Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter XIV. Father and Friend

THE next eighteen months were spent in England. The incessant marching of the past three years had told heavily on the Bishop's health and strength, and it took him some time to recuperate, but after a short rest in his home at Surbiton with his wife and son, the latter now thirteen years old, he was again caught up in the usual whirl of deputation preaching. In the summer he got a respite to enjoy a delightful holiday in the old haunts of Westmorland, climbing Scawfell and Helvellyn by Striding Edge, and visiting his mother and brothers in Windermere.

His return in 1902 was delayed that he might be in England for an event of unusual importance for Uganda, the visit of Apolo Kagwa, the Katikiro. It was a wonderful moment when this fine-looking, able African, who sixteen years before had been nearly beaten to death by Mwanga in his fury against the Christians, now stood up and thanked the committee of the C.M.S. for what the Society had done for his people. It was a living example of the reality and worth of the Uganda mission, and his visits all over the country made the deepest impression. Two days before the Katikiro and his secretary, Ham Mukasa, left for Africa they were present at King Edward's coronation, and were so overwhelmed by the splendour of its setting and ritual that, in the words of Ham Mukasa, "one's hair stood on end on account of the exceeding great glory."

The Bishop himself remained a little longer in England, for once again he found himself the champion of the rights of his people. Their inalienable rights in their holdings, pledged by Sir Harry Johnston, were being threatened by certain political proposals, and the Bishop made a great and successful effort to bring into being an association which should pledge itself to see that justice was done to the Baganda, whether by the government or anyone else. Although he himself had to leave before the association was actually formed, he had already ensured its success by securing a promise of support from Sir Harry Johnston himself, and also from the veteran explorer, Sir H. M. Stanley.

During these last few weeks the Bishop was also busy with arrangements for moving his wife's home from Surbiton to Little Bookham. He spent much time with the architect in planning some of the rooms, and was so interested and enthusiastic that it was hard to believe that this was the man who would never allow the trouble or expense of making any improvements in his own rudely built house in Mengo. One great joy had come to him early in the year: his son Hathaway had won a Foundation Scholarship to Marlborough, and before he left England he saw him settled into his new school.

On November 29th the Bishop once more reached Uganda, travelling all the way from the coast for the first time by rail and steamer--ten days of ease and comfort, instead of three months of marching and toil! He was welcomed at the lake-port of Entebbe by Colonel Sadler, the new Commissioner, a man after his own heart, a patient student, and one with a deep sense of responsibility towards the people committed to him. It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship of several years.

The joy of that very first night of his return to his diocese was marred by disaster. The hospital at Mengo was struck by lightning and destroyed, together with hundreds of pounds' worth of instruments and fittings. Tucker had immediate evidence of the Commissioner's goodwill, for the very next day he cabled to Dr Cook an offer of four hundred men to erect a temporary building for the stranded patients.

But a deeper disaster faced the Bishop, one which had already for over a year cast a terrible gloom over the country, a gloom which did not yet show any sign of lifting. In 1901 Dr Cook had discovered the arrival of the dread scourge of sleeping sickness which, once local in the Congo basin, had been spread far and wide, probably by the system of porterage. It was not till a year later that the cause of the disease was discovered in the sting of the tsetse fly, and meanwhile the people were dying in thousands, especially in the low-lying lands round the lake. The Sese Islands, formerly the home of many churches, and amidst whose beauties Tucker had always loved his restful canoe journeys, were almost depopulated, five hundred being left where once had been ten thousand, while the once fertile strip of Busoga on the north-east shore of the lake was now a deserted and overgrown wilderness. For a time the doctors were baffled and the people abandoned themselves to the apathy of despair, while churches were broken up and congregations disappeared.

But breaking through the gloom was the noble courage and self-sacrifice of many a Muganda teacher, who risked and often gave his life to carry the gospel to men and women dying in heathenism. Such a case was that of a woman, Rakeri (Rachel), who, hearing that sleeping sickness had broken out on a heathen island, volunteered to go, nor did the warning that it meant almost certain death deter her. Ere long she returned with the news of many won to Christ. Then back again to her heroic task, till in a few months she was brought to Mengo hospital a victim to the disease. Even in her weakness she was a source of comfort and strength to many a dying sufferer in the wards.

It was a Sunday morning and Holy Communion was being celebrated in the cathedral. The last of the communicants were returning to their places when the Bishop noticed in a distant corner, where she had been sitting apart, a white-robed woman who rose and walked with slow and uncertain steps towards the communion rails. The congregation watched her, the wondering love on their faces almost concealing their shrinking fear.

"It is Rakeri!" the Muganda priest's answer came to the Bishop's whispered query. With hardly controlled emotion he gave to her the emblems of that suffering love which had been her inspiration, and slowly she dragged her way down the aisle. "Gloria in excelsis" they sang, "Gloria in excelsis" for the simple nobility of that spirit of Africa, the same that had once with unflinching courage faced spear and flame, and now offered itself in love to the terror of the sleeping death.

I saw her once again [Tucker writes]. It was the last day of her life. She was lying on her bed in the women's ward. The fatal slumber was upon her. "The Bishop has come to see you," said the doctor. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment as though she understood, and then she fell back into slumber once more. I could but whisper in her ear the blessing of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost--and so she passed to her rest and her reward.

Eighteen months away from his diocese had meant heavy arrears of confirmation candidates, and for eight months of 1903 the Bishop was journeying west, then east, then west again.

These were more than confirmation tours. To the natives they were an opportunity to give a welcome to their beloved "father," for in many instances he himself had been the pioneer in starting the Church in their land. But most of all did his visits count with the missionaries. He was indeed to them their father-in-God, gentle, wise, forbearing, sympathetic. It did them good to see his sturdy figure in the grey Norfolk suit drawing near to their house, sometimes riding on mule-back, more often walking. Behind him would come his boys and--characteristic of the Bishop--his cows, and they would make their camp while the Bishop prepared to enjoy for a night or two the amenities of a home.

He would look into all the work, seldom interfering or criticizing, but always ready to advise with the soundest judgment, and often solving problems of administration which had baffled the missionaries.

Then in the evening, sitting and talking on the veranda, what a friend and counsellor he was in any personal matter, how interested and wise, how absolutely to be trusted as a confidant, sympathetic in trouble with the gentleness of a strong man I He was a link too with the world, not only bringing news of other stations or of doings in Mengo, but discussing, with quick intuitive judgment and the experience of a man who had for years dealt directly with the leaders of political life, the problems of the day. In leisure hours he had always sketches to finish, and some of the most treasured possessions of a missionary were pictures of the beauties of his district given him by his Bishop. He was always ready too for more violent occupations, and whoever played tennis with him had to play against a determined and energetic opponent. No missionary ever saw him forth again on his journeys without feeling happier and stronger for his faith and faithfulness. He always trusted every one to work in his own way, but he always imparted one great conviction--more perhaps by his own life than by any spoken words--that "God loves finished work."

But if it was a joy to have him as a guest, it was counted a rare privilege to be his travelling companion on "safari." Resourceful, determined, making the best of difficulties, courageous in the face of pain or discomfort, never failing in a sense of humour--it was impossible to be dull or discouraged with him. A. L. Kitching, now Bishop of the Upper Nile, was his companion on the first of these journeys when he visited Toro in March 1903. The Bishop suffered severely from fever and had to be carried all day in a hammock, and at night he could get no sleep. "To his energetic nature," writes Kitching, "to be carried in a hammock was a daily martyrdom. But in the evenings we used to play halma and he always beat me."

Six months later he was better and preparing to go on a tour to Ankole, this time with Dr J. H. Cook. At the last moment his cook was taken ill with fever and could not come. Then the doctor's boy went down with smallpox.

With the recklessness of ignorance [writes the doctor], I offered to act as cook. The Bishop, not knowing of my incapacities, agreed and handed over the key of his chop box containing the necessary ingredients for making bread. In due course, what I must confess to have been a rather heavy-looking lump was produced. The Bishop weighed it in his hand dubiously, and called in a stentorian tone for a pail of water. He dropped the loaf into the pail, and, alas, it sank like a stone!" No, Doctor," he exclaimed, "I don't eat any eggs that float in water, and I don't eat any bread that sinks in water!" My prestige in that direction never recovered, but fortunately an emergency cook-boy arrived at the next camp.

On that same tour they both met with an accident that might well have been fatal, had it not been for the Bishop's presence of mind. They were in a packed building in use as a temporary dispensary, when suddenly Tucker perceived that the supports and beams of the roof were giving way. He shouted to every one to throw themselves flat, and though buried for a time in thatch and beams, they were dragged out with no worse hurt than a bruise on Dr Cook's shoulder.

At the end of 1903 a physical weakness began to develop that was finally to put an end to Tucker's work in Africa. The many years of marching in swamp-soaked clothes, of shivering in the dews of chilly dawns, and then steaming out the damp in the sweltering sun were beginning to tell even on that iron frame.

I am fast becoming a cripple [he wrote in December]. Rheumatism has laid hold of me and is likely to keep me in its clutches. Should it increase as it has done the last six months I shall be an absolute cripple in twelve months' time. However I am hoping against hope and am prepared for whatever comes. One can't expect to go into battle and to come out of it without a scratch.

Fortunately the rheumatism did not become worse though at times it gripped him as in a vice, and by March of 1904 he was off again on a pioneer journey to the unopened land of Acholi in the Nile Valley, north-east of Bunyoro, at the invitation of one of the chiefs.

It was an unsettled country, and permission for the journey was obtained from Colonel Hayes Sadler, the Commissioner, on the understanding that the Bishop and his party were travelling at their own risk. His companions were once more Dr and Mrs A. R. Cook. In spite of a two-days' halt to recover from fever they arrived in three weeks at the village of a friendly chief. So far they had met with no opposition, but on the other hand had heard endless tales of official oppression and injustice, which were hard to believe.

It was Easter Eve and they were sitting quietly in their camp at Ojigi's village when suddenly a party of armed soldiers appeared. They informed the Bishop that they had been sent by the local Resident with warrants for the arrest of three murderers whom he had heard were in the Bishop's eamp, and that he desired the Bishop to execute the warrants. This he absolutely refused to do, even before he learned by inquiry that the men were not there. Moreover, he wrote very strongly to both the Resident and the Commissioner protesting against the request.

I was travelling [he writes to a friend] in a country which government officials had declared to be unsafe. . . . Suppose this contention to be true--suppose again that these men had been in my camp, and I had been foolish enough to hand them over to the soldiers to be carried off and possibly hung and that these men had been deep in the affections of their people, I might have risked the safety of my whole party. We might as a matter of revenge have been wiped out.

But he protested too on broader grounds. He declared that though half the men in his camp were murderers his mission was to such, and that the government had no right to take advantage of his privileged position as a missionary to get their warrants executed.

I may say [he writes] that I do not think I shall be troubled with any more warrants. Just fancy sending warrants to General Booth to execute! I wonder what he would say to the Chief Commissioner of Police!

The disappointed soldiers were hospitably entertained that night in Ojigi's village and next morning departed with three stolen sheep! The Bishop began to think that there might be some truth in these stories of official oppression.

Two weeks later he met one of the alleged murderers and taxed him with the crime. The man protested his innocence and offered to produce witnesses of the wrongs he had suffered. A week later the Bishop and his party reached Wadelai, the headquarters of the Resident. Immediately the chief came to him with a complaint of wanton cruelty on the part of the Resident which had resulted in the death of one of his men. Tucker saw the Resident, who admitted the facts. The Bishop was in one of the most terrible predicaments of his life, "but," he writes, "one's duty towards these helpless people gives one no choice." Fortunately the Deputy-Commissioner arrived at that moment, the facts were put before him, and the Resident was sent down to the Commissioner under arrest.

From the missionary point of view the tour was a great success. Everywhere they were welcomed and Dr Cook treated no less than four thousand patients. "We so won the confidence of these wild people (said by the Resident to be dangerous) that mothers actually brought their greasy babies to us to nurse I"

Two days out of Mengo they were drenched through in a terrific storm, and the Bishop was laid up for a week with fever and a high temperature, followed by a sharp return of rheumatism.

It varies very much with the weather [he writes]. My wife has sent me a number of things for it--from a rheumatic ring to flowers of sulphur which you put in your socks!

Project Canterbury