Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter XV. Building for the Future

THE education scheme of 1898 had proved a success, and by the end of 1903 twenty-two thousand children were attending the primary schools. There was, however, a serious defect in the system. The chiefs did not send their children to the primary schools nor did they educate them themselves, so that those who would be responsible for the future leadership of the country and who by their position would be most open to the temptations consequent upon the inrush of industrial civilization, were passing through boyhood undisciplined and untaught. To meet this need Mr Hattersley had planned to have a boarding-school for the sons of chiefs, run on the house system and on self-supporting lines. This school, known as the Mengo High School, was opened in 1904, and a similar school for the daughters of chiefs was also started by women missionaries at Gayaza.

But the Bishop's vision for Uganda went even beyond this. He saw the absolute necessity of higher education and even dreamed of the establishment of a university. Meanwhile, he planned to found an intermediate college and approached the C.M.S. with the suggestion, offering to run the whole scheme himself, if the society would lend the missionaries and build them houses. To his intense disappointment the C.M.S. had to refuse owing to lack of funds.

With Tucker, to see a vision clearly was immediately to set about its accomplishment, and he had already secured through the Commissioner the promise of government help in the way of scholarships. In writing about his disappointment he revealed how clearly he had visualized the whole scheme, a scheme so wide that he felt that it lay beyond the power of one missionary society. "To provide a wise and wide measure of education needs--well, something more than the C.M.S." Subsequent events have proved the truth of his words. Meanwhile, he felt keenly the missing of the opportunity.

At Khartoum they have an immense College which bears the name of Gordon with no one to educate. Here on the other hand we have a whole nation hungry and thirsty for knowledge and no means of getting it. Truly it is a "topsy-turvy" sort of world we live in!

In reply to this letter to Mrs Carus-Wilson, he received four months later a generous offer from Mr Flint, her son-in-law, to find the money he needed for his scheme. The Bishop was overjoyed and immediately set about finding a site. He finally settled upon "Budo," a hill six miles from Mengo. This was the royal hill from which the kings of Uganda used "to eat the kingdom" at their coronation, to show that they had formally taken possession of the country, and it was decided to call the new building "King's School."

In June of that year a long-looked-for event took place in the consecration of the new cathedral, the building of which had begun three years before, and on which all the Protestants, chiefs and peasants alike, had lavished money and service. With eager expectation they had watched its growth, the huge cruciform brick structure rising majestically above their city of thatched reed houses.

June 21st was the day of consecration, and from the earliest hours of dawn, long before the doors were opened, a constant stream of men and women flowed up Namirembe hill, the murmur of their voices drifting into the Bishop's house "like the sound of many waters." By nine o'clock four thousand five hundred people packed the cathedral to the doors and six thousand more were outside. The Kabaka was there, and Colonel Hayes Sadler, and Mr Victor Buxton, a representative of the C.M.S. committee, with his wife. With the Kabaka came the Katikiro and all the great chiefs in festal dress. Then through the vast congregation came the Bishop with his procession of over forty priests, most of them Africans. The massive brick pillars and the Gothic arches had not the same native quality as the old "forest of poles," but the great roof which spanned that huge assembly was truly African, lined with washed and polished golden reeds, bound and decorated with dark fibre. This great House of God stood as an expression of the national religious consciousness, and stirred the deepest emotions of the Baganda in a way which recalled the story of the dedication of Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem.

How the rolling and reverberating tones of the responses stirred one's soul to its very depths! [Tucker writes]. And the Amens, how they reminded one of what we are told of the Christians of the primitive age--that their Amens were like the roll of distant thunder. Most striking of all was the offertory. The vast congregation covered the whole space of the cathedral floor, the white robes of the men contrasting with the terra-cotta garments of the women. To and fro amongst their seated figures moved a number of men with large bags, into which were poured offerings of cowrie shells. Again and again the bags were taken to the altar, the great offertory basket overflowed, the Communion Table itself was not large enough, and a great pile grew on a cloth spread before it. All the while other gifts were being taken up--sugar-cane, bananas, fowls--and were laid down at the foot of the table. Even two frightened goats were led up through the great throng and presented by the Bishop and then led out again, while outside were fifteen cows which, but for the Bishop's whispered direction, would have been brought in behind the goats! The gifts amounted to over a hundred and fifty pounds, and the debt remaining on the cathedral was more than paid.

The joy of this service helped to compensate the Bishop for a great disappointment which he had experienced a few days before. Taking the opportunity of Mr Buxton's presence he had again consulted the conference of missionaries about the constitution, and was distressed to find that their position was practically unaltered.

His rheumatism was now increasing and with it acute dyspepsia, and in March and April of 1905 he took a journey to Toro on which he was constantly ill.

What with fever, rheumatism and chronic dyspepsia the daily journey was a daily martyrdom. Just fancy--getting up at half-past four in the morning and then shivering by a camp fire while your hut is being taken down and your breakfast being got ready--then the journey--the long grass dripping with dew and drenching you with its showers--then later the blazing sun--the headache--the backache--and every other ache. . . . I do not think that I ought to venture on another long journey before recruiting a little at home. Indeed, I am wondering if I ought to come out here again. I am certainly not so fit for these long and trying expeditions as I once was.

He was now fifty-six and the low condition of his health accentuated his disappointment over the constitution.

I am beginning to feel that a change would be good for Uganda. For one thing the question of a constitution for the Church is still unsettled and I am as far from being in agreement with the majority of the missionaries with regard to a fundamental point as ever I was.

So persistent were the fever and rheumatism on this journey that he had to consent to be carried in a hammock for the greater part of each day--always a great trial to his pride and patience. However, he persisted as long as he possibly could, and completed his work in Toro, visiting every station he had planned to see and confirming over five hundred candidates. But he was obliged to abandon the idea of going on to Ankole, and thereby probably saved his life. For a few weeks later Mr Gait, the sub-commissioner of Toro, was speared on his way through Ankole by a native as an act of revenge for some of his tribe shot in an affray with British troops. There was no personal animosity in the murder. Mr Gait was simply the first European to pass that way and it might well have been the Bishop. In writing about it Tucker recounts with amusement the comment of a friend on his narrow escape:

A kind friend suggested, when he heard of the possibility of my having been speared--how much such an event would have stirred up at home renewed interest in the Uganda mission! Well! if the interest would have effected all that I long to see accomplished I would have endured the spearing, but I doubt the value of interest so stirred up--that is by a spear blade!

Shortly after his return to Mengo, in the month of May, the Bishop received a visit from Dr Hine, the Bishop of Zanzibar. An incident occurred on this occasion which illustrates Tucker's impetuosity, and the difficulties he was often in owing to his imperfect knowledge of the language. He had come down to Entebbe to meet his visitor, and suddenly hailed a passing native and ordered him to carry Dr Hine's bag to his house in Mengo. The native appeared unwilling and made some remark which the Bishop could not understand, but he repeated his orders in that manner which caused his porters never to wait for a repetition of the command. The native set off, but when the two bishops arrived at Mengo the bag was not there and was found later in the bush minus the Bishop's vestments, which had been stolen. The next Sunday Dr Hine preached in borrowed evangelical attire!

Late that year the Bishop paid a long-overdue visit to one of the most distant parts of the diocese, Nassa, at the extreme south end of the lake. The immediate cause of the visit was that strife between the natives and their German masters seemed likely to imperil the safety of the missionaries, and Tucker determined to investigate their risk himself. His journey down the lake was a sumptuous affair compared to the old voyages, for he travelled most of the way in a luxurious lake steamer and the remainder in a steam launch.

He found the position better than he had expected and after a fortnight he determined to start back. But the return journey to Muanga, the German port, had to be in the old style, by native canoes, and a fatal disaster was only avoided by a hairbreadth. Running for shelter from a sudden gale to the lee of an island, they had to pass to windward of a rocky promontory. Desperately the boatmen paddled, but the wind and waves were fast bearing them on to the rocks, white with the foam of the breakers. Would they clear them?" We only just managed it," Tucker wrote. "I could have thrown a biscuit on the rocks as we crept past them--the breakers roaring as if disappointed of their prey."

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