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Journals of the Mashonaland Mission 1888 to 1892

By G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Bishop for Mashonaland

No place: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1892

Chapter II. Introduction--continued.

The Mashonaland of 1888 passed suddenly away. Africa developed gold fever, growing delirious over the Transvaal and restless everywhere. Men saw nuggets under every ridge, and but one danger--that of others digging them out. Mashonaland sand and Mashonaland quartz had specks of yellow, and the clever and sceptical world of the nineteenth century was as ready as the world of Queen Elizabeth to start for another golden city of Manoa.

Sounder judgment saw wider vistas. The country was high, fever might be stamped out, the rivers were numerous and their clear water ran all the year, the soil was plainly very fertile, and there seemed every hope for a prosperous colony. The Prime Minister of the Cape, Mr. Cecil Rhodes, had learnt from General Gordon to believe in the colonising office of 'God's Englishmen,' and Mashonaland .seemed to him a fair country to add to England's landlordship. Very quickly he obtained the concession of mining rights over all the land from the Matabele chief; formed the South African Chartered Company, and sent up their Pioneer force to take possession, which it did with peace and success. [12/13] Three clergy accompanied the men as chaplains. One of these, to the great regret of his troop, died from the effects of the climate near Fort Tuli; another returned; and Canon Balfour still remains in charge of the police and of Fort Salisbury, having shared all the hardships of the early settlement.

The Pioneers were followed by many others, and the influx of white men made the development of the Church's work a more immediate necessity. The African Bishops constituted Mashonaland into a separate missionary diocese, of which they asked Bishop Knight-Bruce to undertake the charge; and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, with the quick practical insight that had enabled the work to be begun two years before, granted £1,000 annually for seven years, and Mr. Rhodes gave £500. On this sole support the Mission started forward.

The Bishop gathered together a little party, including some lay workers, three ladies (certificated nurses) who volunteered for work in one of the Company's hospitals, and five excellent native Christians, who were eventually to act as Catechists, their own language being somewhat akin to that of the Mashona.

The first difficulty was how to get themselves into the diocese; the second, and very far greater one, was how to get in their necessary supplies. Goats, sheep, and Kaffir meal might be obtainable from the natives, or possibly, if the Mission funds were able to afford it, a high-priced cow for milk. But this would be all; and the native supplies had been heavily taxed and [13/14] absorbed by the immigrants of the past year. It is perhaps hard to realise in England what the conditions of life must be in a native country as yet untouched by trade.

There were three routes available: one was the; long tedious waggon journey up through Bechuanaland and Matabeleland, that might take any time from two and a half months to five; another was the slightly shorter waggon journey up through the Transvaal, and then on; the third sounded almost European in speed and comfort, with its coast steamer to the mouth of the Pungwé River, its river steamer for fifty miles inland, and then its coaches for passengers and waggons for stores over a road for the remaining 140 miles straight into Mashonaland.

The road was made; the coaches, waggons, oxen, harness all prepared. There seemed in April one difficulty only remaining, namely, the refusal of the Portuguese to give the road in through their possessions, as they held, rightly or wrongly, that the Chartered Company had gravely infringed upon their border, and pushed the boundary of Mashonaland beyond any lawful limit. But, through the wise and just decision of Lord Salisbury, the Portuguese were appeased, and this difficulty was ended.

The first steamer was to go up the Pungwé early in May, and by it the Bishop decided to push into his diocese with his Christian natives and the year's supply of medicines and stores, leaving the nurses under competent care to follow by the next steamer.

[15] At this point the Bishop's journal begins; but, in order to understand all the difficulties that met him, it may be as well to say at once that this route became for the time an utter failure. Men and brains and money were beaten by flies. A belt of country at least sixty miles across, stretching inland from the Pungwe, is haunted by a little insect, browny-grey in colour, the size of a small horse-fly, with wings crossed over its back, known as the tsetse fly. It lives on game; When its larder leaves the country the tsetse fly follows, and at present there is no other known deliverance. The most delicate skinned antelope suffers no more from its bite than the thick-hided buffalo, but to any domestic animal it means death. No visible mark is made, but the poor beast withers away, often with all the symptoms of a snake bite, losing strength and flesh, till, if it has not died before, it dies after the first rain. When skinned the flesh shows livid circles round each puncture. Men apparently do not suffer at all, though Mr. Selous believes that in the Zambesi Valley, where the fly swarms, their bites aggravate the attacks of fever. Be that as it may, the tsetse fly worked its wicked will on the Pungwé route, and soon, instead of oxen and waggons, there were waggons and hides.

Carriers were the only remaining hope for the stores and building materials; but carriers, at least in the Zanzibar sense, hardly exist on this coast. Those employed by the Portuguese are generally [15/16] imported, under a contract to work for no one else. There remain the few local natives who can be laboriously collected together, and bribed by high payment to undertake the inland journey.

But though these difficulties must be told, it would be unfair to give the impression either that they are greater than those many another young colony has had to meet, and has met and grown out of, or that the Chartered Company is not doing its utmost for the healthy development of the country. Two clauses in its Charter follow high precedents, and follow them at the cost of profit. One binds the Company to discourage, and by degrees abolish, any system of slave trade or domestic servitude in its territories; the other forbids entirely the sale of intoxicating liquor or spirits to any native.

As for all the rest, the difficulties of this far inland mission must be very great; in many ways far greater than those at home can realise, or those who go through them care to dwell on. But difficulties were never made by Christ into an exceptional clause in His great command, and the claim of the poor Mashona stands on a line with that of the most cultivated European; both are laid alike on every Christian Church whose commission is 'to preach the Gospel to every creature.' England raised a million in a few weeks to work Mashonaland gold, and sent out numbers of men for every available post; how much will England give in prayer and help and dedicated life to work for the Golden Harvest that Angel Hands will garner?

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