Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter I. The Moment and the Man

THE nineteenth century is famous for its discoveries in thought, science and mechanism. Its greatest discovery was Africa.

Many discoveries alter customs and ways of living, introduce different standards of wealth and comfort, shatter conventions and change religious outlook. But the discovery of a new continent still more vitally affects mankind. Its appeal is to men of all kinds from the highest to the lowest and to what lies deepest in them. It awakens the imagination, it stirs new life, it restores youthfulness with its call to adventure, it fashions new peoples and throws back the vigour of their new life on to the lands of their origin.

So it was in Spain and England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the discovery of America. So, too, with England, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands when the Mohammedan flank was turned by the passage round the Cape and a new way was found to India and the Far East. It was even more so with Europe in the nineteenth century. Her other discoveries in science and mechanics had made her better equipped for seizing and making good her discovery of Africa and for developing its possibilities. Besides, Africa was not half across the world, but at her elbow. From the dawn of history civilization had lapped Africa's northern shores, and for a hundred and fifty years had freely circled every quarter of them, but Africa herself was still an accepted mystery, hidden behind the silent refusal of burning deserts and impenetrable forests, of mighty rivers thundering down in impassable cataracts or winding in a maze of fever-ridden swamps. Suddenly and quickly the mystery was disclosed by the voices of Speke, Burton, Grant, and, more loudly, of Livingstone and Stanley. Europe was galvanized into new life and jumped to the scramble for the prize.

Fortunately, however, the first call from Africa was not to an El Dorado of gold, but of men. Before the possibilities of her soil and her mineral wealth were known, the call was to the possibilities and romance of her people. It had been the one thing known of the hidden mystery of Africa that within her borders was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of raw humanity for the slave markets of America and the East. The first great cry from discovered Africa was a call to redress this hideous wrong and to set a helpless people free.

For this, Africa will one day thank God. It was that start--small enough, but a start--that made all the difference and that saved Africa from being the nineteenth-century counterpart of Mexico and Peru. It was not till twenty years after the call of Livingstone that the European scramble for Africa began. For those twenty years, and for nearly another five, almost all the impact of Europe on Africa was directed to its people, almost all the interest taken in Africa by Europe was in the story of African missions.

The centre of this interest, the most romantic chapter in this story, lay in Uganda, that country of a strange civilization which Stanley had found in the very heart of the Dark Continent, that fabled land of the sources of the age-old Nile. There, the, most far-reaching and the most effective start was made by the spiritual forces of discovery. But even here the start, important as it was, was almost lost, owing to the immense obstacles that the pioneers in this adventure for humanity had to overcome. Disease, persecution, martyrdom, savagery, relentless intrigue, combined to close what at first had seemed a promising opening. Voices were raised for the abandonment of the adventure, and even the hands of commerce and politics, that had been preparing to take advantage of the start already made, faltered and were ready to withdraw.

In a great measure the situation was saved by one man--Alfred Robert Tucker. The instruments to his hand were undoubtedly exceptional. The Baganda were in a sense the key people of Central Africa, the British East Africa Company and the British government represented commerce and politics at a very high level. But it was Tucker who at the critical moment braced doubtful hearts, pointed the way to the line of duty and responsibility, and made possible a complex of state, industry and church which has never lost the imperishable advantages of its spiritual beginnings, and that has provided the leaven of that African civilization which is springing to life through contact with European culture.

It is easy to under-cstimate the worth of Tucker's achievement. It was too successful. It is a frequent penalty of success that its achievements are taken for granted and the possibilities of failure are not remembered.

Tucker's methods of work and his judgment have not infrequently been criticized, and no man is above the need of criticism. But here again it is one of the consequences of sustained success that slight inequalities of performance and individual acts of mistaken judgment are looked at and criticized along the plain surface of a general success. They would have been unnoticed had a lesser genius kept a less even course.

There were three elements in Tucker's achievement which are the key to the appreciation of his life's work.

In the first place, Uganda presented a unique missionary opportunity. In China, India, and Japan, Christian missions found age-long and highly developed civilizations intensely hostile to western interference. In each case the history of modern missions began in the humblest way with the lowest and poorest of the people, and ranked as far less important than any other western impact. In Uganda there was a civilization primitive enough to be readily shaped by European influence, and developed enough to provide a people of considerable ability and intelligence. Moreover, Christianity was the first and for a long time the only vital impact, of the West upon the people, and by the course of events it resulted that the Christian Church was found not principally among the lowest order of the people, but among the chiefs and the ruling class. This was a new situation, full of possibilities, and Tucker's artistic genius instantly perceived and developed it. The result was the establishment, in the face of bitter criticism, of a native, self-governing, self-supporting Church, along lines which are to-day the recognized policy of the whole mission field.

In the second place, Tucker had perceived from the first the inevitability of the inrush of trade, the necessity of political control, and the importance of mutually harmonious relations between these elements and the mission. This harmony he achieved to an extent probably unequalled in any other part of the mission field. It was not an easy task. It was a time of fervent emotionalism, and there were many missionary supporters who had no use for educational work or political relationships and who saw no scope for missions beyond simple evangelism. Such people did not realize the true value of Tucker's work and continually found fault with his incursions into other fields.

Lastly, Tucker showed most remarkable qualities of leadership. He arrived in a sphere highly charged with religious emotion and romance, which had called out and would call out men of striking ability and often uncomfortable originality. Neither of his predecessors had lived to meet this responsibility. It was a two-fold task: on the one hand the maintenance of harmony, and on the other the full use of the manifold gifts of diverse men, while still securing a unity of policy for the whole. Tucker succeeded: only a great man could have done it.

The moment when on a calm and sunlit sea a ship makes port, home from across the world with her cargo safely borne, is one which provokes pleasing reflections on the romance of seafaring or, in lesser minds, captious comparison with other trimmer ships whose business has been done in nearer waters. It is not a moment that reveals the true quality of that homecoming. For that you must have sailed aboard her and weathered the shock of wind and wave, have trembled for the safety of the cargo as she wallowed in the trough of some mighty storm, or seen the edge of a hidden reef slide by, missed only by a few yards, in some uncharted sea.

So, too, with the life of Alfred Tucker. You cannot measure its quality only by the things accomplished, the increase in converts, the multiplication of churches, the expansion of Christianity into other lands, the harmonious progress of state and church. You must journey with him and see the problems he had to face, the dangers avoided and so forgotten, the risks courageously taken and so lessened for other men; you must see the vision before it became a commonplace of achievement, when it was still only a vision, apparent to few or none but himself.

Behind the thing done, to find the man! That is the aim of this book. If we find him we shall get the inspiration of a life lived in the clear consciousness of being summoned to a task and thereto offering unstintingly all its resources: a rare strength of body, an artist's imagination and intuitive judgment, an unswerving instinct of self-sacrifice, and a supreme love of God and man.

Project Canterbury