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The Diocese of Bloemfontein; being Extracts from the Journal of the Rev. W. H. Bevan

From Mission Life, Vol. III (1872), pages 425-432.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006





PORT ELIZABETH, Dec. 14, 1871.--The Bishop and Miss Gray went on board the "Saxon" about 11.30. Before starting, he pressed upon me the need of a Missionary to the 10,000 natives at the Diamond Fields; but I adhere to Thaba Nehu. The law forbidding natives to seek for diamonds on their own account, or to possess them, he thinks very unjust. It is so inefficacious that it is worth merchants' while to go into Basuto Land to buy diamonds from the natives.

Transport is in a most inconvenient state. The immense demand at the Diamond Fields makes transport thither cost 35s. to 40s. per 100 lbs., whilst to Bloemfontein it costs only 25s. or 26s. A year or two ago it was 10s. to 13s. to Bloemfontein.

Wool is fetching far higher prices also, and this port is very flourishing; but the Church at present is left behind, and we feel extremely poor.

Third Sunday in Advent, Dec. 17.--At nine took a service at the Convict Station for Greenstock; about seventy-five men were present, one-tenth of whom might have been white. These are all who understand English. The gaoler tells me that there are 115 men here employed in public works. It is a most serious evil that they are all compelled to associate together: old and hardened criminals with men convicted of a first offence. He has often overheard the worst among them relating to the others their adventures in sheep-stealing, and how they mean to steal again as soon as they are released. They are exceedingly insubordinate and difficult to control. A system of even partial classification would be a great improvement. The prison, as at present arranged, is nothing less than a school of crime.

[426] Monday, Dec. 18.--Directly after breakfast, Harry and I went out upon a determined search for waggons. The main street was almost blocked up with long trains of oxen, sleek and fat from the good pasturage which the rainy weather has given them; but all our inquiries were in vain. Determined to leave no stone unturned we tramped away to the very last house on the Grahamstown road, a good three miles off, where we had a faint hope of finding a waggoner to take us, but quite fruitlessly.

Christmas Eve.--The weather has been generally very cool for the time of year, the thermometer varying during the day from 72° to 76°; but to-day it has been very close and sweltering weather, and this evening a thunderstorm cleared the air.

I heard soon after landing here of the death of Father Hydien, one of the Roman Catholic Missionaries at the Diamond Fields. He died of the fever, which is very prevalent at Du Toit's Pan, caught, I suppose, in nursing the sick. He had a hospital tent, and one of the last things which he did was to transfer it to the Government. He was just my age, born in the same year. Last October twelvemonth, when I was staying at Nunnshoek, the conversation after breakfast one day turned upon the blessedness of an early death. Father Hydien's face brightened with happiness; but he said, in a very sweet and gracious way, "Ought we not to be happy to work for Our Lord so long as He wants us?" and his labour is already over. He was a man peculiarly fitted for a Missionary,--zealous, large-hearted, loving, and beloved by all, Protestants as well as Catholics. The newspaper said that 3,000 people attended his funeral. He was also very robust and active, and skilful in all the mechanical arts, and his loss must be very seriously felt.

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Dec. 24,--The Archdeacon took the Convict service in Dutch. I went with him. The men sung a Dutch hymn to a tune so full of trills and grace notes that one could hardly help smiling, although, poor fellows! it goes to one's heart to hear the clanking of their chains. All are not in chains; only those who have been guilty of insubordinate conduct. One man went up the stairs before us to the room where service is held with a very heavy fetter dragging behind him, hanging on to his ancles.

Took the Mission service at eleven. In the afternoon went to Mr. Edwards' native service, which was very interesting. Many of the men are quite dandies, with white waistcoats and blue neck-ties. They are particularly fond of creaking boots. During one short passage, in which Mr. Edwards spoke of our Lord, a woman gave expression to her emotion in loud sighs and sobs. I walked home with Mr. and Mrs. Edwards; they have gone through much for the Gospel's sake in the interior, and are full of zeal. Had tea with them and their three daughters; nice persons, disposed favourably to the English Church.

[427] Christmas-Day.--Holy Communion at St. Mary's at eight, the Archdeacon celebrating. (The Choir from St. Paul's came in the night to sing carols.) Among the communicants, a coloured man from Lightfoot's Mission at Cape Town. Mr. Brook's people gave him a present to-day of £35, and their offerings for the Sick Clergy Fund this morning were £9. Mr. Brook walked part of the way home with me. Urged me to go to the Diamond Fields. I do not see the use of going where I should be mostly likely to die out of hand.

St. John's Day.--No notice whatever is taken of saints' days at any of the churches here. The Archdeacon had a letter yesterday from Bishop Merriman, proposing that while I am waiting I should supply the want of a clergyman at -------, and I have resolved to do so, leaving Harry to overtake me with the luggage as soon as he can get a waggon.

Sunday after Christmas, December 31st.--Holy Communion at the cathedral at eight. The Dean celebrated. There were only two other communicants. . . . . The Dean's garden is very beautiful, bananas growing round a cool fountain, figs, and apricots.

Immediately after dinner, John Gawler, the Kafir youth, who interpreted for me at St. Philip's came at my desire, for me to instruct him how to interpret better in the evening. He is the senior boy at Mullens' school. I kept him with me a long time, walking in a secluded part of the Bishop's grounds. He is the only Christian of his family. Think what this means; to have your father and mother and all your brothers and sisters naked heathen; how wonderful that the grace of God should have selected you out of them all to eternal life! Gave him some spiritual instruction; and, being wholly interested in him, forgot that I was to be at St. Bartholomew's at 4:30, and was nearly too late. A thin congregation; good singing. Then back to St. Philip's; got half-an-hour's rest, which I wanted badly. A large congregation at evensong. Preached on the Incarnation; John Gawler interpreting very well. Willie Philip, another of Mullens' school-boys, escorted me home with a lantern. His father and mother are renegades, and the rest of his family heathen, except two Christian aunts.

Feast of the Circumcision, Monday.--Started in the passenger-cart at seven. Only one fellow-passenger, a man of twenty-six, Englishman, going to the Diamond Fields. We soon got friends, and I like him very much when he spoke affectionately of his mother. He is Churchman and well-disposed. The drive of forty-six miles pleasant, except for the excessive dust. A Fingoe and a Hottentot were our drivers. Reaching Fort Beaufort at 3.30, found Mr. and Mrs. Henchman (the clergyman), with whom I had intended to stay a few days, just leaving home to spend a week in the country. Called on Mr. Morrow, the Wesleyan minister, formerly at Bloemfontein. He was also away, and [427/428] so I had to stay at the hotel, a thing which hardly ever happens to me.


Tuesday, January 2nd.--A long day's journey from Fort Beaufort to Queenstown--eighty-seven miles. The cart was crowded. I had as usual to fight the battle for Missionaries and converts. Thus--colonist objects: "I do not see that Missionaries do any good; converted natives are a very unsatisfactory lot." I reply, "True, the moral tone of all Christians here, both white and black, is very low indeed; I wish I could say that white Christians were more honest or chaste than black." . . . . Seven miles from Engstein we passed a fine homestead, of which the driver told us that it belongs to a Kafir, named Jacob, who has £1,500 in the Bank, and is now working successfully in his own claim at the Diamond Fields. Gray, driving his cart, passes Jacob every Sunday, on his way to and from service at Engstein.

I wondered, at starting, to see a Kafir passenger take his place by the driver on the box. Addressing him at the first outspan, I found that it was Julius, sent on a mission of mercy to a dying convert at Bethulie. The sick man was converted though our Mission, six years ago, went up in a party to the Diamond Fields, and was left by them at Bethulie on their way down. There seems to have been the usual amount of delay in his case.

Queenstown, January 3rd.--Called upon the two churchwardens. . . . Spent the rest of the morning with Julius, hearing about his Mission-work first, and then about himself. He was taken to Zonnebloem a boy [428/429] of eleven, and kept there ten or twelve years. He is very lonely, and his temptations are very great. The heathen, both men and women, try in every way to tempt him to sin. After hearing what a young man in such a position is exposed to, one wonders not that many fall, but that any stand. What he told me of his life at Zonnebloem, his missing his companions who died, and the good impression which their deaths made upon him, his presenting himself at last, with his great friend Edward Sandilli, as a candidate for baptism, was very interesting. He spent the afternoon with Chalmers, a Kafir, educated by Mullens, now Mr. Judge's clerk and interpreter.

Monday, January 8th.--With Newton to St. Pater's, about thirty-three miles; I and his two boys, riding on horseback, reached the station an hour or two before sunset. A moderately hot ride. I was so very tired, that I threw myself down on the ground to sleep, and woke refreshed. This station is in the Tambookie reserve. There are four out-stations, with a schoolmaster on each; about 130 communicants; altogether, Newton's Mission is prospering.

January 9th.--Newton rode with me to St. Mark's. . . . The white people here are amusing themselves by "prospecting" for diamonds in a neighbouring copje (little hill).

Bloemfontein, 1st Sunday in Lent, February 18th.-- I have sent Gabriel, the native teacher, for a visit to his friends, and am taking his work myself. I was very glad to have John Kitsabile, from Modderpoort, here to-day to act as interpreter. Began the day at 5.30 with a short service--Litany--in St. Patrick's (native) chapel, which was attended by about a dozen people. Immediately afterwards, went off on foot with John Kitsabile and April, a Catechumen, to visit the village at Kafirfontein, about two or three miles off. Talked to April as we walked over the dewy velt. He was brought from the north of the Transvaal as a boy, with his cousin Henry, by an Englishman, who treated him kindly; and he has lived all his life as a servant in Natal and the O. F. S. He looks now about 25 or 30 years old. He never was taught anything till he came here two years ago. At the first village we came to, which consists of Batlaping, we told the people to come on to the next place for service. The second village, of Basuto, is under a very respectable headman called Chelepa. These people were formerly under M. Daumas, at Mekoatling, near Modderpoort. Chelepa sent two boys to call people from the next village to service, and meantime I questioned him about his desire to build a school; found him quite in earnest, and willing to do it at his own expense. I advised him to get the other two villages to join with him in the work, that it might be better done. The people were very slow in assembling, as they always are here; but at last we got a very attentive congregation, to whom I preached, with hymns, the Creed, and very short prayer, ending with an invitation to the service at St. Patrick's.

[430] It was half-past ten when we got back, hot and tired; and soon after eleven began service again at St. Patrick's; a good but not an overflowing congregation. Quality rather than quantify seems characteristic of the work here, and although I earnestly wish that more people came under our influence, I am very thankful that those who do come seem to have set their hearts to it.

The offertory towards Gabriel's pay (he gets £2. 10s. a-month) was made. Chilee and Gabriel have been educating the people up to this for some time past, and now I begin to put it into practice. The result is very encouraging--11s. 9d. Took down names of monthly subscribers. £1. 11s. 6d. promised in monthly contributions, in sums varying from 2s. 6d. to 1s. 6d. None of the subscribers that I know of are above the rank of servants, earning from 15s. to 30s. a-month. After service, class for catechumens; three men and eight women attended it. Questioned them on the outlines of the faith. They vary a good deal in proficiency; some very ignorant, others sufficiently taught to be baptised soon, if satisfactory in other respects. I read in Bingham yesterday, that in the fourth century slaves of Christian masters were not baptized until their masters gave a satisfactory account of them. The same principle ought to be followed here.

A little rest and refreshment then, both of body and mind, and when the cathedral service began, service again at St. Patrick's, attended by about twenty-five whose behaviour was exemplary. No sermon; went into the porch of the cathedral and heard nearly all Mr. Croghan's interesting sermon on "The Temptation." The Bishop most kindly spoke to John Kitsabile after service, and gave him a Prayer-book and Bible. The Bishop, too, thought of the poor Mosuto boy, who came with Johannes as leader, and invited him in to supper.

Thursday, February 28th.--Scott points out to me that the great object to set before ourselves in the Mission here is to make the Christians good servants. Christian native servants have the reputation of being lazy and dishonest, and, consequently, the Europeans do not like their servants to be taught. This difficulty is being met in the colonial towns, and we must grapple with it here. It is well to have this distinct aim in the Mission work.

I have attempted to put myself en rapport with some of the employers of my boys; but I doubt whether it is of much use to do so at present, for they so thoroughly despise the black people, even those who are thought religious. They treat them perfectly selfishly, as "creatures" (this is the ordinary name for them) made to work for them. We must rather go on working patiently, knowing all this obloquy, from below, raising the tone of the servants, until their masters are compelled to acknowledge that it is good for them to be religious. While I am [430/431] writing, Mr. Herne comes in and opens a letter from a friend at the Diamond Fields, a humane man, who treats his servants well. He says that August, one of his boys, has just picked up a twenty-eight carat stone for him on the road. How many Europeans would have considered that a stone found in such a way was their master's?

I was by no means successful in collecting the monthly subscriptions on Sunday; not more than one-third of the amount promised was forthcoming, and the attempt spoilt the offertory. It may prove best to have the offertory only.

Wednesday, March 20th.--Gabriel arrived with his father this morning. His father is a particularly respectable-looking man, of about fifty, who has been a Christian from infancy. He comes as a deputation from his people to the Bishop, to invite him to send them an Anglican Missionary. The ground of their request seem to be nothing more than a personal dislike to their London Missionary, and I do not suppose that it will be possible to comply with it.

Since Gabriel came back I have been hard with him at the day-school, but without any success, as far as increasing the numbers are concerned. The children are all of Bastard (half-bred European and Hottentot) parentage. The Becuana who are in the town are almost all young men without families. There are, I believe, some families in a large village on the other side of the town, about two miles off--too great a distance for people who do not value education to send their children.

These Bastard parents are in no way under our influence. Their language is Dutch, and they attend Mr. Scott's chapel. They send their children very irregularly to school; most of them, indeed, do not send them at all. The average attendance last week was only thirteen and a-half. This week it will be lower still on account of the rain.

The Sunday congregation keeps up steadily. An increasing number of people attend the church from Kafirfontein. A woman and her husband, August and Sara, have lately been won through the death of their little child. I met August one evening, and he told me that his child was very sick. Early next morning I rode over to see it, and prescribed for it; but I did not venture to baptize it, since it did not seem to be dying. As they did not come to me again after they had fetched the medicine, I supposed that it had recovered; but one day, when I happened to be out, they came to Gabriel--the woman in great distress, having seen in a dream, on the night the child died, a priest with a book which she could not read. She is to be admitted a Catechumen next Sunday. August has not yet made up his mind to so decided a step. We hope to admit about fifteen Catechumens next Sunday. One of them is a woman of sixty, who formerly lived at Mekoatling under Daumas, a French Missionary. He [sic] now lives at a village a good way [431/432] out of the town--I suppose at least four miles--and comes in to church every Sunday, even in wet weather.

Jacob, one of the most satisfactory of our new Christians, has left us today, to return to his house at Craddock. This is what will always be going on with our converts here, because hardly any of them look upon Bloemfontein as their home. Jacob's uncle came to fetch him two days ago. He brought him to introduce him to me, and to ask my leave to go away with him. I suppose that this was only his deferential way of putting it; but it sounded very respectable. At Craddock our Church is doing nothing for the natives. I gave him a letter, however, to the English clergyman, and advised him to be confirmed on the first opportunity.

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