Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter V. The Beginning of the Adventure

THE harbour at Aden lay stifling under the pitiless blaze of the Arabian sun. The passengers who had transferred from the P. & O. liner to the African coasting steamer were sitting about the saloon deck, waiting impatiently for the anchor to be weighed and to find themselves in the cooling breezes of the south-west monsoon. At three o'clock the captain came aboard, gave the passengers a general greeting as he ran his eye searchingly over them, and then turned impatiently towards the stern.

"I wish this blooming bishop would make haste and come on board," he exclaimed.

One of the passengers rose from his chair. "What bishop do you mean?" he asked.

"Why, Bishop Tucker, of course. Unless he makes haste we shan't be off before dark."

"Oh, I'm Bishop Tucker," was the reply. The captain stared in amazement at the thick-set figure of medium height in light tweed Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, whose rugged, heavily-moustached face, shaded under a Terai hat, was in utter contrast to his expectations. He muttered an apology, and seemed for the moment, as is the way of sea captains, to resent being put at a disadvantage, but the deep twinkle of the eyes under those shaggy brows soon dissipated his last apprehension at carrying an episcopal passenger, and a warm friendship was established between them.

Ten days later they made the island-harbour of Mombasa, with the soft green of the palm-fringed coast of the mainland on one hand and on the other the flash and colour of one of Africa's most picturesque ports. As the ship dropped anchor Tucker felt a thrill of hope and adventure--Africa at last! Mombasa was the headquarters of the C.M.S. Mission, and presently a launch came alongside and Mr Bailey came on board with a welcome. But he had bad news. That very morning Cotter, one of the band of missionaries who were waiting under Douglas Hooper for the Bishop to lead them to Uganda, had died. A stab passed through Tucker's buoyant heart. Africa had struck at them--so soon!

Three weeks later Tucker again took ship to Zanzibar. It had been decided to travel by the southern route, and he had heard that Stokes, the great caravan leader, was already preparing a caravan for Uganda and would give the missionaries much help in getting porters. The s.s. Juba was notorious as a terrible roller, and Tucker's description of this and every voyage he took in her reveals that, whatever else he could endure cheerfully, a bad sea voyage was not included in the list.

Zanzibar appealed to his artistic sense, "a city rising fairy-like out of the sea," with its picturesque shipping, and its tortuous streets, the whole island "heavy with the scent of cloves." He spent a busy fortnight, crossed to Saadani on the mainland and arranged with Stokes to start on July 1st, and despatched through him a short letter of friendly greeting to Mwanga.

While he was there the news arrived of the Berlin treaty, which aimed at settling the European scramble for Africa. It gave delight to both C.M.S. and U.M.C.A. missionaries, for both Zanzibar and Uganda were to remain under British influence. But the tremendous importance of this to the tense situation in Uganda Tucker and his fellow-missionaries did not as yet realize.

The next three weeks in Mombasa were busily occupied with preparations for the journey: tents and mosquito-nets were got in order, loads packed, boys engaged. There was also the care of the mission at Mombasa, which was, of course, part of Tucker's great diocese. By the time of his final departure for Zanzibar on June 25th he had in six weeks covered the whole ground, seen every missionary except one in a distant station, held a conference of workers, ordained four deacons and two priests, and confirmed two hundred and seven candidates. On July 3rd he had an interview with the Sultan of Zanzibar, who, unasked, gave him a letter of recommendation to Mwanga.

On July 10th they crossed to the mainland in H.M.S. Redbreast, and found Stokes and two German officers encamped with two thousand five hundred Wanyamwezi porters. These men had come down from the interior, either as porters or in the wake of some caravan, in order to earn money by forming a caravan back to their own country. Three hundred Wasukuma porters (whose home was on the southern shores of Lake Victoria) were assigned to the Bishop's party.

Unfortunately the start was delayed for several days, during which Hill, one of the band of missionaries just arrived out, sickened with fever and dysentery. He was taken back to Zanzibar, where he died on July 20th. The caravan started the next day, ignorant till a week later that already another of the little band had gone.

The monotony of a long caravan march is very wearisome and the handling of a large number of irresponsible porters calls for endless patience. Tucker describes the daily routine as follows:

At 4.30 a.m. there is the drum-beat which rouses the cooks, and preparations are made for breakfast. In the meanwhile packing goes on and at five o'clock breakfast is supposed to be ready--more often it was not. Then follows a short service, hymn and prayers. At a quarter to six everyone begins to move off. Loads have been shouldered, and with wild shouts the porters take their place behind the "kilongozi" (leader) who is generally decked out with feathered head-dress and a scarlet blanket. With beat of drum the march is commenced. It was always necessary for the Europeans of the party to start in good time, otherwise there was the difficulty of passing a thousand or two porters walking in Indian file. The only other alternative was to creep along behind them at two miles an hour.

Ten or twelve miles, generally speaking, was the limit of the day's march. [In Africa marching is only possible in the cool, early hours of the day.] Usually camp was reached by us at about nine or ten o'clock. The porters would begin to make their appearance about eleven or twelve o'clock. Tents were pitched as soon as possible, and preparations commenced for the mid-day meal, which frequently did not make its appearance until three or four o'clock. The fact is, we made a great mistake in arranging for the whole party to mess together. We had only one cook with an assistant, and one huge kettle which took an hour or two to boil, instead of several small ones. The result was such a delay in the serving of meals that hunger and faintness were almost our daily lot. Our evening meal was supposed to be about sunset. Then came evening prayers with our boys. From sunset till about nine o'clock was generally the noisiest time in camp. Sometimes a song with a chorus was indulged in. Then probably the head man would give directions for the next day's march. . . . Then every one listened for the sound of Stokes's drum. If it gave what is known as the "safari" beat, or the beat for the march on the morrow, there would be a responsive roar from two thousand throats, prolonged for two or three minutes.

Then gradually men composed themselves for sleep, and silence crept over the camp--a silence broken only by the ecstatic cry of some wretched bhang-smoker, or the howl of some wild beast seeking its prey.

It was a weird sight, the great camp at night, with its almost countless fires, and bright gleams of light and black shadows in telling contrast, the stacks of loads, the white tents, the moving forms of wild-looking men in every imaginable combination. Then almost imperceptibly movement ceasing, until at length the huge encampment was almost as still and silent and as weird as a city of the dead.

Their path lay at first through the long grass of the coastal plain that soaked them to the skin with its heavy dews, but later in the day gave them no shelter from the fierce sun. Then gradually they wound up, first over bare, burnt slopes and then higher to wooded hills, until they arrived at Mamboya, of which Tucker writes:

It is one of the loveliest spots on earth. We found ourselves in the midst of flowers and plants, which speak as only flowers can speak of England and English homes. Around were mountains grand in outline and beautiful in colour. Far away in the distance there rose line upon line, peak upon peak--hills and mountains in endless range. The sunsets at Mamboya I shall never forget.

Still higher the path climbed, five thousand three hundred feet over the Rubeho Pass to Mpwapwa, where was a mission station with four missionaries. Here there was a halt of a few days; two of the missionaries were ordained priests, and twenty-five candidates confirmed.

Soon these pleasant hills were exchanged for a desolate and dreaded country, the first part of which was a bare sandy plain. It is the country of the Ugogo; with the exception of grotesque heaps of bare boulders the land is without shade and the wells are few and deep. The first night there was a raging storm of wind, which filled everything with dust and sand, but fortunately the next day was cloudy, and camp was reached without difficulty.

Beyond this barren plain lies the Mganda Mkali, a forest a hundred miles in width, more desolate than the plain, for where shade might be expected, its trees are leafless. There is no water and hardly a village. The porters' burdens have to be increased with extra provisions, yet marches must be longer. The road is littered with the bones of those who have found the burden or the pace too much--a grim warning and a dread spur. Nor is this all, for the Ruga-Ruga--the forest robbers--lie hidden in the bush ready to attack any stragglers. One day three men were speared and robbed, and a little later two German soldiers were killed in a village where they had sought food.

The fear of reprisals for this action roused the whole countryside. Moreover, the caravan was unfortunately divided; Stokes was some miles in the rear and there were only seventeen German soldiers with Tucker's party. They were soon surrounded by bands of armed Wanyamwezi who, if they had attacked, could have massacred them as they had some Arabs a few days before. But, strangely enough, no attack was made. The next morning Stokes arrived and negotiated with the chiefs, and the danger was over. But the German officer in command warned the Bishop that he would no longer be responsible for his safety if he would persist in riding ahead of the caravan on the best donkey. It was a habit; to lead was with him an instinct. Besides which, he had an eye to a good camp well to windward of the porters!

At length, however, the forest was passed and once more all was plenty. On October 5th Usongo was reached, Stokes's goal and the home of the Wanyamwezi porters. Tucker and his Wasukuma pressed on, the Bishop hastening ahead with Dermott. At length, on October 17th, as they crested a hill there was a flash east and west as far as the eye could see. It was the Great Lake gleaming in the sunshine.

What the sudden sight of those great waters must mean to travellers who have faced eight hundred weary miles of parched and danger-ridden country is more easily imagined than described. To Tucker that sheet of water was hallowed by the romance of the past fifteen years and by the memory of those who had laid down their lives in the great adventure. He thought of them at that moment of his first long gaze across the lake.

There they were lying--Mackay, Parker, and Blackburn--just over the creek, westwards, and there eastwards, in a lonely resting-place lapped by the murmuring waters of the Great Lake, Smith, a simple and single-hearted missionary who had consecrated his medical skill to the service of the Master. But further still one's thoughts wandered--to Ukerewe, where Shergold Smith and O'Neill laid down their lives, and whose graves "no man knows unto this day "--to Busoga where the lion-hearted Hannington fell, and in falling purchased the road to Uganda.

That night they camped by the lake and next morning crossed Jordan's Nullah, a creek that lay to the westward between them and the mission station at Usambiro. The crossing was made in a rotten dug-out that was barely kept afloat by constant baling. Two hours later they were being welcomed by Mr Deekes at the mission station.

All their toil seemed over. The rest of the journey up the lake would be a holiday after their daily tramping. But a disappointment was in store for them. Only a few days before, Walker had left for Uganda in the mission boat carrying a load of translations printed on Mackay's press. These translations had long been awaiting the return from Uganda of the boat which had been borrowed by Mr Gedge, the B.E.A. Company's representative, and as Walker and Deekes had last heard of the Bishop's party as less than half-way from the coast, Walker had not waited but had already departed for Uganda.

To Tucker and his companions this was a terrible disappointment. No canoes were available, and it meant at least a month's delay in reaching Uganda and a month's stay in what had proved to be a most fatal part of Africa. But there was no alternative, and the Bishop therefore decided to spend the time in visiting Nassa on the Speke Gulf on the south-east of the lake, to which it was hoped to move the C.M.S. station from the unhealthy neighbourhood of Usambiro. On the way he had his first experience of African fever. They had arranged to start early that morning, as a neighbouring chief had threatened to hinder their departure unless they paid "hongo" (passage-money). With a temperature of a hundred and three degrees Tucker started, a blanket round his shoulders, but soon even his great strength gave out and he had to be carried into Nassa in a hammock. Coming back from Nassa Tucker and Hooper, having crossed Jordan's Nullah alone to get ahead of their boys, lost their way and were overtaken by nightfall. They plunged about for hours through the dense forest, keeping up a loud conversation to frighten off the wild beasts, whose growls they could occasionally hear. When at last they found a native willing to guide them, he dispelled their relief by suddenly exclaiming: "One of the white men died to-day." He could tell no more, and in anxious silence they followed him to the station. Their worst fears were confirmed. Hunt was dead, Dunn and Baskerville very ill, and Pilkington convalescent but desperately weak. The next day the latter had a relapse, and then Tucker was struck down. Meanwhile Dunn was sinking and when, half-conscious, the Bishop heard the strains of a funeral hymn he knew that another of his little band would not reach the goal.

It was a moment almost of despair. Would the boat never come? Were all their efforts to end, as with so many of their predecessors, in this fever-haunted spot?

In a few days Tucker was better but very weak, and almost blind. Another attack, and the Church in Uganda might again be for years without a bishop. There was no time to lose; hardly able to stand or see, he ordained Hooper and Dermott priests and Baskerville deacon. At last the boat arrived and without delay they embarked, Tucker carried in a hammock. The lake air soon revived them, but progress was slow against prevailing head-winds. The Bishop's renewed spirits, chafing against the delay, nearly brought disaster on them all. He ordered the native Captain to keep to his course in the open lake when he would have made for shelter. Suddenly the clouds rolled up and a line of foam raced across the water. Had not the sail split before the squall, the boat would have capsized, and their adventure would have ended in those storm-tossed waves.

On December 27th they arrived at Entebbe, the port of Uganda, and so to Mengo, where they were warmly welcomed by Walker and Gordon. At last a bishop had reached Uganda, but nearly blind and carried in a hammock!

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