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 IX. The Nyasaland Protectorate, 1889

IN order to resume the story of the Bishop's life at the point where it was left, we must go back to the spring of 1889, when he was in Zanzibar waiting for a favourable opportunity of reaching Newala and paying his fourth visit to Lake Nyasa. The troubled state of affairs in the diocese was rendered still more anxious at this critical time by the untimely resignation of Archdeacon Farler of Magila and Archdeacon Hodgson of Zanzibar, both then in England, and both resigning under medical advice. [On resigning the Archdeaconry of Magila and severing his connection with the Universities' Mission, Mr. Farler worked for some years in England, but in 1895 revisited Africa, and at present occupies a civil post in the island of Pemba.] The loss of these valued and experienced workers was acutely felt by the Bishop, for then, as now, every individual of the staff was needed. Mr. Jones-Bateman, Principal of Kiungani, was appointed Archdeacon of Zanzibar, a post which he ably filled till his death in 1897, and Mr. Goodyear became Archdeacon of Magila. Leaving Archdeacon Jones-Bateman as his Commissary, with full authority to act in his absence, the Bishop left Zanzibar on May 12 (four days after Wissmann's conquest of Pangani), and sailed for Tunghi Bay, south of the Rovuma River, a port.which was considered by the Portuguese to be in their territory, but about which there had for long been a difference of opinion amongst other European Powers. Some little difficulty was made about allowing the Bishop and his party to land; but, on it being understood that they had no political designs, the Portuguese Governor allowed them to pass, and they proceeded to walk to Newala. This journey occupied eleven days, and was unusually beset with difficulties. 'On the morning of the 25th,' writes the Bishop,' we had the worst walk I have ever had, water and deep mud often up to one's waist;' but at last Newala was reached, and the Bishop was warmly welcomed after an absence of eighteen months.

Here he found everything changed. A descent upon the village by the fierce and dreaded Magwangwara in the previous year so terrified the people that they forsook their homes and moved up 800 feet to the top of the plateau, and the Mission was obliged to follow them. 'It seems hard,' writes the Bishop, 'to leave our nice large house and ready-built church, but it is evident that we cannot live alone far away from the people, so we determined to move entirely. . . . We may find it healthier, and probably this good will come out of all the seeming evil, that it will be a much better situation for missionary work, as all the people are together now, while before they were much scattered.' A similar disturbance had taken place at Chitangali, the new station under the charge of Cecil Majaliwa; the people had fled and the teachers had to follow.

During this visit the Bishop owns, almost for the first time, to failing health. The exceptional cold of the high plateau coming after the wet and exhausting walk from Tunghi brought on fever, from which he suffered several days. But on recovering he resumed his old active habits, and walked to Masasi, where he gladly noted marks of steady progress, and on June 17 left for Lake Nyasa. This journey occupied over a month, and was marked by one incident so extraordinary that, as the Bishop himself says, it seems hardly credible:

We had a narrow escape the night before last. The men had only built a fence part of the way round their camp. Their custom is to sleep two together with a fire between them. Not far from my tent door Danieli Tambala and Charles Sulemani, who is my cook, had chosen their sleeping place so that Charlie was on the outside, on the edge of the darkness. It was about 10 P.M., and he had lain down and covered himself with his cloth. Danieli was saying his prayers with his head close to the ground, as their custom is. We heard no lions roaring. Suddenly a lion came close by Charlie, but fortunately, instead of seizing him, seized a saucepan close by his head, which had my porridge in it for the morning. He dropped it and again passed Charlie. Danieli had heard something, and suddenly raised himself to find the lion face to face with him. His suddenly getting up so startled it that it leaped away. The whole camp was at once roused. I heard a sort of scuffle, &c., and came out to see what it was. One man in his haste and fright knocked his legs against the firewood, and came into the tent with blood streaming down them; I naturally thought at first he had been clawed by the lion. The men dared not go to sleep all night, and kept themselves awake by singing the same short sentences over and over again, as they do at their dances, at' times beating tins as an accompaniment, so that I did not get much sleep. I felt most thankful that it was no worse. It was as if God specially protected us, as it would have seemed hardly to be credited that a lion should make such a mistake as to seize a tin pot instead of a man. . . .

After leaving Mponda's we did not pass an inhabited village or meet a man for sixteen days. The journey was a very trying one, and if God in His goodness had not helped us in ways we could not have expected, I think I should have been obliged to leave our loads in the forest, as the porters would have had to travel many days without food. I had quite enough in tins for myself, but it would not have lasted long if divided amongst twenty men.

For a considerable part of the way we had to walk across the forest without any path, and often through long grass which made travelling very trying. We asked for guides at Mponda's, but could not get less than four men to go, as they were afraid of dangers on their way back. These men would only undertake to go as far as the Lushalingo, and when we got half-way they were seized with a panic and said they must go back. I was not sorry, as they were of no use to us whatever, except to carry part of the food, which by that time was nearly finished.

We were misled by a path which we followed for some time, and only reached the Lushalingo on July 12. Then we found so much water in the river that we were delayed a whole day in trying to cross, and at last had to get over a place where the water came down with great force between large stones with deep holes between. Four men dropped their loads into the water, and I was horrified to see one man carried off his legs down the fall; but fortunately he landed in shallow water, and very little was lost or injured.

But our food was nearly exhausted, and we knew we had many days' journey before we could buy more, as we had been told that the Magwangwara villages on the Lushalingo had been destroyed. After perhaps two hours' walk on July 13 we found ourselves at Ngapula's village, and saw at once that it was deserted. The path we had now gained, an old road from Nyasa to Kilwa, passed outside it, but some of the men said it would be well to see if any people were left at all. They came back with the news that the village was entirely deserted, but that all the food had been left behind. We all went into the village and found it was so. Everything had been left for two or three months and was going to ruin; the storehouses were full of corn of different kinds, rotting and spoiling, all the household utensils were left just as they had been used. Evidently the people had all fled at some sudden war scare, leaving everything behind, and no one had been to the place since.

We then followed the old Kilwa road, which led us over and between mountains till we reached Moola, where in 1887 there were groups of flourishing hamlets; now all was destroyed, evidently by war. Unfortunately we missed our old path of 1887 here, and, without asking me, a porter who had been with me before and whom I generally trust to find the path, struck across the forest to a high mountain in the distance, where he knew there was a path. The result was that we had a terribly trying walk through very long grass and continually down the steep gullies, ending at last in a very steep climb up to a path which runs high up under Mount Sanga, for which we had been making. The men's food would now have been again exhausted had I not most unexpectedly been able to shoot a fine hartebeest which supplied us with meat for the rest of our journey.

On July 19 we had another disappointment. We had had a long walk of six hours to reach Akumgadiro on the Msinji River, and only reached it, when it was getting dark, to find it all deserted and overgrown with grass and weeds. We had expected to be able to buy food here. The next morning we had great difficulty in finding a place where we could cross the river--the banks were covered with thick reeds and long grass full of 'upupu," as the natives call the noxious bean coated with fine hairs, which when dry fly out all over the unwary traveller, and cause the most intense pain and irritation.

At last after two hours we found an easy place to cross, and on July 21 reached Chitesi's people at Pamanda, where we could get plenty of food. On the 22nd I encamped at Chitesi's about 10 A.M., getting a fine view of the lake as we crossed the mountains. I sent a letter at once to Archdeacon Maples by canoe, and early in the afternoon I saw the sail of his boat, the Charlotte, bringing him and Mr. Johnson to give me a warm welcome, and take me and my porters to Likoma in the Charles Janson which followed almost immediately. I do not think anyone at home can realis the delight it is to see the faces of dear friends after a lonely walk of sixteen days across the forest. It makes up for a great deal of the weariness which one sometimes feels. Everything seems very flourishing.

That the joy of this meeting was not all on the Bishop's side is shown by a letter from Archdeacon Maples, who writes:

The Bishop is here and more than ever pleasant, gracious, and kind. It gives us an immense lift, and that is certain.

In spite of a fatigue and languor new to him, the Bishop set to work at once, finding that great progress had been made since his last visit, and that many natives at the different stations were ready for baptism and confirmation. But six weeks later Archdeacon Maples reported him 'in very feeble health, for the least exertion lays him on his back at once.' And indeed the Bishop himself is obliged to own:

I suppose it is from travelling so much this year that I feel such a disinclination for the long walk back. ... I have pretty well made up my mind to go back by the Zambezi.

And a little later, referring to the sad news of the death of Archdeacon Goodyear:

We have had times as sad since I came, but the present presses more heavily than the past. ... I have not been well, and writing is a great burden--so different from what it used to be.

He stayed two months on the lake, visiting all the lakeside stations with Mr. Johnson, as well as the newly opened station on the island of Chisumulu, and becoming meantime a discerning observer of the respective attitudes of the Portuguese, the Germans, and the British round the shores of this valuable lake.

For at this critical moment the 'scramble for Africa' was taking place here too, and the Bishop found himself once more involved in the troubles caused by the claims of two European Powers over disputed territory. As long ago as August 1885 he had written home his impression of affairs round the lake as follows:

The whole of these great populations which people the shores of the lake seem to live in utter terror and misery from the continual raids of marauding tribes. The motive of these raids is chiefly to feed the slave trade. For many years English subjects, at the risk of their lives, have tried to help these lake tribes. Mr. Moir has just returned from visiting them, and was welcomed by all, and takes to England from most of them petitions for English protection. He, I believe, is himself going to England this year, and will explain his views as to how that protection can be made effective; but I feel convinced that, with very little sacrifice and effort, the English Government could bring the beginning of peace and civilisation to these vast numbers of people who now pass their lives in anarchy and fear.

Such a state of things on Lake Nyasa would do more to stop the slave trade than all that is done to capture the dhows which carry the miserable remnants of caravans away from shores 300 or 400 miles off, and I believe that all men who have experience of this part of Africa will entirely bear out what I have said. But I firmly believe that, if once the English Government allow another European Power to occupy the ground before them, all the efforts and sacrifices of Englishmen will have been in vain, and the great opportunity will be lost, probably for ever. And if anyone should object that this is underrating the humanity of other nations, I would ask, What members of other nations have made any efforts or any sacrifices for the tribes of Lake Nyasa? What other European nations have shown any earnestness or any enthusiasm comparable with that of England for the suppression of the slave trade?

Four years later matters had so far advanced that the Bishop wrote from Likoma on September 3, 1889:

Mr. H. H. Johnston, the Consul at Mozambique, is sent here by the Government on an important mission. He has asked for the help of the Charles Janson.

What, then, was this important mission?

The desire of the English Government for years had been to keep this part of Africa open for trade, to maintain peace with the native tribes, and to prevent 'abrupt seizure' of land by other Powers. The African Lakes Company, established for trading purposes on Lake Nyasa, found their business constantly hampered on the one hand by the Portuguese of the Zambezi, and on the other by certain powerful Arabs at the north end of the lake, whose cruel slave-raiding wars produced a continual state of terror and unrest amongst the natives, and threatened indeed to exterminate the Europeans. [Captain Lugard had already endeavoured, but ineffectually, owing to insufficient forces and ammunition, to suppress these Arabs; he left the country just before Mr. Johnston arrived.] It was to make peace with these Arabs, to conclude treaties with the natives, and above all to keep watch over the Portuguese, that Mr. H. H. Johnston, already well known by his services in Africa, was appointed H.M. Consul at Mozambique.

To understand the claims of Portugal to the shores of Lake Nyasa we must remember that ever since Vasco de Gama's famous voyage round the Cape in 1497 the Portuguese had fostered a tradition that they possessed the southern half of Africa. Basing their claim on this tradition and on the actual occupation of Mozambique and a few other coast towns, they continued to publish maps in which a trans-African empire was coloured as their own, and to maintain that their settlements at the mouth of the Zambezi entitled them to prevent traders of other nationalities from entering the country by means of that river. No other European Power regarded Portugal's claims to the Hinterland as serious, and for years--indeed since Livingstone's discovery of Lake Nyasa in 1859--British traders and missionaries settled in increasing numbers in the healthier parts of the interior. Friction between the two races was inevitable, for, in spite of frequent warnings from the British Foreign Office, the Portuguese officials on the Zambezi continued to obstruct as much as possible the ingress of' foreigners.' In vain their attention was called to the terms of the Berlin Conference of 1886, by which no claim of sovereignty in Africa could be maintained without effective occupation. Though there was not, and never had been, effective occupation by the Portuguese on the lake shores or in the Shiré highlands, they continued to claim and to obstruct, until at last in 1889 matters came to a crisis. [The Bishop wrote in 1887: 'The Portuguese .... have not a single settler on the lake. Lieutenant Cardoso, who reached it last year, has given out that two chiefs hoisted the Portuguese flag in token of submission to Portugal, but by chance I visited them both afterwards and found they had no idea of what a flag meant. They said he had given it them as a token of friendship to display if they saw any of their friends coming. One of them asked me for a flag too. I explained to them what it meant,']

The new Consul's instructions were to travel inland, but not to proclaim a British protectorate over the Shiré highlands unless forced to do so by the action of the Portuguese. Before leaving England Mr. Johnston met Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who had just arrived to procure a Charter for his Company, and each discovered that the other shared his dreams of expansion and a 'Cape to Cairo' route. Starting in the early summer of 1889, Mr. Johnston travelled to Mozambique, entered the Zambezi by the recently discovered Chinde mouth, and proceeded up the river, knowing that not far ahead of him was an imposing military force under the command of the distinguished Portuguese officer Major Serpa Pinto. The meeting between these two expeditions passed off amicably, the Major informing the Consul that he was merely conducting a 'scientific expedition' to the interior, though he failed to explain why a staff of white officers and a force of several hundred armed natives were necessary for such a journey. Mr. Johnston passed on meantime to his destination at the head of Lake Nyasa, leaving instructions with Mr. John Buchanan, Acting-Consul at Blantyre, for dealing with the Portuguese should they advance. The whole country was at this time torn by civil wars between the native tribes, and matters were complicated by the intrigues of the Arabs and the alleged treaties of certain native chiefs with Portugal. Mr. Johnston arrived at the town of one of these chiefs:

Mponda's reception of us was rather doubtful. He denied having concluded any treaty with the Portuguese. . . . Mponda was a very repellent type of Yao robber, alternately cringing and insolent. Had not the Universities' Mission steamer arrived by good chance to give me a passage to Likoma (where I was to see Bishop Smythies), I might have been robbed and murdered by Mponda. As it was, my retreat to the Mission steamer was very like a flight. However, I got away safely with all my goods, and proceeded to the island of Likoma. My object in seeing Bishop Smythies was to obtain the use of the Charles Jonson for a period, in order to enable me to bring about peace with the Arabs. . . . The Bishop was good enough to place his steamer at my disposal, for, though the Universities' Mission then and always declares its intention of remaining absolutely neutral in political matters, they were anxious to do all in their power to assist me to bring about peace between the Lakes Company and the Arabs. [British Central Africa, p. 90.]

Mr. Johnston spent three days at Likoma and afterwards proceeded to Bandawé and Karonga, where, as is well known, his mission was completed with remarkable rapidity and with entire success, securing peace with the Arabs and treaties with the native chiefs. Of this visit Bishop Smythies writes on September 17:

We have just had a most pleasant visit from H.M. Consul at Mozambique. . . . We have very little to offer in the way of hospitality, but Mr. Johnston seemed pleased with everything, and his wide experience and knowledge of so many things in which we have a common interest made it very pleasant to have him with us.

Three days later the Bishop left Likoma, too weary to walk the long home journey by the Rovuma, and choosing the Zambezi route as, in spite of its heat and delays, at least promising an easier and less fatiguing way than the other. He took with him three Nyasa boys for Kiungani--'a great sign of progress and of how the Mission has won the people's confidence'--and set off on September 20 in the hope of reaching the coast in time for the November mail. But this hope was speedily disappointed; for scarcely had he proceeded half-way down the Shiré when tidings came that there was war with the Portuguese below, and the crew of the boat flatly refused to go further. It was useless to urge them, nor could other natives be persuaded to carry the loads overland: terror had so completely taken possession of all, that the Bishop was reluctantly obliged to turn back and wait at Mandala till the disturbance had quieted down. Rumours of this incident reached England before long, and great anxiety was caused by the appearance of a telegram in the Times to the effect that the Bishop had been 'attacked, but had escaped to Nyasa.'

It was, perhaps, scarcely a surprise to the Bishop to find that Major Serpa Pinto's 'scientific expedition' had come into conflict with the natives. It appears that the Portuguese, irritated by the prosperity of the African Lakes Company and the ever-increasing activity of the British on and around the lake, were about to make a determined effort to seize the beautiful, fertile, and hitherto unappropriated region south of the lake, known as the Shiré Highlands. It was here that the Scotch Mission was established at Blantyre, that many British coffee-planters had brought the land under cultivation, that the Lakes Company had its head-quarters--a district that had, in fact, become entirely identified with British interests. Mr. Johnston, on passing up northwards, had warned Mlauri, the chief of the Makololo tribe (an ally of the British) not to attack the Portuguese, and had received a promise from him that he would not do so. This promise the chief kept until the Portuguese raided some of his villages, when he retaliated by attacking Serpa Pinto's force, and was himself entirely defeated. After his defeat he followed the example of his brother chiefs, concluded a treaty with Mr. Buchanan, and received the British flag. This aggressive action of the Portuguese obliged the Acting Consul to declare a British protectorate over the Shiré Highlands Province on September 21.

Up to this time Serpa Pinto had not crossed the limit of acknowledged Portuguese territory, and, being now in doubt how to proceed, he left his force in charge of Lieutenant Coutinho and returned to Mozambique for furthe instructions. Meantime ominous reports reached England: 'Mlauri, the Makololo chief, is angry with the English because the Portuguese have torn down the English flag which he had hoisted on his boundary.' 'The official who came on board the Lady Nyasa from Serpa Pinto ordered the captain to haul down the English flag, as they allowed no flag to appear on the Shiré except the Portuguese.' The zealous young Lieutenant in charge of the forces had apparently thrown all precautions to the winds. Regardless of boundaries and treaties, he crossed the Ruo, dispersed the natives, fortified Chiromo, marched northwards up the Shiré, prepared to occupy Blantyre, and had even been officially proclaimed at Mozambique 'Governor of the Shiré Province,' when England despatched an ultimatum to Portugal, and the Portuguese forces were obliged to withdraw.

The final result of Mr. H. H. Johnston's mission is well known. The whole of the western shore of the lake became British Protectorate, joining on the west the territory of the Chartered Company [Until 1895 the Chartered Company contributed 10,000l. per annum towards the administration expenses of Nyasaland.] and on the north German East Africa; the Shiré Highlands of course remained British, together with the islands of Likoma and Chisumulu, while only a part of the east lake shore fell to Portugal, with the Zambezi Valley and an extensive coast territory. [The British Protectorate over Nyasaland was declared in 1890, but the treaty was not finally ratified until July 1891.]

As far as the Universities' Mission was concerned, great satisfaction was expressed that the stations occupied by Europeans were under the British flag, and some disappointment was, and perhaps still is, felt that all the lakeside villages so diligently worked by Mr. Johnson in the Charles Janson should be in foreign territory. But this last arrangement, like that of Magila and Newala in German territory, would have delighted Bishop Steere, who wrote as early as 1863:

I do not suppose that many would agree with me, but I am almost disposed to wish the Mission continued here (Morambala) merely as a protest against the notion that the English Church can never do anything beyond the influences of an English-speaking nation. I should gladly see English Missions as common in the colonies of foreign Powers as foreign Missions are in our own dominions.

Meantime the journey from the Shiré to Quilimane was by no means as easy as Bishop Smythies had hoped. Finding the river impossible on account of the war, he was obliged to walk the whole distance; often the heat in the low valley was intense, and he reached the coast much exhausted:

When we reached Portuguese territory we continually found the sites of villages lately deserted, and understood that the people had moved inland to escape the taxes. For forty miles at one stretch we did not pass a single inhabited village. We reached Quilimane after two hours' walk on Sunday morning (December 1), only just in time, as the mail left next morning. There I found my budget of six months' letters.

The voyage from Quilimane to Zanzibar was uneventful, and on reaching the island the Bishop found Mr. H. M. Stanley and his party being feted on the completion of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. But the news from the northern mainland told of such scarcity of workers that the Bishop set off to help them, only staying a week in Zanzibar. He writes on December 15:

We are terribly short-handed everywhere, but the Magila district is so forlorn that I feel I ought to try and get there for Christmas. Woodward is the only priest in the whole district.

He had left this coast in the midst of bombardment and war, and now found it, seven months later, fortunately at peace. .

Magila was reached in time for Christmas, when 'we had our beautiful services as in past years,' and the Bishop visited every station, not sparing himself, though obviously weaker than before and generally obliged to ride instead of walking. He found the Sisters once more at work, as the peaceful settlement of the country had allowed of their return. From Christmas until the middle of January he was constantly travelling, surveying the year's work, baptizing, confirming, preaching--finding at Magila that 'Woodward has kept things wonderfully together,' that at Mkuzi the stone church was in progress, and at Misozwe new buildings were needed; but that at Umba, through lack of workers and through an increase of Mohammedan influence, no progress had been made, and that indeed the fair promise of a few years ago was in no way fulfilled.

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