Project Canterbury

Memories of Mashonaland

By G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Sometime Bishop of Mashonaland

London and New York: Edward Arnold, 1895.

Chapter IX. European Work.

The Mashonaland mission was originally intended for natives only; but on the Europeans coming into the country our work for them took the larger proportions. Directly Englishmen arrive in a new colony it is naturally expected that our Church should have work in hand at every camp of any importance. We did our best; but in a country without endowments the difficulties are not small. Perhaps they are best measured by the fact that no other Christian denominations seem even to have attempted to have their churches in every camp. It was satisfactory to hear an Australian gold-digger say that one of the things that most struck him in coming to Mashonaland was the amount of Church work [202/203] that was going on. I thought our work rather scanty myself.

Canon Balfour, who was the father of European work in Mashonaland, came up with the British South Africa Company, and built the first church in Mashonaland at Fort Salisbury. It was made of poles and mud, but did very admirable service. Canon Balfour himself lived at first in a mud-hut near, and afterwards built another mud-hut as a study. It was just like him to take up a work when it most wanted help, and tide over difficulties to which he was well accustomed. Archdeacon Upcher followed him with splendid result, building a large brick church and carrying the people with him in a very remarkable way. The day on which he joined us was certainly a bright one for the mission. Perhaps it is hard to realize what building a church under the conditions of a Mashonaland camp in those days meant. He was helped by friends in England, but it cost the mission nothing. He collected the money and superintended the work. Mashonaland and the Mashonaland mission will ever owe him a deep debt of gratitude. His value has been incalculable. He [203/204] has suffered considerably from fever, but has held on through all difficulties.

At Fort Salisbury, too, an English Church school, under an efficient schoolmaster, was founded for the few children from the south; but it was too much in the day of small things when I left to give any opinion as to its probable future.

I do not think Archdeacon Upcher would object to the following extract of a letter of his, which has been already published, appearing again:

'Mr. Rhodes, with his Administrator, on passing my stand to-day, stopped to speak, and asked me to let him build me a house. ... So he builds a parsonage, the foundation to be in before he leaves, which is shortly. The Administrator told me a good stand had been selected for the church at Buluwayo. I am glad to say Mr. Rhodes has helped us well with our school.'

The church at Fort Salisbury was the most northern church for Europeans (not for natives) in Mashonaland. To the south of it by some one hundred and fifty miles came Fort Victoria, with its beautiful little brick church (which, I believe, for some reason has since suffered a [204/205] good deal), and a two-roomed parsonage. After everything was finished, even to the setting up of an American organ in the church, the work of the mission failed here for a time very badly; but it was taken up again, and by our last reports one of the best of lay-readers, who combines native with European work, is living there. The success in originally starting this work was chiefly owing to a committee of laymen, of whom Major Allan Wilson, who was afterwards killed in the Matabele war, was one, and Captain Lendy was another. Indeed, it was somewhat remarkable that the officers who commanded both the columns from Mashonaland, the artillery from Mashonaland, and the Bechuanaland Border Police should all four have been members of their Church committees in their respective camps.

Some two hundred miles away to the southwest, again, is the camp of the Bechuanaland Police, Macloutsie Camp. Here one good clergyman died, and the next, Frederick Lawrence, only came home to die; but their work remains. Our meeting in the camp to organize a committee to build a church here was typical of a body of men under the command of Sir Frederick Carrington. First, I [205/206] had to get there from Tuli; that was some distance; and though I started early in the day to ride, the horse of the 'orderly' who was with me was knocked up, and he had to change horses at the police tents on the road; so we were still some miles from Macloutsie when it became dark. Presently we saw a fire, then a figure, then we heard a voice. Even if I had not known the voice, I might have known that there were not many men who would have driven out several miles to meet a wandering bishop; but Sir Frederick Carrington was just such a man, and there he was to drive me into Macloutsie. I don't wonder that the Bechuanaland Border Police were devoted to him.

So then we had a meeting of all the officers and men of the Border Police then in Macloutsie; and the result was a committee among themselves to build a church. The Matabele war coming soon afterwards hindered this, the youngest of all the European churches in Mashonaland; but the last direction that I gave in the country was to have the church finished, as the mission had just then paid for the material of the roof. Before this a Church service had been held in the reading-room of the camp; and here one of our clergy had [206/207] been ordained in the presence of a congregation composed, as far as I can remember, entirely of officers, non-commissioned officers, and troopers. I remember the evening service on that Sunday especially, as the time of the officers' mess was changed, so as not to interfere with it. But the Matabele war interfered badly with the work at Macloutsie; and when I last held service at the church-parade there were scarcely twenty men present.

To the east of Fort Salisbury, at Umtali--some one hundred and fifty miles away--we had a church built in the native fashion, by Mr. Pelly, which did admirable service for some time. When I left it was becoming past its work, and soon afterwards a fund was started for a new church, and under the clergyman there, Mr. Walker, I should say it would not be long in being finished. Everything he has undertaken as yet has been well done.

It is interesting to read in the Review of Reviews for May, 1895, that their 'circulating library will be established ... at Buluwayo, while the three other branches will be formed at Fort Salisbury, Umtali, and Fort Victoria.' It will help to swell the list of books that were ordered by a committee at Umtali nearly two [207/208] years ago; and we hear that some time since the books that Lord Grey gave to Umtali, as he did to the other three camps in Mashonaland through our mission, have arrived also.

I find an extract from an old letter of mine sent home which gives the position in this camp at Christmas, 1893:

'Here at Umtali we have had a very peaceful Christmas; the place is quieter than it was, and our Christmas Day was a really happy one. The church had been flooded shortly before, but looked very beautiful at our service. It was quite full, and there were more communicants than I had ever expected. I am personally interested in this camp, as I take charge of it. One of our rooms we have lent as a reading-room, and books and papers have been ordered from civilized parts. In a place where nearly everyone lives in a mud hut, and damp evenings without much light are apt to lead to drinking, a reading-room is most valuable.' However, this room was not used. We had very little to read. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge sent out most valuable grants of their books, which with much difficulty were carried to Umtali, though some were injured in the carrying. We had had [208/209] our library committee for some time in the camp, and men were ready to subscribe; but we could not get the books brought up from the coast. But now the library is an accomplished fact.

It was here Mr. Pelly worked so very well, and from here he did his native mission work. There was no clergyman or teacher of any description other than those of the Church of England for about a hundred miles in every direction from Umtali, except to the south, where the American missionaries were.

Then, when I left Umtali, Mr. Burgin writes from the Parsonage, Victoria:

'I have been here five weeks. The Archdeacon thought there ought to be a clergyman at Umtali; so Walker and I have changed places. I was very sorry to leave Umtali; we had got the new American organ up, and had a full church every Sunday.'

The most picturesque part of Umtali was, I think, some half a mile from the town, where the police camp, the hospital, and our mission-house were all in a line. The work of the first nurses in this hospital has been written about at length by themselves. They showed a great deal of courage and determination in [209/210] coming up, and were sent back under the care of Dr. Rundle, who wrote as follows about them: 'The Bishop and all the other members of the mission were untiring in their efforts that the nurses leaving here and going to the coast at Beira should have every comfort, and be saved from every inconvenience and unpleasantness.' But it was Dr. Rundle himself who did the work. Again, he wrote about the next relay of Church of England hospital nurses:

'The Bishop and myself accompanied one relay of nurses on the journey; and I can honestly say that there was no inconvenience to which we did not subject ourselves in taking care of them, and seeing that they came up in the greatest possible comfort. We also did the journey of about eight hundred miles with extraordinary rapidity, the nurses having practically no exertion of any kind.' But again nearly the whole credit of the journey is due to him; my only real contribution being my waggon, which, under the altered condition of the country, I scarcely ever used, except in the Matabele war, as the travelling in it was much too slow; and besides, in the journey Dr. Rundle alludes to, I had to go on to other [210/211] work, and he did the important part of the journey without me.

The second detachment of nurses nursed me through my worst illness in the country, so I can speak from experience of the value of their work. It cannot be over-estimated. Many a man owes his life to them. The ordinary attacks of fever caught on the high ground of Mashonaland we did not think very much of; but the coast fever was always more serious; and this was usually brought up by the men from Beira and the coast, or from the low country in any direction; and Umtali was the first resting-place that they came to on high ground from the east. There many of those that had caught the fever were brought to the hospital.

The hospital was a building chiefly of poles and mud and thatch, and served for excellent work: but a new one was before long required, and for some time a fund was being collected by the nurses to build it. The British South Africa Company paid all expenses of the hospital, and took all responsibility of boarding and lodging our nurses off our hands; so the building of a new hospital was rather too much to expect the company to undertake without some long [211/212] consideration. In the meantime the old building became past use, and the hospital was transferred to our mission-house; which, after I left, had been occupied by one of our European missionaries and his natives only.

We were very proud of that mission-house. One of our missionaries, who only looked at it in its relation to native work, though it is almost in the European town, writes about it: 'The church mission-house is finished. For the native work and headquarters it is simply perfect. Umtasa and his people are twelve miles to the north; Maconi and his people, where Frank and Bernard are living, thirty miles north-west; while to the south and east village after village stretches away. At the same time, if the Beira railway is finished, it is the easiest spot in the country for getting in both new workers and provisions.'

It must be useful; for the Bishop of Zulu-land wrote that it is 'now used for the hospital, and a capital place it seemed to be, and everything in excellent order.' Someone estimated the cost at about £1,500; so it had evidently great pretensions. As a matter of fact, it cost a little over £500; but then we did a good deal of the superintending of the work, [212/213] and a little of the work ourselves. The great expense was incurred in its being a brick, and therefore a permanent, building. A competent bricklayer was then earning about a sovereign a day or more. Bricks were naturally expensive. The mission made the first burnt bricks in this part of the country some two years before on one of our mission farms; but owing to the European town being moved, their centre of work in this district had to be moved also.

As to this question of high wages being asked, and high prices for goods that are brought into the country, I could never see the justice of condemning the demands. Not lately, but in the earlier days of European occupation, it is true that extraordinary prices were asked. I have offered five shillings in vain for a bar of common soap; and have heard of sugar at four-and-sixpence a pound. I have been told that two shillings and more was asked at times for a yard of calico (the money of the country) which would sell for threepence at Cape Town. The prices were high: but no one was compelled to buy the things. If anyone could have got them cheaper he would not have given the high prices. If men chose [213/214] to risk health and money in dragging goods into a country, which were, as a rule, eagerly bought up as soon as they arrived, it was only fair they should be very highly paid. There was plenty of wrong-doing in Africa without looking for it where, I think, none existed; and personally I had a great respect for some of the traders and artizans who would risk what they did to make their way in the world. The bricklayer who built our house was drowned soon after he had finished it.

While I was at the Matabele war, Dr. Rundle was working hard at the mission-house, and in this, as in everything else, was of the greatest value to the mission. He saw to everything, from doctoring the sick to superintending the cleaning of the bundles of straw for the roof of the mission-house; and his loyalty to his work and to everyone who had to work with him made him well appreciated by those interested in the mission. He had one quality most valuable in a missionary. He never seemed depressed. And he had an endless fund of humour, that kept everything bright round him. I should like to insert a little notice of his death, written by a mine-manager at Umtali:

[215] In Memoriam.



'In the death of Dr. Edmund Rundle, the inhabitants of Umtali have lost a valued and trusted friend, and the Mashonaland mission one of its most loyal and energetic workers.

'Dr. Rundle had become very well known in Umtali and Massi-Kessi. He left England with the Bishop and two hospital nurses early in 1893, arriving at Umtali after an arduous journey up country about June. Immediately afterwards he went to Fontesvilla in charge of the two nurses, whose time had expired, and who were returning home. On again reaching Umtali he took part in the work of building mission-huts at the surrounding kraals of Umtasa and Ischitaka, and others.

'During the Bishop's absence in the Matabele war he had charge of the mission affairs in Umtali, and many will long remember the bright little services he used to hold on Sunday evenings.

'The "little doctor," as he was often called, was loved by many here. His exceeding good nature, his cheerfulness in the presence of [215/216] difficulties and hardships, and his great loyalty to his work, and to those in authority, endeared him to the hearts of us all.'

When he died the camp felt his loss deeply. He had done admirable work, too, in helping among the natives around. Besides, together with Mr. Pelly, building the mission-huts at Umtasa's, he went on expeditions alone and laid the first material foundations of more than one mission outpost.

He used to tell a story to show the helplessness of the natives. When he was building a mission-hut some way from Umtali, the chief and his wife brought him their baby to doctor in the middle of the night. It had congestion of the lungs; the nights were cold; but they had brought it quite naked. However, it recovered, and some time afterwards Dr, Rundle met the chief, who thanked him for what he had done.

Before ending these rather disconnected notes on hospital and medical work, I should like to add my tribute of praise to the work of the Roman Catholic hospital nurses, who were working where ours were not--in other parts of Mashonaland. Their devotion to their duties seemed faultless.

[217] Umtali is always for me associated with a man named Wilkins, whom I met at Bloemfontein when I used to hold services on Sunday afternoons for the men on the railway. He was a carpenter; he had been a sailor, and had gone up the Zambesi with Dr. Livingstone. Then he volunteered to come to Mashonaland, and when our first company of hospital nurses came on from Beira to the English camp on the Pungwe River, he received them there. Someone wrote about him: 'He nurses the sick, builds huts for people--everyone goes to him about everything--he is the most splendid fellow.' He did not come with the hospital nurses, but brought a relay of carriers later on. Dr. Glanville and Mr. Sutton brought the nurses up. The former died soon after he left our mission, and the latter was lost in the 'bush,' and never heard of again. Poor Wilkins died too; but he nursed me first through one illness in my tent, and a gentler, more considerate nurse could not have been found. He is buried close to my old hut.

At Beira, on the east coast, the mission which was founded in '93 was too young for me to form any correct opinion about it before I left the country; but the people in the town [217/218] seemed willing to do their share of the work in building their own church, and they were asking for us to send a hospital nurse to the Portuguese hospital.

But when I speak of work among Europeans, it must be understood that nearly all the real effective work was done, not by me, but by the workers who were with me--such men as Canon Balfour, Archdeacon Upcher, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Burgin, Mr. Walker, and by our hospital nurses. These bore the burden and heat of the day, and to them in their respective centres the credit of work done is due. Since I have left I hear that a church has been built at Buluwayo mainly through the energy of Archdeacon Upcher. Almost my last act before my connection with the mission ceased was to send out Mr. Hammick to take charge of Buluwayo. He had been Archdeacon in Zulu-land, and had done good service in Australia.

To put the last act into the story, Archdeacon Gaul has now been appointed my successor, and, humanly speaking, I feel that the structure--though considering the size of the country it is only a framework--is safe. It has nearly always been my privilege to have been followed in my successive posts by better men than [218/219] myself, and this case is no exception to the rule. The new Bishop finds some ten mission workers waiting for him--as good a collection, if I am not mistaken, as a mission may well hope for. This is after those who were not so suitable have left.

It would be impossible to enumerate all who have helped in the work by gifts of money. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts of course comes first. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge has been most generous. Mr. Rhodes and the British South Africa Company gave £500 at the very beginning, and now, under Bishop Gaul, another £500 has just come from them for the bishopric endowment, besides £100 from Dr. Jameson, and friends in Africa are giving to it in large sums; and so with all its failings--and they have been neither few nor small--the scheme, though no longer possible on the lines originally intended of a purely native mission, seems well on the road to success in every direction, and the old idea of the Mashonaland mission, that was suggested over nine years ago, was not so visionary after all.

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