Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter VII. Claiming a Blood Debt

THE meetings which Tucker addressed on his return to England sent a wave of missionary enthusiasm through the country comparable to that aroused by David Livingstone thirty-two years before, and in a few weeks there were more than seventy offers of service.

Suddenly there came a stunning blow: the British East Africa Company had decided to withdraw from Uganda! Tucker realized, probably better than anyone in England, the tragedy which was involved in this decision; the chaos which would result in Uganda, the renewal of open hostilities which were even then only with great difficulty being held in check by Captain Lugard, the bitter hatred which would fall upon the heads of the Protestant chiefs and the English missionaries who had given their open support to the Company treaty, the almost certain restoration of Arab power with all the horrors of the slave-trade.

The directors admitted all this; but, after all, the Company was a business concern. So far dividends had been very small, while expenses were multiplying. Uganda had been occupied in confident expectation of government assistance in the making of the railway. Without that the resources of the country, great as they were, could only be brought to the coast by the expensive and insecure method of porterage. That assistance was now refused. In view of the facts, therefore, the Company felt there was no alternative, and a message was sent to Captain Lugard to withdraw.

Tucker saw that if disaster was to be averted that message had somehow to be stopped, but letters to the press and appeals to government produced no result. Then at a country house in the Highlands he happened to meet Sir William Mackinnon, chairman of the Company. The whole matter was thrashed out. On the one hand was Tucker's unquestionable forecast of immediate disaster in Uganda, on the other the clear financial impossibility of the Company to hold on. Both men saw the other's point of view. Was there any way out? Suddenly Sir William Mackinnon exclaimed: "Look here! Uganda is costing us forty thousand pounds a year. Help us to raise thirty thousand and we will hold on for at least another year. If you will raise fifteen thousand, I will myself give ten thousand pounds and will try to raise another five thousand among my friends." It was a generous offer, and Tucker closed with it.

Ordinary Church Missionary Society money could not be used for this purpose, but a special appeal was issued and all Tucker's fire and enthusiasm went into it. On October 30th, at the annual meeting of the Gleaners' Union, the inner circle of the C.M.S. supporters, the whole situation was presented by the Bishop in an impassioned appeal. Eight thousand pounds was subscribed on the spot, and in a fortnight the whole fifteen thousand was forthcoming. A message was despatched, to be carried by special runners to Uganda, countermanding the withdrawal. For a time at least Uganda had been saved.

Moreover, an opportunity had been created for rousing public opinion, for the imagination of the country had been caught by what the friends of Uganda had done to save her. Church Assemblies, Chambers of Commerce, Geographical Societies, public men of all kinds signed memorials and passed resolutions calling upon the government to take action. In all quarters was the underlying thought, stressed by Bishop Tucker, that England's honour was involved in the treaty made by the Company under a royal charter and in accordance with the findings of the Treaty of Berlin. The government was forced to reconsider the whole question, and from both Lord Salisbury and Mr Gladstone the Bishop obtained a promise that the matter should not be made a party question. It was an amazing victory of faith and idealism over the strongholds of material and political prudence.

On December 2nd, after six months of alternating hopes and anxieties, Tucker left England to go overland to Naples to pick up the liner which was carrying out his first band of reinforcements. [He had spent only fourteen nights in his own home.] They arrived at Mombasa at the end of December, but, anxious as the Bishop was to get back to Uganda, the next few months had to be spent at the coast. The work there had to be supervised, and also he had to wait for a further band of reinforcements for Uganda expected in June. Besides his ordinary work at Mombasa and the building there of the hospital and new mission premises, he made two interesting tours.

The first of these was to the mission that had been started seven years before at Chagga, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. It involved a journey of some two hundred miles through the flat coastal plain and then up the wooded hills of Taita, ending with what was to Tucker's artistic mind a great event, his first view of mighty Kilimanjaro.

It is almost Impossible [he writes] to picture such a scene of exquisite beauty in mere words. The blue azure of the sky, the last mists of night still clinging to the hillsides, the gradations of distance as the foreground merged itself into middle space and one lap after another of the great plain (alive with game of infinite variety) trended away into what looked like fairyland itself painted with the purest tints of silver grey and gold. The whole overlooked by the giant mass of Kilimanjaro itself, crowned with a glittering coronet of silver illumined by the rising sun.

The centre of the mission was at Mochi, in the territory assigned to Germany. The ruler of the country was a weak youth, and here, as in Uganda, the European scramble for Africa was complicating the problem of native policy. The Bishop did his best to assure the young king that he would find fair treatment at the hands of the Germans if he were loyal to them, but it was only a few months later that an outbreak of hostilities led to the withdrawal of the mission itself. The German governor found his prestige with the natives overshadowed by that of the missionaries. It was not unlike the state of affairs at that moment in Uganda, but the Germans dealt with it with an efficient ruthlessness that has always been an impossibility to the British. The German governor announced quite simply that German prestige must be made paramount--either by the withdrawal of the British mission or by the use of machine-guns. Tucker had no choice but to withdraw the mission from Mochi to Taveta, inside the British boundary. That was later, in September. In February he was rejoicing in the baptism of the first two converts from that beautiful mountain land.

His other tour was to Jilore, about seventy miles up the coast. Two rescued slave girls had been handed over to the mission a few weeks before by the administrator at Mombasa. They were up-country girls, unused to the temptations of coast life, and the Bishop took them with him to Jilore to be trained in the peaceful surroundings of the mission station.

On the boat were a number of Somali chiefs returning from Zanzibar to their home in Kismayu. Suddenly a clamour broke out among the chiefs, accompanied by cries of alarm in a woman's voice. In a few minutes the representative of the British East Africa Company at Kismayu, who was on board, came to the Bishop and told him that one of the chiefs had recognized the elder girl as a slave who had been stolen from him. An inquiry was held and it seemed clear that the chief's claim was true. The girl, however, had been rescued from those who had stolen her and had in her possession her papers of freedom bearing the seal of the I.B.E.A. Company. No rights of former slavery could hold over her, and Tucker flatly refused to give her up. The Company representative was in an awkward position, for the chiefs seemed ready to knife him, but the Bishop refused point-blank his suggestion that the girl should go in his charge to Kismayu pending a settlement. He would only consent to sign a paper acknowledging that she was in his care in case of future proceedings, and until both the girls were in Jilore he scarcely let them out of his sight. Of course no more was ever heard of the claim.

The journey back from Jilore was made overland, and Tucker was struck down by a severe attack of fever. Travelling by night he persevered in the march, but when he reached Freretown once more he was utterly worn out. In a letter a few days later to Mr Hathaway he wrote:

Sometimes indeed I feel so weary that I long for a few days' rest. But as Bishop Bull was wont to say, "in I am and on I must." I have come to the conclusion that days of rest for me on earth are over.

At any rate he could no longer feel that his great strength was "not being used to the uttermost" for God.

Two weeks later an alarming message reached Mombasa from the interior that war had broken out in Uganda, that Ashe and another missionary were dead, and that, though the capital was still in the hands of'the Company, Mwanga was collecting an army in Budu to attack it. To Tucker the worst part was his enforced inactivity, but nothing could be done but wait and pray. Fortunately in a few weeks better news arrived. None of the missionaries had been killed, and Mwanga was a fugitive in Budu. At any rate the English party were the victors.

Meanwhile the only detailed information that reached Europe and, through Europe, England, came from the pen of one of the Roman Catholic missionaries, who represented his party as the victims of the ferocity of the Company and the religious fanaticism of the Protestants. The English press made a violent attack upon the Church Missionary Society party in Uganda, and a government inquiry was set on foot. All this was as gall to Tucker, who had no means of defending his colleagues. As a matter of fact, subsequent inquiry proved, in the words of Captain Lugard's official reply, "that it was the Catholic party who entirely and of purpose provoked the war," encouraged no doubt by rumours of the Company's withdrawal. The casus belli was the murder of a Protestant in Mengo and the insolent attitude adopted by the French party to Lugard's inquiries. Hostilities began by a sudden attack by the Roman Catholic chiefs upon the Protestants. The complete defeat of the attackers was accompanied by great slaughter, but the barbarities of savage warfare are the responsibility of those who provoke it. The other charge, that of a religious war provoked by Protestant bigotry, was also refuted by Lugard's report. "It was not a matter of Catholics and Protestants" he wrote, "but simply of those who would obey the administration and those who defied it."

After a time Mwanga escaped from the French party in Budu and returned to Mengo, where he joined the Protestant Church. A new treaty was entered into with the Company and the chieftainships were again redistributed, naturally much to the advantage of the Protestants.

Nothing of this was known to Tucker, but as a matter of fact, just as the first alarming message reached him, Mengo was settling down to a period of peace. In this new atmosphere of prosperity the Protestant Church grew rapidly. Two signs of this manifested themselves, the increasing passion for reading which issued in a positive fight to buy gospels and reading portions when a supply of them arrived from the coast, and the opening on July 31st of a new church on Namirembe Hill, as the rapid increase in "hearers" had crowded out the old building.

Meanwhile the Bishop was making preparations for his journey to Uganda, which was to be by the northern route through the Masai country, the road which Hannington had purchased with his life. Its great advantage was that it was healthy.

All our great losses so far [he wrote] have been on the other road. I cannot help thinking that this one fact is a call from God for me to make the attempt to open up the new road.

In these days it is difficult to realize the great menace of disease to those early pioneers. Even in the past six months two more had succumbed to fever. Tucker felt the tragedy of it all the more that he saw in everything, success and tragedy alike, the deliberate hand of God.

It is all very mysterious [he wrote to Mr Hathaway]. "Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself" is the thought that rises to my lips. The field is so vast, the openings so many and men so few and yet one after another is taken. My constant prayer is that we may be enabled to learn the lesson God would teach. I am sure He has somewhat to say unto us. May He give us the receptive and understanding mind.

Another band of recruits was expected in June, and the Bishop hoped to start with at least eight new men, although the difficulty of getting porters made it improbable that they would start before the autumn. Meanwhile he was fully aware that, impatient as they were for that start, it would be a plunge into uncertainties. True, after a heated debate on March 4th, a vote of twenty thousand pounds had been carried in Parliament for the Uganda railway, but the Company was definitely retiring on December 31st and as yet government had come to no decision about the future. Tucker felt that he could not lead his band of men forward blindly, he must get some indication of what would happen. On June 16th he wrote to Sir Gerald Portal, the brilliant young Consul-General of Zanzibar, asking him whether, in the event of the British government being unwilling to assume control of Uganda after December 31st, they would be willing for him to advise the Baganda Christians to invite German protection. Undesirable as this might be it was certainly preferable to anarchy and civil war. Three days later he received Lord Salisbury's reply cabled to Sir Gerald Portal. It was "that the Germans will certainly not be at liberty to undertake any occupation of the British sphere."

This letter contained all that I wanted [Tucker writes]. It followed that in some way or other--how was a minor point--Great Britain would make herself responsible for the peace of the country.

At last the day of departure was fixed for September 26th. Five days earlier the Bishop was amazed to receive from Sir Gerald Portal this telegram:

"I am directed by Her Majesty's Secretary of State to inform you that Her Majesty's Government, hearing that you are determined to start for Uganda, consider that you and your party proceed there on your own responsibility and at your own risk."

It was the old story of party politics. The Tories had been thrown out, Mr Gladstone was Prime Minister and Lord Rosebery Foreign Secretary, and the new government did not mean to be fettered by any of the responsibilities of the old one.

Tucker saw that it was more than a question of the personal safety of himself and his fellow missionaries. It was the whole future of Uganda that was involved, and this telegram was a straw in the wind of government opinion. Nothing should prevent him from starting out for Uganda, but before he left he would strike one more blow in that cause in which he had laboured so untiringly for the past year. His reply to Sir Gerald Portal was characteristic of him, fearless, but courteous, putting in the plainest terms as he saw it England's responsibility towards Uganda.

This disclaimer [he wrote] does not, in my opinion, relieve Her Majesty's government of responsibility. . . . Let me not be misunderstood. I deprecate in the very strongest terms the idea that missionaries, in penetrating into savage and uncivilized countries, should look for, or expect, aid and protection from their home government. . . . But if the missionaries have no right to compromise the home government, on the other hand the home government, I maintain, has no right to compromise the missionaries. And this, I submit, Her Majesty's government has done with respect to Uganda. ... To tear up the treaties which have been signed, after having thus compromised the English missionaries and their adherents, and in the faith of which the latter were led to cast in their lot with the English Company; to break pledges given in the most solemn manner, to repudiate obligations entered into with deliberation and aforethought; and then to disclaim all responsibility for the consequences which must inevitably ensue, would be, to my mind, to adopt a course of action that I dare not at the present moment trust myself to characterize, and one that I cannot believe would ever be sanctioned by any government of Her Majesty the Queen.

"Having thus delivered myself," he writes, "I felt immensely relieved."

Five days later he and his caravan crossed the creek to the mainland and started on the long trek by the new road to Uganda. The main danger of this northern route was that it passed through the country of the dreaded Masai, a nomad warrior people, but at any rate it was comparatively free from the fevers that had taken such heavy toll on the southern route. After the narrow coastal belt had been passed the land rose steadily to a height of nine thousand feet, from which it dropped only three thousand feet to the lake. There were, however, other difficulties that called for careful leadership, in some places a shortage of water and in others of food, but in everything Tucker took the most careful precautions. Especially did he look after the health and comfort of his young colleagues, profiting by the experience of his two previous journeys. One arrangement in particular he had made, and that was to divide his caravan into small messes, so that there was no longer that weary waiting at their halts for one huge kettle to boil, that had so tried them on the first journey. In the pursuit of game for food he himself always marched ahead of the caravan and, except in his company, no one else was allowed to leave the main body. To one young missionary, who on a subsequent journey was discovered for the second time evading this order, he delivered the peremptory ultimatum, "Now then--obedience, or the coast!"

After crossing the plain belt their way led up through a foodless and waterless district where the path meandered with apparent aimlessness in every direction. It was tantalizing at the end of a day's climb up a hill at the top of which was the coveted water, to see by the sun that they were walking in the opposite direction to the one they had lately been taking. But thorn bushes and scrub made short cuts impossible.

While they were resting after this weary march they were overtaken by the mail runners, who brought to Tucker a letter from Mr Berkeley at Mombasa to the effect that the government had offered aid to the I.B.E.A., in order to enable them to carry on for three months, till March 31st. Tucker's political sense gauged the situation. "The party for abandonment was evidently being let down gently."

They were as yet a great distance from the territory of the Masai, but it was not long before they had experience of their menace. Early the next morning two of the mail-men, who had passed them the day before, staggered bleeding into the camp, with the news that their companion had been killed and the mail stolen by a band of Masai warriors. A few hours later a similar story came from a spot a few miles farther on. This time it was a down-country mail. Evidently the Masai were on the war-path, and the frightened Swahili porters built a high boma of thorns and set a strong watch round every camp, and the Bishop reiterated his orders forbidding anyone to stray from the caravan. A few days later, on the banks of a river, they found a litter of skulls and bones and burnt camp material, where a Swahili caravan had been surprised and massacred.

Their way still lay through rocky, ill-watered country until three hundred miles from the coast they entered the forests and downlands of Kikuyu, the home of the sturdy Wakamba, who in their forest haunts did not fear to resist even the fierce Masai. There food and water was in abundance. Kikuyu is still a famous big-game country, but those who go there now can hardly realize the immense profusion of game that met the gaze of those early travellers.

The plains were alive with great herds of big game [Tucker writes]. Here were hartebeests, there wildebeests in great battalions stood gazing at us as we slowly passed on our way to Kikuyu. The Athi river was crossed, with its pools the haunts of hippos and its rocky banks the basking and browsing places of the rhino, several of which we saw dotted about here and there.

Meat, of which the porters were inordinately fond, was a commonplace of the daily menu.

The beauty of the country delighted Tucker and its invigorating climate was like a tonic.

Kikuyu was like a Garden of Eden compared with some of the country through which we had lately passed. Flowers were to be gathered in handfuls--bracken, blackberries, wild strawberries, reminded one at every step of the homeland. . . . The nights were cold, but huge blazing fires at our tent-doors tempered the keenness of the air.

In this Garden of Eden the caravan halted to get strength for its final march of twenty-seven days through the Masai territory. Their country was not unfertile, but, as the Masai were not agriculturists, food was not obtainable. Besides the danger from the people themselves, there were other difficulties in the way, for the great Rift Valley had to be traversed, a canyon fifteen hundred feet deep, and then the Mau mountains, nine thousand feet high, no easy task for coast-bred porters. But every difficulty was safely surmounted, and though on the first day the Masai warriors came to meet and question them with the magnificent effrontery of six foot manhood, the sight of their powerful caravan secured them an unhindered passage. Moreover, the Masai themselves, impoverished by cattle-disease, besieged the camp that night in order to exchange flour for donkeys, of which the caravan was sorely in need.

So they arrived at Kavirondo, a land of abundance, fruit and flour, beans and poultry, where a halt had to be made while the porters repleted themselves after their long abstinence. A simple, friendly people the natives were, the unblushing nudity of their welcome relieved by the gaudy dressing-gown and scarlet fez by which their chief was distinguished.

A few days later they reached Mumia's village and their hearts beat high with the stirrings of heroic romance. It was at this village that Hannington had left his caravan seven years before while he pushed on with a handful of men to Busoga, and it was here that his Kavirondo guide had brought back his spear-thrust body. Somewhere among those beehive huts of grass he lay. Mumia readily told Tucker the story of that tragedy, but of the remains he denied all knowledge. So did the guide when questioned before his chief, but when the Bishop had left them in anger the boy came plucking at his sleeve and led him to the spot. Only a bush in a little clearing among the huts marked the place, but Mumia readily gave them permission to dig, "if they knew better than he did," and soon their spades revealed a broken box containing a skull, easily recognizable in contour, and the bones of a skeleton. Tucker determined to take them to Uganda to be buried in Mengo, the goal of that broken quest, and finding Mumia more than willing to be quit of any connection with that unpaid-for crime, he laid the remains in a tin-lined box covered with sweet-scented hay.

Now that they were nearing their goal, Tucker, like Hannington, was consumed with impatience and pushed on by forced marches with the other missionaries and forty picked men, that they might reach Mengo by Christmas. At the end of the first day they had reached the Ripon Falls, where the Nile leaves the Great Lake for its long journey to Egypt, and the next day they pushed on another eighteen miles.

Of swamps there were not a few, mostly unbridgcd. Splash! Splash! we went through them--swamp or river; it was all the same to us. Nothing at this stage of our journey seemed a difficulty.

Now only a day separated them from Mengo, and not the spears of the Basoga, but gifts and greetings, and a letter of welcome from the Church Council met them in their camp that night. The next afternoon in a shower of rain they entered Mengo, Tucker riding on a horse sent by the Katikiro.

Great problems pressed upon him for solution, the political future of Uganda in relation to England and to the rival factions that threatened to rend her, the future of the Church in Uganda in regard to its amazing growth and the fewness of those who could guide it. But once again he was amongst them, and already something more had been accomplished. The high road to Uganda had been won, the road for which the lion-hearted Hannington had so fearlessly paid the blood-price.

Three days later, on Christmas morning, Tucker stood up to preach by interpreter in the great square pulpit of the new church on the summit of Nami-rembe, the Hill of Peace. It was one of the great moments of his life. The building itself could only have been found in Uganda, and in Uganda there was none other like it. Before him was a forest of five hundred tree-trunks, supporting a great steeply pitched roof, lined with yellow reeds plaited horizontally with fibre in quaint pattern. The fierce African sunlight, which could only penetrate beneath the low eaves, flashed here and there on a pole or lit the shadow of the great roof with the golden gleam of its reeds. But far more than the strange mysteriousness of the building, the wonder of that throng held Tucker's imagination. Before he left Uganda nearly two years before he had been preaching to a thousand worshippers in the church; now, on the great earth floor before him and crowding out into the sunlight beyond the eaves, were five thousand men and women listening with rapt attention to his words.

The year closed with a memorable event. It had not been without consciousness of some risk that Tucker had brought Hannington's remains to Mengo. It was well known that Mwanga had never wholly lost his apprehensiveness of the consequences of that crime and that the enemies of the Protestants kept alive in his mind that uncertainty. It was felt advisable to keep secret what had been done until Ashe had told the King and had assured him that with this burial the past would be buried and all be forgiven. Beyond expectation, Mwanga not only consented to the plan but expressed the desire to show his contrition by himself being present at the service.

It was the last day of the year. Once again the great church was thronged with over five thousand people, and this time in the front sat not only the King, but the Company's representative. The royal murderer of the first bishop was himself taking part in his burial. It seemed to Tucker to put a seal to the past, to clear the way to the future.

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