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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter XX - The Night is Gone

“So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel-faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.”


IT must be distinctly understood that Mackay did not leave Uganda out of fear. He would have greatly preferred to remain, but he believed it was for the good of the mission that he should retire for a time, and the king and katikiro ultimately agreed to this. But when his eyes were opened to the fact that the Roman Catholics were looking eagerly forward to having the fort to themselves as soon as he had quitted it, he resolved that he would not go until a messenger was sent with him to take back one of his brethren. He felt quite certain that, notwithstanding all that had happened, there was not one among them but would be quite ready to occupy the post. Had Mackay believed that any evil would befall any of his brethren he would not have advised them to go on to Uganda, but he rightly felt that the hostility of the Arabs was due to his influence with the authorities, and that, as soon as he left, that would cool down.

The Christians were in great alarm, lest another general massacre should take place immediately on his departure, but he comforted them with the promise that another missionary would speedily come to help them; and that he had no intention of returning to Europe, but would remain somewhere on the south coast of the lake, where he would watch over their interests to the best of his ability, and be ready to return should God open the way.

Many sad good-byes to this and that dark friend, and he was once more on board the Eleanor.

“All had been dimly star-lit; but the moon
Late rising, silvered o’er the tossing sea,
And lighted up its foam-wreaths, and just threw
One parting glance upon the distant shores.
They meet his eye; the sinking rocks were bright,
And a clear line of silver marked the hills,
Where he had said farewell. A sudden tear
Gushed, and his heart was melted; but he soon
Repressed the weakness, and he calmly watched
The fading vision.”

Mackay reached the south shore of the lake on August 1st, 1887; and, as he expected, a few days afterwards the Rev. E. C. Gordon nobly went to hold the fort in Uganda.

After various futile endeavours to form a station at Msalala, he pitched his tent at Usambiro. He writes “You ask me where Usambiro is - I may define it as the whole region immediately north of the wide country called Msalala. This station is six miles north of the old Msalala station, and only about three miles from the extreme south end of Smith Sound.”

“On the maps you will see a place marked Makolo, which is our position. From our front verandah we have a view of the extreme end of the creek, which, being closed in by hills, looks like an independent lake. Although the water is only about three miles off, it is quite inaccessible on this side, on account of a broad belt of papyrus and bamboo. Hence we have to walk about six miles before getting to our port. This papyrus fringe breeds myriads of mosquitoes, which infest the country for many miles. These pests are most numerous in the rainy season, and were it not for the fact that they come out only at night, existence would be nearly impossible. But I am at home anywhere on the shore of my beloved Nyanza, despite the strange mystery which still hangs round its coast - east and west. All along the shore of the lake, every half mile or so, are studded tiny hamlets, consisting of about a score of round huts in a paling of coarse logs, and of course a cattle kraal in the centre. These many villages, besides their geographical interest, offer a peculiar interest to the missionary, as being so many fields - I shall not say ripe for harvest, rather acres - where ploughing and sowing must be done, and a patient waiting for the reaping diligently practised. Unfortunately, every day’s march generally finds one in another tribe, with another language new to the preacher, and therefore presenting obstacles to its ready acquisition.”

He had brought with him his engines and machinery, together with the printing press, heavy boxes of type, ink and paper. At a new station, building and other work had to be carried on vigorously, as he was daily expecting Bishop Parker, the second bishop of East Equatorial Africa; Mr. Ashe, back from England, and some others, and there was no accommodation for them. The work of printing and translation also went on apace, and he was able to send on many books and portions of Scripture to Uganda.

Before Christmas the new reinforcements had arrived, and as there were now six missionaries at the little station, they held a many days’ conference.

Mackay had been so long in the midst of barbarism and degradation and persecution, with no educated brother to exchange sentiments with, that to enjoy the society of the Bishop he had so long pleaded for, and of four other Englishmen, among whom was his dear old friend Ashe, was indeed a rare treat. He says: “Coals of fire, however hot at first, if scattered by ones or twos, here and there through the room, are likely soon to die out; but if gathered together in one grate, speedily burst into flame and contribute more warmth, even in the remotest corners, than when lying about singly in all directions. So it is here. So down-sunk are the people of East Africa in the scale of religious and intellectual existence, [Mackay was referring here to the tribes at the south of the lake, and not to the Baganda, who are vastly superior to the surrounding nations, and thousands of whom have been brought to Christ. ] and so little encouragement does the missionary find in endeavouring to elevate them by the power of the glad tidings of grace, that one or two most earnest men, stationed in isolated positions, are apt to find their ardour cooled and their courage gone. But three or four men in one spot, living together, working together, encouraging one another, loving one another, form in themselves an element of strength which, by the blessing of God, soon makes itself felt in all the country round.”

About this time he wrote to his old friend Dr. Baur, asking him to enter into communication with the Moravian brethren, with a view to their sending missionaries to Central Africa, and to let Bishop Parker know the success of the negotiations. This was done, first because the Bishop found that East Equatorial Africa alone could easily absorb a hundred new men every year, for always half of them would be either sick, or otherwise hors de combat; and secondly, because schism and self-content so occupy the minds of Christians in England and Scotland, that really only a very small fraction of them have ever come to realise that the extension of Christ’s kingdom is their DUTY AND PRIVILEGE; and consequently the Church Missionary Society never succeeded in supplying even the vacancies at the existing stations.

The Moravians entered heartily into the undertaking; but, alas! the letters to Bishop Parker were returned, as he had already “gone home”; and Dr. Baur says: “When the Moravians again inquired of me if it would be advisable to commence a correspondence with Mackay on the matter, the sad news arrived that he also had entered into rest.”

The station at Usambiro was very unhealthy, and several of the party suffered much from fever. Soon it became a diminished band, for within a fortnight the Bishop and Mr. Blackburn were called to higher service. There was no time to make coffins, as the natives objected to burial, so graves were hastily made, and the blessed dead were reverently wrapped in some beautiful bark cloth of Uganda manufacture. Necessity knows no law, and in order that the Christian porters, who had accompanied the Bishop from Freretown, might understand, Mackay, who alone of the mission band could speak their language, read the burial service, on both occasions, by the wish of his clerical brethren.

One day, Mackay received a letter from the King of Uganda, requesting him to “send on, at once, the new Muzungu who had accompanied Mr. Ashe from England.” The gentleman in question was the Rev. R. H. Walker. The first day that the Eleanor was in port Mr. Walker bravely set out, and on arrival was received by Mwanga with great pomp the petty tyrant believing he would thus inspire his guest with fear of the gigantic power of Uganda.

Mr. Ashe also was compelled to leave and to return to England, on account of his health, and once more Mackay was alone; but he did not feel lonely, for he had more than enough to do, and hosts of natives were always crowding about him.

While in Uganda the missionaries were always more or less in fear of the authorities, but at the south end of the lake the great trial was inter-tribal wars. About this time there was a war scare at Usambiro, and Mackay had an anxious time, as the fighting lasted three days, and he had to arm himself and his men and prepare for being attacked, although he would willingly have paid an indemnity, if at all possible, to avert bloodshed. Happily the enemy, after a great blazing of gunpowder, were defeated by the chief of the place, and left. All Stanley's bales and boxes, which had been sent up country to Mackay’s care, he had to secrete; while the multitudes of bundles of beads, belonging to the Emin Relief Expedition, he stored high up among some rocks. The foe actually burnt the villages, and several were killed on both sides. Had the chief been defeated, who knows what would have become of the mission station?

Meantime, strange events had happened in Uganda. Mwanga's robberies had raised general discontent, and matters came to a climax when his wicked plot was; discovered, of trying to ship all his body-guard to a desert island in the Nyanza, and leave them there to die of starvation.

A new king was elected, and Mwanga fled to the lake, and all his women, of course, after him. Arriving there he found only five canoes, so that most of his harem had to be left behind. Soon, however, four canoes deserted, and there was only one left. Mwanga, with his thirty boys and six women, held on until they reached the Arab settlement of Magu, all the south coast of Speke Gulf. Thence he sent a letter to Mackay, imploring him “to come and take him away from the Arabs, who were fleecing him.” Mackay felt very sorry for him, notwithstanding all his murders and persecutions, and sent him, on three occasions, cloth to buy food, and to wear. Mwanga begged Mackay to “forget bygone matters, and to restore him to his kingdom, and he would never be bad again!” Again he sent urging Mackay to “take him to Europe, or anywhere he liked, or kill him if he chose.” However, ultimately he managed to escape from Magu to the station of the French priests, who baptised him; and by-and-by, after many humiliations, he was, “with loud and real rejoicing, carried shoulder-high from the lake to his former capital, and made kabaka once more; only he was no longer the despotic master and murderer of the Christians, but a helpless instrument in their hands, or they occupied all the posts of authority.”  

But how had the noble missionaries Gordon and Walker been faring in Uganda? Mackay was most anxious about them, as he heard there had been another revolution, caused by the Mohammedans (who were determined to have no Christianity in the country), and was just starting to the French mission station for news of them, when he sighted the Eleanor; and, sure enough, his dear brethren were on board, but in strange plight, for, as Mr. Walker expressed it, “they had just been taken by the scruff of the neck and bundled out, but without their bundles!”

They had been imprisoned for a week in a wretched hut, where they had, almost no food, and only a blanket each, and had to lie amid filth and vermin, while more than once they had reason to believe that they were about to be murdered. Writing to Mr. Ashe, Mackay says: “You know how we were often in the same state, and how it makes the hair turn grey.”

Both missions (French and English) were sacked and plundered of everything by the authorities and the mob. Every book was torn from its back, every bottle emptied of medicine, everything else taken, struggled for, and destroyed, the doors wrenched off their hinges, and the C.M.S. house left a fearful wreck. Ultimately, they were all (French and English missionaries) pushed on board the Eleanor, with no food, and almost no clothing, and no bedding or tents, or any protection from sun or rain. The evening they set out they were shipwrecked, and five boys drowned, but after much difficulty the boat was recovered and patched by Mr. Walker, and the voyage continued. The C.M.S. brethren had absolutely nothing with which to buy food on the way; but the Frenchmen, finding themselves, in more senses than one, “in the same boat,” showed them the greatest kindness and shared everything with them.

Mr. Walker had been stripped of his coat, trousers, and hat, before embarking, but he contrived to save a blanket. Such is the fanaticism of Islam, that the only two books he had saved, his Testament and Prayer-Book, were snatched from him and thrown into the lake.

After a little while, a great many Christians, who had escaped from Uganda at the time of the revolution, found their way to the mission station at Usambiro. The Baganda are naturally lazy, but Mackay made them work for their food and clothes. He ever strove to instil into their minds, by his own example, the importance and dignity of labour, and that idleness is quite inconsistent with the Christian life.

They were very eager to acquire mental knowledge, while some of them were capital readers and of great assistance in translation work. Mackay was also teaching two of them to help in the printing office, as he found there was no want of intelligence to enable them to become rapid compositors in time.

While Mr. Gordon was with him, he was relieved of much teaching, and spent a good deal of time in the workshop. The Eleanor was becoming almost unseaworthy, and it was absolutely necessary to get another boat; but first a month had to be spent in the dripping forest (among long grass, taller than himself), felling and dressing trees for sawing, etc. On returning to the station, he found that a leopard had visited the goats' house every night for his supper, until thirty goats and calves had disappeared. So he made a strong stockade all round the mission premises, and built a huge trap by which he captured the animal.

But a day came when a reaction took place in Uganda; and at the urgent request of Mackay, Messrs. Gordon and Walker immediately started in canoes for the country whence they had been so summarily ejected a few months previously. Writing to Ashe, he says: “I have great hopes of them. They are good men and true, and we may be proud of them as our successors.”

But what could have happened? A few hours after they left, Mackay despatched two men after them to fetch them back with all speed, but they failed to catch them up.

Something unusual must have taken place, for by dawn next morning all were early astir at the station, and great preparations were being made. A fat goat was killed and fresh bread baked, and every now and again some one was sent to a point of vision to look. At last Mackay went himself, and behold, in the distance a great caravan! On went a white linen suit and white felt hat, and off he set to welcome the Emin Relief Expedition, including Mr. Stanley, Emin Pasha and daughter, Signor Casati, Signor Marco (a Greek), Signor Vita Hassan (from Tunis), Lieut. Stairs, Captain Nelson, Dr. Parke, Mr. Jephson, and Mr. W. Bonny; together with four hundred Soudanese, three hundred and fifty Zanzibaris, and a hundred Manyuema, who were, however, no longer cannibals.

Writing to Sir Francis De Winton, Mr. Stanley says:-


August 31st, 1889.

“My DEAR DE WNINTON,--We arrived here on the 28th inst., and found the modern Livingstone, Mr. A. M. Mackay, safely and comfortably established at this mission station. I had always admired Mackay. He had never joined in the missionaries' attacks on me, and every fact I had heard about him indicated that I should find him an able and reliable man. When I saw him and some of his work, about here, then I recognised the man I had pleaded, in the name of Mtesa, should be sent to him in 1875, the very type of man I had described as necessary to confirm Mtesa in his growing love for the white man’s creed.”  

Dr. Baur, referring to the testimony of some other members of the Expedition, says: “I remember also with great pleasure hearing Casati say: ‘When I shook hands with Mackay he appeared to me to be the man my imagination had pictured: gentlemanly in his bearing, outspoken, but without harshness; clever looking, high-minded, scanty of words. Death took away in him, soon after our arrival at the coast, a life which, with noble greatness of soul, was devoted to the salvation and civilisation of his fellow-men.’”

Twenty days the Expedition rested from their long and arduous journey, and the society of so many gentlemen was a great enjoyment to Mackay.

On the 17th of September they all departed, and he walked part of the way with them and wished them God-speed, waving his hat till they were out of sight. As one has said, “Stanley and his party came home to European platforms and royal receptions; the lonely missionary went to the Palace of the King of kings!”

Stanley and his officers all urged Mackay to accompany them to Europe; the Church Missionary Society had invited him, time after time; his friends continued to plead with him to return home to recruit, but in vain. He would not quit his post until reinforcements arrived. Whether he had any presentiment that a call would soon come which he could not disobey, is not clear; but during the next four months, amidst his multitudinous duties of teaching the Baganda refugees, drugging, printing, translating, together with the laborious work of the new steam launch he had on hand, his spirit seems to have been greatly exercised about the half-heartedness of Christians at home, towards the claims of missions, especially of African missions, which are languishing for lack of aid.

His heart was gladdened by the news that Christianity was again established in Uganda, and he sent home a ringing appeal to Christian England, saying that the Continental idea of “every citizen a soldier” is the true watchword for Christian missions, for that the King's command is “Go YE,” not Send!

He says: “Eagerly I long for a strong batch of good men for the work, and, Oh for a bishop!  “Our people are most urgent that we should plant stations all over Uganda, not merely at the capital, and no one will hinder us if we only had the men. The Roman Catholics have already sent five men in, and many more will follow. Where is the great Church of England, and the greatest of Missionary Societies?”

About this time he writes: “I have been toiling at the forge and lathe, and have got our steam arrangements far on to completion. The three-cylinder engine and two steam pumps and injector stand all ready fitted for the boiler. The main boiler-shell is also carefully jointed and riveted together, and so is the fire-box. But that has been a most  serious job, as all these years of knocking about have thrown all the shells terribly out of shape, as well as rendering them steely and brittle. Many new parts had to be made, and rivets also by the hundred, as these were mostly lost; but the most of that work is now done, although a good deal remains to complete it to my satisfaction. High-pressure steam is not a thing to play with, and unless every part is carefully calculated for strength, and exactly fitted, there may be accidents, for which I would be responsible.”

But one morning, early in February 1890, “the din of the iron hammer was hushed, the glare of the furnace faded, the last blast of the bellows was blown,” and all was still within the little stockade, save for the silent footsteps of his Baganda pupils, flitting in and out with awe-stricken faces. Why is this? Where is Mackay? But yesterday he was busy packing for, and assisting his colleague, Mr. Deekes, to go home to England; and now he himself lies delirious on the bed where Bishop Parker breathed his last. The worst was feared, but no help could be obtained. No more dangers, or trials, or sorrows, or hopes deferred, or fitful fevers for the faithful missionary. Four days more of delirium, and on the 8th of the month the summons came, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

May his life and example stimulate and inspire many to live unselfish lives in the same living faith of a living Saviour!

Letter from Mr. David Deekes. 


“DEAR DR. MACKAY, -- Your letter dated June 4th reached me a few days ago. I am sorry I was not able to give you a more detailed account of your son’s death, but I was so ill at the time of writing that what I did write was written with great difficulty. Thank God, my health has improved, and I now feel better able to write you the particulars of that sad event.”

“From the time I first met Mr. Mackay, which was about two years previous to his death, he has invariably enjoyed good health; he would occasionally have an attack of fever, generally preceded by a cold, but never any bad attack.”

“At the time Mr. Stanley and his party passed here, and for some time after, in fact right up to within a few days of his death, he was as jovial and well as I have ever known him to be. He thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Stanley’s visit, and was always referring to it; even when delirious he would again and again ask me if Mr. Stanley and his party were being properly entertained and made comfortable.”

“The first symptom of fever was an ordinary cold in the head, which he got, I think, when working down in the workshed on the boiler of the steamer he was making for the Nyanza. From early morning right up to sunset he would be at work, and after the evening meal he would sit with the Baganda Christians (there were several here at that time), and translate the Scriptures. He was then doing St. John’s Gospel, which I think Mr. Gordon has since finished; he also held a reading-class at midday, whilst the workmen were having their dinner. I have often advised him to give up something and rest a little (I was not able to do any part of his work myself, not having the mechanical skill, and not knowing the Luganda language); but he would say ‘the great secret of health in Africa was keeping oneself fully employed.’”

“I agree with him; but I cannot help thinking he overdid it, and that the heavy, laborious work in which he was engaged in a draughty workshed was to a great extent the cause of his last illness. He had been unwell with a cold, as I have said before, but this did not hinder him from making arrangements for me to leave for England. The day had come for my departure, and I was ready to say good-bye, when on entering his room I found him on the bed in the hot stage of fever. I could not leave my brother missionary alone in this condition, therefore at once I dismissed the men who were engaged to carry my loads, and decided to wait a few days longer. On the morrow, however, he became delirious, and continued so for four days, when he expired. Strange to say, all his remarks during the time of unconsciousness were made in English. At times he was somewhat violent, and threatened to leave the house and go and sleep in the forest.”

“I had a coffin made of the wood he had cut for the boat, and at 2 p.m. on the Sunday I buried him by the side of the late Bishop Parker. The Baganda Christians and the boys of the village stood around the grave, and I began to read the burial service, but broke down with grief and weakness. The boys and Baganda Christians sang the hymn, ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name,’ in Luganda, and we returned to the house. Never shall I forget that day, and many others that followed it. I did miss my friend so much; tears come to my eyes when I think of those sad days. I prayed that God would spare me that I might hold the post till others came, and this He has been pleased to do, inasmuch as Bishop Tucker and his party are now within three weeks’ march of this place, and my health remains good.”

“A few days ago his Excellency Dr. Emin passed here. Mr. Walker, who was here at that time, accompanied him to the grave of our dear brother. His Excellency did not leave the grave without shedding a tear and taking away a small piece of stone on the grave. He said ‘he had lost a great friend, but he rejoiced that there was a hope of meeting him again.’”

“It is hard for us to realise God’s purpose in taking away such a valuable servant, when by us he was so much needed, but God knows best and doeth all things well.”

“May we who are left follow the example of those who have gone before, in using our time well in the service of our Lord. His Excellency Dr. Emin has taken three things belonging to the late Mr. Mackay, for which he has given me a receipt, which I enclose in this letter.”

“With kind regards to the members of your family,”

“I remain, dear sir, yours very sincerely,”


On April 2nd, 1890, a messenger arrived at the mission station in Uganda, with the news: “Mackay is dead, and Deekes is dying.” Next mowing the Rev. R. H. Walker started for Usambiro, but, owing to vexatious delays in getting canoes, and rough weather on the voyage, he did not reach the south end of the lake till the 18th of May. He writes:

“Deekes is much better, I am thankful to say. Poor dear Mackay! I wish I could have been here to nurse him a bit. Deekes was helplessly ill himself, and sent off to Bukumbi to the French priests to help him, but ere the good Samaritan came our dear friend had died. Unavoidably, he was a bit neglected. I do not know what could have done him good, but I should have liked to have tried.”

The following letter from his colleague, Rev. E. C. Gordon, explains the reason why Mackay did not return with his brethren to Uganda in August, 1889:-


January 4th, 1892.

“My DEAR DOCTOR MACKAY, - Much work has been the chief cause of delay in writing you. The work in which I am now engaged often reminds me of your noble son, whose death was such a great loss to the Uganda Mission. I am hoping soon to hand over to the Bible Society the work upon which your lamented son was busy shortly before the time of his death. You know he was translating the Gospel of St. John. He finished the first fourteen chapters, and began the fifteenth, and then he was suddenly called away to the rest that remaineth for the people of God. Your son’s life was one of anxiety and toil, and he well needed the rest and enjoyment of the Higher Service in Heaven.”

“Your son’s labour and toil for the good of the Baganda and Africa will best be known at that day when the Lord Himself will declare before His saints how His servants have served Him.”

“It was by the skill and wisdom of your son that the mission work in Uganda was kept from destruction. He guided the work of the Mission through the constant perils of its checkered history. He patiently bore with the haughty pride of the often enraged authorities, and would not abandon the good work. His own patient labour was abundantly rewarded with much blessing from on high. He and those with him sowed the spiritual seed of the kingdom, and it found root and sprang up to bear good fruit. They laid the only good foundation which God has given, and God gave them the joy of seeing abundant success. It is a great honour to have entered into the good labours of such men. It was my happy lot to enter into the labours of your son, of O'Flaherty and Ashe, and to see the solid worth of his and their work.”

“It was also my good fortune to benefit by the wise advice which your son was so well able to give. At Msalala the greedy natives had become too exacting, and great tact was required to remove the Mission from there without loss, but your son was equal to the difficult task. His patience with the rude natives was very great. I observed him here, and learned many other lessons that he could teach. It was your son who decided that the time had come for the missionaries to return to Uganda. He was so sorry not to be able to return himself, but he sent Mr. Walker and me. Who can tell his great sorrow of heart at his own detention at the south end of the lake at that time? So great was his devotion to duty that he felt himself detained at Usambiro by the heavy work he had on hand. But his longing hope was to be able to return to Uganda in the boat which he was diligently building. He was expending all his strength upon this work, for whatever he undertook to do, he did with all his might. One of the Baganda Christians asked me to express his feelings of sympathy with you in the loss of such a son. He meant that he had learned to value your son as his spiritual teacher, and was able in some measure to feel sympathy for you in your great sorrow.”

“You will like to hear something about this man. His name is Tomasi (Thomas) Semfuma, and he has often been mentioned in letters from the lake. He was one of your son’s early pupils, and by diligence and perseverance he became a good reader. He is a great friend of Sembera Mackay, and the two were chosen to be Church Elders. They both lived together for a long time, and served the same master, who was also a Christian. Tomasi with others suffered many privations for the sake of Christ. He often found it difficult to hide from the wrath of man in the time of Mwanga’s tyranny. Tomasi was a good teacher, and he often taught others who had not had the same advantages as himself. He also helped your son in the important work of translating the Gospel of St. Matthew into Luganda. When the Christians were driven from Uganda by the jealous Mohammedans, he went with them to Busagala, and when the Christians were victorious over the Mohammedans, he was sent by the Christians to Usambiro to invite us to return to Uganda.”

“There are many Baganda who thank God that your son was sent to them with the message of God’s great love in Christ. I am sure it was a great comfort to your son to have one of those whom he had taught to minister to him in the time of his last sickness. When the fever overtook him, and found him too weak to resist the dire disease, he gradually sank under its power. The fever met him when crushed down by the overpowering weight of his work, for he had no one to help him nor to lighten his burden.”

“It is a sad pity that Mr. Deekes was so unwell, and unable to do much for him; but God did not leave him without consolation, for he had with him his faithful friend, Sembera Mackay.”

“The attention which this man, and a few more of the Baganda gave the sick man was limited, but it was genuine, and no doubt your son was comforted by it. They watched the sick bed, and never left him until he had breathed his last.”

“I am, yours faithfully,”

“E. CYRIL GORDON, C.M.S. Missionary.”

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