We take a break from Puerto Rico content (there is a lot more to come, don’t worry) so as to bring you, my loyal reader(s), what will likely be the last segment of my transcriptions of the The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society for a while at least (please see previous segments here: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890, 1891-1895, 1896-1900). However don’t fret! This project is far from over. It is just that, as I alluded to at the end of the last installment, the availability of the Chronicle past 1905 becomes spotty thus making it difficult to put together full transcriptions.
What I would like to do as a next step is put together all 30 years I have transcribed so far (30 years ain’t too shabby, is it?) and extract from it useful information to guide follow-on research. I am specifically thinking at minimum an index, but I would like to compile a timeline of the Central Africa Mission and put together short biographies of all the missionaries, at least as far as their association with Central Africa and the LMS goes. Someday when I A) figure out how to apply for a research grant or something, B) apply for those grants, and C) win one, I would like to go out and find the years of the Chronicle that the internet doesn’t have yet and also of course get my butt over to London to look at all the LMS archives in the flesh. And then I dunno write a book or something? But to write a book I would also want to do a lot more research on the ground in Zambia, and we can already see this is more than a nights and weekends project. But a boy can dream.
But back to these five years, specifically (those are 1901-1905, just to recap). Since it is now tradition, I will say that this edition bucks the trend of downward word counts, coming in at about 54,000 words (the whole project is running to over 300,000, so the proofreading required for the compiled edition will take a hot minute). It also features a whopping 45 pictures, representing very nearly half of the total pictures from Central Africa the Chronicle published over the entire 30 years I have covered.
The Mission is well established at this point, even to the extent that by the end of 1905 Rev. R. Stewart Wright is talking about the work of “our early missionaries, some twenty years ago.” The Mission is, however, still expanding, setting up new bases in “Awemba Country” (Bemba in the modern parlance). Besides their drive to evangelize as much as possible, that effort was driven also by a fear of the Catholics claiming more area (there is a short article, tinged with fear, noting that the White Fathers have the rest of Lake Tanganyika surrounded by well-staffed stations, with some of their African converts being trained in medicine) as well as the not-so-hidden protagonist of this whole story, Mr. Robert Arthington, of Leeds, donating £10,000 for “the extension of mission work to the Awemba tribes” (Although Mr. Arthington died in 1900, he left a final donation to the London Missionary Society that was to only be used for new endeavors and not for the maintenance of the Society’s established endeavors, which due to some court stuff continued to cause the Society some headache throughout this period).
As illustrated by the group photo at the top, the Mission is also benefitting from being it seems less deadly to missionaries than it was in its early years. I am sure this is a byproduct of them figuring some stuff out (like in 1897 the fact that mosquitoes transmit malaria) as well as colonialism making it easier for these British people to travel around and communicate with central Africa. It was safe enough that they are regularly sending out women to the Mission, albeit it as the betrothed to missionaries already in the field (where they hop on down to the magistrate in Abercorn to get hitched) and not as missionaries in their own right. There was still danger of course, but at this point when a missionary in central Africa dies it is shocking instead of routine.
The biggest development I was pleased with at this point is that the Chronicle mentions Africans with increasing regularity. I know it’s a minor thing but hey in a literal sense at least it’s not nothing. I think a big chunk of this is that the missionaries are finally having some success in converting Africans to Christianity, once they had really settled down and had a generation of people grow up around them.
So that’s that, for now. As always, if you are finding this useful or want to swap info on the Central African Mission of the London Missionary Society, hit me up. I would be very excited to hear from you.
Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar Waters by Captain G.L. Sulivan, R.N.
Across Africa by Commander V.L. Cameron, R.N., C.B., D.C.L.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Look guys I know it is absolutely astounding that I have posted sections from The Chronicle two weeks in a row. I can barely believe it myself and for the sake of my reader(s) I hope you like this content and are not pining after descriptions of me wandering around art museums or something. I like it and that’s all that matters on my blog. Anyways. A couple of factors at play here. First is that the downward trend in the length of these updates continue their downward trend, this one clocking in at juuuust shy of 33,000 words. More importantly however is that I was procrastinating some things and doing this was my excuse to avoid doing the other things. Please see previous updates in my plan to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa Mission here: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890, 1891-1895.
I have mentioned several times now that the first reason I got interested in the London Missionary Society is because they launched the first steamship on Lake Tanganyika, the SS Good News. That era in LMS history has come and gone, however this era we are entering now is interesting because it much more closely overlaps my own experience in Zambia.
The Society by the end of this era is running three main Mission stations, having given up the Urambo Mission to Moravian missionaries in 1898 in order to consolidate their efforts at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. There is a mission at Kambole, which I think was in the area now occupied by Nsumbu National Park, which I am sad that I never got to go to. Then there are missions at Niamkolo and Kawimbe. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I lived about smack dab in the middle of those two stations, making the LMS’s old stomping grounds my old stomping grounds. I’ve used pictures from this era of the Chronicle to talk about some of these things, such as Niamkolo church.
I also got interested in Kawimbe because that is where large chunks of the story of Mama Meli took place. In that article I just linked one of the things that my friend Katie and I looked at was a cemetery where many of the missionaries were buried. As part of this project I have finally been able to connect the names on some of these gravestones with the stories of the people behind them. One of the things I want to do if I am ever in Zambia again is to go back to that cemetery and do a better job photographing the memorials and documenting the people buried there. But when I do manage to identify one, such as John May Jr. or, below, Dr. Charles B. Mather, it feels like an exciting accomplishment:
But besides people dying, what’s going on with the Central African Mission? Both a lot and not so much. In 1897 they sent out seven new missionaries to Central Africa (with the Hemans returning), significantly boosting that Mission, since the numbers had dwindled to three people. This significant increase should have led to a lot more activity in the missions, and I think it will and does eventually, but for a long stretch during this interval things are pretty quiet as I think the new missionaries get up to speed and more settled. As I keep saying during these summaries the missions are getting more and more settled and integrated (they proudly talk about at one point that the Central African missions had finally become self-sustaining as far as local expenditure is concerned) and that continues to be the case here. Colonialism continues to take hold as well (“British Central Africa” is referred to regularly), and there is even now a telegraph line to Mbala/Abercorn. The Mission also at this point has a small but regular number of converts coming in, the payoff for their now 25 years in Central Africa. As I read about the Missionaries training carpenters and blacksmiths and converting people to Christianity, I think about the different churches I saw during my time in Zambia or the carpenters and metalworkers that I met, and I wonder which and how many of those people are the direct cultural descendants of the people that these missionaries trained.
As always, if you are finding this useful (or maybe just finding this at all) I would be absolutely delighted to know. My current thinking is that I will keep this project going through about 1915, which will put us into World War I and I think the London Missionary Society might no longer necessarily be the best place to find out about the culture and people in the area. But that is pure conjecture; I’ve never read that far in the Chronicle (though honestly issues become harder to find online at that point). But I guess we’ll see when I get there.
The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name by Jason K. Stearns
Friends, I am stunned and astonished to say that I have completed yet another installment of my plan to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa Mission (here is: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890). I have been starting with their stats, so I will let you know that this is even shorter than the previous “teeny-tiny update” at only 36,700 or so words. It does however have something like double the number of pictures as the preceding 15 years of articles combined.
Previously I posited that the amount of coverage the Central African Mission was getting had nosedived because it had become Just Another Mission within the London Missionary Society’s repertoire, and that I think is still true. My numbers are a little artificial too, because sometimes I skipped articles when the mention of the Mission was literally only passing. Also, the format of the Chronicle also changed during this time period to be longer and fancier (and with more pictures), but also mentions of the Central African Mission can arise in a wider variety of spots (different “Secretarial Notes,” in regular columns like “Month to Month” and “Personal Notes,” and sometimes in space-filling asides at the bottom of otherwise unrelated columns) so I am worried I missed some things, despite scrolling through every page. Another reason I think coverage was diminished in this era is because 1895 was the centenary of the London Missionary Society, and they were focused on their older missions, such as the South Seas and South Africa.
One of the themes I see running throughout these five years is the London Missionary Society coming to grips with the impact of colonization on their sought-after flock. Colonization is firmly established at this time – in 1894 they even see A.J. Swann resign his post with the Society “in consequence of his having accepted an official position under the British Administrator in Central Africa.” In general too the Society is in favor of colonization, welcoming a “flood” of Europeans into Africa even as they bemoan this flood is too focused on seeking gold over the spiritual enlightenment of the people. However, in a surprisingly (to me) progressive note, the Foreign Secretary, Rev. Thompson, worries about an effort by Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company to take what is now Botswana away from direct rule by the British Empire and put it under direct control of the company:
Now it transpires that Lord Knutsford, when Colonial Secretary, promised the Company that in due time the Bechwanaland Protectorate should be added to their dominions. Lord Ripon in turn confirmed this promise, and now Mr. Rhodes is agitating for the realization of the compact. The chiefs and people of Bechwanaland object to the change. They have no complaint to make against the Company, but they see that it is a company with the interests of its own shareholders to care for. They think that Imperial rule is likely to be more impartial and unbiased than even the best-intentioned financial corporation.
R. Wardlaw Thompson, October 1895
The Society is forced in this era to take a look at what they have wrought, and decide whether they approve of what they have done.
Just to mention a few other things that happened during this era. First, when describing a trip through Bembaland (here “Awemba”) in an article from January 1895, Rev. W. Thomas (not the Foreign Secretary) notes “How little credit the native gets, as a rule, in books of travel!” I’ve commented on the same thing to criticize my own writing, so good on him here. It is also during this time that a great era for the London Missionary Society came to and end: in a note on the “Proceedings of the Board” in May of 1894, they announce that “the sale of the Mission steamer, Good News, on Lake Tanganyika, Central Africa, to the African Lakes Company (Limited), was approved.” How short a useful life that boat lived despite all the effort and lives that went into putting it on the Lake. But by this time Kavala Island had been abandoned, with the focus of the Mission moving inland, and they had little use for it. Their needs seem to have been adequately met by the Morning Star, but it was wrecked in February of 1895 in a gale (though they think they can repair it). As I have mentioned, the whole reason I started researching this stuff was because I was interested in these boats.
Anyways! As I always say at the end of these posts, if you find this useful please leave a note at the bottom of the post. I would be very interested to see if anyone is as interested in this stuff as I am and are finding these transcriptions useful. Someday I want to compile them all into one big document (and it will be very big) with regularized spellings and a nice index and maybe biographical notes of the missionaries so it’s easy to see who was where, when. But there is a lot of typing to do between now and then.
In the unsustainably short interval of only five weeks, I am once again pleased to announce the third part of my ongoing project to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa mission. The interval was so short because it has been a very slow period at work, but also because this is a teeny-tiny update, at a mere 38,000 words. I was wondering if this update would put the totals for this project above the 200,000 word mark, but it was not to be.
In this third semi-decade of the Central Africa Mission’s existence, it seems to be gaining a very different character. The reporting on the Mission in the Chronicle really took a nosedive. Part of the reason for that is fighting in the area cutting off the mails and therefore communication with the mission, so the Chronicle was forced to just give mild speculation based on rumors they had heard with no actual information. But I think a much bigger reason is that the Mission had simply become just another mission.
By this point they were fairly well established in Central Africa. They had four main stations – Urambo, their first permanent station; Kavala Island, where they had set up their marine department when it was clear they were unwelcome in Ujiji; Niamkolo (spelled Niumkorlo during these years) to get a presence at the south end of the lake; and Fwambo, a newly established mission “fifty miles inland on the route to Lake Nyassa” (I think this is now Kawimbe Mission, but I am not sure). The routes to these stations were well-established, the mail fairly regular (when there wasn’t fighting), and the Missionaries were spending their time building their infrastructure and their trust with the local communities. This is not the exciting part of missionary work. If there was exciting stuff, it wasn’t actually reported in the Chronicle – often the editor notes that urgent news had been reported in the daily papers, and in this magazine they were then just noting that all had turned out well (or not).
The Mission also starts to be swept up in world events. In 1876 they were some of the only Europeans in the area, but by 1890 colonization is starting to firmly take hold. Part of the reason for the fighting that cut off the mails is that the Germans were attempting to take hold of what would become German East Africa, and the native peoples were fighting back. Then in March of 1890 the Chronicle is reporting on a speech from the Duke of Fife where he discusses the recently founded British South Africa Company. And in December of 1890 they even note that Urambo is likely to be made a military station. The London Missionary Society in 1890 is no longer the vanguard of the European takeover in the Tanganyika region.
For our interests here in this blog there are a few other developments. This era is when James Hemans heads to the mission. On the other hand, our man Ed Hore has left the mission, with the latest news that he has gone on a tour of the Society’s missions around Australia. His wife, Annie Hore, was left in London to give birth to their daughter. Annie had been the first woman sent out to Central Africa by the Society and founded the Mission’s first school, the Kavala Island Girls’ School pictured above. While she was the first, in this era it is now becoming common for men to go out with their wives, a further signal that Central Africa was no longer the wild domain of only people like Livingstone and Stanley, as far as Europe was concerned.
Although the London Missionary Society might have felt that Central Africa was no longer so dangerous, with family life taking hold in the Mission comes the normal tragedies of everyday existence. In June 1889’s “Announcements” they report under Births: “Jones – November 16th, at Fwambo, Central Africa, the wife of the Rev. D.P. Jones, of a son.” Then, on the very next line under Deaths: “Jones – December 26th, at Fwambo, Central Africa, the infant son of the Rev. D.P. Jones, aged 6 weeks.”
As ever, if you find this work useful, please let me know. I’d be excited to collaborate.
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.
The above link will let you download the first installment of a project where I might have bitten off a great deal more than I can reasonably chew. As the title suggests, it is a transcription of every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central African Mission from the years 1876-1880.
The Chronicle is of course a particularfavoriteof this blog. As you may be aware at this point, I served as Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia’s Mbala District from 2017-2019. I find the history of that area absolutely fascinating. A huge part of that is probably of course my personal connection to the area, but it also represents a crossroads of a complex array of different historical crossroads that I love to uncover. I’ve only come across it (relatively) recently, but The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society has been a really interesting resource to learn about a lot of the history of the area.
As you’ve gleaned from the title, The Chronicle was the monthly publication of the London Missionary Society, detailing its missionary efforts around the world. One of those worldwide efforts was what they dubbed their Central African Mission. There were a lot of different missionaries in a lot of different locations in Africa, but the missionaries in the area that would become Mbala District were representatives of the LMS. As The Chronicle documented the efforts of the Central African Mission for the benefit of its readers and the patrons of the LMS, it provides a glimpse into the area as the first Western missionaries and colonialists arrived, usually with first-hand reports. Therefore, it provides some of the earliest accounts of the people and areas that I would live in nearly a century and a half later.
One of the advantages of The Chronicle is that it is all available online, via Hathitrust, Google Books, and the Internet Archive. However, those resources can be hard to use. Despite the power of text recognition these days, the automatic text recognition in the files you can download online is not great. This makes it hard to search for things within them. Also, despite the power of the various search engines, the pictures from The Chronicle don’t show up when you search for the topics. This keeps a lot of really interesting information buried unless you painstakingly scroll through every issue.
What I therefore wanted to do is painstakingly scroll through every issue, extract all the pictures, and transcribe the text by hand. My goal here is to make the information far more easily available online to the casual researcher, like I was back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in a mud hut just trying to learn more about the history that surrounded me. When I got the bright idea to do this, I pondered idly how far I should go. Should I stop at WWI? WWII? But then I got started.
I haven’t exactly been working on it full-time, but doing the first five years has taken me months. And these people were wordy. My end goal is to have a final consolidated document, ideally with some useful timelines and an index and a table of contents, but I have decided in the interim to release the results in five-year chunks. This is to make the project more manageable and to start getting things out there in the world. If or when I get the final version out into the world, it is going to be massive. The first five years, 1876-1880, have clocked in at 138 pages and over 81,000 words already. It’s supposed to be impressive that Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby, but that novel is only 47,000 words.
Despite my enthusiasm for getting out these first five years, I want to warn readers that it will not be a perfect document. I tried to be constantly proof-read as I typed it out, but I didn’t go back and check my work or anything, so there are probably errors. I was also in the process of making some editorial decisions I haven’t settled on yet. In the final document, I think I would like to standardize and modernize all the names, to again make it easily searchable for the casual researcher. Even in these five years the editors at The Chronicle had a few different spellings for some of the same people and places. That would still be a monumental undertaking once this thing is all done, again just because how long it is. One decision I have already made is that I Americanized all the spellings, but only because I am American and couldn’t be bothered to change the version of English on my spell-checker.
There is also some necessary editorializing to just pick out the articles relevant to Central Africa. Some articles are only tangentially related to Central Africa, and sometimes I left those out, but sometimes I added extra when there were interesting details about the Society’s finances, for example. They also have (tautologically) every year their Annual Report, which is both generally incredibly wordy and also only specific passages will pertain to Central Africa, so when I include those passages they’ll seem potentially disjointed. I also always skipped the individual donations noted in The Chronicle, though sometimes if you read into them they contain hints of very interesting stories. Despite trying to be painstaking, I might have missed something that could be important.
I am comfortable making these changes because I don’t intend this to be authoritative; my vision is that it will allow people to find articles and pictures useful to their research, and then they can use the year, month, and page numbers that I noted to go back to the source material and pull their information from there. If you find this document useful, I would be absolutely delighted if you let me know by uh, I can’t think of a less cringey thing to say than “by posting a comment below.”
It is important to say that I don’t endorse what the missionaries were trying to do. Missionaries and colonialism are big complicated topics, and fundamentally these people were going to Africa with the goal of totally upending a people’s religion and way of life. I value this resource because they do try to document a lot of the life there, even if their perspective is biased. Clearly, their language is going to sometimes be far from kosher, and even as they refer to some of the people they meet as friends their default assumption is that the people they are coming to proselytize to are “dark and degraded.” However, we are intelligent historians, and it is possible to understand the missionaries from their perspective without endorsing their beliefs as our own.
That is the project I am trying to undertake. But in the first five years of the London Missionary Society’s Central African Mission, what happened? There may have been earlier mention of the idea in The Chronicle, but I started in 1876 because that was when the earliest serious rumblings about a mission started. The most important impetuous was a conditional donation by one Mr. Robert Arthington of £5,000 (about $800,000 today) if the LMS would undertake a mission on Lake Tanganyika. From the start he wanted them to put a steamer on the lake, but that would still take a while to come.
The Directors of the LMS decided to undertake the mission and sent out Rev. Roger Price to investigate what would be required. Reading between the lines of The Chronicle, I think the LMS had a few mixed motivations for undertaking the mission. As a non-profit organization, they were always looking for funds, and the offer of £5,000 could not be turned down lightly (though the organization would feel a squeeze within a few years due to the expense of supporting their new mission). There was of course also a keen missionary zeal. It’s an organization run by and for people who liked to go out to the far corners of the world and preach, and so any new field held an enticement for them. I also think there was a bit of a missionary scramble for Africa, with the LMS winding up on Lake Tanganyika because choicer spots on Lake Malawi (then Nyassa) and closer to Zanzibar had already been taken. Nonetheless, out they went.
With a favorable report from Rev. Price, they soon dispatched the newly minted Rev. Arthur W. Dodgshun along with Revs. J.B. Thomson, and E.S. Clarke. They also sent lay members Edward C. Hore and Walter Hutley. They departed England from March to May of 1877. The next longest chunk of time would be spent just getting to where they were going. The Chronicle details in uh, detail, the monumental trials to get themselves and all their stuff overland to the Lake. Their vision was to set up a mission station about halfway between Zanzibar and Lake Tanganyika and another on the Lake itself. By the time they realized the beginnings of that vision, Revs. Thomson and Dodgshun would be dead. Central Africa was stunningly deadly for the missionaries that went there. At one point, in a crunch for missionaries willing to reinforce the remaining men after the losses, the Society’s Foreign Secretary Dr. Joseph Mullens volunteered himself to go. The Directors were reluctant to let him go, but I think this was a case of a man wanting to relive his glory days. As it was, he too died before ever seeing Lake Tanganyika.
By the end of 1880, however, they had successfully set up mission stations at Urambo, Ujiji, and across Lake Tanganyika at Uguha. Apart from the original cohort, the mission had been supplemented by Revs. William Griffith, A.J. Wookey, and David Williams, along with Dr. Walter Palmer and Dr. E.J. Southon. For me, the story really gets exciting towards the end of 1880, because our favorite mariner Edward C. Hore had taken an excursion to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, where he talks about my main man Tafuna and my good friend Chief Zombe. There were also further rumbles from our mysterious man behind the scenes, Mr. Robert Arthington, who was offering another £3,000 to accelerate the project of putting a steamer on the Lake.
Disappointingly, only two pictures relating to the Central African Mission were published in The Chronicle during these five years. The first is at the top, depicting the grave of Dr. Mullens. The second was a map showing where the various missionary societies had staked their claim. It’s included in the PDF, but the best map I’ve found so far comes from another pamphlet published in March 1879 by the London Missionary Society succinctly titled “The Mission in Central Africa, from the Letters and Journals of the Revs. J.B. Thomson and A.W. Dodgshun, and Messrs. E.C. Hore and W. Hutley.” I have included a crudely cropped version below (to save myself some filespace here on WordPress, but click to embiggen) with some of the most oft-mentioned placed highlighted, but the full version is available here (on Page 3 of the scan, and you get the best version if you download the jpg of the page). The scan could be better, but when I went to check if there were any copies for sale the only one I found was for £350, so I won’t be adding it to my personal collection anytime soon. The map is from 1879, so there are plenty of white spaces, but it highlights the route the missionaries took to get to Ujiji:
And so that’s the first five years of the Central African Mission, as told in the pages of The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society. I hope someone else finds this project useful and good research comes out of it. The area is sadly lacking in scholarship, and maybe we can help rectify that. I tried to summarize the major points above, but despite being wordy at times this saga is full of twists and turns and hope and despair and triumphs and failures, and sheds light into some of the earliest interactions in an area that would help shape world events, and so there’s little way I could have done it justice. I’m not the first person to discover The Chronicle, but hopefully now more people will, and help tell the stories of the people of Central Africa.
Ted Hood: Through Hand and Eye: An Autobiography by Ted Hood and Michael Levitt
One of my current pet projects is going through the Chronicle of the London Missionary Society and transcribing all of their articles relevant to the Central African mission. I realize that this blog is becoming more and more “interestingthingsI foundin theChronicle” (saving us, at the very least, from becoming exclusively a 3D-printingblog), but I think this project has a purpose. All the back issues of the Chronicle are in various places on the internet, and if you search the right terms various things will pop up on Google Books, but they aren’t really accessible to a casual internet search. This is especially true of the pictures, and I think it is important to put that stuff out there.
While that project is progressing (it’s gonna take a long time), I wanted to put some stuff out there about James Hemans and his wife, Maria. I have mentioned Mr. Hemans before, noting that I should do a deeper dive into that. This is draft #1 of that deeper dive. I went through all the issues of the Chronicle from 1887, when the Hemans are recorded as arriving in England from Jamaica, until 1908, when the Chronicle reported his death. This version is crude; I just did a search for “Hemans” in the PDFs, a technique that fails to capture each and every mention of them. This is why I’m doing the longer project and scrolling through all the issues by hand, to try to capture every mention and put ’em in a more easily searchable document.
Anyways, some background. James Hemans and his wife are notable for being Black missionaries sent to the Central African mission of the London Missionary Society. There is a short biography of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans here, which notes that they were not well treated by their fellow missionaries. The most significant chunk of biographical information on Mr. Hemans in the Chronicle (women in the Chronicle are largely ignored except as the wives of their husbands) comes from the June 1901 issue, which noted that he was “a son of West Indian negro slaves, and a child of the Society’s mission in Jamaica” (I want to make an aside to note I’m not endorsing the language or views of any of the quotes I present). The book Jamaica Congregational Churches provides some more background:
In September of the same year  Mr. J.H.E. Hemans and Mrs. Hemans sailed from England on their way to Central Africa, Mr. Hemans having been appointed a missionary schoolmaster in connection with the L.M.S. mission on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Mr. Hemans from early youth had a strong desire to go to Africa to labor for the salvation and enlightenment of his own race in its fatherland, but his way did not open until he had been trained and has served for several years as a teacher. This training and experience proved to be the best preparation for the important and successful work which, by the blessing of God, Mr. and Mrs. Hemans have done in Africa. Mr. Hemans was brought up in connection with the Davyton Church, and Mrs. Hemans with Four Paths, and they were married while Mr. Hemans was teacher at Porus, where he labored for four years previous to going to Africa. Our friends had a well-earned furlough in 1896, a few months of which they spent in Jamaica visiting the churches and telling the story of their life and work in the Dark Continent. They spent some time in England on their way back, and when Mr. Hemans wrote to our late beloved Queen and told her that he and his wife were children of slaves, whom Her Majesty had emancipated in Jamaica at the commencement of her reign, and that they were now engaged in mission-work among the natives of the extreme part of Her Majesty’s dominion in Central Africa, the good Queen could not refuse their request for an interview. She received them very graciously, and presented them with a large framed portrait of herself to take to Africa with them.
Jamaica Congregational Churches, pgs 14-15
A later passage from the same book notes:
For a long time Mr. Hemans had felt a strong desire to be a missionary in the African fatherland, and Providence opened the way for the realization of this longing. In the year 1887, the L.M.S. having communicated to our Union the willingness to accept one of our Jamaica colored young men for the post of missionary teacher in Central Africa, the Union felt no hesitation in selecting Mr. Hemans – the more so as Mrs. Hemans was a woman in every way likely to be helpful to her husband in this great work. They accordingly proceeded to England, followed by the earnest prayers of our churches. They were cordially received by the directors, and after a few months’ special training in educational methods were sent to the Dark Continent. We are glad to record that their career has been one of great usefulness and success. They are still laboring at Niamkolo, Lake Tanganyika, and it is our hope that they may spend many years of happy and successful toil. Would that more from our churches would arise to follow in their steps.
Jamaica Congregational Churches, pgs 82-83
There’s clearly a lot more to be learned about the Hemans if we dive into the Jamaica records, but that is far outside my wheelhouse, so I’ll have to leave that to others. Let’s dive into what the Chronicle has to say about the Hemans:
The first mention of the Hemans that I found was in November 1887 (pg 495), noting “Mr. J.H.E. Hemans, and Mrs. Hemans, from Jamaica, per steamer Don, at Southampton, October 15th.” Then, in May 1888, Mr. Hemans attended a prayer meeting. Finally, the first substantial chunk of info on them comes in the July 1888 issue (pg 341), where “welcomes and valedictions” were noted during a board meeting of the Society:
The Central Africa party was a strong one… special interest was attached to the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, negroes from Jamaica, who have volunteered for the work. They go out, having, it is hoped, as African by descent and constitution, special qualifications for the field. They will fill a responsible position, and upon the success or otherwise of the experiment thus tried much will depend. The Directors will follow them with great interest, not a little anxiety, and with much prayerfulness, and trust that the new departure will prove a wise and successful step…
They departed with the rest of the Central Africa-bound missionaries on the steamer Goorkha on June 2nd of that year. Mr. Hemans would have been 31. The next news, from the March 1889 issue (pg 83), relays the story of the group’s overland crossing to the lake, with a brief mention of Mrs. Hemans:
A letter from the Rev. T.F. Shaw tells of his safe arrival at Urambo on November 2nd. Mr. Draper and himself were in excellent health. Mrs. Shaw, during the latter part of the journey, had suffered much, but on reaching their destination at once began to improve. Mr. A.J. Swann also reports that on October 18th, he, and the party he had conducted from the coast, had reached Ujiji in health and peace. Dr. Mather, though still far from strong, was very much better. The journey was accomplished in three months and two days, and without the loss of a single package. The chairs for Mrs. Swann and Mrs. Hemans answered admirably, and proved an economical mode of transport. Both the ladies were as well as when they left the coast. The Arabs were glad to see him back again. No news of Stanley had reached them. The party were to cross to Kavala Island in the Alfigiri. Mr. Carson and Mr. Wright both send cheering news from Kavala Island. They were well, and, by medical work, teaching, and public services, were trying to commend the Gospel to the natives.
An update in June 1889 noted that the Hemans were bound for the Mission at Fwambo, and that “On the new station (Fwambo) Mr. Jones has carried on worship with his men, and has sought to make known the Gospel to the people of the neighboring towns. After the arrival of Mr. Hemans the erection of a school-house was at once begun.” In July it was noted (pg 234) that “The party of missionaries at Fwambo, the new station in the highlands, were all in excellent health. Mr. and Mrs. Hemans were delighted with the invigorating, yet balmy, air which, they say, resembles their native air of Jamaica.”
Having settled in, it seems to me that Mr. and Mrs. Hemans quickly became the most successful missionaries that the Central Africa Mission would see for some time. James seemed especially industrious, doing in his early days a whole lot of building, especially I think of schoolhouses, being a schoolteacher and all. Reading through the various reports, they were extremely popular and well-liked among the people the Mission was trying to convert, and their pupils were by far the best. The two would wind up in Africa for 18 years or so, a remarkable feat in and of itself when most of their Missionary fellows lasted a few years at most. In light of that, it makes it all the sadder that they were apparently poorly treated by the other missionaries. Strikes me as jealousy through and through.
At any rate, part of a letter from Mr. Hemans was published in the January 1892 edition (pg 12):
“In February, 1890,” says Mr. Hemans, of Fwambo, “I planted four quarts of wheat, which yielded about a bushel. The whole was again sown last February. The field was reaped two weeks ago, and we have got about 7 cwts. of clean wheat ready for use. Should a mill be sent out for the use of this station, the missionaries would, I believe, have no need of ordering flour. In fact the two stations could, without any difficulty, be supplied with the required quantity of flour. Wheat and potatoes thrive remarkably. Here, they seem to be in their element.”
By 1892, the Hemans had been transferred to Niamkolo, as part of a consolidation of missionary activities towards the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. A lengthy report in the October edition of that year (pg 228) mentions the work of Mr. Hemans a few times:
Niamkolo is of course on the borders of the lake. Some sixty miles south of the lake, on the highlands of the interior, is our newest Central African station. This is called Fwambo, or, since the permanent site of the Mission has been selected, Kawimbi. There again, in consequence of the shifting of the station a few miles to a more commodious site, the work has been to some extent checked, and building necessities have overridden everything else, but the missionaries have secured what bids fair to become a strong center. The Rev. D.P. Jones, who is in charge of the station, reports as follows:-
“The outdoor work of the station has been carried on chiefly by Mr. Hemans. We have done extensive building during the year, and I think I may venture to say that, both in strength and appearance, they are rather superior to any buildings put up by us hitherto, excepting, of course, as such as have been made of brick or stone.
“Including cattle sheds, outhouses, etc, as many as seven blocks have been erectred since January, each block of dimensions not less than 40 feet by 12 feet.
“Wheat-growing was also undertaken by us on a small scale, and with perfect success.”
Some particular praise for the work of Mr. Hemans, from the January 1893 issue (pg 15):
At Fwambo, the Rev. D.P. Jones has been examining his school, and found that only one scholar was able to give intelligent answers to Scripture questions, all the rest having a confused idea that the first man was made of a bone and found by the daughter of Pharaoh in the reeds, and that when he was a youth he killed a giant with a stone.
School work at Niamkolo, under the care of Mr. Hemans, is very encouraging. All the boys in the village are attending the school, and are now having three hours’ teaching every day instead of one hour only as formerly. On August 10th, Mr. Jones examined the school, and was exceedingly pleased with the result. The scholars gave ample proof that learning had become a pleasure to them.
In July a Sunday-school was started for “all comers,” and more than 150 put in an appearance. One night three lads called on Mr. Hemans and told him “that they found out that they were sitting down as fools, notwithstanding that they had been hearing of the love of Jesus; but they have decided to be so no longer, and wish to make known publicly that they are followers of Jesus.”
In November of 1894 (pg 264), there is a report about the missionaries’ attempts to make inroads with the Bemba people (here spelled “Awemba). A famine had struck, and the missionaries were hoping that an offer of aid would open up diplomatic relations. It didn’t go quite as planned, but the presence of Black missionaries intrigued Chief Ponde:
Under the dispensation of famine in the Aemba country, the missionaries at Niamkolo have been seeking entrance through a hitherto closed door. The Rev. W. Thomas and Mr. Hemans agreed to send relief and a promise of abundance of food if the people would send for it. The principal natives at Niamkolo entered eagerly into the proposal, and early in June a number of men started for Luemba with food. In going to Kitimkuru’s they would first have to propitiate his nephew, Ponde. The messengers returned just before the end of the month, accompanied by twelve of Ponde’s men, including his son and his headman or minister of war. The messengers reported that they had been very warmly received and kindly treated by Ponde and his people. He would not, however, allow them to go on to his uncle, on the ground that he had not been well pleased with the white men, though he went himself to show his uncle the presents he had received, to tell him about the missionaries, and of their desire to visit him. He was highly pleased to hear that two of the mission band (Mr. and Mrs. Hemans) were colored people like himself, and sent a direct invitation to them. The Rev. W. Thomas was absent on a visit to Ponde when Mr. Hemans wrote, and we trust he has had a successful journey.
In March of 1895 (pg 78), the Chronicle reports that the Hemans were transferred back to Fwambo as part of a shuffling of missionaries, but that his schooling efforts were going as well as ever:
The removal of Mr. Nutt to the new station has necessitated the transference of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans from Niamkolo to Fwambo. Mr. Hemans opened a school at Fwambo’s village with ninety-three children in attendance, and the number has daily increased, as has also been the case with the school at the head station. Upon the day on which he wrote (November 2nd) there had been 287 children at the former school and 153 (boys only) at the latter.
Also in 1895, the Hemans returned to England for a well-deserved furlough, arriving per steamer Tartar, at Southampton, October 16th. They were welcomed back at a board meeting on November 12th (December issue, pg 324), where “The Directors welcomed the Rev. E.S. Oakley, from Almora; Mr. and Mrs. J.H.E. Hemans, from Lake Tanganyika (accepting at the same time some of the first copy-books used in the Mission, and specimens of needlework).” Also that month, the Chronicle published a letter that had been addressed to the Foreign Secretary (pg 330):
“A Letter from Tanganyika School Boys”
When Mr. and Mrs. Hemans (whose reception by the Board is referred to on page 324) were about to leave their station the scholars at Kawimbe were greatly troubled. These colored missionaries had completely won their affection and confidence, and very earnestly did the lads plead that a substitute might soon be sent. In reply to their request Mr. Hemans suggested that they should write down what they wanted to say and address it to the Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society. At once they accepted the suggestion, and, retiring to the end of the school-house drew up the following petition, which we give in facsimile with a translation appended. Evidently Young Central Africa is getting on!
“Kawimbe, 5th January, 1895
“Master, – We want a person who knows to teach well like Hemans. We love Hemans because he generally tells good things to people and teaches well. We want a cheerful, loving, and faithful person. In days past we were in darkness alone, but now we are greatly thanking God, who has brought him, and in our hearts we are rejoicing.
“We are not angry with anyone – we love all; but we want a person who should come from Jamaica, like Hemans.
“We write these words on behalf of all the school children.”
The Hemans were busy during their furlough, participating in various London Missionary Society events. They participated in a “Children’s Demonstration” (June 1896 issue, pg 126):
Favored by the sunniest Sunday for many weeks past, the Children’s Demonstration at Exeter Hall, on the afternoon of May 9th, was a record gathering in point of attendance. The large hall began to fill soon after three, and the young people waited patiently for the arrival of “notabilities,” just before four o’clock. A warm welcome was accorded the gaily-dressed missionaries, representative of nearly all parts of the Society’s field of operations; and the missionaries’ children, similarly arrayed, were voted prettier than ever. Very conspicuous and popular also were our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, from Lake Tanganyika. The huge map used at the September Convention was suspended from the roof, near the organ.
They also got to spend some time in Jamaica, where they did numerous fund-raising events (March 1897, pg 65):
It may be remembered that Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, who have done good service as school master and mistress at Fwambo, left England for Jamaica last May, to spend part of their furlough in their native land. While there they have been hard at work amongst the churches, not having indeed one free Sunday during their visit, which terminated at Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Hemans have given numerous lectures on their work in Central Africa, illustrated by lantern slides, the proceeds of which have resulted in the sum of £22 7s. 2d. for the funds of the Society. Much interest and enthusiasm have been evoked by the visit of our friends, and they have been the recipients of several addresses, both of welcome and farewell. One of these from the Old Scholars of Whitefield School, Porus, with some forty signatures, stated, amidst many other sympathetic and congratulatory words, that “while England is proud of her Moffat and her Livingstone, Jamaica is proud of her Hemans.”
During that trip, Mr. Hemans got to visit his father, who unfortunately died three months afterwards. Also in 1897 (June, pg 137) was published an article about a Young Men’s meeting where the Hemans are mentioned. It says “Dr. Parker referred to Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, who were seated on the platform, as living illustrations of what the Gospel can do for the world, and added a humorous reference to their audience with the Queen two days before.” I just wanted to say that sounds like Dr. Parker was a bit of a dick to the Hemans right in front of everybody, with at the very least a backhanded compliment.
By May of 1897 they were getting ready to head home. A report of a May 25th board meeting published in July (pg 148) notes “Mr. J.H.E. and Mrs. Hemans, who are returning to Central Africa to resume school work, which they have already done so thoroughly well.” During their second stay in Central Africa, the Hemans’ garnered less mentions (that I found) in the pages of the Chronicle, though it does note some nice things. After mentioning in the 1898 issue (February, pg 46) that the latest batch of missionaries had arrived safely, another newly arrived missionary was making a favorable note in the February 1901 issue (pg 41):
Mr. Draper and Mr. MacKendrick reached Kawimbi on September 22nd, and received a very hearty welcome. At the Sunday morning service, conducted by Mr. Hemans, there were over six hundred natives present. Mr. MacKendrick was appointed to work at Niamkolo. After being there for more than a week, he writes: “The more I see of Niamkolo the surer I am that good and lasting work can be done here. I have been much impressed with the work of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans. Indeed, so far as my experience goes, I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best mission station I have visited since coming to Africa. The school is attended by about 120 children at present, and some of the work I have seen would be no disgrace to any of our English schools up to the third or fourth standard. On the first Sunday, although the people were packed like herrings in a box inside the church, there were over two hundred left outside. The following Sunday it was just the same. In the afternoon I baptized four women, and there are others waiting for baptism.”
The final substantial note came later that same year in the June issue (pg 131), with the mention (partially quoted in the beginning):
Mr. Thompson went on to say that the Directors regarded the development of industries as a matter of very great importance among such people. It had, therefore, been a very great satisfaction to get from men quite unconnected with the mission most kindly expressions of satisfaction with their efforts in this direction, and to find that a number of native youths were already useful and profitably employed as carpenters, sawyers, bricklayers, etc. Mr. Hemans, a son of West Indian negro slaves, and a child of the Society’s mission in Jamaica, had given special attention to agriculture, and had rendered great service to the community at large by introducing improved and new varieties of vegetables and fruit. The Foreign Secretary stated that on the previous Friday he had received from Mr. Hemans an excellent sample of raw sugar produced by the mission. “I hope we have heard that last of giving up the Central African Mission. The new century has begun under the shadow of death, but the prospects of the work are brighter than they have ever been.”
In 1906 (April, Pg 96), the Chronicle notes under its departure announcements: “Mr. J.H.E. Hemans and Mrs. Hemans, returning to Jamaica, on their retirement from work in Central Africa, embarked at Bristol, per steamer Port Kingston, February 23rd.” Then, in 1908 (October, Pg 200), again under announcements: “Deaths – Hemans. -At Hampton, Jamaica, James H.E. Hemans, late of Central African Mission, in his 52nd year. (By cable dated September 4th.)”
That marked the end of the mentions of Mr. and Mrs. J.H.E. Hemans that I could find in the Chronicle. As I go through my project of transcribing the Chronicle, I’ll find more, and I skipped a lot of mentions of regular monetary contributions that the Hemans’ made to the Society. They were really dedicated to their work, and remarkably effective, spending over a third of their lives in Africa. As reflected back in my Mama Meli update, they seem kind and beloved by the people they worked with. If their colleagues mistreated them, that is a helluva stain on their record. Maybe some of this information is useful to other researchers trying to tell their story. Thanks!
Update Jan 17, 2022:
I just wanted to add this picture of a number of the Kawimbe missionaries from the invaluable website Abercornucopia published by Colin Carlin. As you can see, includes pictures of the Hemans.
Update Feb 7, 2023:
I’ve gotten my hands on a copy of Christian Missionaries and the Creation of Northern Rhodesia, 1880-1924 by Robert I. Rotberg, and it contains a good chunk of information on the Hemans. Here is the biography he includes in the appendix:
HEMANS, James Henry Emmanuel (LMS): 1856-1908, b. Manchester County, Jamaica. At Niamkolo, 1888-1906. Married Maria Cecilia Clementina Gale, 1884. Both were residents of LMS missions in Jamaica.”
Also in the book is the following description of Hemans’ efforts to work with his fellow missionaries:
In one case, color discrimination was the cause of damaging dissension within a synod. The London Missionary Society sent James Hemans, an outspoken West Indian, to its Lake Tanganyika stations with an early group of pioneers. He was a trained teacher and agriculturalist but, from the beginning, he was ostracized by his fellow missionaries and deprived of ordinary spiritual fellowship. The Society also denied him privileges that would otherwise have accrued to him because of his age, seniority, and experience. His salary was always less than that of his colleagues. Once, when the Bemba paramount chief wanted specifically to ask Hemans about Christianity, the synod forbade him to visit the chief. They thought that a white missionary should be the first to explain the Society’s principles, and to discuss the possible expansion of the London mission into Bembaland. For the chief, however, only Hemans would do. He said: ‘I do not want to see the white man just now. I want the one who is of my color and who can speak so that I might understand him, to come and see me. I will hear whatever he has to say and I will go by his words. He will be my friend.’ [Hemans to Thompson, 3 July 1894, CA 1x/2/c. The paramount chief sent a small elephant tusk to Hemans as an indication of his good will]
But the synod was obstinate. It sent a white missionary, who was refused an audience with the chief, and the White Fathers instead occupied most of the Bemba country. Increasingly, Hemans was ignored by his colleagues and criticized behind his back in their letters to the directors. Finally, after a deputation had investigated the causes of such evident disharmony, Hemans was retired ‘for the good of the mission.’ The secretary of the society agreed with the deputation that dark-skinned missionaries could never be accepted on equal terms by their colleagues, and that their presence was therefore harmful to good relations between missionaries. ‘I [originally] opposed… the appointment of any… West Indian or American colored,’ he wrote, ‘because I saw only too clearly from what I already knew of the relation of such native workers to European colleagues in other missions and other parts of the world, that there were bound to be difficulties which would probably be of a serious kind. They do not understand us and we, I suppose, do not understand them…’ [Thompson to Robertson, 16 June 1906, CA xxxiv, 55.]
Update Feb 18, 2023:
I managed to access the book Mbeleshi in a History of the London Missionary Society by Rev. Dr. Bwalya S. Chuba, which contains a detailed history of the LMS Central Africa Mission, including a lot of detail on the Hemans. I will type up more later but for now it also includes this picture:
We return for our final update; Meli is to be married, and Mrs. May, having recently lost her husband, decides to organize the wedding herself.
Whatever the reason, when it came time for the wedding, they really made a whole to-do of it. Mrs. May went to Meli’s future father-in-law, telling him she wanted to organize the wedding herself but she wanted to do it in accordance with Mambwe custom, saying “I shall buy the oil, perfume, and flour to anoint her during the wedding.” The one exception was that she said “I will not brew beer.” On the day of the wedding, Mrs. May had invited a whole bunch of people, including Meli’s relatives and her soon-to-be-husband’s relatives, and it seems like it was a great time. There was music and “great rejoicing,” and everything seems to have gone fantastic. Mrs. May got in on the action when, as the bride’s “mother,” she was cajoled into getting up and dancing, and apparently when she got on the dance floor the club really went wild:
“Mother of the girl, why don’t you come and take up the nsimba [finger piano] and let it be heard?” But she replied, “Fellow women, you must show me how.” The forced her and she joined in the dance. When the people saw how she danced they went wild dancing… the house was filled with excitement.”
After the wedding, Meli actually continued to stay at the mission (which… she was probably about 12, maybe 13). The missionaries wanted Jones to escort Mama May to Karonga on Lake Malawi (then called Lake Nyassa), where she would start her journey by boat back to England. They probably set out around May in 1902, and Meli joined Jones and Mrs. May on the trip to Karonga. They remained in Karonga for about a month while they waited for other missionaries to arrive. Then, having seen Mrs. May off, Jones and Meli returned to the mission, where Meli continued to spend another three weeks working for the mission before “they finally called my husband to come and take me away.”
To put a coda on these missionary women, it doesn’t seem that Mrs. Purves and Mrs. May travelled together, but Mrs. Purves also returned to England around this time. Mr. Purves had died unexpectedly on November 18th, 1901. I lost track of Mrs. Purves in the pages of The Chronicle after it notes that Mrs. Purves arrived in England “from Lake Tanganyika, Central Africa, per steamer Dunvegan Castle, on September 6th,” 1902. It wasn’t until the next month’s issue that The Chronicle noted the arrival in England of “Mrs. May and child, from Lake Tanganyika, Central Africa, per steamer Walmer Castle, on September 13th,” 1902. Mrs. May pops up a few more times in the pages of The Chronicle over the next few years. At a Society meeting in June of 1903, she seems to be grappling with the legacy of what the missionaries were doing in Central Africa, berating herself and her fellow missionaries for a “lack of prayer and slackness in habits of devotion,” and worrying about “backsliding on the part of many whom the missionaries had considered examples of Christian life and conduct,” referring to people they had converted. About a year after that, in May of 1904, Mrs. May is noted as speaking at an event where people were assembling “missionary boxes” (kinda like those UNICEF trick-or-treat boxes). The article ends with an especially cute note: “A very interesting box was that of Mrs. May’s tiny daughter, the youngest worker in the assembly” (she would have been about 2½ at the time). Mrs. May also seems to have gained a more favorable view of the Society’s legacy in Central Africa:
Mrs. John May, B.A., late of Central Africa, said she thought that looking back over the twelve or thirteen years since permanent work had been carried on in connection with the present chapter of the history of the Central African Mission, they saw wonderful signs of progress. Intertribal warfare was a thing of the past; slave raiding, at any rate openly, was entirely gone; some of the barbarous heathen practices of the olden days had been swept away through the presence of Christian workers and a more settled government.
I haven’t looked way too hard, but she seems to have stuck with the London Missionary Society, and doesn’t seem to have remarried. She helped to author a report for the Society in 1924. As for her daughter, one day I’ll dig into what The Chronicle has to say about it, but at the end of her story, Meli notes “In 1936 a mishap occurred at Senga. Porrit’s wife died. She was Mama May’s daughter, whom I used to look after, the one I used to call ‘my sister’ because her mother had cared for me as if I were her own child.”
But! This story is supposed to be about Mama Meli. After finally leaving the mission, the first thing that happened is that Meli had another wedding. Apparently for all the people that Mrs. May invited, she had not invited Meli’s new father-in-law, Mutota, who didn’t even know about it. He was so upset that he threw a whole second wedding, and unlike Mrs. May he “soaked a large quantity of millet and made plenty of beer.” There was more drama at this point about the fact that Meli didn’t know how to grind millet (which is the first step in making nshima), but I guess Meli just paid someone else to do it. After the wedding, Meli and Jones went back to Kawimbe, where the mission had built a house for them.
Meli titles the next part of her story “We Become Wealthy.” Since Mrs. May and the missionaries had acted as Meli’s parents during the engagement, they had received the brideprice paid by Jones. I guess they didn’t quite know what to do with it, because they all (the missionaries) got together and decided to give Meli and Jones back the brideprice, plus interest in the form of a cow. The happy couple settled down, and about a year after marriage had their first child in 1903 (making Meli about 13). They name this child Elizabeth, I assume after Mrs. May.
Here Meli mentions a man she calls Heman. This is James Hemans, who was in Africa as a missionary for the society along with his wife, Marcia. I really need to dig up more information about the Hemans, but if you click on that last link the mission did not treat them well. But Meli and Jones went to greet the Hemans at Niamkolo and visited for five days. When they left, the Hemans gave Jones a roll of calico cloth and six shirts, along with “little dresses and diapers” for baby Elizabeth, and then to Meli a “small roll of spotted cloth, fashionable for women, and a bunch of black beads,” and to the both of them “a tin of sugar, three boxes of soap, sugarcane, a bunch of bananas, and a bag of rice.” He had to send two people along with Meli and Jones just to help them carry all these gifts. Jones took these gifts and started running a shop, which set the couple up nicely.
At this point, I have to skim through the rest of Meli’s life, because I am like 4,600 words into this at this point and I will have probably spread it out over three weeks, if not more, and I know my loyal readership is probably tired of Meli. Anyways. Elizabeth unfortunately died in 1905 at age two of smallpox. Meli had a second child, a boy, in 1907, named Satu. In 1910 they had another child named Kela, who died before being a year old, and in 1911 they had a girl named Lukoti. She notes then “the last-born was named Henry.”
They couple had a setback in World War I when the German forces looted the wealth they had, but Jones got a job with the district officer buying mealie meal (corn/millet flour to make nshima with) for the forces, and then later another gig distributing supplies to military carriers, and then a final job hunting for game to feed the soldiers. Meli and her husband got to witness the German surrender at the end of WWI, but shortly thereafter in January 1919 Jones died. According to Mambwe custom, Meli was “inherited” by her late husband’s family, and they chose for her to marry a man named Mbokosi. She objected because he was already married, but he divorced his first wife and Meli married him. Mbokosi squandered all of Meli’s money, leaving the children uncared for, so in 1922 she left him and returned to Kawimbe mission, where she got a domestic job.
In 1925, she then married again, to a man named Harry Sichikandawa. He had told her he was single, but this was a lie because he was already married, but Meli wound up staying as his second wife. While she was living in Kasama with Harry, she was recruited by the hospital to learn midwifery. In 1934, Harry died, and Meli returned to Kawimbe. She would remain there for most of the rest of her life, with interludes living with her children in other places, and held various jobs with the mission. In 1945, Meli became ordained as an elder of the church, and preached in surrounding villages, before eventually dying in 1972. Meli was born long enough ago that she didn’t know what shoes were when she first saw Mrs. Purves wearing them, and at a time when slavers were still capturing children to be sold in the markets in Zanzibar. But she persevered through every challenge and when she died, it was in an independent Zambia, when the future couldn’t have looked more bright.
We return after last week’s update, where Meli has wound up in the care of missionaries in Kawimbe!
But at last we’re finally to Mrs. Purves. I like this woman a lot. The above photo was pulled from a 1902 article in The Chronicle written by a Mr. Nutter. One of those kids could very well be Meli, but Meli is never, as far as I can tell, mentioned by name in The Chronicle, even though other children are. From what I found, Mrs. Purves joined her husband in the Central Africa mission in 1894, where he had been serving for at least a year. Mr. Purves is described as maybe even a bit abrasive in his outgoingness, and served it seems as a general sorta engineer-type before eventually becoming ordained (if anyone is writing a paper or something off of this, please fact-check that first, I wasn’t too interested in Mr. Purves when I was doing research). Their home base seems to have been Niamkolo, and Mrs. Purves laid I think the first stone in Niamkolo Church. She accompanied her husband when he made an expedition to negotiate with Chief Ponde and try to open a mission there, and would eventually join him as they were the first to preach in Bembaland (again more fact-checking please). She seems adventurous and dedicated, and by the time Meli was in her care she had been in the area for five years, which made her one of the longest-serving missionaries in a place with an alarmingly high death toll for Europeans.
The next event is the one that really caused me a lot of head-scratching about what exactly the missionaries thought they were doing in Africa. Meli, safely ensconced at the mission, was walking about one day when her cousin spotted her. The cousin was pretty stunned, because the family had all thought Meli was dead from a slave raid now five years ago at this point. It was at this point Meli’s sister, “the mother of Mulenga Chisani,” is sent to verify the story, and as Meli tells it, “we sat looking at each other” for two days. With everyone satisfied that Meli is the long-lost Mwenya, Meli’s uncle (I think) sends Meli’s older brothers to retrieve Meli. It is at this point, that the missionaries don’t let Meli leave. They instead say “this person was brought to us. We therefore cannot let you take her. If you really recognize her as your family, go and tell Chief Changala himself to come and bring a cow with him to redeem her.”
The family is unable to muster a cow in payment, and when the Chief protests that other people get to retrieve their family members, the missionaries then reply “you may not take her now because she is very hardworking in the house and at school.” While doing this research, I mostly conceptualized the missionaries of the London Missionary Society as fellow development practitioners. There is a lot of overlap between what they were doing and what modern-day development specialists are trying to do, and however flattering or not you find that comparison I think I would agree with your assessment. Their main mission was of course to save souls and get converts, and at that they were pretty dismal. In a 1903 article in The Chronicle, the mission tallies their success at a whopping 22 converts. They fret about their convert-to-cost ratio, while simultaneously saying that is a terrible way to measure mission success. So I think partially because it is a good thing to do anyways, and also in reaction to their low convert numbers, the Central Africa mission really heavily touts their anti-slavery successes. But here is the head-scratcher: why would a mission that is so proud of their anti-slavery mission refuse to return a little girl to her family unless they were paid, especially since it seems the reason is that she was such a hard worker around the house?
I have a few theories. The one I have the most evidence for comes from an article Mrs. Purves herself penned for the May 1898 edition of The Chronicle, titled “Some of Africa’s Slave Children.” I know she was thinking about whether or not they were enslaving these children themselves, because she notes explicitly that “we did not look upon these children as slave[s because we paid] them cloth or something else equal to it as payment for their work.” But in this article, she relates the story of Maggie, who’s father had died and “according to native custom, her uncle claimed her as his child.” But then that uncle, according to Mrs. Purves, had tried to sell Maggie into slavery before being stopped by the colonial magistrate. This makes me think that the missionaries demanded a cow to ensure that the family wasn’t trying to claim Meli just to turn a quick profit by making it more expensive to get her back from the missionaries than what they could get by selling her back into slavery. I am in no position to judge how much of a worry that really should have been, but I could see the logic. Another theory I have is that they were just really worried about converts. Their first convert in the Central Africa mission was a man named Kalulu. Kalulu had only been baptized in 1891, and was himself a former slave that one of the missionaries had ransomed. Most of their other converts were people close to the mission, either in its employ or employee’s family members. I wonder if the missionaries weren’t just inclined to keep children like Meli close just to up the chances that they eventually converted, as she in fact did in 1910.
But with the ability to go home denied to her, Meli was still at the mission in 1900 when Mrs. Purves leaves with her husband, putting Meli in the care of Mama May. The Mays I dug up a bit more information than I did the Purveses. They were quite the couple, and I kinda really do admire Mrs. May. The above photo comes from The Chronicle (of course), and was published as they were about to set off for Central Africa. If it was a recent photo, John is 31 in that picture (a year younger than me), and had spent some time as a marine engineer working on “men-of-war and torpedo cruisers.” He decided to pursue missionary work, and graduated London University in 1894. There, I assume he must have met his classmate, Elizabeth Burton. I wonder how they thought about what they were getting themselves into. In March 1897, The Chronicle notes that “Mr. John May, B.A., was appointed to the Tanganyika Mission, Central Africa.” Two months later, on May 4th, John and Elizabeth were wed at the Ipswich Presbyterian Church, and two days after that John was ordained as Reverend May. One month after that, on June 8th, they were both outbound on the steamer Illovo, headed for Kawimbe. In the article that published the above photo, The Chronicle notes that “never before had so large a party set out for that distant mission field, a mission which had passed through such various changes and vicissitudes, and for which so many lives had been laid down.”
The Mays would have personal experience with that death toll. By the time Meli was in Mrs. May’s care in 1900, the Mays had already buried one child, a still-born son. By the end of that year, the Mays would be burying a second child, John May Jr, who died at six months old on December 17th, 1900. When I was doing this research I went back and looked through the photos I had taken of that graveyard we were shown in Kawimbe, and the only one I took a particularly good picture of was the above one, which I can now identify as that of John May Jr.
One major aspect I was unable to really come to a conclusion about when doing all this research as about how special Meli was. She was clearly a remarkable woman, as her later life showed, and by the time she was in the missionaries’ care she had been through a great deal of trauma. But she was far from a unique case; like I quoted before, Mrs. Purves detailed a number of enslaved children that had been freed by the missionaries, and Meli never made it into The Chronicle like those other children. Mrs. Purves also describes marrying some of these children off, to people who worked for the missions. Mama Meli is usually billed as something like “the only known freed slave buried in Zambia,” and that “only known” is doing a lot of work because clearly there are other former enslaved people who lived out their lives and died in Zambia. If Mama Meli’s story hadn’t been recorded by her grandchildren and been published in Marcia Wright’s book, I suspect she would be “just” another one of those children that Mrs. Purves posed with in the photo.
It’s because I’m not sure how special Meli was that I find the next episode of her life somewhat confusing. In 1901, Meli says, “Jones Changolo [also known as Silanda] sent word to Bwana Goven Robertson to say that he intended to become engaged to me and sent a nsalamu [token payment to indicate interest in marriage]” (there’s a whole side-drama with his family, who did not approve of Meli because she couldn’t cook nshima, and that could lead to a whole discussion about the sorta cultural upbringing Meli experienced, but alas I don’t know how to shoehorn it in here except for this parenthetical). Bwana Robertson is Rev. W. Govan Robertson, and given that there had been other marriages I am a bit confused about why, as Meli details, he apparently had to go ask the local Mambwe elders how the engagement customs go. But I guess the missionaries viewed Jones as a favorable choice, because he worked as a carpenter for the mission (at least they knew him well, and also he was a carpenter, I am assuming he did some work for the mission). Mrs. May and Rev. Robertson have a meeting with Jones and ask “if his intention to marry [Meli] was serious.” He apparently said “Yes” and went home, coming back the next day with ten sheep as an engagement gift. Meli was also at the meeting with May, Robertson, and Jones, and, as Meli recalls, “as I was dressing, Mama May came to see how I was doing and she gave me some oil to rub on my body.” Meli was probably about 11.
I’m torn here in how to tell the story. If I was writing a novel that was ungenerous to women and had never heard of feminism, the easy spin would be that a grief-stricken Mrs. May had more or less “adopted” Meli as a substitute for her own children (this ties into wondering how special Meli really was to the missionaries). Mrs. May would in fact (according to Meli) say that she wanted to marry off her “daughter” before she left. Mrs. May was not lacking for reason to grieve. It was in the months before Meli was engaged that Mrs. May had lost her second child. It was Mrs. May that called back Jones so they could hold the wedding, which happened in 1902. Mrs. May was leaving Africa because her husband had died on August 21st, 1901, leaving her six months pregnant. She wanted to stay in Africa, but as she would note later for The Chronicle, the conditions at the mission just didn’t support lone women. The story of a grief-stricken woman, however, doesn’t quite jibe with the other evidence in The Chronicle: “Many young missionaries in similar circumstances would have lost heart for the rest of their life-work were they to have suffered, as we know Mr. and Mrs. May did, in the loss first of house and home by fire, immediately after their arrival at their station, and later on in the loss of their two little ones. Not so they, however: it only seemed to make them brighter and more unselfish than ever.”
I have some significant updates to the story of Mama Meli! When I wrote about her and trying to find her grave, I was doing most of my research on my phone while living in a mud hut and also mostly just trying to find cool locations to add to Atlas Obscura, so please forgive my mistakes in that post. I’ve been digging back into the story for a final project (Hello Professor Lombard!; I assume you will find this), and whoo boy have I found out a whole lot more information.
When I first read about Mama Meli’s story, I was more than a little confused about the timeline. The story to me read like she had gotten captured, her captors quickly tried to hustle her to the border, and they got caught by one of the types of British colonialists in the area. I thought this happened when she was about 10 or 12, over the course of like a month. Then, I assumed, since her parents had been killed in the slave raid, she was sent off to live with the missionaries at Kawimbe Mission. I lobbied some criticism about the fact that when her relatives came to claim her, the missionaries demanded payment of a cow. And then I mostly busied myself with looking at old gravestones.
I have learned so much more! The first big change between then and now is I have access to a library with a copy of Strategies of Slaves & Women: Life-Stories from East/Central Africa by Marcia Wright. In the last blog post I name-checked Women in Peril; that is Marcia Wright’s first book on the subject, which is wholly included in Strategies, but Strategies includes much more information. The second big change is that the library also has access to The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society, which is an absolute treasure-trove of information on the Central Africa mission of the LMS (I link HathiTrust there, but they’re also on Google Books).
From Strategies, I learned I had very much misunderstood Meli’s story. Wright estimates that Meli was captured in probably 1894 or 1895 when she was about 5. Meli’s story is so very much wrapped up in the story of Kawimbe Mission, and so I find it fitting that Meli was likely born very close to the founding of the mission in 1890. Another intriguing bit was that Meli was probably something of a political prisoner. Meli was the youngest daughter of Mumembe, and was born with the name Mwenya (in her oral history, Meli/Mwenya refers to herself as Meli, so I am going to stick with that). Around the time when Meli was born there was Chief Ponde of the Bemba who was launching raids and attacks into Mambwe and Lungu territory. Meli’s older brothers were often called to fight in defense (I think) against these attacks. Chief Ponde was also having some marital troubles with at least one of his wives. This wife ran away at some point during the course of all this fighting, only to be knocked up by Meli’s oldest brother. This made Chief Ponde mad, and he swore that he would get retribution against this brother. Mumembe, fearing for his son’s life, hustled him way up north into Mambweland so Ponde couldn’t get to him.
A few years later, Chief Ponde was (still?) at war with the Mambwe chief Fwambo. Chief Ponde was set to launch an attack against Fwambo, and the brother decided to actually go fight for Ponde, figuring that if he did well in battle he would be forgiven. The fight was somewhat disastrous. Fwambo was well fortified, and apparently it was cold up on the plateau where Fwambo was, but since Fwambo’s men were used to the cold they routed Ponde when they launched a counter-attack while Ponde’s men were still warming themselves. I also found it pretty intriguing that the missionaries from Kawimbe mission sent armed men to help defend Fwambo as well. This was far from the missionaries’ only interaction with Ponde; they had a range of relationships with the Bemba Chief. The missionaries had been harassed by Ponde, received messengers and entered into negotiations to set up missions in Bemba territory, and Mr. A.D. Purves (watch for his wife later in this narrative) bought the only known contemporary war charm from the man.
Anyways, despite Meli’s brother distinguishing himself in battle, Ponde failed to forgive him, and I guess remembering about his wife having gotten knocked up, vowed to attack Mumembe’s village in retribution. It was in this attack that Meli was captured. It is also likely that Meli’s mother was killed in this attack. After being captured, she was taken (along with other captives) to Chief Ponde’s village, and then given to a family. For the next five years or so, she lived the life of a slave. It’s with this first family that Wright identifies Meli as something of a political prisoner here because when she accidentally burns down the hut of the family she was given to, the father is about to kill her when his wife reminds him that Meli is “the family of a Chief” (uncle maybe? I was a bit unclear).
Apparently her worth drops over time, because after a bit she is sold off to Chona Maluti, an Arab (Wright prefers the term “Swahili” for being more accurate) trader/slaver and elephant hunter. Chona would be killed when he was trampled by an elephant, and Meli would be taken to the encampment of other Swahili traders in the area. It was around this time that she heard that her father had died, and I think she wound up with these traders for about a year. Her nose was pierced “in the Muslim fashion,” and she was renamed Naumesyatu. She was sold to another Swahili trader, who fed her better, and then was sold off again to a set of traders who renamed her Mauwa.
As a bit of an aside, for all the different names that Meli gets, she’s actually a bit remarkable for having an independent identity. From my experience with Mambwe culture, I know that as soon as you have a kid, you are typically referred to as “Father of” or “Mother of” your first-born. So in her story, Meli refers to her older sister as “the mother of Mulenga Chisani.” Later on (I swear I am getting to them), Meli will mention she was in the care of Mama Purves and then Mama May. I found both these women in The Chronicle, but they are exclusively referred to as “Mrs. Purves” and “Mrs. May,” immediately becoming subsumed into their husband’s identity as soon as they are married. Interesting little cultural overlap there, if you ask me.
Anyways. These latest traders who had bought Meli were going to finally try to bring her to the coast, likely to be sold at Zanzibar. During the time Meli had been enslaved, however, the British had set up a boma at Fife (roundabouts modern-day Nakonde, though I’m actually unsure how much they overlap) and declared the slave trade outlawed. And now here is a whole thing I didn’t pick up the first time around. The traders have to get past the outpost at Fife. A man comes along and offers to help the traders out. Turns out, the traders had his kid, and I assume he wanted to use the British people at Fife to get his kid back. So the traders take him up on his offer to lead them past the outpost. Except then this guy just goes to the outpost, and tells them all about the traders, and together they lay a trap. He leads the traders right into an ambush, and during the pandemonium Meli runs into the woods with the other children. They come out later that night when they were hungry, and are picked up by some villagers who bring them to the outpost.
After I assume being fed and taken care of, the children who knew where they were from were sent back home. The rest of the children were eventually sent to Kawimbe Mission. This was about 1899, and the children wind up in the care of Mama Purves. Meli was initially actually identified as a boy and briefly named Jim, before she identified herself as a girl and was dubbed with her final name, Mary. “Mary” winds up getting pronounced as “Meli,” which is how it is written in her oral history, and therefore in every subsequent source, including this one.
Join us next week for the second part of the update! I wrote like 5,000 words about Meli and I am going to milk it!
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