Project Canterbury

The Life of Charles Alan Smythies
Bishop of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa

By Gertrude Ward

Edited by Edward Francis Russell, M.A.

London: Offices of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, 1899.

Chapter VI. The German Occupation, 1884-1888

WHEN in 1864 Bishop Tozer decided to move the Universities' Mission from the Zambezi to Zanzibar, he deliberately chose to settle in the dominions of a powerful Arab Sultan, whose authority extended over the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, along the east coast of Africa from Cape Guardafui to Cape Delgado, and inland as far as Lake Tanganyika. It is true that this authority in the distant interior was of a shadowy sort, but still there was no doubt that the Sultan's agents were established at Ujiji and other inland towns, and the first mainland station of the Mission was fixed at Magila, in the country of the Bondeis, who acknowledged the Sultan's supremacy and received the first missionaries as his friends. Up to the year 1884 this part of Africa remained, as it had been since the decline of the sixteenth century Portuguese dominion, a region unclaimed and untouched by any European Power. Then came the remarkable period of European expansion, and the vast continent of Africa, containing eleven million square miles, was partitioned out amongst the countries of Europe by a pitiless fate too strong for the natives to resist. How this particular part became the share of Germany must now be related.

English people have been so accustomed to regard Germany as a country that stayed at home to mind its own business--of which, indeed, there had been a troublesome plenty ever since the Thirty Years' War--that they have hardly even yet recognised her right to expand outside her own land-locked territory; and twenty years ago the idea of Germany becoming a colonising Power was treated in England with a sort of haughty incredulity that accounts for our blind disregard of subsequent developments. An impartial historian must, however, allow that after the peace and prosperity Germany enjoyed on the conclusion of the Franco-German War, an expansion of the forces of the now united nation was not only natural but inevitable. Prince Bismarck, though at first frankly opposed to the founding of colonies, came to see the great advantage it would be to the empire to establish foreign markets for trade, and did all in his power to encourage the new colonising zeal which he discovered in a few of his enterprising countrymen.

As the greater part of the world was already disposed of, Germany had to be content with what was left, and, recognising that if she did not seize soon there would presently be nothing left to seize, she quietly took possession of a vast territory in South-West Africa which England had been too apathetic to annex. Nothing succeeds like success; and no sooner was the German flag hoisted in Damaraland in 1883, than the restless acquisitive spirit of young Germany determined on a further attempt. But those were early days, the game was a new one, caution must be observed, and, above all, the other Powers must be kept in the dark. In amusing contrast to recent methods in China, the methods of Germany with regard to East Africa in 1884 were of the most secret and mysterious sort. The leading spirit of the colonial party was Dr. Carl Peters, then only twenty-seven years of age, who had lived long enough in England to learn something of the strength of the British Colonies, and who had worked energetically in his own country towards creating a colonial spirit. This brilliant and enterprising patriot was deputed by the German Colonisation Society, of which he was a prominent member, to go forth and take what he could get. The original plan was that he should sail to the west coast, but at the last moment he was directed to go to the east coast, opposite Zanzibar. Giving out that he and his two companions, Dr. Jühlke and Count Pfeil, were bound for Liverpool en route for South-West Africa, the mysterious trio journeyed in disguise and under assumed names to Trieste, and thence, on October I, 1884, by the Austrian Lloyd as deck passengers to Zanzibar. At Zanzibar, where Seyyid Bargash was Sultan and Sir John Kirk British representative, they were taken for members of the Congo expedition, but later on called themselves simply sportsmen. The proverbial delays and difficulties of an African expedition having been overcome by Dr. Peters's determination and resource, the party left the island within a week, neither the English nor the Arabs having the slightest idea of their real designs.

Crossing to Saadani, the expedition penetrated rapidly to the interior, for, as the coast was, as it were, under the Sultan's very eyes, it was thought best to secure concessions secretly in the unseen Hinterland from the various chiefs, all of whom, however, owed allegiance to Zanzibar. With extraordinary rapidity Dr. Peters travelled over miles of country, and with still more extraordinary self-assurance concluded a series of 'treaties' with the chiefs, couched in magnificent language, in which each chief is described as being 'sole and absolute lord' of the territory which he, in return for costly gifts, placed at the exclusive disposal of the Society represented by Dr. Peters. These 'treaties' concluded, the fever-stricken adventurers returned with what strength they had left to the coast. Peters and Jiihlke were carried in hammocks; Count Pfeil was too ill to travel; and Herr Otto, a merchant who had joined the expedition at his own cost, died.

Flushed with victory, Dr. Peters returned to Berlin, was welcomed by Bismarck, agitated for capital, and did all in his power to make use of his new acquisitions. So successful was he at home that on February 27, 1885, the Emperor, urged by Bismarck, issued to the German East African Company the first Imperial Charter of Protection that German history records. Three weeks later Bismarck justified this rapid procedure by declaring to his opponents in the Reichstag, 'Had we waited long--had we delayed even a few months--others would most certainly have stepped in. The Government has seized the only possible moment for opening the door to German labour, German civilization, and German capital.'

It was this official recognition of the rights of Germany over 60,000 square miles of Africa that first roused the amazed indignation of the Sultan and the misgivings of the English. Much was said about the validity of the so-called 'treaties;' on the one hand, they were acknowledged by Germany to be of no legal value, and on the other it was maintained that neither the Sultan nor any European Power had rights in the interior, so that no injury was done to anyone by the Charter. The Sultan, however, protested bitterly that his rights were infringed, and he continued to protest while numerous German agents were penetrating inland and treating the country as their own. Only when, on August 7, 1885, a German squadron appeared in Zanzibar harbour, was he obliged to submit to the inevitable, and to acknowledge the power of Germany behind his coast towns. Meanwhile the activity of the German Company was remarkable, and was only rivalled by that of an English Company, which, devoting its energies to the region north of the German sphere, eventually gained for England, in spite of abortive attempts on the part of the ubiquitous Dr. Peters to make 'treaties' in the region of Uganda, the large territory now known as British East Africa. Diplomatic negotiations between Germany, France, and England settled the Sultan's boundaries in November 1886, and gave him the four islands, Zanzibar,, Mafia, and Lamu, and the famous 'ten-mile strip,' a stretch of some five hundred miles of coast from Kipini to the River Rovuma, Vith a width of ten nautical miles.

It was in the summer of 1887 that the activity of Dr. Peters began to win from foreign Powers a recognition that was new to the German nation. Although Zanzibar at that time was not actually a British protectorate, the British interest was foremost in the island, but neither Sir John Kirk nor the Sultan had hitherto paid any marked attention to German merchants or others settled in or passing through Zanzibar. Great was therefore the surprise of visitors, at the time of the Queen's Jubilee festivities, to find Mr. Holmwood of the Consulate sending his own carriage to drive Dr. Peters to the athletic sports, and, three weeks later, the Sultan placing his own steamer at the disposal of the German Consul and the Company director. Such attentions had never before been paid to Germany, and caused a flutter of gratified excitement in the infant colony. For it was scarcely known, either by the British or German public, that three months after the Imperial Charter had been granted to Dr. Peters, Lord Granville and Prince Bismarck had come to a frank understanding about the aims of their respective countrymen, and that Lord Granville, in a despatch to Sir E. Malet, at Berlin, on May 25, 1885, had even gone so far as to say that 'the supposition that Her Majesty's Government have no intention of opposing the German scheme of colonisation in the neighbourhood of Zanzibar is absolutely correct. Her Majesty's Government, on the contrary, view with favour these schemes, the realisation of which will entail the civilisation of large tracts over which hitherto no European influence has been exercised.'

Had the German East African Company been content with what they had now gained, much trouble, oppression and bloodshed might have been avoided. But it was hardly to be expected that an enterprising commercial body would be satisfied with putting its money into a country that had no seaport. The difficulties of the Transvaal placed in such a predicament were even at this date apparent enough to warn Germany not to fall into a similar dilemma, and the whole efforts of the Company were therefore directed towards gaining some share of the coast. This, after the Sultan's rights were recognised, could only be done by diplomacy, and the genius of Dr. Peters enabled him, in a series of personal interviews with the Sultan, to extract from him an agreement that the whole of the coast should be leased to the Company, the Customs duties being paid to German collectors and handed over by them, under certain conditions, to the Sultan.

Armed with these new concessions, Dr. Peters and Baron von St. Paul (since so well known as the distinguished Swahili scholar and genial Commissioner of Tanga) visited the coast towns and announced the new order of things to the Arab governors. It was characteristic of the movement that Dr. Peters was spokesman throughout the proceedings, and that he spoke in German with an emphasis about which there could be no mistake. 'Our friend the Sultan Bargash Bin Said has given us the rights and control of this harbour. In future you will therefore have to obey me and those whom I send to you here;' so ran the declaration at Mchinga Bay, which Baron von St. Paul translated into Swahili and an official of the Sultan into Arabic. With profound attention the-old Arab governor listened, and then, as he realised what it all meant, anxiety and consternation were depicted on his face and his eyes filled with tears. The interview ended with an assurance from Dr. Peters that no fields or gardens should be taken from the natives without their consent--a consent which, needless to say, would be invariably given by the timid native to the strong conqueror. Each fresh success fired the new colonists with fresh zeal; and in spite of disastrous misfortunes through fever and death--disasters which caused even the dauntless Peters to write, on hearing of yet another death and burial, 'It is as though the Godhead were against us'--the work of planting, building, and civilising was carried on with a fervour arid rapidity that caused foreigners, especially the English, to look on with some concern.

One of the first to realise that history was being made around him was Bishop Smythies. Though he was actually in Zanzibar when Dr. Peters first arrived, he of course did not hear anything of the secret party; but before long it was known on the mainland that Germans were frequently seen--for at that time Europeans were so scarce in the country that a passing traveller was a curiosity. In the course of one of his long mountain walks in the neighbourhood of Magila, in March 1886, he writes of a native chief:

I asked him if I might speak to his people, so he called them together, and I told them why we came to the country. The Germans had been there for different purposes, trying to get land.

A few weeks later the Bishop wrote two letters to the Times, which are interesting as showing his discernment in political matters, his conciliatory courtesy to foreigners, his prescience of coming troubles, and his sense of justice towards natives. Some passages from the letters are here given:

To the Editor of the Times.
Zanzibar: May 4, 1886.

Sir,--Some particulars of what is going on now in East Africa may be interesting to your readers, especially as they seem to involve possibilities of grave difficulties and complications in the future. I have lately been visiting the stations of the Universities' Mission in the Bondé country. About sixty miles N. W. of the town of Zanzibar, on the mainland, is the port of Pangani. Mkuzi, the nearest of our stations to the coast, is reached after a walk of somewhat over twenty miles through a mostly uninhabited country. When I was in the district a German gentleman, whom I afterwards saw and found to be a pleasant and well-educated man, came to Mkuzi. The missionary in. charge was out, so he took possession of the premises, hoisted the German flag on the fence round the cleared space in which our buildings stand, and brought his porters into the enclosure. When the missionary returned he felt obliged to ask him to take down the flag and also to remove the porters. The reason for this latter request was that the men were chained together. I believe that this could hardly be helped, as all the other porters had run away, and the traveller feared to be left entirely alone. But we explained that such a sight as a white man attended by black men chained had never been seen before in the country, and we felt that it was something entirely out of character in a Mission station. After this gentleman understood the position no one could have behaved towards us more courteously. I saw him at two other of our stations. Both times he encamped in the native village, and refrained from bringing his men into the Mission enclosure. We were, of course, very glad to show him any hospitality we could. But it is very difficult to understand his first attitude towards us on arriving in the country. The Bondeis are not near the territory annexed by the German East African Company, and they undoubtedly acknowledge the suzerainty of the Sultan of Zanzibar. . . . How then can the calm assumption of right and the hoisting of the German flag on our Mission station be explained? I cannot but ask the question with some anxiety. ... If representatives of the German East African Company come to Newala I foresee that grave complications may arise, even so far as to prevent us from showing that hospitality which we have always been most glad to show to all strangers, but which might then be mistaken for disloyalty to that civil power which we have always been accustomed to recognise. Very likely many people in Europe, understanding that the country is inhabited by savage tribes, think that there is no kind of government, and that everyone does what seems right in his own eyes. There could not be a greater mistake. The laws and customs of these tribes are no doubt very different from those of the kingdoms of Europe; but they are very definite and real, and afford a real protection against oppression. To take one instance. If a man is wrongly oppressed by his chief he can put himself under another chief. When his own chief applies for him a consultation of chiefs is held, and the chief to whom the man fled has the power to make a charge, heavy in proportion to the wrong done, for the keep of the man during the time he has been under his protection. If he is badly treated on his return the process may be repeated, so that this custom is a real protection to the individual.

.... Last year I understood that when a town had elected a chief the election was set aside by the overlord, who lived near Lake Nyasa, more than four hundred miles away, as being contrary to custom, and the people acquiesced in waiting for his choice. But in addition to the injustice of ignoring these real rights, and this more or less organised system of government, on the ground of pretended treaties, we should have the strongest personal reasons for avoiding even the semblance of disloyalty to Matola, our chief at Newala, who, though ruling over few people, is the very pattern of an intelligent and enlightened constitutional sovereign. He is at once a warrior, a hunter, a worker in iron, and, to my mind, a high-minded Christian gentleman. On one memorable occasion he risked his life for the missionaries, and by staying in danger himself probably did save one from dying of hunger. Long ago he set his face against certain evil customs of his tribe: he has forbidden his people to have anything to do with the slave trade, though they are under continual temptation, and he does all he can to prevent his young men from marrying more than one wife. Though he has few people, yet he has great personal influence, which is making itself felt in raising the tone of the chiefs who are his friends. After what I have said, I think, Sir, you will see that there may possibly be reason to fear complications if any high-handed action is taken on the strength of any supposed rights gained by pretended treaties in the valley of the Rovuma, which action is not impossible, considering the disposition shown towards it in other cases.

I am, Sir, yours, &c.,
Bishop of the Central African Mission.

Later in the same year, on returning to Zanzibar after an absence of some months at Lake Nyasa, the Bishop found matters had progressed rapidly, and he heard of the London Agreement. Writing home he reports, on December 18, 1886:

There are several German ships here, and great talk about a new treaty being negotiated. The mainland dominions of the Sultan are to be divided, and England, France, and Germany are to confine their influence each within definite boundaries.

Vainly did the Bishop long for the Universities' Mission stations round Magila to be included within the British 'sphere of influence;' the Anglo-German boundary was so drawn that the Usambara country became German territory, and the English missionaries, to their great surprise, found themselves directing a settlement of German subjects.

Even after the decision of boundaries, and the lease of the coast, things might have gone smoothly had the delicate matter of conciliating a subject race been carried out with tact and patience. But unfortunately the representatives of the German East African Company, partly through ignorance and inexperience, partly through an arrogance not seldom resulting from successful acquisition, committed a series of blunders and barbarities too common, alas! in the annals of the white man's dealings with the black.

Dr. Peters, a man of masterful disposition and ruthless severity, had but one method of dealing with the natives. 'These African hordes,' he writes, 'can only be mastered by determination. One must meet opposition by an uncompromising resolve to get one's own way." He himself from the beginning adopted a 'rough and ready' method, which his colleagues readily imitated. Native customs, susceptibilities, and rights were impatiently disregarded; opposition was met by force. The result was foreseen by those who knew the African races. Dr. Peters himself had been called away early in 1888 to take charge of the German Emin Pasha Relief Expedition; but the system he had established was consistently carried out, with the result that on August 21, five days after the German officials took over the leased ports, disturbances broke out in two of these ports, Bagamoyo and Pangani. Six months previously the old Sultan had died, and his successor Khalifa, advised mainly by Colonel (now Sir) Euan Smith, the new British Consul, found himself entangled in a complicated struggle between his own Arab governors and the German coast officials. An indiscretion on the part of the Company with regard to the Sultan's flag at Pangani was the signal for the smouldering flames to burst forth, and by the end of September the whole coast was up in arms. The insurrection was more serious than was at first expected. Although the German man-of-war Möwe appeared before Pangani on August 17, in order to support the transition of authority from the Sultan's to the Company's officials, the Arab governors were not to be overawed, and, under the leadership of Bushiri, a spirited and resourceful insurgent, carried on their opposition with considerable success. At Kilwa the house of the Company was surrounded and attacked: of the two Germans inside, one, Krieger, on climbing a tree to signal to the Möwe, was shot down, and the other, Hessel, shot himself in desperation. Only two of the ten coast towns, Bagamoyo and Dar-es-Salaam, did the Company succeed in keeping, and even those were, owing to the lack of armed force, not safe from attack. The hatred of the natives for their oppressors was for a time so fierce that they failed to distinguish between traders and missionaries, between French, English, and German nationality. On one occasion Mr. Bone, of the Universities' Mission in Zanzibar, was out in a small boat, when he was carried away by adverse winds and driven on to the coast near Bagamoyo. He was met by hostile Arabs who took him for a German, fired four times at him, and only allowed him to escape on being satisfied that he was English. The members of the German Evangelical Mission, Pastor Greiner, his wife, and niece, were fiercely attacked; and only by dint of armed resistance did the pastor succeed in getting his party safely to the boat which carried them on board the Möwe, while cannon kept the pursuing boat at bay. The Bavarian Catholic Mission at Pugu met with a still more tragic fate, for, treacherously betrayed by a native adherent, they were surprised, while in the act of saying grace in their dining-room, by a fierce band who murdered two Brothers and one Sister and carried off the three remaining Brothers and one sick Sister as prisoners to Bushiri, from whom they were eventually ransomed by the French Fathers at Bagamoyo.

The country was in fact in so dangerous a state that the German plantations were abandoned, the colonists fled, and the insurgents were for a time masters of the situation.

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