I am pleased to announce the second part of what must be honestly the most anticipated project of the century, to wit me transcribing every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa mission. The first part of this project spanned the years 1876 to 1880 (more details on this project overall at that link), and the second part, linked above and embedded below, covers the next five years, 1881-1885.
This batch of transcriptions clocks in at a relatively modest 66,000 words, about 15,000 fewer words than the last time. Opening up the last time I posted a batch of transcriptions I am more than a little surprised that it was only back in April. This feels like a project I have been neglecting for ages, but there ya go, I’m slightly better than I thought. I have become more familiar with The Chronicle during the course of this project and so I am better at extracting the relevant bits. However, the magazine got a new editor in 1885, and so far I can’t really say I like what he’s done with it, but it’s a tad late to complain.
The single biggest revelation I’ve had so far about The Chronicle is that I realized that it is a fundraising document. Up until that revelation I had been thinking of The Chronicle as this handy record created specifically for my benefit. If that were the case, though, it’s honestly a bit of a weird read. They’re Victorians and I am under the impression that this was normal for them, but they go into a lot of gory detail about people’s illnesses. For example they print, at length, the sufferings of Dr. Southon after he is accidentally shot in the arm and slowly dies from infection.
It finally occurred to me that the audience of this magazine are all the churchgoers they are trying to convince to donate to the London Missionary Society. Every year in June the Society publishes their annual report, including a detailed look at their finances. In the transcription I try to translate these into modern-day dollars, and every year the Society needs to fundraise the equivalent of millions of dollars just to try to keep themselves afloat. I realized that the main purpose of The Chronicle was therefore probably to let people know how their donations were being spent, and present an image of a Society doing the best missionary work out of many competing missionary societies while letting people know that they still desperately needed more funds. Someday, when I sit down and actually analyze all that I’ve typed, I will have to keep that in mind.
When we left the missionaries in 1880, they had set up several missionary stations between Zanzibar and Ujiji and were starting to make forays towards the south of Lake Tanganyika. My interest in the London Missionary Society started because I was interested in the first steamship on Lake Tanganyika, the SS Good News. I’m going to grant myself an historic parallel by mentioning that what was the final spur to get LMS setting out into the region was a desire to put a steamship on the lake. So while the SS Good News is a throughline through the entire first decade of the Central Africa Mission, it is during 1881-1885, and really towards the latter part of that timeframe in which the story of the Good News really gets going; it is in August of 1885 that The Chronicle reports the ship was launched (though it still had a lot of fitting out to do).
Despite the mission’s nautical success, however, it is really not in a good place by the end of 1885. Central Africa was deadly for missionaries. In a lengthy November 1885 article, it’s noted that “since the commencement of the Mission in 1876, twenty-three persons have gone out to take part in the work, and of these no fewer than ten have been removed by death, and nine have retired from the service.” Although many of the nine that retired from the service but didn’t die did so out of general poor health, it is also in this same article that The Chronicle details a new development among the missionaries – people quitting out of fear. The Chronicle published excerpts of letters from recently deployed missionaries saying that they were headed home, not necessarily because they were sick, but because they finally noticed how many people were dying and wanted out before they too were struck down. With those two missionaries heading home, at the end of 1885:
The entire Mission staff is thus reduced to four. The Rev. T.F. Shaw is laboring alone at Urambo, and is the only missionary specially set apart for the work of preaching and teaching. The rest – Captain Hore, Mr. A.J. Swann, and Mr. A. Brooks – went out as laymen, the two former in charge of the boats on Lake Tanganyika, and Mr. Brooks as an artisan missionary.
My final note on this batch of transcriptions is that until this point, I had considered the colonization of this area as somewhere between an unfortunate side effect and an unrelated but parallel enterprise to the evangelization by the missionaries. But now a letter from Captain Hore states plainly that he envisioned European colonization as part and parcel of the enterprise all along: “As to the future of the Mission… if we look further off it is nothing but a tide of Europeans crowding into the continent from all sides, and plenty of the ‘fit’ surviving and evangelizing, colonizing, or amassing wealth, according to their several missions.” I think the missionaries deserve credit for their part in combatting the slave trade in the region, the dire effects of which are also detailed by Captain Hore in this era of The Chronicle. But we have to keep in mind that you don’t have to be intending bad outcomes for bad outcomes to happen, and when we consider the impact these missionaries had we must carefully weigh the bad outcomes along with the good.
If there are any researchers out there using this work, please let me know. I would be delighted to chat more about the history of this region and see what you’re digging up. I don’t know if anyone is using my last batch of transcriptions, but I think I have been cited in at least one college paper from the University of Zambia on World War I, at least. I would like to figure out something productive to do with all this research, but I know my biggest hurdle will be figuring out a way to center African voices into these African stories, and I am conscious I might not be the guy to do that. But between here and that, we have a few more decades to transcribe.