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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter XVI - "The Eleanor"

“I looked, and thought the quiet of the scene
An emblem of the PEACE that yet shall be,
When o’er earth’s continents, and isles between,
The noise of war shall cease from sea to sea,
And married nations dwell in harmony;
When millions, crouching in the dust to one,
No more shall beg their lives on bended knee,
Nor the black stake be dressed, nor in the sun
The o’er-laboured captive toil, and wish his life were done.”


THE Roman Catholic missionaries withdrew altogether from Uganda in the end of 1882, as they considered the field hopeless. The reason they gave the king was that of ill health! but they told Mackay, that “it would not do to state to the king the real reason”! Most probably they were disappointed at not being able to baptise the population en masse. Mackay says: “Were it their purpose to put the Scriptures into the hands of their pupils, they would not call instruction entirely lost when these are sent off to different parts of the country, or to war, as then they would carry a lamp with them. But their system is to teach only a catechism of their own peculiar dogmas, and to make their pupils repeat the Pater Noster and Ave Maria, with invocations to saints. They have purchased since coming here about fifty little boys, whom they have been training carefully. As they will take them with them, they perhaps consider that their duty to the country is discharged when these lads return as Apostles.

“The time must indeed come round when this or that member of our mission must return to Europe for the sake of his health, or because he is discouraged; but may the time never come when the Protestant mission here will be given up. If we can only swim with the tide, and leave off when things prove adverse, we should be no men at all. Converts we are bound to have, even in the most apparently hopeless times. Our orders are to go into all the world, there being no limitations as to the likely places merely, or those where success is most rapid. Now, at any rate, we will have a fair field and no favour. This has its disadvantages too, but I need not refer to them. I only hope that our hands will soon be strengthened, and the work of our mission carried on with redoubled vigour in all its branches. Our secret of power is God's own Spirit.”

Early in the year 1883 a letter arrived at the mission station from Urima, on Smith’s Sound (south end of the lake), saying, “We have arrived;” leaving Mackay to guess who the we were. In the end of January he heard that their goods had been forwarded by an Arab dhow, and were lying at the port (Ntebe). Some jottings from his log are now interesting:-

Jan. 24th. - Got a young chief from the king to get porters to fetch our loads. Set off at cockcrow with the donkey and four men for Ntebe, to take charge of our loads. Wishing to shake off the fever, I marched much of the way on foot...... Found the boxes considerably damaged by wet, but it was too late in the day to do much in the way of opening and drying the bales. Our Arab - Said bin Hamed - is a young man, with a careworn face. He gave me rice and gravy, and cleared out half a tent for myself and men to sleep in. The chief of Ntebe, who is a friend of ours, sent me a sheep and several loads of plantains, besides beer and sugar-cane. I wish I had accepted his offer of a native hut in the adjoining village, for about midnight there came on a terrific thunderstorm and rain, which lasted for hours. I was lying on the donkey saddles, on the ground, in the thin calico tent, and the place being the open beach there was no shelter whatever. In a few minutes my blankets were dripping and the floor flooded. So I got on the top of a bale and sat there, half asleep till morning..…..Next night I got a hut, but sleep was impossible, for fleas and mosquitos, as the hut was half a cow-byre, half a - well, not a human habitation at any rate. The following morning I examined the bales and spread out the calico to dry .... Every tin of petroleum had leaked terribly. All seemed to have exploded by the terrible sun of Unyamwezi. This is a great loss to us, as night-light is hard to procure here.”

Jan. 27th. - I got porters collected, but just as they were about to start rain came on, and they all fled.”

Jan. 29th. - Reached Kijikibezi (nine miles from the mission station), and put up in an open shed with all the goods. For security against theft I arranged bales and boxes so that my servants and I could sleep on the top of them; but I scarcely shut an eye for the cold, as there had been rain again, and the wind blew chill through the shed, which is all the hotel that exists in this part of the country. I had many long conversations with the natives at each halting-place on social and religious subjects. The plague has been playing terrible havoc among the poor people, and I advised them to clean their huts and thus save their lives. All their charms I showed them were of no use, for there is but one God, who was punishing them for worshipping the devil. In every place they crowded round to listen and hear the wisdom of the white foreigner, who was so different from the Arabs.”

“I had been more than a week away, and was glad to get home. I found Mr. O'Flaherty ill. He seems not to be able to sleep, from anxiety and worry, when alone. I had intended starting at once with a few canoes to fetch our new brethren, but I see now that if I leave O'Flaherty by himself for any length of time, I might see him no more for ever. So the canoes must go with some of our servants.”

“Much work has now to be done in drying our goods. Our sun helmets are perfectly rotten, as also many articles of clothing to which we had been eagerly looking forward, as we were sorely in want of protection from the strong sun of Uganda. More than a dozen bottles of medicine broken and the contents lost. Still, all in all, we are very fortunate, considering the many risks and the long, long journey. We feel deeply thankful to our Heavenly Father for all His gracious provision for our wants.”

Feb. 26th. - Many visitors to-day. One man had been a sorcerer. His master is a sub-chief, who recently took eagerly to learning, and to teaching his women also, but he had suddenly to leave for a distant place, by the king’s orders. To-day he sent us the present of a fat bullock by the hands of the old sorcerer. The latter had laid aside his charms on hearing O'Flaherty teach his master some things about the true God. There was present also an old man, a “medicine man” (i.e., half doctor, half wizard), who said he had heard the fame of our house down at the lake, and came himself to see. The man who brought the bullock wanted medicine for a disease hard to cure. The old “medicine man” volunteered to give him some, but the other refused, saying he did not want lubare's (i.e., devil’s) medicine, but the Muzungu’s, as the Muzungu (white foreigner) is a man of God.”

“The old ‘medicine man’ had a string of charms, which I began to show him the uselessness of. ‘Oh, but they do cure!’ said he. ‘When you are hungry,’ I asked, ‘will they cure your hunger? or when you are thirsty, will you quench thirst by putting them on your head?’ The former sorcerer added, ‘I had once a lot of charms like that, but I threw my idols into the swamp, for I know now that there is but one God, Katonda, whom the Bazungu know.’ The ‘medicine man’ seemed to have his faith shaken in his string of charms, and said that he would come another day to see us, and bring his friends at the lake too, to see the wonderful house. I hope he will come back, and that God may open his eyes to enable him not only to throw his idols into the swamp, as the other did, but to see in Jesus Christ the God of Truth and of Love also.”

In the month of May, the Rev. R. P. Ashe arrived in Uganda, and Mackay soon recognised in him the same warmth of heart to the Lord Jesus, and the same burning zeal for missions, which had characterised his attached friend Dr. John Smith, who had fallen asleep on the southern shore of the beautiful Nyanza just six years previously. Perhaps no two men were so differently constituted in mind and temperament as Mackay and Ashe, and yet they laboured together harmoniously; each rejoiced in the honour God bestowed on the other, each acted conscientiously for the welfare of the mission, and the spirit of envy never separated their hearts. Consequently the Lord greatly blessed their united labours.

In writing to his friends, Mackay more than once expressed his regret that in the C. M. S. publications and elsewhere, words of commendation had been used regarding him alone, in connection with the terrible difficulties that followed closely on each other after the martyrdom of Bishop Hannington. He says: “An undue amount of credit has been given me. It is far from my desire that this should be so. Ashe and I bore our trials together, and praise or blame must rest equally on both.”

For some time previous to Mr. Ashe’s arrival, Mackay had had repeated severe attacks of malarial fever, from which for two years he had been exempt. His friends urged him to return to England, but he replied: “I do not feel that my work here is yet finished, but it cannot be long before I must leave, for health cannot endure very long in this region. Seven years have told sadly on me. Five is the nominal for India, even with a yearly change to the hills of the Deccan, or Himalaya. In India there is every comfort to be had, while here there is comparatively little as yet, and our work as pioneers has been unprecedentedly heavy. I know mine has peen so, and it has told on me. Dr. Smith reckoned that the first single year of the life we had to lead in East Africa should count for three years of residence. I had nearly three of such years; still I should be sorry to leave this place yet. If I am spared by the goodness of God to continue my work with a fair measure of health, I hope to think of turning my steps homeward in a year’s time now. But were my health better, I mean were it possible at all to remain longer, I would infinitely prefer it, to think of going home for many a year to come. A fellow with a long beard, a face brown like an Arab, a careworn look, and head turned grey, is all you must look for when you overhaul a Southampton boat for me.”

In the month of June Mackay left his two clerical brethren in Uganda, and proceeded to the south of the lake to build the Eleanor, which had been taken out in planks by the last party of missionaries who had gone up country.

Coasting along the Nyanza, in a frail canoe, he reached a sheltered haven in one of the Sesse Islands, where he found a large boat, packed full of slaves in stocks, and much ivory. The poor victims, having endeavoured in the darkness of the night to break loose, were re-secured by their owners, which caused much bitter wailing. Mackay's heart burned within him, but he could only pray, in the words of Pierpont –

“With Thy pure dews and rains,
Wash out, O God, the stains
From Afric’s shore;
And, while her palm-trees bud,
Let not her children’s blood
With the Nyanza’s flood
Be mingled more.”

“Wilt Thou not, Lord, at last,
From Thine own image cast
Away all cords
But that of love, which brings
Man, from his wanderings,
Back to the King of kings,
The Lord of lords!”

It was a tedious voyage: great squalls arose very frequently, so that they could not land for food, and for a whole week they had nothing at all to eat, at the end of which time a little milk and matama gruel was very welcome. Mackay also suffered much from fever, but at last they reached Kagei, where they found the whole village in mourning, as a young man had died. The natives killed a bullock, dug a grave in the court at night, and set the corpse in a sitting posture in the centre of the hole. They then covered him over with the fresh hide of the bullock and filled in the grave with earth, placing a stone directly on the head, which was half out of the grave!

On arrival, Mackay was met by the Rev. E. C. Gordon, from England. First of all, a site had to be found in which they could build the Eleanor, which had been left lying at Msalala, and in quest of this they walked many miles. But the pangs of hunger suggested some refreshment, so they kindled a fire in an old boma, by the edge of the creek, and made some matama porridge, which they had to eat with their fingers - a newspaper serving duty as plate! The creek, for some thirty miles, they discovered to be not only fringed, but densely matted with speargrass and papyrus, rendering the passage of a boat impossible. At length they came to a suitable opening in the reeds, probably made by hippopotami, at Urima, on the east side of Smith’s Sound; but the question remained, would the chief allow them to settle long enough in his dominions to build a boat? While they sent to see, they encamped for the night. The neighbourhood was full of tsetse jungle, and the papyrus harboured myriads upon myriads of mosquitoes. Hyenas growled about, and towards morning a lion roared for hours, so that they could not get any sleep. Leaving Mackay to settle with the chief, Gordon returned to Kagei to fetch Wise (an artisan, who had accompanied him from England), and tools and other necessaries.

The King of Urima had never come in contact with foreigners, as his country lay far from any caravan route; accordingly he sent his compliments to Mackay, “but he cannot allow him to settle in his country though he would like to remain friends with him. Mackay may carry his boat to the port, and build it there, but a present will be required for this concession. The king is afraid of the Muzungu [white man], afraid to see him, and afraid of his staying in the village [ten miles off]; he must go farther away.”

 Accordingly MacKay went and put up in a village near a high hill to the south-west, where the natives were pleasant and gathered in incessant streams to view and interview the strange Muzungu. Another chief in the neighbourhood, Makolo, wished to make blood brotherhood with Mackay, which was performed in a different way from that of the island of Ukerewe. The ceremony took place in the chief’s hut, in presence of the head men. A cut was made in the right knee of each, then a drop of blood from Mackay’s knee was put on a leaf, mixed with a little fat, and the same done to Makolo. Then each rubbed his blood into the knee of the other. Yelling and firing of guns followed, and the ceremony ended by each declaring friendship with the other till death, calling God and all present to witness. Road to the port was Mackay’s gain, and presents.of cloth Makolo’s.

It not being etiquette to leave at once after the ceremony, Mackay remained till next afternoon, when the old chief gave him a sheep as a parting gift, and he returned to the port. Finding the mosquitoes almost unbearable, he pitched his tent far up the hill, hoping thereby to get rid of them, but after sundown the buzzing of millions commenced in the swamp below. They rose and filled the tent, and even smoke had no effect in frightening them away. After dawn they disappeared outside, but his tent and clothes still swarmed with them, while his helmet was like a beehive.

 On the 22nd of September Mackay and Wise (who was by trade a tinsmith, but in every way a handy man) commenced to put the boat together. The awning, which Mr. Ashe had placed over it on his way to Uganda, had been stolen; consequently the panels and planks were seriously damaged, and the keel twisted and bent by the hot sun. The task altogether proved to be a most arduous one; neither bolts nor straps had been supplied, not a nail nor a screw to be seen; but, what was worse than all, there was no timber in the whole neighbourhood which they could use as a substitute for the broken and missing planks.

“Nothing but drought and dearth, but bush and brake,
Which way soe'er I look, I see.”

But Mackay was never wanting in resource: he made an anvil by sticking a hammer in the ground, and forged the bolts and straps for the keel joints. A log was procured from a distance, which they  got sawn into boards; a quantity of ground nuts were bought, from which Mr. Gordon manufactured oil for paint;

“And around the bows and along the side
The heavy hammers and mallets plied,”

and by degrees the little vessel looked more "ship-shape,” although many weeks’ very hard labour had to be spent before she could be rendered seaworthy or comfortable.

The very day they began to build, the King of Urima sent a message to say, “You must finish your boat and be gone within a month, otherwise you must leave it, and come back next year to finish it, as the rains are near, and your presence in the country may prevent favourable weather for hoeing and reaping the crops!” In vain the white men pleaded to be allowed two months instead of one; all their efforts were futile in endeavouring to get the king’s courier to understand that God alone gives or withholds rain, and that white men have no power over it.

One day a huge fat hippopotamus was spied by the natives, and hauled ashore amid great rejoicing. They killed the animal by fixing an iron barb into a paddle handle, which they drove into the hippopotamus, and then withdrew the paddle. The poor animal only drove the iron deeper into his flesh in his efforts to rub away the irritation. The missionaries got a piece of the flesh roasted for dinner, which made a little variety from the everlasting plantains.

A few jottings from Mackay’s log-book are now interesting;-

Oct. 29th, I883. - Gordon started early to meet caravan. Wise followed in evening with all his tools, etc. I do hope that now they will be able to take possession of Msalala in Christ’s name.

“I am once more alone, with all the work of boat to do, and every twisted plank calling out,

“‘Build me straight, O worthy master,’”

“Nov. 11th. - A week of very hard work, patching broken frames and broken planks. Have had to use up my deal boxes for timber.”

“All last week great ado in village. Wizards holding orgies. Much beer-drinking and drum-beating. Children all baptised with ashes and kegs of beer, and initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom of the devil. Such rites are supposed to abolish death and disease!

“Nov. I2th. - Notwithstanding all orgies, the mother of the chief died this morning.”

“Rain has fallen almost every day. Thus diviners are silenced at my stopping rain until my work is done. Tried to explain to the natives that these priests are liars, and that God alone holds the reins of death and rain. These Urima people, degraded though they are, flock about me and watch my operations. Not a few of them listen attentively to New Testament stories I tell them, while I am at work, and to-day I was gratified when one old man came back, saying;-

‘”This snake-skin, that once I so sacredly wore,
I will toss with disdain to the storm-beaten shore:
Its charms I no longer obey or invoke;
Its spirit hath left me, its spell is now broke.’”

“In the evening much drunkenness in village, and much singing. A party arrived here singing in wonderful chorus, led by a poor leper, without fingers or toes.”

“Sembera, my Baganda lad, is busy learning to write. On Sundays I always give him a long New Testament lesson, and on all other days, when rain keeps me in camp, an hour or two.”

“Every evening, after work, I am too fatigued to teach, my right arm aching, and my knees quite stiff with creeping and crawling and cramping at this boat. The mosquitoes too are a terrible trial, but I thank my Heavenly Father for freedom from fevers and accidents all this time.”

Dec. 3rd. - Launched the Eleanor; and christened her in addition – ‘The Mirembe’ (PEACE).”

Much had still to be done ere he could venture out on the stormy lake, in what was after all but a poor, comfortless thing compared with a Scotch herring boat, being perfectly open, and having neither cabin nor deck, nor any protection for the crew from the pitiless rains. But on the 20th December he anchored in Murchison Bay. He says: “All night long the natives beat drums and yelled, and lit great bonfires all along the shore. Got very broken sleep, while I was much in need of rest, having got little sleep for many nights, my crew being entirely ignorant of the use of sails.”

“I thank God, however, who has prospered so far my mission to the other side of the lake, and I look for His heavenly guidance and blessing on the labours of the days to come.”

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