Pondomisi and myself, it seemed to his Lordship that it would be impossible for me at present to leave S. Cuthbert's, so that the duties devolving upon the holder of the office had, as far as possible, to be discharged from there; but after a while a cottage was also rented in Kokstad itself, so that there might always be a pied à terre there.

The duties of an archdeacon are defined in the canons of S. John's diocese to be as follows:--

1. To assist the Bishop in examining candidates for Holy Orders; to present to the Bishop those who are to be ordained; to assist in the laying on of hands at the time of Ordination; to aid the Bishop in consultations on grave matters; and for this end, to attend him at the Provincial Synod, when called upon to do so.

2. To watch over the faith and conduct of the clergy in his archdeaconry, and to see that they perform Divine Service according to the Prayer-Book and the Canons of this Diocese and Province.

3. To examine into the condition of Churches, Parsonage Houses, and Collegiate and other Buildings belonging to the Church, and report annually to the Bishop on the subject.

4. To act, if so required, as the Diocesan Inspector of Church Schools.

5. To admit Churchwardens and Sidesmen to their office, and to examine the Registers.

Clause 4 has never been called into requisition, to the best of my knowledge: clauses 3 and 5 were met by an annual visitation of all the parishes in the archdeaconry (which comprised Griqualand East, with the exception of Umjika, and Pondoland East) during the Quadragesima Paschalis, the church-officers being always admitted to office in their own parishes.

There are other duties which, in South Africa, fall more or less to the share of the oculus episcopi. In some dioceses, it is, I believe, a formally recognised function that he should take charge of vacant parishes: with us it was tacitly understood that he should try to supply services at such places. So it came to pass that not only were the Rode, Mount Ayliff, and Fort Donald (as already mentioned) administered from S. Cuthbert's, but that quarterly visits had to be paid also to S. Andrew's in Pondoland East, which was then occupied only by a lay caretaker.

Many other matters could naturally be initiated by one occupying an official position. I recollect to have seen it stated somewhere that the "S.P.G. would do better if it had fewer archdeacons and more curates." It was and is, however, the universal opinion in our own diocese that this office is one the maintenance of which is most necessary, and that, where the see is very large, the clergy scattered, and the means of locomotion scanty, it supplies a subsidiary point of unity, which is much valued by all the missionaries.

During these three years, Kokstad and S. Andrew's (the one as the centre of the district, and the other as a vacant parish) used to be visited quarterly: other principal places twice a year, as far as possible, for the visit of a brother clergyman to an isolated missionary is a thing which has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. Wherever the journey was, whether to Matatiela, with its glorious views of the Drakensberg, and the crowded congregation meeting for service in the court-house, with the incumbent and his wife and family cheerfully putting up with their two rooms until the parsonage was completed; to Kokstad, with its beautiful gardens and shaded streets, through which the water runs on either side, but with, alas I a small brick chapel utterly unworthy of the services of the Church; to Clydesdale, with its luxuriant garden, its massive stone chapel, and a village, with hedges reminding the traveller of those he had left behind at home; to distant Ensikeni, with its little wooden school-chapel and noble views of bush and mountain, where the missionary and his wife cheerfully bore isolation for the sake of Christ; to Maclear, where one of the last visits in 1890 was paid, to a parsonage where the incumbent and his wife were housed, not yet dry under foot, windowless and doorless; to Mount Frere, where the assistant resident magistrate's house always proved elastic enough to provide the accommodation which the priest-in-charge's cottage was obviously too small to supply; whether it was to a brother clergyman, to a resident magistrate, to an officer of the Cape Mounted Rifles, to a trader, or to a farmer that the journey was taken, the welcome was always the same, and the hospitality never-failing. Many firm friendships between the layman and the missionary have been built up at Mount Ayliff, Matatiela, under the Insizwa Mountains, and in many other places that might be named. Sometimes, as notably near Matatiela and Kokstad, carts would come out to meet the weary traveller and give him a lift in; or elsewhere, as at Mount Ayliff in particular, his tired horses would be given a rest while the next journeys were performed on borrowed ones. One of the pleasantest features of missionary life is the almost universal kindness and hospitality experienced from all alike, both white and native.

It will be obvious, from what has been said above, that a very large portion of these three years was spent in travelling. During some months not a single night was spent at home; and for the first nine months of 1889, of which a record was kept, the average mileage was nearly 1000 per quarter. Occasionally these journeys were made (partially, if not wholly) in a cart. It is a great mistake to suppose that driving is a superfluous luxury, with which the missionary ought to have nothing to do. Although circumstances have prevented my adopting this style of locomotion for myself, I have no hesitation in saying that the acquirement of a trap and cart-horses (as they are called) is a wise purchase, saving probably in the long run many years of life, by the lessening of fatigue. Additional advantages to be found in this style of travelling are increased independence (for food and sleeping gear can be taken, so that camping out may be conducted in comfort), and greater facilities for transport of baggage.

Occasionally, again, I set myself to show that walking is not an impossibility in South Africa, when my horses were abnormally overworked. If a round of any length had to be made on foot, it was necessary to be accompanied by a boy with a pack-horse, carrying such things as were needful. In this way Cross and I, both walking, attended by a Pondomisi boy riding with the saddle-bags, made a six days' round in June 1888, winding up with forty-eight miles within the last twenty-four hours. It was quite possible to do this, and to get through a great deal of pastoral work at the same tune from place to place. This particular round included the marking out of the boundaries of a new Church and inspection of school at Esiqunqwini; celebration and five baptisms at Qanqu; examination of catechumens, evensong, preparation office and sermon, and celebration and sermon at Tsitsana; other business at Qanqu and Maclear, and various talks with parishioners at different places.

But the ordinary way of getting about the country was on horseback. For the long journeys three horses are used, the second being ridden by a native boy, who leads the third with the pack upon it. For short journeys, my own custom is usually to go alone with one horse only. Full rivers may be crossed on ponts, on the very rare occasions when those ponts are in working order; or on boats, if there should happen to be any, as there are in a few places; or simply by swimming. In the big rivers there is little danger, if any, for a good swimmer. Greater, difficulty is experienced in the small streams, which are often too shallow or stony for swimming, and the current of which, when full, is tremendously strong. Happily, however, these run down as rapidly as they fill, so that a patient waiting for two or three hours on the hanks will generally see the traveller through in safety.

Two of these journeys stand out prominently in the memory. On one, made from Maclear to Tsitsana, January 25-26, 1888,1 was accompanied by a young colonial friend. Knowing that the rivers were full, we decided not to go by the usual short cut, crossing the Pot River at a drift known as the Sausage Machine, which is very dangerous after heavy rains, but to take the river at the main drift on the waggon road to Mount Fletcher. When we reached the drift, we found some natives on the bank, unable to cross. Happily there were some farmers' houses at no great distance on the other side, and after some time we succeeded in making their owners hear. When they saw the position of affairs, with the usual colonial readiness they constructed an impromptu raft with a cask and some spars, attaching long reims to it at either end Two natives swam across with this, towing the raft after them by the reims, and by this means we succeeded in conveying over dry our clothes and our saddles, at last following ourselves, resting on the raft and paddling with our legs, while the horses swam.

After this our course lay across country till we struck the Tsitsa at a drift which neither of us knew. The neighbourhood was quite deserted, so that, under the circumstances, it was not safe to attempt the river, and we coasted back along it, making for a drift with which I was familiar. On our way we came to a sluit which had to be crossed. Here the water, whkh was bitterly cold, was just up to my neck. Four journeys, walking or swimming, had to be made to get all the things through dry, as well as the horses; and when, by 5.15, we reached the drift for which we were making, we decided that, in the face of the strong stream running there, and the absence of people, it would be foolhardy to attempt the passage that night.

All this time we had been keeping our eyes open, looking out for possible accommodation, and had seen a deserted kraal, for which we now made. In one of the huts the horses were stabled, while another we selected for ourselves. We were not so fortunate as I had been on a somewhat similar occasion two or three years previous, when, sleeping in a deserted kraal where I was weather-bound, I found an enormous basket of native make, into which I was able to curl myself up comfortably for a bed; but happily we had had lunch at our farmer-friend's, and had with us mackintoshes and biscuits, so that we might have fared much worse.

The next morning we were back again at the Tsitsa by 7.30, and soon succeeded in attracting the attention of a Basuto, who came down to the other side of the river, and held a conversation with us across it As he informed us that there was too much water for us to attempt to get over then, but that he would bring us through later, we threw over a sixpence (wrapped up into a large parcel), with which he went up to a store about a mile away, bringing us back a liberal supply of food, which he threw over in the same manner. We made a comfortable breakfast, al fresco, and by 11.30 were able to effect our transit. The trader evinced the usual friendliness when we got to his store, returning our money, and giving us tiffin.

The other occasion alluded to was in February 1889, when I was travelling, with a Pondomisi boy, from S. Andrew's to Umtata across country, by a way along which I had never been before. On the 25th, we rode a short distance of eighteen miles, of which the last six were in rain, and were taken in for the night by a trader, who very kindly volunteered to guide us to the river on the following day.

We did not make our start until 7 o'clock on the 26th, and soon were enveloped in a dense fog, which turned into positive rain as we neared the Umzimvubu River. On our way down to this, my friend hired a native guide to take me up to a trader's on the opposite side; and had it not been for him we should have been lost then and there in the thick fog, as we found ourselves trying to lead our horses along a slippery goat-track on the precipitous hillside. Set right again, we led them down a succession of wooded valleys, the trees often meeting overhead, and the mud being a foot deep or more, till at last we came out on the river, having by that time collected four Pondos, in addition to the guide, to help in the transport.

While the Pondos were engaged in cutting down branches with which to make a raft, my boy succeeded in kindling a fire, in spite of damp wood and we sat in the mud, under the sopping trees, and thoroughly relished our coffee and lunch.

At last all was ready, and the horses were swum through. This was not effected without difficulty, the stream being very strong, in spite of the width of the river, and my best horse, being put into the water too low down, was nearly sucked down into an eddy twice, so that he twice made his way back to the bank from which he had been started. The clothes and saddles were then tied on to the raft, which was pushed through the water by a swimmer at either end; and when these had been got through, I found that, instead of swimming ourselves, we also were to be conveyed over the same way, reclining in the water, with one elbow on the raft, and hanging on to it by two uprights at either end.

Dressing in mud and rain was not pleasant; and when this was over, and, before mounting, the four swimmers were paid the sum on which my white friend (who, of course, remained on the other side) had agreed with them, one of them would not be content with his money, and very rudely and importunately demanded more. This I was determined not to give, at any cost; but the situation was not a pleasant one, and I was doubtful how it would end, as my interlocutor showed his temper by throwing logs of wood at his companions because they did not sufficiently back him up. My native guide, hearing the altercation, instead of coming to our assistance, at once started off at a run along a path almost hidden by bush. In fear of losing him, in which case our position would have been hopeless, I called to my boy to follow; and we jumped on our horses, and were agreeably surprised to get away without being followed by several billets of wood.

The remainder of that day's journey was the most tiring that I ever experienced. The weather and the surroundings were so miserable that I could not be surprised when, on our suddenly coming upon a most wretched-looking and filthily dirty Pondo kraal, our guide proposed that we should remain there till the morrow. Even, however, had we been disposed to put up with such accommodation and food as we could have obtained ourselves, it was quite out of the question for the horses; so my reply was, that if he did not bring us to the trader's where we hoped to sleep that night, he would get no pay at all. We resumed our weary march, dragging our horses up steep and muddy hills which it was a wonder that they were able to get up at all, scarcely ever able to see more than three or four yards in front of us, often forcing our way through thick bushes or bending low to avoid the overhanging branches of trees, until at last it was all I could do to get along, and my boy, who seemed none the worse for it all, had to lead both the horses. It was an intense relief when in the evening we reached the house of an old bluejacket, now engaged in trade, and were able to exchange our soaked garments for a dry suit, ever so much too large, indeed, but that mattered nothing.

On the following morning we got glimpses of the sun again for the first time in six days--a most extraordinary state of affairs for Kaffraria. Soon enveloped in rain and mist once more, we got along somehow by dint of asking our way whenever we found a kraal or a wayfarer, until in the early part of the afternoon the fog lifted enough to enable me to discern a once familiar landmark, and so to shape our course for Umtata, which we reached at 5.30, having had to strip wholly or partially three times during the day in order to cross the swollen streams. Such experiences have their pleasures even at the time; and there is always the feeling, verified in each case afterwards--

"Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit."

At S. Andrew's, after a time it became my custom to remain four or five days on each visit. The quiet of the place, and the beauty of the surroundings, were very acceptable; and it was good for the preacher-in-charge and the surrounding Pondos to feel that they were still in touch with a clergyman. After the Rev. C. D. Tonkin had been moved from the station, the buildings were at first put in charge of a white man; and after he left, a Griqua reader came for a time. He in his turn was succeeded by a Fingo preacher, named Kubukeli, who has really done an excellent work in gathering together Sunday by Sunday a large congregation of red Kaffirs, as well as in preaching at outside kraals. At last, on the occasion of one visit, a deputation of the surrounding Pondos came to ask for medicines, and education for their children, which at once gave the desired opportunity for propounding the Bishop's scheme for establishing there a medical mission, worked by a doctor and a priest.

One of my first visits to S. Andrew's, in Kubukeli's time, impressed me very much, in a way that was far from pleasant. After evening was over, while sitting reading in the sitting-room, I became conscious that I was falling a victim to some very voracious fleas. Hoping that they confined their attention to that room only, I retired to my bedroom. There I first tried lying on my bed, and then getting into it, both equally in vain. When the torture became unbearable, I set to work to kill them. I believe it is no exaggeration to say that I must have slaughtered quite fifty, without appearing to make the slightest impression on them. Then I gave up the endeavour in despair, and prepared for passing a night on the veldt. As I was moving about the room, I saw the door cautiously open, and Kubukeli's night-capped head appearing, from which issued the question, in Kaffir, "Is it the fleas?" They must indeed have been bad, considering they had nearly driven the preacher and his wife out of the house, as I now learnt for the first time! and those that still remained, they reckoned as nothing I Kubukeli now retired to consult with his wife as to what was best to be done, the upshot being that they made up a bed for me in the vestry of the school-chapel. But it was necessary, the following day, to divest myself three times of all my garments, and give each separate one a thorough shaking and beating, before I could get rid of all the animals; and after that, I was careful never to visit S. Andrew's without some of Keating's flea-powder.

A visit to S. Andrew's about a year later gave an illustration of the danger of a missionary praying for rain among a heathen people. On my arrival on September 30, 1889, I learnt from Kubukeli that the Pondos had already been to ask that I would pray for rain, as soon as I came. This is the usual custom in the time of drought: the heathen at once has recourse to the rain-maker, or to the missionary, or perhaps to both, hoping by some means to obtain the commodity that he so much needs. Where the people are not heathen deliberately, perpetually shutting their ears to the message which is day by day being preached to them, or of set purpose refusing to look at the Christian lives which are always being lived in their midst, there is much to be said in favour of calling them to such services, or permitting them to be present; but when, with a clergyman and a Church always ready to hand, they ordinarily neglect both, and only set foot inside God's House once in the year, when they want something of Him, their conduct seems to me to be ominously like making a convenience of God, if the expression may be allowed, and it is hard to see how such a service can be acceptable.

In this case, thinking the Pondos near S. Andrew's fell into the first category, I consented to their request, and a special service of intercession (with a sermon) was held on October and, succeeded very shortly by rain.

It was learnt afterwards that this had been followed by a discussion some days later among the Pondos at a place some distance away as to whose rain this was! Some, who came from near Palmerton or Emfundisweni, contended that it was Mr. Hargreaves' rain, he being the Wesleyan missionary at the latter place, who had been holding services for a similar purpose at about the same time. Others, who came from the neighbourhood of S. Andrew's, maintained that a missionary had come from near Umtata (meaning myself) who had produced it. Sigcau, the paramount chief, hearing of the discussion, solved the question by saying that all white men have rain. Herein, then, lies a serious danger: that we should be looked upon as on a par with their own rain-makers, instead of as God's messengers, sent to teach them about the things of the soul.

There had long been a feeling among us missionaries that we needed to be drawn together, and to have more spiritual aids supplied to us, so in 1888 we inaugurated in Griqualand East quarterly clerical meetings at Kokstad, arranged for Retreats there for clergy, and elsewhere for native workers (hitherto they had been held only at Umtata), and commenced to form a clerical lending library at Kokstad.

At S. Cuthbert's, meanwhile, the water-furrow, commenced years ago by Bishop Key, but suspended for want of funds, was completed, doubling or trebling the value of the glebe land, while the wire-fencing was very much extended, and tree-planting was more taken in hand; and finally three good huts were erected for myself at the end of 1888, as the parsonage was about to be lent for a time to a married clergyman.

At this date our happy party was being, or had been, broken up. Stainer was at S. Augustine's, Cross had just gone to S. Patrick's (Gqaqala), and Webber, now in priest's orders, was about to take up his abode at Mount Frere. For the time had now arrived when the parish must inevitably be cut up, if the work was to continue to develop. So in 1889 three new parishes were formed: Mount Ayliff, whither Mr. Dixon went, taking in that place, Fort Donald, the Rode, and the Griquas at Ladykok (who were shortly afterwards scattered by a war with the Pondos); Mount Frere, of which Mr. Webber was placed in charge, having in his hands the districts of Qumbu and Mount Frere; and S. Augustine's (the old name retained), to which the Rev. P. H. Case, a priest newly arrived from England, and an old friend of my own, was licensed, this parish to include the district of Maclear, and that of Tsolo, with the exception of Umijka, and the Pondomisi location with the station at Ncolosi, which remained in my hands under the name of S. Cuthbert's parish. Mr. and Mrs. Case lived for nine months at Ncolosi, until the former had acquired some idea of the work, and then moved up to Maclear, where they were living when our party left for England.

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