Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter XI. Champion of the Captive

THE next twelve months the Bishop spent in England. Fever and dysentery had taken heavy toll of his strength and the fever constantly recurred, sometimes incapacitating him from all work, and in the summer of 1897 making it necessary to postpone his intended return.

He put up with it very cheerfully, and in an amusing letter to Mr Fox describes in African terms a sudden bout of fever which had laid him low in the midst of some preaching engagements.

I am allowed by the doctor to sit up for an hour. I must send you therefore an account of my adventures since leaving the Hampstead escarpment last Wednesday. On the afternoon of that day I had an engagement at Twickenham. After breaking up the encampment on the escarpment I commenced at once to descend into the plains and valley of the Thames. All went well until my arrival at Richmond. I started at once for the river--found it bridged--a very good bridge indeed. After crossing, however, a feeling of sickness came on and great leg weariness. It was evident that fever was upon me. On arrival at the mission station (Westbourne House--G. Furness Smith) the cold chills were very pronounced, and after a vain attempt to eat some lunch I went to bed. I was greatly disappointed as some seventy native Christians (Gleaners) and three native clergy had assembled to hear an account of the work in Uganda. However, there was no help for it.

Much of Tucker's time was spent in discussions and arrangements for the division of his diocese and in the drawing up of its constitution. He devoted hours to the study of the constitution of other newly formed dioceses, Japan, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, and Western Equatorial Africa. He finally drew up a constitution, approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury, embodying his own conviction that all members of the Church in the diocese, missionaries as well as natives, should come under the diocesan life and control.

Owing to the uncertainty of the situation in Uganda in 1890 and the extreme difficulty of communication Tucker had been made not only Bishop of his diocese, but absolute director of the mission and its policy. This was a departure from C.M.S. practice, which has always been to keep the control of the larger policy of its missions in the hands of the parent committee in London. The opportunity of the division of the diocese was taken to reconsider the Bishop's powers as director.

He was a strong man of decided views, some of which had from time to time been questioned by critics at home. Indeed, he had even been known to say that he regarded himself as "the captain on the bridge" and those at headquarters as "the men in the stokehole." There were some, too, who knew that they would be in disagreement with his ideas for the new diocesan constitution. However, after some months' discussion his powers as director were left unaltered.

In September startling news came to England of the revolt of Mwanga against British rule. The story has often been told in accounts of the Uganda Mission but it is necessary to give some short description of it.

It was, in fact, the final flare-up of the old reactionary forces against the progress of light and order in Uganda. There were various elements of discord. First, there were the Roman Catholic chiefs in Budu, still smarting, in spite of the government readjustment of territories, under a sense of being the worsted party. Then there were certain of the chiefs, such as the excommunicated Protestant chief of Singo, the Mukwenda, who resented the Christian discipline of life. Already there had been some disaffection amongst these chiefs which had led to the arrest of the Mukwenda and the Roman Catholic Kaima, but Gabrieli--the Catholic commander-in-chief, a born soldier, and the instigator of the disaffection--had escaped.

Meanwhile Mwanga himself, not unnaturally, was becoming more and more sulky and discontented. He was a Christian only in name and really hankered after the evil habits of the old days. Moreover, his power had dwindled to a mere shadow. As he is reported to have once said, "I have been a heathen king, a Roman Catholic king, and a Protestant king. Now I am a government official." A few months before he had got into disgrace through an attempt to smuggle some ivory through German territory and he had been condemned--with the consent of the chiefs at Mengo--to a very heavy fine and had been deprived of the remaining vestiges of independence. Moreover, he had been warned that he would be deposed for the next offence.

On July 6th he fled secretly from Mengo to Budu and raised the standard of revolt. The danger lay in the instinctive loyalty of the Baganda, not to Mwanga himself, but to the institution of the Kabaka. At the first sign of a real success there would be a general uprising, for large numbers of the people were resentful of being set to work to build houses and make roads, instead of smoking their pipes all day as in the good, old-fashioned, heathen times.

Major Ternan, the acting-commissioner, with great promptitude immediately sent a force against Mwanga. After a stubborn fight the rebel army was broken, and Mwanga, who had escaped into German territory, was declared an outlaw. Fortunately, a year before an heir had at last been born to the king and his Protestant wife, and in accordance with Baganda custom he had been placed under the guardianship of the Protestant Katikiro, Apolo Kagwa. This little "Daudi Chwa" was solemnly enthroned as Kabaka in Mwanga's place, and for the moment the danger was over.

Amidst all the work, illness, and anxiety of these twelve months, the Bishop had had one constant happiness in the enjoyment once more of home life with his wife and their little son, Hathaway. By the end of October, much better in health, though not even then his old self, he started back for Uganda, little knowing that his beloved diocese was in the throes of a danger far greater than the abortive revolt of Mwanga. When he reached Mombasa on November 25th he heard--as he had in 1892--that Uganda was lost, while rumours were rife as to the fate of the missionaries.

What had really happened was the revolt of the Sudanese garrison in Busoga, a band of well-trained soldiers, who, having burnt their boats by the murder of three Englishmen captive in their hands, were defending themselves desperately at Luba's fort.

The seriousness of the situation was shown by the utter inability of the Bishop to get any porters for his journey to Uganda owing to their complete absorption by the government in the work of sending reinforcements up country.

Anxious though the Bishop was to get to Uganda, there was plenty to do at the coast stations, and an unexpected incident one morning made those few months of waiting one of the busiest times in Tucker's life. He had gone over to Mombasa and was standing talking to a friend outside the mission house. Suddenly up the street came running a young Swahili woman pursued by some men. Quick as thought the woman dashed behind Tucker's broad figure into the shelter of the mission doorway, crying for protection. The men made to seize her, but Tucker interposed, and with that manner that never met refusal ordered the men to wait down the street while he spoke to the girl. Piteously she told her tale. She was the slave of Sheik Uwe, one of the men pursuing her. He had treated her with great cruelty and had threatened to strangle her, and she feared for her life. Tucker did not hesitate, but opening the mission door put the girl in charge of the lady missionary there, and informed her master that if he called at nine o'clock the next morning he would know what the Bishop intended to do.

It was not the first time that Tucker had stood between a slave and her master, and threats and scowls were of no avail. But he knew that only by legal process could he continue to protect the girl, and all that evening he spent inquiring into the case. It seemed clear that the girl could claim her freedom on the ground of cruelty, but Tucker also believed that she had been illegally enslaved. It was an opportunity of raising publicly the whole question of slavery in East Africa. During the past year special representations had been made by the C.M.S. to the government for the abolition of slavery in East Africa, but nothing had been decided. Here was an opportunity. Tucker immediately applied to the sub-commissioner for the freedom of the girl, Heri Karibu, and a lawsuit began which lasted three months.

It was indeed a unique case, for the Bishop himself acted as pleader in court on the girl's behalf. It was an unpopular advocacy in Mombasa and it is doubtful if he could have secured an advocate. But "as a matter of fact," he writes, "it was Hobson's choice. I had no funds at my disposal with which to employ counsel, and must needs act personally or allow the girl to be dragged back into slavery. The latter alternative was unthinkable." It is certain that no ordinary advocate would have taken the immense trouble which the Bishop gave to the case. Day after day he spent examining witnesses and searching the archives of the administration for all its decrees on the slave question.

In the study of these latter [he wrote] I burnt the midnight oil until my dreams were of slaves, law-courts and judges. However, I mastered them till they were at my fingers' ends.

When the case came on, day after day Tucker crossed to Mombasa to attend the courts. It was a cause celebre in the town and many were the scowls and muttered imprecations which greeted the champion of the slave on his way to and fro.

At the court there was an English judge with two Mohammedan assessors to assist in the interpretation of the Sultan's decrees. It was strange to think that in a court presided over by an English judge it was a possibility that a slave might be sent back into a cruel bondage. Of course there were some who felt that this was not the work for a bishop, but Tucker in a letter to Mr Fox defended himself against that charge:

When I was consecrated, the question was asked me, "Will you be merciful for Christ's sake to poor and needy people and to all strangers destitute of help?" I answered, "I will, by God's help." If there is a stranger destitute of help in this world it is this poor slave girl Heri Karibu--and the poor and needy people are her fellow-slaves.

The case dragged on and Tucker presented his arguments, but even when he left for Uganda at the end of March the decision had not been given. He wrote urgently to the C.M.S. asking that in case of an unfavourable decision they would appeal, if necessary even to Parliament, and was rejoiced to get their consent to this. It was, however, rendered unnecessary, for on one of the points of law raised the slave was declared free.

But in addition to all his legal work the Bishop was busy during those three months with visiting for the last time his old diocese. He had an especially interesting journey to Taveta in the Taita hills. For the first time he travelled by train, for the railway now reached to Voi, and the journey that used to take eight days was accomplished in eight hours.

Binns and I [he writes] were soon engaged in the pleasant task of comparing the past with the present. "Look! there is the path along which we tramped when the scorching sun seemed intolerable, and the camp ever so far off. And over yonder is the spot where we met the Waduruma, who told us that the Masai on the warpath were not far away, and you remember how ten of our men bolted leaving us in the lurch! And there are the Taro water-holes. How hard we found it to get water, and how filthy it was when it was got!"

Almost impossible to believe it ever happened as the train puffed comfortably and swiftly along!

On the march from Taita to Taveta, they encountered what might have been an unpleasant adventure. Having started very early, at dawn they found themselves on a plain swarming with herds of game--hartebeests, zebras, giraffes, buck--in such numbers as to make a sportsman's mouth water. But a long march lay before them through waterless country, and it would take them all their time to reach the appointed camp where they were to be met by porters with water from Taveta. There was no time for hunting. Suddenly the sight of a magnificent ostrich half a mile away scattered the Bishop's good resolutions to the winds. Carefully he stalked it from one ant-hill to another until at four hundred yards he shot it. Delightedly he secured its magnificent plumes, while the Wataita porters as eagerly cut out its leg-sinews for bowstrings.

But time had been lost and sunset found them still far from camp. Darkness fell, and as they stumbled along thirsty and tired they seemed to have lost their way. As a last resort the Bishop suggested that they should fire their guns as a signal. Almost immediately came an answering shot about half a mile away, and soon they were thankfully gulping down cups of tea by a blazing fire. Tired as they were they could not sleep for the ceaseless howling of the hyenas all round them, and as the Bishop lay watching with his artistic eye "the wonderful tracery of the tree branches over our heads as they glowed in the light of our camp-fire," he was full of gratitude that they were not still thirstily wandering through the darkness of that beast-infested country.

Before the end of February they were back in Mombasa and busily engaged in preparations for the journey to the interior. Meanwhile had come from Uganda in January the tragic news of the irreparable loss of Pilkington, who had been shot in an attempted assault upon Luba's fort. Later came news that the Sudanese had abandoned the fort and had retreated to the marshes of Bukedi in the north, while Mwanga, who had escaped from the Germans, and had made an abortive attempt to raise the standard of revolt, had fled to the old rebel king Kabarega in Bunyoro. The country was once more accessible, and Millar, the Bishop's travelling companion, having arrived from England on March 16th, a start was made for Uganda on the 24th.

Although the railway had only reached Ngomeni and still left a tramp of five hundred and fifty miles to Uganda, it was a very great saving as it carried them across the hot coastal plain and the waterless Taro desert, and landed them on high and healthy ground.

They were only just in time for the train at Mombasa and many of the boys were pulled in after it had started. As it was, the Bishop's cook was left asleep on the platform and joined them two days later. At several places on the march they met English officers, stranded for want of transport, who looked enviously and even greedily at the Bishop's caravan. But he was too important a personage for them to commandeer his porters! The journey was uneventfully successful and they arrived at Mengo on May 18th in a downpour of rain "like a couple of drowned rats," the Bishop's mackintosh having been stolen only the previous day while his tent was thronged with welcoming friends!

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