Project Canterbury  

Charles Johnson of Zululand

By A. W. Lee

[no place:] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1930.

Chapter VI. A fresh start

WITH the move to St. Augustine's begins a new chapter in the life and work of Charles Johnson. Though he was not ordained to the priesthood until 1887, the work which he began from his new centre went on without a break. It was during the next few years that the greatest development in his character and in his outlook upon life took place. Hitherto he had been always in a subordinate position, and therefore unable to carry out fully his own ideas and plans. He had scarcely realized either the greatness of his opportunity or his own peculiar fitness to take advantage of it. His work had been marked by great energy and devotion. It had always been successful in the sense that he could exercise influence over the natives. But it is much to be doubted whether he had, until this present period of his life, worked out in his own mind any plan of operations on a large scale, or any rules for the conduct of his work which should be adequate to the opportunity which lay before him. The opportunity was great. He was living in close proximity to, and in a state of friendship with, the one chief in the whole of Zululand who had the slightest desire to see his people become Christian and civilized. This chief, a Mosuto himself, yet ruled over a large tract of country occupied by Zulus. While the Zulus were disinclined to make any effort towards progress, the Basutos living among them were actively on the side of education and enlightenment. They could always be depended upon to give a hand in any work which had to be done. The whole district was open to the missionary, there were no competing sects, its climate was healthy, and the nature of the surrounding country made travelling by no means so laborious as it is in other parts of Zululand. It was thus a great opportunity, and greatly was it used.

But before any marked developments could take place a long period of political disorder and strife had to be endured. The years between 1881 and 1887 were the worst years which Zululand had ever experienced from a political point of view. The rule of the thirteen kinglets was, as we have seen, a disaster to the country. Disorder was rampant. Frequent fights between rival chiefs took place which had the effect of keeping in a state of constant apprehension that large part of the population which merely wished for quiet. In 1883 Cetshwayo was brought back from exile and given charge over a part of his former kingdom. This act of clemency on the part of the British authorities raised great fears throughout the country, fears which were rapidly justified when war broke out between the king and his cousin Usibhepu. The missionaries at work in the land went through many unpleasant experiences. Alarms were frequent, and more than once mission stations had to be hurriedly evacuated. Fortunately for the party at St. Augustine's, which now included Mr. Graham Jenkinson, the younger brother of Mrs. Johnson, who proved himself an invaluable helper, their part of the country under the wise and firm rule of Hlubi remained almost unaffected by the actual tide of war. But, naturally, the state in which the rest of the land found itself was reflected in the Nqutu district. The Zulus living therein were for the most part staunch adherents of Cetshwayo and his Usutu party. This fact constituted an abiding threat to the peace of the district. The larger part of Hlubi's subjects owed him no loyalty. Their loyalty was all given to their own people and to their king. It was always likely that they would take up arms in the king's quarrel, in which case Hlubi and his people would have been faced with a desperate fight for their lives against overwhelming odds.

But this contingency never arose. Hlubi was always on the alert. His own Basuto were mobile, disciplined, and ready to face any odds. At the first sign of any rebellion against his authority he was ready to strike hard and to punish relentlessly. The knowledge of these facts kept the district quiet all through the period of trouble. But with men's minds so pre-occupied with fears of war, it was not to be expected that much progress could be made in evangelizing and civilizing the people. Nevertheless, we catch from time to time glimpses in letters written by Bishop McKenzie and others during the period, of the work which the Johnsons were quietly carrying on. Thus in May, 1882, the bishop writes, "I was glad to see, on my last visit to St. Augustine's, the roof on the church-school, and the foundations of Mr. Johnson's house laid."

Again in June, 1883, he writes, "I rode over ... to St. Augustine's with Mr. Farmer. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were half-way in their new house. Mr. Johnson was nursing most tenderly a little Zulu baby, whom he had taken in with its mother in the hope of curing it of a terrible skin disease and inflammation of the lungs, but it has since died. He baptized it before it died."

On the first Sunday after Easter in the same year the bishop had dedicated the church at St. Augustine's. The service was said in Zulu and the hymns sung in Sesutho. He preached in Zulu about the Church continuing steadfast though there were rumours of war around. Hlubi was present at the service. "The church," the bishop says, "is very plain, the altar is large and its vessels are beautiful. Three children were baptized in the small font."

In April of the same year the memorial church of St. Vincent at Isandhlwane was dedicated in the presence of all the diocesan clergy who had assembled there to hold their first diocesan synod. Eleven clergy were present, "the greater proportion deacons," as a contemporary account puts it. "But it was a great happiness to be able to unite with the whole body of the clergy before the altar of the Lord, and I am sure I speak the mind of all when I say that we came out of church that morning strengthened and refreshed to take counsel together through the week."

It is interesting to record the subjects discussed at that first Zululand diocesan synod, with its little gathering of pioneer missionary clergy at a spot which, a few years before this date, had been deluged with the blood of those slain in battle. Here was a new sort of warfare, a fresh kind of army, one which, despite the almost farcical paucity of its numbers, was destined to make a deeper and infinitely more abiding impression upon the national life of the Zulus than the armed might of England had succeeded in doing. A contemporary photograph of the synod group shows those pioneer men as almost incredibly hirsute, and clad almost to a man in the long black frock-coats so much affected by the clerics of that period. But what a body of men! There they were, gathered from the four corners of the most forbidding land then known to civilized mankind, fresh from the close and intimate personal contact with savages which alone can ensure success in pioneer missionary work. What wonderful bits of knowledge those men possessed! What marvellous experiences had been theirs! How brave and enduring and constant they were amid all the privations, big and little, to which they were subjected day by day. Looking a little like clergymen in a stage burlesque, they yet represented in themselves the whole might of the Church militant here on earth, having behind them the glory of the saints at rest, with the vision constantly in their eyes of the great Church triumphant which is to be. In the light of such thoughts as these there can be seen in them an impressiveness and an importance of which the world fails to catch the faintest glimpse. Their deliberations take on a dignity absent from those of far more elaborate assemblies, the dignity which belongs to the small and homely beginnings of a mighty work. What did they deliberate about? Polygamy was one of the great subjects as it still is, indeed, in all missionary gatherings in Africa. Principles were laid down at that synod regarding the relations between polygamy and Christianity which the Church has never subsequently had reason to alter. That, in itself, is the greatest testimony possible to the soundness of the work done. Beer-drinking was discussed fully, as it has ever since and still is being discussed fully. Matters regarding witch-doctoring, the eating of "medicine" after a death in a family, the establishment of church councils, were all discussed. A diocesan return was made by each station showing that there were eight mission-stations under the Bishop of Zululand, with a total baptized population of 520, of which number nearly half belonged to KwaMagwaza, while of the 109 communicants of the diocese two-thirds belonged to the same station.

Charles Johnson, though still one of the "greater proportion of deacons," took his share in thus laying down the foundations of the Church in the diocese. This glimpse into the springs of ecclesiastical organization greatly impressed him. Earnest churchman though he was, he had never been closely identified with ecclesiastical matters, nor had he, at that time, thought out his own ecclesiastical position. But he often talked in after years of that synod as being the point from which he first began to understand the glories of the Church's organization. Never a party man, he yet grew from year to year in his attachment and devotion to the Church of his baptism, and the beginnings of that devotion may be traced to the synod, of which a glimpse has been given in passing.

A further hint of progress at St. Augustine's is given us in a quotation from a letter written by Mrs. Johnson in 1883. She says: "The day school here is rapidly increasing. There are over fifty children on the books, and thirty-eight are in regular attendance. The Sunday congregations are large and the church is generally full. Fifteen people have lately been received as catechumens."

In 1884 the bishop says, "I am sending ... by this post the first corrected proofs of the catechism which Mr. Johnson and I have produced, a Zulu version in the main of the one published by the Bloemfontein mission press in English." Again, in the same year, he says: "With sixty or seventy children at school at St. Augustine's a schoolmaster or other helper is very necessary. I have lately licensed as catechist, a Mr. Shooter, who has been living with Johnson for some time. I am also preparing to countenance a school which a section of the Basutos is beginning for themselves about two hours' ride away. These out-schools must be increased if we can put our hands on men capable of teaching them. Not one must be let slip. Three or four other places are ready, but native agents are just the most difficult things (except money) for us to find. This out-station school work I believe to be the most necessary development of our work. Each white missionary ought to have three or four such schools under him, then we might hope to leaven the land."

This last paragraph of the bishop's letter strikes a new note in the development of the work in Zululand. The out-station as a definite and recognized part of the aggressive work of each missionary is here given its first official welcome so far as Zululand is concerned. It was an idea quite new to most of the missionaries then at work, all of whom then, and for some time afterwards, clung to the idea of a central station to which Christians would be attracted. But here we have the beginnings of a new policy of leavening the nation with Christian ideas through the ministry of their own people. If Bishop McKenzie was the originator of this plan, Charles Johnson was its greatest exponent. There will be much to say regarding this in a future chapter. In November of this year, 1883, the bishop asked Mr. Johnson to accompany him on a journey to the southern part of the diocese. Together they visited KwaMagwaza and St. Paul's, Mr. Johnson's first visit to the older part of the diocese. In a letter describing this journey he says:--

The bishop has asked me to tell you of our late journey to KwaMagwaza and St. Paul's. We started from St. Vincent's on November 20th in a little American spider with two horses; [a "spider" is South African for a light trap on four wheels with wide axles built for driving over rough ground] and we had two native boys with us on horseback. We reached Fort Marshall, about twenty miles on the way, just as the sun was down. The Fort was built in the late Zulu War and is still in pretty good repair. We had hardly got our horses hobbled when three Zulus came up, armed to the teeth. They said they were looking for goats, but in reality they came to see who we were. Poor things! every stranger is an object of suspicion to them now. They seemed much relieved to find that we were missionaries. We had brought a small canvas tent of the bishop's with us. It is the most perfect little thing of the kind I have ever seen, only weighing about eighteen pounds, and yet quite big enough to hold two comfortably. This we put up, for there is no building in the fort, and were as cosy as possible. The two boys came in to evensong. We then made our beds--that is to say, spread our blankets, rolled ourselves in them, and were soon fast asleep. We were up at daybreak and soon made a start. We went bowling along over a splendid country, but not a native left in it--all had been cleared out by Usibhepu's impi. After about an hour and a half, not having seen a soul, we came up with a trader's wagon. The trader was a European, and he pressed us to stay and have breakfast with him; but as it was in the middle of our stage we declined and went on. About half-past eight we came to the Umhlatusi river. Just before arriving there we had sent the boys off to a large kraal close by to tell them that we were hungry, and to ask them to bring some amasi (curdled milk). We had hardly got the harness off the horses when a man arrived bearing a great pot of amasi. He turned out to be an old friend of the bishop's whose kraal had been burned down by Sibhepu. He had managed to escape and had taken refuge here. He said that he had seen us coming down the hill and had thought from the white helmet that it was the bishop. He had a long tale of woe to tell us. He said how glad all the people would be if the bishop would begin a station there. All the people were tired of bloodshed and if only a mission station were there they might hope for peace. We reached KwaMagwaza early in the afternoon. The place was full to overflowing with refugees who had come to escape the pillage and murder that were devastating the country. A great many candidates were coming to be admitted as catechumens. It was also a week of special thanksgiving to God in that, in the midst of the bloodshed, their little village had alone survived out of the general destruction. Although the rain came down heavily during the evening, there was a good congregation. The next day we were up betimes, and after mattins, set to work on the translation of a catechism into Zulu, which the bishop, who never likes to waste time, had brought with him for the purpose. After dinner we went to visit some of the people at their kraals. KwaMagwaza is beautifully situated on the top of a succession of round hills, with little valleys and rivulets in between. During the night many more refugees came in, it having been reported that Sibhepu's impi was on the move. Two days later we went to St. Paul's. The fruit here is a treat indeed; pine-apples, plantains, bananas, and oranges, things we imagine but never see in our part of the country. An old woman overheard us speaking of Sibhepu's impi and immediately went and spread the report that it was close at hand. The news ran most rapidly, and by the time that it was dark all the families in the district came flocking in to seek protection. This incident will show the disturbed condition of the country. One great blessing throughout the whole of the late troubles is that Sibhepu and his impi have respected all mission stations and the property of Christians. Although, as I have said, numbers of the people have flocked for refuge to the stations, I do not think that even in one instance have they been followed and molested there. The people themselves are astonished at this, and own that, had Cetshwayo's party been the stronger, the refugees would not have fared so well; nor would the Christians have remained unmolested. The past action of the Usutu (Cetshwayo's party) confirms this only too well.

After taking part in a great service at KwaMagwaza, where fifty-two people were admitted to the catechumenate, the bishop and his companion returned home to Isandhlwane. The bishop had intended to go and see Sibhepu himself, as that chief had anxiously requested that a missionary might be sent to him. But the country was so disturbed and the possibility of finding the chief at home so remote that the plan was given up.

Early in 1884 the bishop writes again on the question of spreading the work by means of out-stations. He says: "I am most thankful at being able to open new out-stations. It has been the weakness of the work hitherto that there have been none, and so we have been the more readily accused of taking people from their chiefs. There is a very marked increase and progress in the work at St. Augustine's, and some twenty people communicated the last Sunday I was there." During this year the trouble between Cetsh-wayo with his Usutu party and Sibhepu with his Mandh-lakazi party came to a head. There was renewed fighting,
and the whole country was once more thrown into turmoil. For some weeks the safety of missionaries in Zululand was in the balance. KwaMagwaza and St. Paul's were evacuated once more, and the former place was burnt to the ground. At Isandhlwane the bishop and his party left the place to take refuge across the border. But Mr. and Mrs. Johnson remained at St. Augustine's throughout the troubles, the nearness of Hlubi and his people giving them the sense of security which was lacking at other stations. As a result of the fighting between the rival factions, Cetshwayo met his death early in the year. He was badly wounded in a raid by Sibhepu's men upon his great kraal, and though he escaped and lived for some months longer eventually he died in the Nkandhla district, not very far from where the mission station of Nkandhla now stands. After his death the quarrel between him and Sibhepu was taken up hotly by his son, Dinuzulu, and the troubles were for a time accentuated by the entrance into the country of the Boers from the Vryheid republic.

But these events, though they kept the country in a state of unrest, had no great influence upon the lives of the party at St. Augustine's, and they need not be dealt with at length here. Their sense of security was greatly increased by the establishment of a small garrison of imperial troops within a few miles of them at Rorke's Drift. The presence of the soldiers made it most unlikely that any fighting would take place in that vicinity. The Zulus were extremely unwilling to provoke the imperial government. Indeed, the majority of them wanted nothing so much as to be taken over by that government and ruled as a native dependency. To this day it is difficult, not to say impossible, to understand why they were not so dealt with. A great many difficulties would have been settled and many pressing problems avoided if this had been done. Bishop McKenzie, writing in 1889, after Dinuzulu had been arrested and tried for treason, says: "The annexation [of Zululand] which could at one time have been so easily and naturally and happily carried out, has now caused trouble and bloodshed. I am wrong. I said at one time. Say, rather, many times, for more than one or two excellent opportunities have been allowed to pass. Had the annexation taken place when it ought, many thousands of Zulus would be alive now who have been killed in internecine strife. A vast amount of hatred and bitterness would have been prevented, and much distress; both to black and white, would not have taken place. We hope the present trial will lead to the consolidation of British power, and the introduction of a firmer and fuller system of government."

The bishop was no jingo imperialist. His words were written with no idea of megalomaniac enlargement of the borders of the empire, but solely from the point of view of the greater good of the Zulus themselves.

Before we leave politics and return to our proper sphere, it will be well here to say that, as part of the re-arrangement of the government of the country which was forced upon the British authorities by the utter collapse of the thirteen kinglet system, Hlubi was bereft of much of his territory and power, and reduced to the rank of a petty chief with a limited jurisdiction over part of the land he had formerly ruled so wisely. This return to the older system of governing Zululand through chiefs appointed, for the most part, from the old chief houses, and in addition making these chiefs responsible to resident European magistrates was inevitable and right. It was sad that Hlubi, who had been a very tower of strength to the harassed authorities, should be included in the general reduction. But there was no other course open. Either all or none must be deposed, and certainly no one could have wanted the kinglet system to continue. Hlubi himself bore his reduction with the same dignity and restraint with which he had carried himself in the days of his power. He strove-.hard to retain his position, as it was natural that he should, but when the decision was reached he accepted it without any diminution of his loyalty, and with no loss of dignity. During the latter part of the year 1885 Mr. and Mrs. Johnson with their two small children left Zululand for a visit to England. During their absence their work was undertaken by a Mr. Carmichael, who had recently joined the staff of the diocese, and had lived at St. Vincent's.

There is little to record of the doings of the pair of devoted missionaries in England, but doubtless they were fully employed in visiting friends and relations, and he, especially, in preaching and speaking on behalf of the diocese. It may not be out of place to say a word here on this matter of the employment of missionaries home from their work as preachers and speakers in aid of missionary work. There exists a good deal of misunderstanding which sometimes finds expression in outspoken condemnation of this practice. There are very few missionaries in reasonable health who do not thoroughly enjoy this kind of work. When a man or woman goes home on furlough from a foreign field he does not, as a rule, need or want a rest from work. What he does need and crave for is a change of work and an opportunity to mix with sympathetic people. This he usually gets while touring the country preaching and speaking. He meets many new people, hears many interesting discussions, is received as a friend and an honoured visitor into many homes, worships in many inspiring churches, and, generally speaking, has a thoroughly good and refreshing time. In addition to this, he is doing what he can to forward the interests of his life's work. There can be few more pleasant ways of spending a holiday in England than for a man whose life is passed in out-of-the-way spots of the earth amid an alien people, to mix with what may, without flattery, be termed the most intelligent and friendly portion of England's population, most of them eager to listen to what he has to say, and to brisk him up by their wonderful faith and their not less wonderful kindness. These reflections undoubtedly represent the mind of Charles Johnson on this matter, as they probably do that of a majority of the clergy working overseas. He was an excellent deputation, full of zeal for his cause, full of information about it, and, while not a fluent or a ready speaker in English, able to hold the interest of his hearers. One of his greatest charms was his old-world and dignified courtesy. He could be fiercely controversial. His eyes could, and often did, flash fire when hard-pressed by some opponent: but few were ever able to accuse him of anything but a thoroughly kind and Christian consideration for their feelings.

He retained to the end of his life the kindest feelings of friendship for many whose acquaintance he first made while in England during this visit.

They returned to St. Augustine's early in 1886, and on the second Sunday in Lent of the following year Charles Johnson was ordained to the priesthood in St. Vincent's Church, Isandhlwane, by Bishop McKenzie. From this time until the date of the bishop's sadly premature death in 1889, the work in the St. Augustine's district went steadily forward. Many letters of the period give brief snatches of news about its progress. "Many people admitted catechumens," "school increasing in numbers," "many people made their communions to-day," and the like.

The end of this span of years finds him fully equipped for his work, with a church at his centre adequate to the congregation he had collected, with a day school, in charge of Mrs. Johnson with an occasional helper, attended by any number of children up to a hundred daily, with regular and well-attended classes of instruction for enquirers and catechumens, and with a zealous and skilful propaganda carried on in the kraals of the surrounding heathen. In addition to this he had opened a home for heathen girls, where they could be instructed in Christian doctrine and where they could learn the rudiments of civilization. This home was also under Mrs. Johnson's care, and it had mostly about twenty girls occupying it. Then, lastly, there were four out-stations in the district each under the care of a resident catechist, and each visited at least once a month by the priest-in-charge.

Project Canterbury