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 Letters of Bishop Tozer and His Sister together with some other records of the Universities' Mission from 1863-1873

Edited by Gertrude Ward

London: Office of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, 1902.


THE Universities' Mission was founded in 1859, in answer to an appeal of Dr. Livingstone to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to send out men to civilize the region of Lake Nyasa, where the slave trade was devastating the country. The first body of men, under the leadership of Bishop Mackenzie, sailed for Cape Town in October 1860, and made their way to the Zambezi. For more than a year no news whatever of their doings reached England, and when at last, in 1862, letters did arrive, they announced that the Bishop and three of his staff were dead.

The news of this disaster aroused fresh enthusiasm in England. "I have no suspicion," wrote Dr. Livingstone, "that, after the first stunning effect of our heavy tidings has passed over, you will feel disposed to draw back." Livingstone was right. The English Church did not draw back. Bishop Gray of Cape Town hastened to England to confer with the Committee, and from the names submitted to them they selected as Bishop the Rev. William George Tozer, Rector of Burgh-cum-Winthorpe, Lincolnshire. He was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on the Feast of the Purification, 1863, and sailed soon afterwards for the Cape. On April 20 the whole party, including the Bishop's friend, Dr. Steere, the Rev. C. A. Alington, Mr. Drayton and four mechanics left Cape Town for the Zambezi in H.M.S. Orestes. From this point the letters tell their own story, but that the reader may the more readily realize the position of affairs at this, the most critical moment in the history of the Mission, a brief account must be given of what had actually taken place during the two preceding years.

When Bishop Mackenzie reached the mouth of the Zambezi early in February 1861, he put himself under the guidance of Dr. Livingstone, whose object was to establish the Mission party in the neighbourhood of Lake Nyasa. They tried first to reach the lake by the river Rovuma, but finding it impracticable, returned to the Zambezi, and made their way up it and the Shire in the little Government steamer Pioneer, which had been lent to Livingstone for the purposes of his exploring expedition. By the middle of July the village of Chibisa's, on the Shire, was reached, and at this point they left the river and continued the journey by land in a north-easterly direction. In the course of this land journey they met a party of the fierce slave-raiding tribe of the Ajawa (better known as the Yao tribe) with slaves that they were taking to the coast. Livingstone rescued these slaves, and then suggested that the Mission party should adopt them as the nucleus of a village, and settle at Magomero, a spot about sixty miles from the river station of Chibisa's. When this had been arranged, Livingstone and his party continued their journey of exploration, and the Bishop and the Mission party set to work to arrange their village life. Their rescued slaves amounted to about 150 men, women and children, and the tribe amongst whom they settled were the Manganja, a weak people, constantly harried by their aggressive neighbours, the Ajawa. The life at this station was beset with difficulties, partly owing to the frequent conflicts between the Ajawa and Manganja, from a share in which the missionaries did not feel able to abstain, and partly owing to the complications that were bound to arise in the endeavour to govern a mixed community, to whose language and customs the missionaries were as yet strangers. But, difficult as it was to make any progress in their work, Bishop Mackenzie, in his loyalty to Livingstone, was reluctant to give up what eventually proved an impossible task, and it was in the endeavour to place the work on a better footing that he met with his untimely death.

To solve the problem of training the women and girls of the station, he had arranged that two ladies should join the staff; these were his own sister, Miss Mackenzie, and Mrs. Burrup, wife of one of his clergy. The ladies were waiting at Cape Town until such time as the Bishop should be ready for them at Magomero. The arrangement was that Livingstone should meet them at the mouth of the Zambezi about New Year's Day, 1862, and bring them up the Shire as far as its junction with the Ruo, where Bishop Mackenzie should await them. As the time for this meeting drew near the Bishop became increasingly anxious that nothing should prevent it. "I am so longing for our ladies to come up," he writes, in October 1861. "It is not a week since we got an increase of fifty people, only ten boys and no men. Here is more work for them. It is impossible for us men to do what I trust God will do by them. The women are some of them wild and rude, and some of them worse, but I hope the influence of our ladies will tell upon them."

The story of the Bishop's journey to the Ruo to meet his sister is one of the saddest in the history of the Mission. From beginning to end it was full of misfortunes, and its closing scene was the death of the Bishop on a lonely river island inclose to the now important town of Chiromo), worn out by fever, fatigue, and hardships. He was attended by Mr. Burrup, himself so weak that he had barely strength to carry out the burial arrangements. Mr. Burrup then returned to Magomero, where shortly afterwards he died.

Meantime Dr. Livingstone met the two ladies at the Kongone mouth of the Zambezi, and after some delays the party proceeded up the river to the point where they expected to meet the Bishop. Here the natives denied all knowledge of the Bishop, probably from fear that they would be punished for his death. The party, therefore, continued their journey as far as Chibisa's, and there learnt of the sad calamities that had overtaken the Mission. The two ladies, finding that the brother of one and the husband of the other were dead, naturally felt it impossible to proceed to the Mission village; they therefore returned to the Zambezi, and eventually to Cape Town.

Troubles at Magomero increased after the Bishop's death. War and famine fell upon the natives, sickness attacked the staff. The difficulty of obtaining food was at last so great that it was decided to move from Magomero to Chibisa's, and there to await the arrival of the reinforcements that were to come from England. Here it was that Bishop Tozer found the poor remnants of the brave band when he arrived in June 1863. His description of the meeting will be found in the letters.

Enough has perhaps been said in this slight sketch to show that problems of no ordinary difficulty had to be faced by the new Bishop. During the fifteen months that had elapsed since Bishop Mackenzie's death, the state of the country had altered considerably, and he had to consider whether loyalty to his predecessor and to the founders of the Mission demanded that he should stay in the part of the country to which Dr. Livingstone had led them, or whether the aims of the Mission could not really be best attained by making an entirely new start. His own opinion, as expressed in his diary, was that the whole scheme had been too hastily planned, and the first settlement made with insufficient knowledge of the country. He was hampered, too, by finding that amongst the natives the aims of the Mission had never been clearly understood; the first party had arrived in a Government steamer, in company with Livingstone's exploring expedition, and the general belief in the native mind appeared to be that the mission had some political object in view. These reasons, coupled with those of climate and supplies, of the diminished population, and the problems of the freed-slave settlement, inclined the Bishop to move elsewhere. But he had also to consider the wishes of the surviving members of the first party, and some of them were firm in their desire to stay. There are passages in the Bishop's diary which show that the anxiety of coming to a decision was a severe strain upon him, and it is well known that anxiety tells with no ordinary stress in the African climate. The popular course would have been to stay, but at last, after months of consideration, he decided, with a courage for which the whole Mission owes him lasting gratitude, that the Zambezi was at that date impracticable, and that it was necessary to reculer pour mieux sauter. The decision to move was made in November 1863, and, after careful deliberation, Zanzibar was chosen as the Mission's new home.

Then followed a weary period of suspense, such as is now unknown in civilized and accessible Zanzibar. Owing to the absence of regular mails, the Bishop did not receive the approval and support of the Home Committee until March 1865, and during the whole of this time he and Dr. Steere worked on in faith, not knowing whether or no their work was to be permanently established. At it f last came letters of approval--though opinions at home had been sharply divided as to the wisdom of the course adopted--and thenceforward the work steadily progressed, though it was not without its share of such disasters as cyclones, sickness and death.

That Bishop Tozer did wisely in moving from the Zambezi to Zanzibar can hardly be doubted by those who trace the history of the Mission from his day to our own. Apart from the manifold agencies for good established in Zanzibar town and island, and on the mainland to the North and South, the move was the means of achieving that great work on Lake Nyasa, which is every year increasing in importance. This region was from the first the goal of the Mission. Bishop Tozer repeatedly declared that his object in going to Zanzibar was to reach eventually the tribes around the lake. Bishop Steere established the Rovuma stations which were to lead on to the lake, and sent the Rev. W. P. Johnson in 1881 to make a beginning on the lake shore. Bishop Smythies himself visited the lake five times, and spent his best strength in establishing the work there, finally securing to Likoma a Bishop of its own. Bishop Tozer survived both his successors, and we may well imagine that the solitude and sadness of his latter years must have been cheered by the knowledge that his work had been so ably carried on and developed. The services rendered by Bishop Tozer to the Universities' Mission, and through it to other Missions and to the Church at large, have perhaps suffered something of an eclipse through the more recent renown of Bishops Steere and Smythies. But it should never be forgotten that the high traditions of our Mission were formed by him at g a time when English missionary ideals were not commonly of a high type. Reaching Central Africa in the days of disaster following as the result of inadequate knowledge and indefinite policy, he from the first refused to depart from the lines that Catholic tradition had laid down for missionaries from the earliest ages. He steadfastly declined to take any share in the politics of the country, either native or European; he insisted that the natives, while being Christianized, should yet not m be Europeanized; and he established a rule of life for the Europeans which has been substantially maintained ever since. Perhaps the secret of his conduct was the stern resolve "never to let things slide." No matter what the physical difficulties of climate or distance might be, he never would acquiesce in a standard other than the highest. In store-keeping, in accounts, in reports for Committee, in the daily services and the fittings of the hut that did duty for a church, in the boys' meals and manners--in everything he insisted on the best being done that could be done, and would not accept the excuse that out in the wilds of Africa such things did not matter. It was comparatively easy for those who followed him to maintain this high standard, but to him is due the honour of having first established it and consistently maintained it.

To his tact and judgment is also due the very cordial relation existing from the first between the Mission and the Government. No one can fail to be struck by the frequent references in his letters to the naval officers and men in Zanzibar harbour, and to the friendliness of the Consul and the Sultan. Such unruffled smoothness between missionaries and officials can only be maintained by the continued exercise of those qualities of good sense and worldly wisdom (in its best meaning) that Bishop Tozer possessed in a remarkable degree. To his shrewdness and diplomacy is also due the establishment of a post office in Zanzibar, with a regular monthly mail. And who that has ever lived in that island will refuse him highest praise for this service rendered!

The breakdown in his health was no doubt due, in the first instance, to the great strain of responsibility in the Zambezi region in 1863. Already in those early days he was observed to have "a low tone of pulse, and a suspicion of malady," that augured ill for future years, and he probably never afterwards regained his full vitality. His malady was an insidious one, due less to climate than to overstrain. It rendered him incapable of doing sustained work either in England or abroad, though he tried both in Lincolnshire and Jamaica. He spent his strength for the Mission, and, not being granted the happiness of dying in the beloved land, had the harder task of living for over twenty-five years in bodily weakness, separated from the work of his choice.

G. W.
Christmas, 1901.

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