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 XI. The Division of the Diocese, 1891-1892

AT the opening of the year 1891 Mr. Woodward was obliged to leave for rest and change, and went to India, the Bishop meantime remaining alone for three months in charge of Magila, with its daily routine of services, classes, and general supervision. 'The Bishop has been working tremendously hard and is knocking himself up,' writes a Magila correspondent on March 5; but indeed such is the constant record of all his staff.

Amongst the letters of this time is one containing an account of a public restoration of Christians as follows:

I have had one very pleasant work to do. About eight people who had been publicly censured for gross sin--three having been excommunicated for many years--have given up their sin and have come to ask for restoration. Two of them received absolution publicly the Sunday before last, and three more, I hope, will come soon. In some cases their return was made easier by natural causes, but their desire for restoration and willingness to take shame for their sin helps us to realise the advantage of obeying the commands of our Lord and His Apostles in the matter of excommunication. I believe if at the time we had only remonstrated with these men, they would have lapsed into indifference. As it is, their excommunication weighed upon them, and prepared the way for their repentance and restoration.

At this time, too, the Bishop noted everywhere the peaceful and settled condition of the country as a marked contrast to its disturbed state in former years:

The German rule has had a most salutary effect on the country. I cannot help thinking that the new feeling which is being shown in favour of schools for the children is partly because the people think it will somehow be a safeguard to them to be connected with us and to have their children taught. We are now feeling able to take the line that we will send teachers as we are able, if the people themselves will build the school. The effect on the children of going to school is very marked. They now welcome us as friends at the villages without any fear.

Last Sunday I had as full a day as I have had in Africa. I went to Umba on Saturday, had Evensong, and preached; Sunday morning, Holy Communion, with a few words; later on Bondei service in church; then to town with congregation, vested and preached under a tree to a fair congregation, took a class, visited two sick people, and saw several individually. In the afternoon, rode through the forest, about two and a half hours' ride, and visited a new town where four Christians have settled. In the evening, service in Bondei and sermon at Msalaka; then to the large town near Mkuzi, and preached to the whole town, I should think, or very nearly. We went straight from church with lamps and bell, and boys to sing hymns. I ended by reading the Commandments, and, as there had been a case of murdering a child for some one of the many superstitious reasons for which children are killed here as soon as born, I stopped after the Sixth Commandment, and, I hope, frightened them seriously.

Next morning I rode on to Mkuzi to see Mr. Dale, who is doing excellent work there. I hear that there are fewer children murdered, as the Germans have threatened to punish severely anyone who is found out, and I am sure it will make a great difference and save many lives.

The Bishop remained in charge of Magila until after Easter, when he was relieved by Mr. Key, and travelled back to Zanzibar. The short simple journey turned out to be longer and more difficult on this occasion than it had ever been before, owing to a combination of adverse circumstances such as often besets the traveller in Africa. Hjp had successfully accomplished the same walk in 1884, but he now learnt for the first time that the island of Zanzibar is quite large enough to get lost in. His account of the adventure is supplemented by some details from a letter of the Rev. Samuel Sehoza, who was one of the 'poor boys' mentioned by the Bishop:

At Pangani we found a dhow was going next morning; we went on board in the dark and started early. The south wind had already begun to blow, and we came across very slowly. For the night of the 8th we anchored off the end of the island; then on the Qth we spent all day in beating against the wind, and made very little way. . . . We were all very tired of the dhow, and when we anchored at nightfall determined to try our fortune on land with a party of our Arab fellow-passengers, who were equally tired of the sea, and who professed to know the country.

I thought we should have landed among shambasand houses, but found it was very different. At first we followed one of the Arabs, who bcddly assumed the position of guide; he led us along the beach until we were manifestly being hemmed in, the sea continually approaching nearer to the rocks, which were evidently hollowed out by the constant action of the waves. At last, when we were actually in the water I refused to go any further, and turned back with Samuel, who carried my lamp, the whole body following. I soon found a path which led over fields of sharp rocks arid was not easily discerned. After following it for some time it landed us on the brink of an empty well; however, we argued that a well meant a house somewhere, so back we went till we found a branch path, which brought us to a single house. We called up the owner, who said we should reach Zanzibar at three o'clock; he showed us the path, and after guiding us a little way, left us to follow it. Oh! such a path!--continuous ridges of sharp coral rock cropping up in the bush. I can't think how the poor boys with their bare feet, and outside the range of the lamp, got on at all. At last, after this sort of walking for the best part of an hour, we came to a better road over an open plain.

After some time we passed some villages, and then descended a hill to find ourselves again on the seashore, a little way beyond where we had first landed towards Zanzibar. There was a deep bay, and as none of us knew the way, we had not gone sufficiently inland to round it. We had wearily to climb the hill again, and to call up someone in the nearest village. [This proved to be the same hut, and the same man came out again and accompanied us again some distance.--S. S.] A man came out who was really very kind. After we had rested a little he guided us for about three-quarters of an hour, then he said there was only one road and we could not mistake it; but alas! people who know a country well little understand how easily a traveller in the midst of a dark night, with overhanging trees everywhere, can be puzzled to find the one road which they think so plain. As we wandered on and on through the dark clove plantations, and the seashore seemed sometimes near and sometimes very far off, I doubted whether we were not deviating very considerably from the one path which was to be so easily found. However, our guide had done his best; he had got out of his bed in the midst of a dark night to take an hour and a half s walk to guide perfect strangers, an example of kindness to travellers which we often find in this country. At last, about three o'clock, we did reach a broad road which we knew led pretty straight to Zanzibar. People were already beginning to start for the market with baskets of oranges and bananas on their heads, so I knew it was still a long way off.

We were rather hungry (continues Padre Sehoza), having had nothing to eat before we started. We met people carrying loads of oranges to town; we bought some and sat down under a mango tree. The Bishop was very tired and could hardly sit. He lay down on the ground; I prepared an orange for him, he took it in his hand, but was too tired to eat it. He tried to sleep, but could not. After twenty minutes' rest he got up, threw away the orange, and we resumed our walk. Early in the morning we were in sight of the town.

The Bishop ends:

I certainly never had such a night in my life, which has put me in good heart about my journey to Nyasa. Since my fever at Magila I had panted at every little hill, and began to think I was getting old and could not walk any more; now that I have got through such a night and am none the worse, I know that it is all fancy.

But a careful observer who was in Zanzibar at the time wrote ten days after the Bishop's arrival:

He looks to me older since his visit to Magila. He will have told you of his eleven hours' tramp from Mkokotoni on a dark night and not knowing the right road. I am afraid he felt the effects of it for several days. I was grieved to hear him say he was often so tired when dressing in the morning that he had to give himself a rest.

On reaching Zanzibar the Bishop found a wave of ill-health was passing over the Mission, and indeed over other European residents. Several members of the staff had fever, while during a period of eight weeks six Englishmen in the town died. The hospital accommodation was quite inadequate, for, since the establishment of a British Protectorate over the island, the hospital of the German colony had been removed to Dar-es-Salaam, on the mainland; the French Mission hospital, on which a large sum had recently been expended, did not profess to take in either European or native patients without payment; the Sultan's Government had not yet established its hospital for soldiers and native officials; and the Universities' Mission had no further provision than a small dispensary for outpatients, to which a sick-room for natives was attached. In tropical Africa sickness plays a large part in the lives of all men, and in a Christian Mission the care of the sick must always form a branch of the work. For long the need of a hospital had been felt. Space, quiet, and care were necessary for every fever patient, whether brought down from the mainland stations or taken ill at their own posts in different parts of the island; concentration of the medical force of the Mission was required in order to save its strength by avoiding needless journeys to distant patients; a sort of responsibility of kinship seemed to point to the propriety of English residents in the town being able to turn naturally to the Mission for help in times of sickness; and last, but by no means least, the increasing number of native Christians under the care of the Mission made it imperative that they too during illness and in the hour of death should have skilled attendance and Christian care. It was perhaps the illness and death of a Christian native just at this time that decided the Bishop's action in laying the foundation-stone of a hospital before leaving on his next Nyasa journey. This man, David Susi, so often mentioned in the Bishop's letters, is known by name to all who are familiar with the life of Livingstone. As long ago as 1861 he was engaged as a ship's hand by Dr. Livingstone, and from that date onwards faithfully followed his master until the great explorer's death in 1873; he and his companion Chuma then collected and preserved the valuable maps, notes, and records, and also, in spite of almost insuperable difficulties and dissuasions, carried their dead master's body from the heart of Africa to the coast, and brought it home to be honourably buried in Westminster Abbey. On returning to Zanzibar, Susi entered the service of the Universities' Mission, and was invaluable to Bishop Steere as a faithful guide in many journeys. For years he could not bring himself to accept Christianity; but at last, on January i, 1884, a few weeks before the arrival of Bishop Smythies, he was admitted a catechumen, and two and a half years later was baptized, choosing the name of David in memory of his first great master. Bishop Smythies found him an admirable guide and faithful friend throughout his long journeys, and now in May 1891, after thirty years of loyal service, Susi died:

Miss Campbell nursed him at the last in our infirmary room. Weigall had communicated him on Sunday; I buried him at Ziwani. The Consul came, and we had both choirs, and walked in procession from the church, the people very well behaved and respectful. Susi had been a good friend to me from the first, and I shall miss him more than any of our people.

A few days later the Bishop took the important step of laying the foundation-stone of a permanent hospital. For some time he had hesitated about undertaking this new responsibility, on account of the initial expense of building, of the considerable permanent expense of maintenance, and further on account of a grave doubt as to whether a sufficient staff of nurses would always be forthcoming. [Since the opening of the hospital in 1893 the Guild of St. Barnabas in England has continued to supply as many nurses as are required.] However, these doubts were now overcome; the need of a hospital was so pressing and so continuous that it seemed an obvious duty to supply it, and the experience of subsequent years so fully confirmed the wisdom of the Bishop's decision that no sooner was the building itself finished than an additional wing was found necessary for the nurses, and in 1896 there was added a small annexe for infectious cases. [During a severe epidemic of measles among the schoolboys in 1896, and again during a much more serious small-pox epidemic in 1897, this annexe was found invaluable.]

After the hospital was put in hand, the Bishop set off for Newala, en route for Nyasa. Although he had professed himself 'in good heart' about this journey, he evidently had some misgivings as to being able to retain for long the supervision of the Nyasa work; the last journey had shown him that his strength was failing and he had begun to think seriously about the necessity of a second Bishop. Writing about a month before leaving Zanzibar, he says:

Life is very uncertain here, and it would be a great comfort to know that there would be someone versed in our ways to take my place without trouble. I have been for long intervals away from parts of our work, and that at a time of crisis. I am not getting younger, and cannot guard against this occurring again.

Landing at Lindi on May 16, the Bishop proceeded on the three days' journey to Chitangali, which tired him so much, in spite of having a donkey to ride, that he wrote from there: 'I feel I shall not be able to undertake many more journeys to Nyasa, if another.' After visiting the Rovuma stations, he wrote again on July 4: 'I have been going slowly, and find I am not up to travelling as I used to be.1 The rest of the long journey was a terrible experience; increasing weakness took possession of that strong frame, and for the first time his sufferings wrung from him a cry of bitterness. He whose great strength had seemed at first almost superhuman, whose dauntless spirit permitted no defeat and made all physical exertion an exhilaration, now owned himself vanquished, and sorrowfully acknowledged that his travelling days were done:

I was much too weak to explore at all. . . . We left in the afternoon, and then began another weary march, seven days without meeting a soul, and often terribly hard walking. ... I at last got to my journey's end, after six weeks of it. I find I quite overrated my powers; I was always miserable, always overfatigued, and always ill; if it had not been for the donkey I do not know how I should have got here. I could not climb any hill at last, and developed a great sore in my leg, which got worse continually, as I was obliged to walk and ride always. Now, I am thankful to say, it is all over, and I hope it will soon get well. It is a very dreary journey, ten days from the Rovuma to Isombe at my pace, without any people, and great climbs towards the end. Often the road was very bad. The elephants played dreadful havoc with it. I had to plunge into water-courses, and then scramble my way out, all in intense weariness, now happily over. A year or two ago I thought nothing of it; now all the strength seems to have gone out of me. I had made every arrangement for going back the same way, little knowing how weak I was; I shall now send all the men back and wait for Maples.

Those who saw him on his arrival at the lake were struck by his changed appearance, and for two months he was unable to do anything but rest. At the end of this time he reports: 'Though certainly a great deal better, I am still an invalid, hardly able to get up and celebrate in the morning;' and then, at the end of a long business letter: 'Privately--please do not talk about it--I have never felt so broken as in the last two months.'

However, according to his custom, he held a Retreat at Likoma, and the work of visiting, baptizing, and confirming was slowly and laboriously accomplished in the intervals of severe fever. 'It is anxious work, and we are full of apprehension lest it should be too much for the Bishop,' writes Mr. Johnson. But at length it was finished, and in November he left Lake Nyasa for the last time, noting with regret in one of his latest letters that he should never again see the beautiful sunset effect over the island. But in saying farewell to half his diocese he had, with all his regrets, the satisfaction of leaving it formed and flourishing, full of work, full of promise, in wonderful contrast to its elementary state in 1885.

Correspondence between the Bishop in Africa and the Committee at home had been carried on during the year 1891, with the result that the Bishop relinquished his original idea of a coadjutor and agreed that the diocese must be divided. On reaching Quilimane he wrote, on December 4, to the Chairman of the Home Committee, the Bishop of Carlisle (who, however, was already dead at that date [Bishop Harvey Goodwin died November 25, 1891.]), as follows:

Will you kindly inform the Committee, if there is an opportunity, that I feel very sensible of their consideration in summoning me to take part in considering the question of the formation of a new diocese? I should like to be able to accede to their wish that I should come to England at once. But after being so long away from the districts near the coast I feel that I ought to visit each one before I come to England. Especially the great distance of the Nyasa part of my work, and my inability from want of health to return overland, has led me to neglect the Newala district for some time past, and I should not like again to alter my arrangements with them, having so often disappointed them. I therefore propose to go to that district, as I had intended, in January; to leave it in March and go direct to Magila; just stay there for Easter; then return to Zanzibar, so as to be ready to come to England in May.

I am afraid this seems rather delaying to respond to the kind summons of the Committee, but I hardly think I could shorten the time with due consideration for the interests of our work here. I fear, too, it may prevent my being present at our anniversary, which would have been a great pleasure. I have had a very prosperous journey from Lake Nyasa, and have been very well all the time.

Arrived in Zanzibar in time for Christmas, the Bishop spent a busy month there, and then visited the Rovuma stations, where he was particularly impressed by the work at Chitangali under the direction of the lately ordained native priest. At Newala he held a Retreat in preparation for the ordination of Mr. Carnon to the priesthood, and then returned to Lindi, sailed to Zanzibar and thence direct to Tanga, reached Magila on March 17, and spent about a month in the Usambara country. He then started for England in response to the Committee's request that he would discuss with them the Nyasa bishopric, and reached London in time to be present at the thirty-first anniversary of the Mission.

If there had been any doubt in the minds of the friends of the Mission as to the necessity for relieving Bishop Smythies of part of his labours, it was at once dispelled when he appeared on the platform at the annual meeting. A shock of surprise at his altered appearance, a thrill of sympathy for his evident weakness, held the audience for a moment in complete silence, before they burst into the enthusiastic applause of hearty greeting. At this meeting the Bishop pleaded for a division of the diocese, not only on his own account--not merely to ease his labours and lessen his responsibilities--but because he was convinced of the impossibility of any one man being able to supervise the work of such far-distant places:
I can easily show you the difficulties of the matter (he said in the course of his speech) by saying that if part of my diocese was in the City of London I should be able to supervise it with more ease than I can that part which lies in Nyasaland. I can come to London in twenty days: I came this time in seventeen days. But if I go to Lake Nyasa from Zanzibar, I must allow six months to get there and back, and to do the work I have to do when"! am there.

'It was pointed out by the Chairman that the Archbishop of Canterbury would only sanction the formation of a bishopric on condition that an endowment was raised, and that the meeting, in supporting a motion in favour of a new diocese, pledged itself to assist in raising 10,000l. for this purpose.

The motion was carried, and within five months the entire sum was raised.

During the summer months of this year the Bishop was too unwell to undertake his usual preaching and deputation work, and remained quietly in the country trying to gain strength. By the autumn he was strong enough to speak in public, and at the Church Congress made a speech on missionary methods from which the following passage is extracted:

With regard to the way in which we think it right to teach our natives, our desire is to distinguish very clearly between Christianising and Europeanising. It is not our wish to make the Africans bad caricatures of the Englishmen. What we want is to Christianise them in their own civil and political conditions; to help them to develop a Christian civilisation suited to their own climate and their own circumstances. For instance, we do not allow any of the boys in our schools to wear any European clothing; it is not our business to encourage the trade in boots by spoiling the feet of the Africans for their own climate. That seems to be what has caused in the minds of many Englishmen a sort of feeling against Missions, because they see so many people of our poor country whose sole idea of perfection with regard to the things of this life is that they must be as much like Europeans as possible. Very often it only ends in a sort of bad caricature.

Then I would also say that it is very important that the missionary should not wish to draw people around him away from the legitimate authority which is exercised over them. That is the way, surely, to manufacture hypocrites. Everybody who has a grievance against his chief, everybody who has some hope of getting free from rendering feudal service, will gather round the missionary, if he thinks he can be protected, and play off his Christianity against the power of the chiefs who exercise legitimate authority over him. What we want to do is to go to the people living, as I have said, under their own civil and political conditions, and teach them in the midst of those conditions, and Christianise, so far as we can, all classes of the people, from the chiefs downwards--beginning, of course, if we can, with the chiefs, as being the persons who have the greatest influence in the country. It is said sometimes, 'Why do you not try to teach more trades?' Well, you must remember that if we teach the natives trades which are of no use in the particular country in which they live it will only end in the Mission afterwards, instead of making them independent and letting them get their living for themselves, having to find them work and keeping them always in a dependent position. When we teach the boys trades our object is to teach them such trades as shall enable them to live in entire independence of the Mission hereafter, and to get their own living in their own country.

And then to turn to deeper things. I am certain that the people of Africa need not so much to be taught an emotional as a disciplining religion. It is not difficult to work upon the emotions of the inhabitants of a tropical country. . . . What we want is to teach them a religion which will lead them to discipline their lives. Sometimes when I have heard warmth of expression on the part of those natives who have been brought up differently, I have felt a little sad, as if there was something wanting amongst us; but my common-sense and my experience have always brought me back to this--that we must teach them a religion which will lead them to discipline themselves in the midst of this vast mass of impurity, in the midst of this terrible atmosphere of evil in which their battle lies. Yes, I do not suppose that anybody here in this protected country knows what a battle it is to anyone there in Africa to live a really holy and noble life. We hear of the virtues of the 'noble savage.' Let anybody who talks about the virtues of the noble savage come and stay in our country, and I think then that he will have to correct these theoretical impressions of his. I think that he would soon have to acknowledge that for anyone to live a really Christian life in that country means a much greater battle than most people have to fight amid that Christianised social opinion and those surroundings of protected life which most of us have here. Therefore we have to keep people a long time waiting before we admit them to Christianity; . . . there must be a long preparation first to test their earnestness and sincerity, and then there must be the deepest dealing with individual souls. Call it confession or what you like, we must deal with each individual soul. The spiritual pastor must put his arm round each individual African, and he must fight side . by side with him the battle of life.

The Church must not be depressed to a lower level to meet half-way the heathenism of Africa. The Church must embrace the African and raise him up by her sacraments and means of grace, and spread a network around him, and raise him up to her high level, not abating one jot in morality or spirituality of what she requires of her children here at home. Only so, I believe, will there be a truly healthy, living Church in Africa. Then only will she dare, as we are daring, to try to form a native ministry, and to put before each boy who has intellectual capacity and is leading a high moral life that that is the life he is to look forward to out of gratitude to God; that as our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen him out of the millions of heathen who are still in darkness to be His son, and has poured down so many blessings upon him, so it should be the highest ambition of his life to take the message of the Holy Gospel to his brethren, and to spend his life in sharing those great blessings which he has received with his brethren, who will remain in heathen darkness if he does not go to-teach them. That is what I believe many of our young men have in their hearts, and one day I am quite sure that we shall see an enthusiastic and able ministry extending the work of the Church far and wide in Africa.

As the year drew to its close the Bishop prepared to leave England for the last time, full of plans for developing new work in his now more manageable diocese, and full of thankfulness that the Nyasaland bishopric had been accepted by the Rev. Wilfrid Bird Hornby.

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