Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter X. A Missionary Church

IN spite of all that he had heard it was hard for the Bishop to believe his eyes! In two years Uganda had become a different country under British control, with the peace and prosperity that it had brought. Gardens that years of war had wasted were now in full cultivation, most of the chiefs had two-storied brick houses, roads had been made, and swamps bridged and, in some cases, even drained. In the old days the war drums were booming all day long, and excited and restless crowds were always gathering. Now, except for the occasional signal of a chief's coming or going, the drums only beat to call people to the services or classes. In fact, the old interest in politics had given way to a new interest, which seemed to hold the whole nation: an interest in religion.

Two days after the Bishop's arrival he preached to six thousand men and women in the cathedral, two thousand of them seated round in the open air through lack of space. Every day the mission headquarters was thronged with hundreds of men and women seeking to have their names enrolled as candidates for baptism; books, especially Scriptures, were sold as fast as they could be printed. With the desire to learn there was almost as great an eagerness to teach. Large numbers of young men were offering themselves as teachers. Already there were two hundred reading houses or "synagogi" full of learners established in the country, and in many cases churches had been built; and all this the result of African effort and African support. There was, of course, obvious danger. It was now the fashion to be a reader and a social privilege to be a Christian, and it was inevitable that there might be some actuated by lower motives whose profession of Christianity would bring scandal on the Church.

Two great tasks now awaited Tucker: the ordering of the life of the Church to meet the new conditions, and the personal visitation of the whole country in order to supervise the work at the out-stations and to open up new lands to the Gospel.

The first of these tasks he tackled immediately. Sixteen new missionaries had arrived in Uganda that year and the total was now twenty-three. The women and some of the men would work at Mengo; but the great need was for European supervision of the missionary work of the Church. Six new stations were added to the four already in existence, and in each of these were placed one or more Europeans. The next step was to draw up careful rules for the discipline of the Church. That these were no farce was shown by the excommunication, on the ground of open sin, of the Mukwcnda, the great Protestant chief of Singo, and by the refusal of his old blind musician to eat with his great master.

I will play for you because I am your servant [he said], but eat with you I will not, so long as you are excommunicated, and continue in your sins. Thirdly, Tucker did all that he could to foster the spirit of self-support, which had been made a principle in the establishment of the native ministry and which had been gladly accepted by the Baganda. In a letter home he urged that nothing should be allowed to interfere with it.

With reference to outside help for the maintenance of the native teachers who are sent out to work in the country districts of Uganda, I may say that I have come unhesitatingly to the conclusion, first, that at present outside help is not needed; and secondly, that even if it were needed at the present moment, more strenuous exertions should be made to avoid the necessity of falling back upon a principle which has done so much in other parts of the world to retard the independence of the Native Church.

Having spent two months in conference on these matters, on December 12th Tucker started on his first pastoral journey to the mission stations eastwards in Busoga. Confirmations were held in most places, but the work in Busoga was most difficult. The Basoga had always been the victims of oppression by the Baganda and did not in their new religion follow their lead. Here, to be a Christian still meant persecution. Tucker's heart, however, was cheered by a visit to the islands in the north-east of the lake, where he found a great welcome. When rough weather forced them to take shelter at the heathen island of Buvuma, the inhabitants, like the islanders of old of another sea, "showed them not a little kindness"; and on the island of Bugaya, where there had been a Muganda evangelist, not only was there a church with two hundred worshippers, but the majority of these--superstitious as they were, with their disfigured faces and primitive grass dress--had already learnt to read the "mateka," as the first reading-book was called.

On the way back to the mainland the Bishop and his companions had a curious adventure. With true African dilatoriness the rowers had refused to make haste, and the sun set with land barely visible on the horizon. By moonlight they paddled cautiously along, watching out for sunken rocks, occasionally driven to a spurt when a hippopotamus "blew" uncomfortably near the canoe. At last they found themselves among the rushes and had to splash over waterlogged papyrus through a veritable wall of mosquitoes. They had quite lost their bearings, and on reaching terra firma they advanced cautiously. Suddenly in the darkness two ghost-like figures loomed! A friendly shout was raised, and the figures vanished. Soon, however, a banana plantation was found and then a house, obviously inhabited, but barred fast. For a long while their shouts received no answer and then came a frightened query, "Are you spirits or are you men?" After their reassuring reply came whisperings and then the door was timidly opened and a trembling figure appeared. Soon they were lodged in the chief's quarters.

In Busoga Tucker found a message awaiting him that made him return hot-foot to Mengo. It was to the effect that Kasagama, king of Toro, had suddenly arrived in Mengo to see him. Before Tucker had left for Busoga news had come to the capital that there was trouble in Toro. There was romance about that far-away land in the west under the shadow of the great Ruwenzori mountain. As far back as 1890 one of the chiefs of Toro, of the royal house, who had been brought up in Uganda, had got two Baganda Christians to come and teach his people, and the religion had been welcomed in the land even by King Kasagama and the Queen-Mother. Tucker had long been anxious to send them a missionary.

Lately, however, news had come of trouble between King Kasagama and the British officer in charge of the district, and an inquiry had been set on foot by the Commissioner. Now Kasagama had run away from his country to seek the aid of the Bishop in his cause. Two days after he received the message Tucker was back in Mengo and at once saw Kasagama, who poured out a tale of oppression and unjust charges. Tucker went to the Commissioner, who promised to send for the officer and hold an investigation.

Tucker also dealt with a difficulty in the Church. The rapid increase in the number of communicants in Uganda was creating a real difficulty, about which he had already written to Mr Fox--the supply of Communion wine. Uganda did not possess one vine and the wine had to be imported from England, an expensive proceeding. The Bishop had written in October:

What is to be done? The native Church is utterly unable to pay the cost of transport. All its available funds are used in the maintenance of its clergy, teachers and missionaries. Not a halfpenny of this can be diverted. Gradually I hope the necessary wine can be produced in this country.

So urgent was the claim of missionary work in Uganda that even the Diocesan Fund, he felt, should not be used for this purpose. By January the matter had become more acute and he took action in his usual resolute way. Until wine can be sent to us [he wrote in January] I have sanctioned provisionally the use of native wine--made from the juice of bananas. I have no doubt in my own mind that I ought not to use the Diocesan Fund in this matter nor the offertories in church. They are being used in the evangelization of the country. . . . The Roman Catholics have not our difficulty as they, of course, refuse the cup to the laity.

In the middle of January the Bishop went on another tour to the Sese Islands. After the incessant tramping of most of his journeys a lake voyage was a great rest, and he appreciated its delights.

The fresh breezes--the dancing waters--the bird life, so free and full--the wonderful variety in the scenery--rocks and woods--rushes, reeds and all manner of creeping plants--the blowing of hippos and the sleeping, sliding crocodiles--are all sights and sounds delightfully refreshing to mind and body.

Of course, a lake voyage had always an element of danger, and on the last evening of his return they were again benighted on the lake and even ran aground on a sunken rock, though fortunately with no damage to their canoes. But in spite of the dangers Tucker's eye was held by the beauty of the full moon on the lake. Not even the warning cries of the steersman disturbed him as he busily sketched the other canoe, with its slender, upturned keel projecting well in front of the bows, its stem tapering up to a thin drawn-out point, its graceful outline and the rhythmically swinging bodies of its crew silhouetted in black against the moonlit water.

By February 3rd the Bishop was back in Mengo in time to take part with the Commissioner in the inquiry into Kasagama's conduct. The result was a complete vindication of the king, who was afterwards publicly baptized in the Cathedral and set out again for his country, after securing the promise of a visit from Tucker.

At the end of March the Bishop started out to fulfil that promise and to visit on the way the new stations in the west. He took with him Fisher, who was in charge of one of these stations. In the next two months they tramped five hundred miles, mostly through endless swamps, a mass of mud and rotting vegetation, exhaling foul gases at almost every step. But nothing daunted the Bishop's spirits.

The Bishop walked in and out of the swamps quite cheerfully [wrote Fisher] and had become so used to them that conversation was not interrupted until he sank into an elephant track, or the water reached his mouth. He never halted to change his mud-sodden garments, as there were other swamps to be faced.

All the difficulties of the journey were made worth while by the wonderful welcome which met them in Toro, crowds lining the roads, messengers running to and fro with greetings, and the king receiving them in royal state from his throne. Although no white man had been there, already there were many Christians and a church had been built. A few days later the Bishop took the first baptism in the Toro church; amongst those whom he baptized were the queen-mother and the king's wife.

It was with a very glad heart that he started back alone, leaving Fisher in charge of the work. The return journey was by a drier route, but there were still many swamps to be faced, and fifty miles from Mengo his boots seemed to be giving out. Some amateur cobbling at a mission station with a hammer and a few tin-tacks saved the situation, and though he cast many an anxious eye at the boots as he drew them from the unwilling mud or heard them squelching with oozing water, they carried him safely back to Mengo.

On May 31st, Trinity Sunday, he held an ordination service at which the first Baganda priests were ordained and a further number of deacons. The strain and damp of the swamps and the great length of the service--five hours--brought on an acute attack of fever. "It was with aching head, aching back and aching limbs," he wrote, "that I pronounced the benediction."

But rest was impossible. Four days later he must start for the coast again. Not only had he been summoned to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, but arrangements were already on foot to divide his great diocese, and that would mean his return to England in the new year. Meanwhile the rest of his diocese outside Ugandajfmust be visited again before he left.

They were busy days of rush and bustle, taken up in packing and making final arrangements, nor were things helped by the crowds that besieged his house, not only chiefs and teachers and missionaries, but ordinary folk who wanted to see their Bishop again before he left.

The journey down the lake, interrupted only to hold a confirmation service for the Sese Islanders, was a chance of rest and quiet, but the remainder of the journey was marred by tragedies and almost ended in disaster. At the south end of the lake, that spot of fatal memories, they found Mr Nickisson, the missionary in charge, dying of blackwater fever, and had to leave Rattray, their doctor companion, in his place. Near Mpwapwa, in a spot infested with lions, in spite of every precaution one of Mr Roscoe's boys was carried off and eaten from within a few yards of the Bishop's tent. He was a Christian and a great favourite and his death cast a gloom over the caravan. Beyond Mamboya, where he had suffered from fever before, Tucker was again struck down, but this time with dysentery, a far worse complaint. His supply of medicines soon ran out, and his only chance was to reach the coast. But he was helpless, and for six days he was carried by porters, now bumped against trees, sometimes even thrown to the ground by a stumble. More dead than alive he arrived at Zanzibar and once more was nursed back to health in the U.M.C.A. hospital. Even there his convalescence was interrupted. The Sultan of Zanzibar had died in suspicious circumstances on the day of the Bishop's arrival and a usurper had seized the palace. One evening his nurse told the Bishop that the British ultimatum would expire in the morning and that he had better be moved to safer quarters in view of the bombardment by the fleet. He gives a vivid account of the incident.

Covered up in a hammock, I was carried through the silent and deserted streets down to the shore, where a boat was waiting. It was a weird feeling that possessed me as we passed through the fleet in a silence broken only by the dip of the oars and the challenge of the watchful sentinels, to the Nowshera in the outer harbour.

My bunk looked out on the land side of the ship, and it was with no little curiosity that I brought my glasses to bear on the Sultan's palace. The red flag was still there. There was to be no surrender apparently. The palace clock struck nine--up went the signal and the "tongue of flame" shot forth. The old Glasgow, a man-of-war belonging to the Sultan, opened fire on the St George. In a moment came the reply, which struck the wooden ship at the water-line. A few minutes later she heeled over and went to the bottom. Forty minutes' play of the big guns was enough and down came the red flag.

As soon as he was fit he was moved to Mombasa, but there was no longer any question of work at the coast. He was invalided home and sailed on October 4th, after having welcomed a large party of reinforcements for the mission.

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