Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter IX. Famine and Fever: Taking Another Risk

THE next twelve months Bishop Tucker spent at the coast. They were busy months, spent in supervising the work at Mombasa, making a second visitation of all the out-stations and arranging detailed preparations for the journey up to Uganda in the summer of 1895, when he hoped to take up the first women missionaries. During most of the time he was never free from fever, but his energy of mind and body was unflagging. The good news from Uganda had acted as a tonic on the whole mission and every one was full of hope and expectation. It was a spirit after Tucker's own heart. "Give me men of hope," he wrote, "keep all others at home."

In October he found himself pressing on with a caravan along the southern route from Saadani. His objective was a station in the Usagara hills about two hundred miles from the coast, and he was in a hurry. While he had been waiting in Zanzibar he had begun a bout of fever and was anxious to reach the bracing air of the hills before it should get worse. Moreover a party of missionaries had left Saadani for Uganda a day or two before him and he hoped to catch them up. But it is always hard to make the African hurry, and in this case doubly so. It was the fiercest part of the hot weather, just before the rains; the air was stifling, the countryside was parched and leafless, and at every village loads were thrown down, and only by ceaseless energy and determination was the caravan kept moving. Worse than all, the country was in the grip of a terrible famine. Continually they met little groups of starving men making their way to the coast in search of food. The villages were often deserted except for women and children barely alive, nor was it possible to do anything to relieve them as there would be no possibility of replenishing the caravan's own supplies until they arrived at the coast again. At length the foothills were reached and the climb began, but fever had the Bishop in its grip again, and when he was only one day's march behind the Uganda party he collapsed. He sent on a messenger to ask Dr Baxter to come back to him, but doctored himself so efficiently meanwhile that the next morning he was afoot again, much to the surprise of the doctor, whom he met the following day.

At Mamboya there was rest and bracing air, but everywhere were the ravages of famine: schools empty, villages deserted or depopulated. A week later Tucker left for Mpwapwa, and at his first camp a somewhat amusing incident occurred. As he was getting ready for his bath he noticed a fine new sponge set out that he had never seen before. He called his servant.

"Where did this come from?" he asked. "It is not mine."

"Yes, Bwana, it is yours."

"But I know better. Mine is old and worn. This is quite new."

For some time the boy persisted, but at length admitted that the old sponge had been put out to dry and had been blown away.

"Then where did you get this from?"

"It belong Bwana Wood, Bwana. Me find it. Me think for you." [Mr Wood was the missionary in charge at Mamboya.]

In Mpwapwa, and still more in Kisokwc, which lies in the always barren Ugogo country, the famine was even worse. Women were selling their children for food, and men were even eating the bodies of their dead comrades. At Mpwapwa Tucker's heart was stirred by the heroism of J. C. Price, who through ten years, with only one furlough, had faced persecution, warfare and famine, sharing with utter simplicity the life of the people amongst whom he worked. Tucker had planned to take him back to the coast and send him home on furlough, but not all his authority nor persuasion could avail. "How is it possible," was the answer, "for me to leave my people with this terrible famine upon them? How can I forsake them in the time of their distress? When the famine is over, I will come."

On his way back from Mpwapwa to Mamboya Tucker was travelling alone. The rainy season was approaching, and as evening came on it was evident that a thunderstorm was gathering. As soon as the evening meal was over all his porters and servants took refuge in a deserted village two miles off and left him alone in his tent on the hill-side.

The wind increased to a gale, and at eleven o'clock Tucker dressed. Rolling up his blankets in their waterproof cover he waited for what might happen. Fortunately he had fitted extra stays to his tent, for when in a few minutes the storm burst, the canvas flapped and the pole creaked and swayed. If the rain came the wind would drop, but at any moment the tent might be carried away, and to be exposed to the rain all night on the mountain-side would mean a chill that would almost certainly be fatal. Would the tent stand this first furious onslaught of the wind? Seizing the tent mallet Tucker rushed out into the raging blackness. Right and left he drove at the pegs, blundering blows in the darkness but with all the force of his great strength. It was enough. The ropes held. Suddenly the rain came down in a deluge and the wind dropped. He was safe!

Early in the morning his men came, expressing their anxiety and their wonder at seeing him alive. "I took it for what it was worth," he writes, "words, words, words!"

Now the rain set in, and from Mamboya to the coast it poured every day. On the slopes of the foothills every stream was a raging flood to be waded waist deep, and on the plains it was one continuous splash through water. Fever returned, and a day's march from Saadani Tucker could walk no farther. But he dare not stop to be nursed only by natives, he must go on. Fortunately he had a gallant little donkey that trotted sure-footed through the floods, and late that evening he arrived at the German post in Saadani drenched to the skin and shivering with fever. In ten minutes he was in a hot bath and then wrapped in blankets. But the fever had got hold of him and for three weeks he was nursed night and day in the Universities' Mission Hospital in Zanzibar, which he reached next day, "with a kindness which I shall never forget and can never repay." Even when he got to Mombasa on December 22nd he had to remain convalescent in hospital for another fortnight.

January was a black month. Hardly was Tucker out of hospital than Mr Ward, the C.M.S. Labour Superintendent at Mombasa, was struck down with blackwater fever. The Bishop sat by the dying man holding his hand. There was a troubled look in his fevered eyes. "Bishop," he murmured, "my little ones! They have no mother. My people are poor." Ward had been a widower for nine years and his three children were in England. "I will do all I can for them," Tucker replied. "Have no fear for them."

A look of content came on the dying face and the eyes closed peacefully. No one who knew the Bishop doubted his word. By the next mail Tucker wrote to Mr Fox, of the C.M.S., and his old vicar Mr Hathaway, asking them to use their influence to get the children cared for. "I promised Ward on his death-bed to do my best," he wrote, "and he was comforted."

Then came worse news of the famine. Ill as he was when he reached Zanzibar, the Bishop had managed to send thirteen loads of corn for the Christians at the mission stations. He writes to Mr Fox about this and his letter shows how particular he always was as to the right spending of mission money: "Certainly they cannot be charged to the C.M.S. The sum is about thirteen pounds. If you think it would not be right to charge it to the Diocesan Fund (money given direct to Tucker for his diocese and of which Mr Fox was treasurer), "will you kindly tell me so in your next--and I will either raise the amount specially or pay for it myself." He had also sent an appeal to the Consul at Zanzibar, in consequence of which relief was being officially organized. But the news was getting worse. "We have only two Christians left in the mission," Wood wrote; "the place is fast becoming a wilderness."

Suddenly came a fresh disaster. The rain was abundant and the young corn springing, when a plague of locusts swept the already starving land of every green leaf and blade. They swarmed even to Mombasa, crossing the harbour on the dead bodies of their drowned millions, stripping the island bare, only to meet their end in the open sea.

At the end of January came news that Price was dead of blackwater fever. Tucker felt terribly this heroic death.

What [he wrote] is the valour of the V.C. compared with the heroism of a soldier of the Cross like J. C. Price? It is men like him who keep us from despairing of humanity. They live and die unknown and disregarded. The world knows them not. It matters not. They seek no earthly reward. They serve a Master whom they can trust.

In spite of weakness and bad news Tucker struggled on. "There is no one else to do the work, and it must be done." The most detailed preparations had to be taken in hand and supervised for the journey with the women missionaries to Uganda in July. As in the case of the native ministry in Uganda, Tucker knew that many thought he was taking too great a risk. "Probably you will have to bury one or another on the road," they had said. "What a terrible blow to the work if you arrived in Uganda without any surviving!" Yes, it was a risk, but Tucker felt sure it should be taken. Nothing, however, should be left'to chance. The main thing was to get them started from the unhealthy coast as soon as they arrived, and for that all must be in readiness.

In February he went for another journey up to Taita and Taveta, where he had moved the Kilimanjaro Mission from German territory in 1892. It was glorious country and he had a most interesting time, holding a palaver in the forest with the Taveta chiefs and securing their promise of a welcome to a woman missionary. But fever was still on him, until he began to doubt if he would have strength for the journey to Uganda. April, however, found him better, and another trip northwards through the Giriama country was accomplished without an attack of fever.

May brought him good news from England. The women missionaries had started for Africa, and the government had come to terms with the Company and would take over Mombasa into the Protectorate. They had also sent out the parts for a steamer on the lake, and had decided to build the railway as far as Kikuyu. On July 1st the government took over the Protectorate, and the Union Jack was hoisted at Mombasa, and on July 8th the party for Uganda arrived. On July 16th they started on their journey to Uganda. Everything had been prepared. The great caravan of five hundred porters had been divided in two, and the first part, carrying the stores for the mission at Uganda, had already started. They were to arrange food depots all along the route for the main party. In that second caravan every missionary had his responsibility, arranged by the Bishop.

Mr Martin Hall has the work of looking after the putting up and taking down of the ladies' tents. Mr Wilson has charge of the donkeys, Mr Purvis has charge of the ladies' loads, Mr Wright has in hand the wood and water department, Mr Buckley sees that the men's tents are placed in proper order, and Doctors Baxter and Rattray have charge of the medical department.

Every detail had been arranged, and under strictest discipline it was carried out. The women rode on donkeys or were carried in chairs. The caravan was in good health, the weather was fine, and day after day passed without a hitch. For the first three days they had an escort of sixty Askari soldiers, for an Arab revolt which had broken out a month before was still smouldering, and the rebel Raschid was known to be moving not far from the coast. Nor was the precaution unnecessary, for on their second day they crossed the rebel's day-old track.

The passage of the waterless Taro desert was made easier by the new road which had now been made for two hundred miles, and soon they had reached the Wakamba country, where the women were the objects of the liveliest curiosity, and where, instead of crossing barren desert, the caravan had to splash for miles up foaming torrent beds. So they came to the game-infested uplands of Kikuyu, receiving at every station a royal welcome from missionaries and settlers and government officials. At this point the Bishop wrote that they were all in better health than they had been at the start. On the edge of the Great Rift Valley they met Pilkington and Baskerville on their way to the coast, and heard with joy all that was happening in Uganda, and how eagerly they were awaited.

The foodless tract from Kikuyu to Kavirondo was always the most difficult part of the journey, as extra provisions had to be carried and marches were long. The rains, too, had begun, and the rivers were in flood, necessitating in one case a detour of thirty miles. One flooded river had to be crossed by means of a fallen tree, the women scrambling from branch to branch with great pluck and but little aid.

At the Eldoma Ravine, before they reached the summit of the Mau escarpment, a porter came into camp wounded and exhausted. He belonged to the advance caravan which, he declared, had been surprised by the Wanandi on the borders of Kavirondo, and slaughtered almost to a man. Later when they reached the Guaso Masai River they proved his story true, for the banks were strewn with broken cases and littered with books and papers, crucifixes and plaster images. The caravan had joined forces with one belonging to the Roman bishop and, encamped at night beside the river without the precaution of sentries, they had been easy victims. All the beads were gone, a serious loss, for they were the only means of purchasing food on the caravan's return journey.

It was at this stage of the journey that the Bishop's caravan began to experience its own troubles. They were crossing a foodless tract of country, and the porters in the usual African manner were too lazy to carry the extra provisions. They either ate them at once or threw them away, with the result that many were reduced to a state of complete exhaustion on the cold heights of the Mau Mountains. However, the care of the doctors brought them all safely through, until almost at the end of the journey the only real disaster they suffered fell upon them. A terrible storm was threatening, and Tucker had urged them to make with all speed for their camp. He himself went ahead and got a fire going in a grass hut. Suddenly came the rain with such a rush that a flooded stream almost immediately divided the caravan in two. Fortunately when the women arrived drenched to the skin there was warmth and shelter for them and a hot drink. But the rear half did not reach camp that night and eleven porters died of exposure, most of them already weakened by their experiences on the Mau plateau.

The comparative safety of their journey had been emphasized again and again as they crossed the Masai country by the discovery of natives deserted and dying on the plain. These were porters from the caravan carrying up the first four hundred loads of the new lake steamer. Tucker wrote indignantly about it.

Last Saturday I came upon an old encampment in which were three half-starved men lying--no food--no water--no fire--simply waiting with almost a sublime patience for death. If the remaining loads of the steamer are sent up at the same cost in life, it will indeed be a costly vessel.

Nor indeed did he see much prospect of the steamer being afloat for the next five years. Seventeen out of the four hundred loads had been thrown away into the bush, and he had even met a portion of the caravan returning to the coast. "A great mistake was made in not sending a European in charge of the caravan. No Englishman would have left men to die on the road. Certainly I think some inquiry ought to be made."

The Bishop also found time to write an interesting letter to the Acting-Administrator at Mombasa, who had consulted him as to the question of the immediate abolition of slavery in the Protectorate. Once again he clearly saw the risks and difficulties, and discussed them frankly. It would mean fair compensation to the slave-owners and provision for the altered social and economic conditions that would follow the freeing of the slaves. But these difficulties were not insuperable.

The question is more or less one of finance and energetic and wise government. Knowing what I do of the traffic up-country and slave life at the coast, I earnestly hope that no considerations of the expense involved or the labour entailed will be allowed to interfere for a moment with the adoption of a policy so righteous in itself, and which is likely to be so beneficent in its results.

At length Kavirondo was reached, and they marched again through a land of plenty. Then on into Busoga where almost daily they met Baganda friends, and so across the Nile to Uganda. At Ngogwe there was a tremendous welcome. "The Baganda women ran along by the sides of the women's chairs, grasping their hands and uttering all manner of joyful and loving greetings." But it was nothing to the amazing welcome which awaited them at Mengo.

The ladies were embraced and hugged by Samwili's wife and sister and by many other Baganda women. The mass of the people was so great that it was difficult to get along--Mohammedan and heathen as well as Christian, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. The Katikiro, who had just met us on his white horse, dismounted, and fearing lest I should be trampled under foot by the thronging crowd, led me by the hand. As we passed along in full view of Kampala, the officer in charge most courteously dipped the flag as a salutation. The atmosphere about me was almost suffocating and the perspiration most profuse. ... I saw great crowds come together when Sir Gerald Portal entered Mengo, but they were nothing to the crowds which welcomed the first English ladies to set foot in the capital of Uganda.

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