Chapter 37

Unerring Missionary Zeal

 

Before going to Central Africa, many articles of clothing, bedding, equipment for the tropics, canned foods and medicines, had to be bought and packed in boxes and trunks for the voyage. It was all exciting. Many farewells had to be said, some for the last time, including to my darling mother, then the journey to London, after two days' sight-seeing, to Southampton and the steamer. Then a fine cabin, which I shared with The Rev Dr Robert Laws. He was the perfect companion. With him I was on a new adventure to a peaceful land, to a Missionary enterprise, to uplift backward people, to teach them crafts, to love them and to lead them forward to a better future and to make their land a haven of peace and prosperity.

In the cabin one day, Dr Laws said to me, 'Mr Caseby, bear in mind you will meet hazards in Central Africa: heat, fevers, insects, loneliness, frustration and hidden perils of the jungle!'

Photo of Rev Dr Robert Laws
The Very Reverend Dr. Robert Laws,
founder of Livingstonia

'Dr Laws,' I replied, 'I have spent the best part of four years in gun pits; waded in mud; frozen for days on end; fought in a score of bloody battles; many times, plagued with lice and rats; seen men blown to bits at my side; suffered wounds and gas; known hunger, thirst and fear. . . your hazards do not frighten me.

There was a long pause, the Doctor looked straight into my eyes - 'Brother in Christ, we understand each other.' From that moment there was a bond of goodwill and affection that never faltered.

I was not a good sailor. In my early days, the Tay and Forth Ferries and trips 'doon th' waater', to Rothesay, gave me headaches and upset tummy. During the First World War I made six channel crossings: each time I was seasick. The sixteen days on the SS Ghoorka were interesting, except for the first and last days, when I had to keep to my cabin bunk.

Cape Town was an intensely interesting place. When we arrived two delegations, one white people, the other Africans, called on Dr Laws. Later than day, I accompanied Dr Laws to a civic reception and at nine p.m. to a gathering of 500 Africans, black ministers, headmasters, businessmen, doctors and a lawyer. All praised Dr Laws for his missionary vision -all were his converts and responsible Christians. I was thrilled to be at Dr Laws' side - a raw recruit in evangelism and I noted all that was said by the Africans.

I had friends in Cape Town. I stayed one night with them and they had dinner with me one evening on the Ghoorka.

I was escorted by Major Welch (friend of Dr Law), to orchards, plantations, farms, hatcheries and a school. At each place I was introduced as 'One of Dr Laws' pupils for Livingstonia'. Africans came and welcomed me; most of them were born in Livingstonia. One day with my Chief, I visited a newspaper office and the printing works.

The liner moved up the coast. We halted at Mossel Bay and had a pleasurable steamer trip around Seal Island where we saw hundreds of seals of all sizes.

Port Elizabeth was an attractive place. We made short excursions inland to visit fruit orchards, a huge poultry farm and an African church, where hundreds danced and cheered and sang a hymn in praise for Dr Laws.

At East London, cargo was unloaded and new goods taken on board. A deputation, headed by Dr Shepherd of Lovedale Mission, came on to the Ghoorka and later, Dr Laws' party were entertained to lunch in an hotel. In the afternoon, a Conference was held in the hotel lounge. It was an eye-opener to me, to see white delegates coming in by the front entrance and the black Africans entering by a side door. I was taken by a white planter (car driven by an African) to a fine estate, in which there was a number of enclosures, with ostriches, guinea fowl, turkeys and geese.

A three day stop was made at Durban. It was a city of great charm and the people most friendly. I was told every second white person was of Scottish extraction. I attended an African Conference - a most enjoyable event. As I had relatives at Berea and Claremont, I called on them and had a happy six hours going over loved ones at home and Scottish affairs. The Department of Agriculture (at the request of Dr Laws) took me on a whistlestop tour of smallholdings, farms, ostrich ranches, experimental areas, two African villages and a school. At a village I was welcomed by a very black African by the name of Robert Burns. He bubbled over with merriment and laughter.

A hurried visit was made to Petermaritzburg. The place was so different from other places I had visited - Africans were well separated from whites and the coloured quarters squalid. The. reservation areas, for so-called natives, shocked me.

Laurenco Marques did not appeal to me. Portuguese soldiers were posted at points around the harbour. The dock workers were Africans, the snake charmers Indian. A deputation of three civic heads came on board and spent half an hour with Dr Laws. Gifts were exchanged: a cheque for, Livingstonia from the visitors, while Dr Laws handed over a bulky parcel - books, perhaps Bibles!

We all disembarked at Beira. Portuguese officials hurried up; the gangway of the Ghoorka to the reception room to welcome Dr Laws. Their welcome was sincere.

With a twinkle in his eye, the aged Missionary said, 'I knew your parents. I knew you as boys; now I am proud you have not forgotten me.

One of the officials was detailed to look after my interests and 'enhance my knowledge'. The Savoy Hotel was our abode. After a second reception and meal my guide took me to the beautiful Botanic Gardens, then a hurried tour to cotton plantations, orchards, tobacco fields, maize, groundnut and pineapple areas.

The following forenoon, I was impressed with a hand weaving factory, tobacco curing plant and a fowl hatchery. By the time my Beira visit was over I had a good idea of crops, methods of cultivation, propagation of citrus and other tropical fruits and the way to raise tea, coffee, cocoa, forestry trees and many other warm country plants and flowers when I reached Livingstonia.

I had heard from Missionaries on furlough about the engines fuelled by timber that pulled trains from Beira to Port Herald. Now I knew - the stop-go, stop-go, excuses for damp timber. It was a slow journey. In uphill places, passengers were only too pleased to get out and walk as the engine puff-puffed up inclines.

The railway track was a fine piece of engineering, made in the low paid, pick and shovel days. At intervals, a white cross was noted, or a group of railed-in graves - the silent story of sacrifice in making the rail road.

The voyage on the Ghoorka was pleasant and clean, with sea breezes and calm: on the train-dust, dirt, heat, flies and thirst.

It was a relief to reach the Zambezi River, to get out of the train and into the river steamer. How lovely to sit down in an air-conditioned saloon at a well appointed table; so different from makeshift meals in a swaying train. Being tired, we slept well in bunks and for the first time under a mosquito net.

The steamer crossed the river by night and in the morning all had to go through Customs and then into a train, moving at a steady pace, to Blantyre. There were stops and at each place cheering Africans and officials, genuine in their welcome to Dr Laws. What a difference from Dr Laws' first entry into the country in 1875- dense jungle for hundreds of miles, a handful of adventurers, European and Indians - a vast land of darkness, poverty, tribal strife, slavery, witchcraft, disease and evil in its darkest form. It is left to African historians to write the mighty achievements of unafraid Dr Laws.

At the railway station (and surrounds of Blantyre Station), there were masses of cheering people. One man and one man only, was the centre of adulation - the indomitable Dr Robert Laws. Government officials, African chiefs, council authorities, representatives from every church and denomination, leaders in commerce and industry were present to welcome Dr Laws.

To a young, inexperienced missionary like myself I marvelled and was very proud of the wonderful reception accorded to the man who had been my hero for thirteen years. The aged missionary was deeply moved. He thanked all for their kindness, ending with, 'May God Bless and preserve you all.'

My few days in Blantyre proved very busy. Alexander Burnett, horticulturist to Blantyre Mission, had arranged many tours to estates and plantations within forty miles of the city - cotton ginning and tea blending plants; coffee processing and maize storage; flour mills and afforestation; seed nurseries and machinery workshops; food stores and co-operative establishments; schools, hospitals and churches. I made many friends, both Africans and Europeans.

Four hundred miles ahead lay Livingstonia. In trucks, sidecars, cars and a mini bus, missionaries, planters and traders set off for Fort Johnstone. The going was rough: bad roads, twisting and winding, bumpy bridges, dust and humid heat. At Zomba, a short halt, while the Governor and members of the Legislature, read welcomes to Dr Laws, then off again to the lake steamer. We boarded the SS Domira to the cheering of thousands of Africans.

We were on our last lap. The ship was clean, cabins small, dining room cramped - the atmosphere one of friendship. We (the recruits) saw our first crocodiles, hippos, storks, herons, pelicans and many other birds. A stop was made at Cape Maclear, the spot Dr Livingstone had reached. With Dr Laws, I stood on the hallowed spot. I also saw the ruins of the first Mission, in 1875. We made a brief halt at Likoma, centre of the Church of England Universities Mission. An impressive place.

Kila Kota was another active Mission of the Church of England - again I was fortunate to visit many active establishments. At Nkala Bay, we were among our own Missionaries and a sphere of church evangelism. The welcome to Dr Laws was one of love and affection - large gatherings, singing hymns of praise.

The last stop was Florence Bay. It was exactly as I had pictured it for years. Thousands of people were on the shore -cheering, singing, dancing - a marvellous tribute to a great man. All the way up the 3,000 feet hillside, eleven miles to the Livingstonia Plateau, masses of happy, delightful Africans.

Scotland to Livingstonia, Central Africa - my vision of hope for thirteen years - an accomplished fact. This was my home.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.