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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 VIII. The War and the Anglo-German Agreement, 1889

THAT the misfortunes on the East African coast had been caused by mismanagement on the part of German officials was fully recognised by the more enlightened Germans, both in Africa and at home. The Consul-General at Zanzibar, as well as the German Admiral, cordially agreed with Bishop Smythies that the insurrection was the result of ignorance and indiscretion, and in Berlin the conduct of the Company's officials was severely censured. After all, it was but a repetition, happily on a small scale, of what took place in earlier days under English auspices in India, Australia, South Africa, and America; and the fact that considerable stir was caused in Europe by these highhanded dealings of the Germans in East Africa proves not that such dealings had never taken place before, but that a more educated public opinion resented them more keenly. Germany recognised at length that, in order to govern an alien race, a man of high principle, wide experience, and great administrative ability was required, and such a man she now sent forth in the person of Hermann von Wissmann. The Company's officials were placed under his jurisdiction, and, aided by a large number of German officers and Soudanese and Zulu soldiers, and two million marks voted by the Reichstag, this brilliant officer, who in two journeys across Africa had gained the knowledge necessary for dealing with natives, proceeded to subdue the rebellion and establish German supremacy on the coast.

For it was now no secret that the possession of a sea-front was Germany's primary object. Bismarck, dismissing the Peters treaty acquisitions with the contemptuous description, 'a scarcely legible bit of paper covered with nigger-crosses purporting to assign to us thousands of miles that can do us no good,' proceeded on January 26, 1889, to insist before the Reichstag on the importance of gaining the coast:

The coast is of immense importance. . . . Without it everything gained in the interior is useless. Only from the coast can civilisation penetrate to the interior. In my opinion, if we are to fulfil our task of civilising Africa, we must reconquer and retain the coast.

On the same occasion he repudiated all responsibility for the misdoings of the Company, and insisted on the necessity of close union with England, 'the greatest colonial Power in the world,' maintaining, indeed, that even if the blockade in itself did no good he should be satisfied if it showed the coast natives that Germany and England were united.

The troubles inevitably connected with war fill a large space in the Bishop's letters of the year 1889, and if at times he seems to dwell with a more than necessary emphasis on the causes which led to the war, it must be remembered that the peaceful relations of the Mission towards natives of various tribes during a period of nearly thirty years gave sufficient ground for sorrowful resentment at the disturbance of these relations.

In a journey to the interior, undertaken at this time in the hope of having another conciliatory interview with Kimweri, the Bishop passed one of the abandoned stations of the Company, and looked at the ruined house and deserted cotton plantations. Questioning the natives about the character of the planters and their attitude towards the people, he formed his own conclusions as to the cause of friction, and writes as follows:

I think the people in the villages here were perhaps a little ungenerous to the Germans who had been at Kologwe; they had evidently got a good deal of cloth which they had gained by working for them; but naturally planters are not as forbearing as missionaries at any rate ought to be, and when they found troops of people coming from mere curiosity to inspect the premises and hang about the house, they appear to have driven them away with some severity, or what would seem to Africans severity. If you want to conciliate people in Africa you must have a baraza, where people may come and go as they like, and sit and talk as long as they like, and if you want to be reckoned as really friendly you must sometimes sit and talk with them. That is the custom with every chief or person of importance in the country, and they expect it. If you resent a free and easy curiosity you cannot get on in Africa.

It was here that he met a party of six young men who had been sent up from the coast to fetch the property of the German traveller, Dr. Meyer, whose promised ransom, of the enormous sum of 10,000 rupees, caused such excitement amongst the natives, and such inconvenience to other travellers:

In the morning as we were returning we were followed by the six young men from Pangani, and when we reached Kologwe they rested with us, and apparently wanted us to go with them to Pangani, in order that they might get us into trouble. The day we left Kologwe was the Feast of the Epiphany. On the road we said good-bye to them, as we were going on to Magila. They then asked for a present from the Bishop. He was going to give them some cloth, but they said, 'No, we want 100 rupees.' The Bishop said, 'Ask them what they have done for me that I should pay them all that money;' and when I asked them this, rather softly, the Bishop said, 'I see you are afraid of these men; I had better speak to them myself.' So he said to them, 'I am not afraid of you; if you want to take me prisoner, take me; or if you want to kill me, kill me: but I have not got the money you ask for, and even if I had it I should not pay it.' So when they saw that the Bishop was angry they left us and went their way, and we went on to Magila. [From a letter of Petro Lipio, who accompanied the Bishop.]

This (adds the Bishop) is only a sample of the cupidity aroused by the expectation of great sums of money to be got out of the Europeans, resulting from the ransom that Dr. Meyer promised to pay, ... I left them to carry the miserable remnant of poor Dr. Meyer's many loads on its way to Zanzibar--i.e. a bundle of bottles, a roll of wall-paper, and a saucepan!

The Bishop's movements to and from Zanzibar were naturally hampered by the coast troubles, and not wishing for a repetition of the perils of Pangani, and finding that objections were made at Tanga too, he decided this time to strike northwards, cross the boundary river Umba, and embark from British territory. This journey he accomplished more easily than he expected, the Digo tribe being friendly, and a dhow obtainable at Vanga. Twice the dhow was boarded by officers from the German gunboats, but no serious hindrance occurred, and the Bishop landed safely in Zanzibar. Here the excitement was intense; it seemed, after the comparative peace of the Bond£ country, 'like passing from calm into the midst of storm.' Writing on F.ebruary 10, he says:

It becomes increasingly difficult to get stores up to the Bonde country. It would be equally difficult to get them through Lindi if it was not for our kind Arab friend Selim, who lately saved some of our men from being murdered, and who has sent a message to Masasi to say that as. long as he lives no one shall hurt our stores or our people. In the face of such action as this, together with the protection given to the French Mission by Bushiri and his attitude towards us, it is absurd to say that the disturbances here have anything to do with religious antipathies--they are entirely political. I understand that the blockade has quite failed in preventing arms and ammunition being imported into the country, and, what is much worse, it has failed to prevent an influx of foreign Arab kidnappers, whose presence is a new and serious danger.

After a month in Zanzibar the Bishop again visited the Magila country, being accompanied by Mr. Geldart and Mr. Mercer, and crossing to Vanga, in the British sphere of influence, in an English boat by permission of the Admiral:

Everything was made for us as comfortable as possible; we steamed by night, and got to Wasim, a port on an island just outside Vanga, on Tuesday morning. There we found the Agamemnon; Captain Cardale knew that I was coming and had hoped to see me on the way. The weather has been very hot at Zanzibar, and I have been feeling weak and up to very little all the time I have been there. When I was getting over some low fever which I had had for some time, Captain Cardale kindly asked me to spend a day on board the Agamemnon, so I got to know him pretty well. . . . We found the natives who lived on the islands very friendly with the Agamemnon, coming on board to inspect the guns, &c., &c., a great contrast to their relations with the German ships engaged in the blockade. The officers were enjoying their quarters, as they could go out and shoot gazelle and monkeys without any danger. The captain told me that when the headman of Wasim saw the 34-ton guns, like the Queen of Sheba, 'there was no more spirit left in him,' and he actually wept. He said, almost in the words of the aforesaid queen, that he had always heard that the English were a great nation, but that what he had seen surpassed all his expectations, and that if he were to tell it to the people who lived about there they would refuse to believe him. At Zanzibar the Captain had been very kind in letting parties of our boys go over the ship, and one of them was so struck by its wonders that he said, 'This was not made, it was created,' by which I suppose he meant to refer it to God Himself, as being beyond the power of man.

Reaching Magila in safety, the Bishop heard of the friendly attitude of the people of Tanga towards him personally, in spite of the news that the blockade was extended to Zanzibar and Pemba last Tuesday, and Wissmann is getting his black troops together. The plot thickens, and we cannot tell what will be the end of it.

Instances of violence on sea and land are chronicled in the letters, and in the midst of them, on March 21,

Sparks was ordained priest on Sunday: Goodyear, Key, Woodward, and Geldart helped me; Mercer was there too. So the Church goes on in the even tenor of her way, putting forth her strength and providing for her own continuance amidst all the tumult of the world around.

This and other episcopal work being concluded, the Bishop left for Zanzibar in March, travelling again by the new Vanga route so as to avoid detention on the coast, and going on eventually to Nyasa.

It was perhaps as well that he chose the Vanga route, though just at this time his-old friends at Pangani professed to be offended at his avoiding them, and were particularly pressing for some member of the staff to travel down to Pangani, 'just to show how safe it is,' as they urged. The suspicions of the Mission were aroused at this unusual insistence on the part of the Arabs, and they carefully avoided Pangani. When the bombardment began they had very little doubt that the design of the Arabs had been to detain some European in order to protect themselves from attack, as indeed they succeeded in doing in the case of a member of another Mission.

The month of April was a critical one in the history of the war. While Wissmann was making energetic preparations for the attack, the rebel leader Bushiri was growing recklessly defiant. To show his hatred of the invaders, he caught a native who had worked for the Germans, cut off his hands, and sent him back to his employers with the insolent message that he would do the same to them. Further, because Dr; Meyer's ransom had not yet been paid, he detained an Englishman, Mr. Hooper, of the C.M.S., at Pangani, refusing to release him till the money was handed over, Wissmann, knowing that Mr. Hooper was in Pangani, delayed the bombardment of that town for some weeks, but at last, on April 21, the 10,000 rupees was paid to Bushiri through the hands of the English Consul in Zanzibar, Mr. Hooper was released, and Wissmann was able to begin the attack on May 8. [Rochus Schmidt states that a separate sum of 6,000 rupees was paid by the English for the release of Mr. Hooper, but this statement cannot be reconciled with the testimony of contemporary letters.--Deutschlands Kolonien, i. 70.] After a fierce encounter the insurgents were defeated, but the intrepid Bushiri escaped and fled to the interior. The victorious Soudanese soldiers plundered the camp, and stole the immense ransom money; but it must in justice be added that Wissmann was ignorant of this proceeding.

The news of Wissmann's victory spread rapidly over the country, encouraging the German officers and striking terror into the hearts of the natives. Town after town was conquered and destroyed, murderers were executed, and provisions and cattle seized. At Saadani, Wissmann attacked and defeated a well-known coast man, Bwana Heri, who on January 21 had treacherously murdered an Englishman, Mr. Brooks,and his caravan, travelling from the interior, in the service of the London Missionary Society. At Pugu the murderers of the Bavarian missionaries were punished, and the remains of the unfortunate victims sought out from the ashes of the Mission-house by the German officers and decently buried. Everywhere a sharp lesson was read to the insurgents, and German supremacy firmly established. Months passed, however, and Bushiri was still at large and still defiant. Placing himself at the head of the fierce tribe of the Maviti, he threatened to descend from the interior. It was time for Germany to strike a decisive blow. With a large, well-trained force, Gravenreuth advanced to meet the enemy, and Bushiri's army was completely routed. Again he himself escaped his pursuers and fled to the Usambara hills; but here he was finally betrayed by the chief with whom he had taken refuge, delivered up to Wissmann, and hung. Not without a touch of regret do we part from this brave leader who, in spite of many unscrupulous and cruel deeds, wins our admiration for his unfailing courtesy to the French Mission at Bagamoyo and his personal defence of Bishop Smythies at the risk of his own life.

The victory of Germany was now complete, and peace was once more restored. The Bishop, returning to Magila for Christmas 1889, after an absence of many months at Lake Nyasa, writes:

We have received the greatest kindness from the Germans, who are now in authority here. The road to Pangani is now entirely quiet and safe, and so indeed is the whole district.

Wissmann returned to Berlin early in 1890 to lay before the Government an account of his victories, and to receive further instructions. While he had been engaged in the war he was unaware of the diplomatic negotiations that had been quietly proceeding between Germany and England. Arrived at home, he found to his astonishment that, by the terms of the Anglo-German Convention, the relations of the two Powers were completely changed in three important particulars:

(1) The disputed territory of Witu, north of Mombasa, was included in British East Africa

(2) The so-called treaties made by Dr. Peters in the neighbourhood of Uganda were disregarded.

(3) A British Protectorate was declared over Zanzibar.

In return for these concessions to England, Germany gained Heligoland. [Heligoland is 1,700 metres long and 600 mitres wide, and contains about 2,000 inhabitants. According to the observations of Dr. E. Lindemann, the island is rapidly diminishing in size, owing to the encroachment of the sea.]

It is unnecessary to enter here into the full significance of this agreement, the terms of which were universally admitted to reflect great credit on Lord Salisbury's sagacity. When the first flush of patriotic satisfaction at the annexation of the little rocky islet, the 'pearl of the North Sea,' had faded away, the colonial party in Germany began to realise that Zanzibar, where German influence had lately been so strong--the only city on the east coast of Africa, the centre of trade, the focus of all converging roads from the interior, the starting-point of travellers, the great coaling station for ships, the connecting link between Africa and India, the head-quarters of clove production, and theseatofan enlightened Oriental Government--had passed out of their grasp; and that if the East African colony was to succeed at all it must succeed by its own resources without the assistance of Zanzibar. ['German East Africa is a chronic sufferer from the "Zanzibar mistake," that dismal blunder of six years ago, when we played away the gorgeous island lying opposite our colony and dominating the whole Indian Ocean to the English in exchange for Heligoland. All the business houses of any note in Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam are but branches of the firms in Zanzibar. The German trade of East Africa is now governed by English Zanzibar. The possession of this East African London promised for our colony a glorious future. But Zanzibar, the metropolis of East Africa, is lost to us--lost. . . . Helgoland, prosit!--Karl Böttcher, Rund um Afrika, 1897.]

It is only fair to add that Germany set herself to this task with characteristic energy and thoroughness. The new Chancellor, Caprivi, reconstituted the Government, placing a Civil Governor (Baron von Soden) over the whole colony, and replacing military by civil officials. The Swahili language was studied methodically, wise and temperate laws were passed for the suppression of crime and the establishment of order, harsh methods were discouraged, and Dr. Peters, whose later career in Africa was marred by countless acts of cruel tyranny, was eventually recalled, tried, and banished from German territory. [On April 2, 1892, when Bishop Smythies was at Magila, he received a letter from Dr. Peters, proposing a visit to the station the following day. The Bishop, having just heard of a shocking outrage committed on two natives by Dr. Peters at the Kilima Njaro station, wrote to say that unless he could give an emphatic denial to the story the Mission could not receive him. An evasive reply was received, and Dr. Peters travelled by another route. A private letter of the Bishop's to Baron von Soden (March 26, 1892) was the first information the Government had of these outrages; and the inquiries then instituted led to the legal proceedings above mentioned.] Dar-es-Salaam has become an imposing capital, while Tanga and Bagamoyo grow every year in importance; roads into the interior advance the prosperity of coffee plantations, and some beginning of a railway has been made. [Thirty miles of rail, starting from Tanga, were completed at the end of 1895, and since then no more has been laid. The 200 miles of the Uganda Railway in British East Africa and the completion of the Bulawayo Railway are satisfactory comparisons.] The new-born zeal of German colonists is ever sanguine of great results from their enterprise; but the forbidding climate, the lack of capital, the absence of minerals, together perhaps with the somewhat irksome regulations of a too paternal Government, combine to keep the number of colonists low, and to render the territory a heavy expense to the Fatherland rather than a source of revenue. The patriotism of these few colonists is, however, beyond reproach, and their determination to succeed, in spite of many disasters to themselves by fever and to their undertakings by weather, cannot but rouse the admiration of observers.

It need scarcely be added that the relations between the English Mission and the colonial administration are of the most cordial kind, and that the courteous consideration always practised by Bishop Smythies is returned by many kindnesses to the Mission on the part of the Government.

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