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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter VII - On the March

“To heal the bruised, speed;
Oh, pour on Africa the balm
Of Gilead, and, her agony to calm,
Whisper of fetters broken, and the spirit freed.”


AFTER an uneventful voyage the SS. Peshawur reached Aden on May 17th. Here Mackay was met by Lieutenant Shergold Smith, commander of the expedition, and after a day's delay they embarked in the SS. Cashmere for Zanzibar. On board were a Parsee and a Goa man, wealthy merchants in Zanzibar. The latter was named De Sonza. He had supplied Livingstone and Stanley with various articles, and could tell to a shilling how much his account had been with these travellers in each of their expeditions. Of course he looked for patronage from the CM.S. party, but Mackay made no promises, believing it prudent to act up to the character of a “canny Scot.” De Sonza described Livingstone as having had one arm, which he allowed to hang in a swinging fashion by his side, and then he continued, “Livingstone a very good man! oh yes, very good man. Livingstone the best man I ever have seen; good for rich man, good for poor man, good for every man.”

After a voyage of about seven thousand miles from Southampton, they sighted Zanzibar on the evening of the 29th of May. Mackay says: “The moon shone brightly, and a beautiful starlit sky served to throw a clear light on the town, which looked not at all unlike various pictures I had previously seen of it. In the morning the mails were sent ashore to the British Consul, and various people came on board to hear and to tell some new thing. The Sultan's fleet, of four or five small steamers, or rather steam-tugs, lies off the fort, and about a mile from shore is moored the large English two-decker H.M.S. London, stationed here for the suppression of the slave trade. The ship sends her lieutenants cruising round the neighbouring islands and

…… ‘the coast where the slave-ship fills its sails
With sighs of agony,
And her kidnapped babes the mother wails
'Neath the lone banana-tree!’

Every week they succeed in capturing slave dhows. Last week they caught one hundred and fifty slaves. The gunship's boats are very active, inasmuch as they receive £5 prize money for every slave they capture. But all this is only first letting the stabledoor lie open and then catching a few of the stolen horses. There are, besides, far too few boats and men.”

Besides Lieutenant G. Shergold Smith, the C.M.S. party comprised the Rev. C. T. Wilson, Mr. T. O'Neill, architect, three artisans, Mackay and his beloved friend, Dr. John Smith. By June they had all reached Zanzibar, and then the real work had to commence, and “all hands to the wheel” -clergyman. doctor, and all - was the cry for some months.

East Africa is neither like India nor China, hence the missionary's work must be different from what it is in either of these practically civilised lands. “One thing is needful”; and it is to teach that one thing that Christian missionaries enter Africa, but the means that must be employed to accomplish that object most effectively are very different from the common traditional notions of what the work of a missionary to the heathen should be.

Pictures of tropical vegetation in the background, and in front a pious-looking man in clerical attire, with Bible in hand, preaching to an eager crowd of dark-skinned hearers, we have been accustomed to regard as correct representations of the manner of the introduction of the Gospel abroad. But such are not only a caricature of the truth, but are very misleading and injurious. The natives of East and Central Africa did not want the missionaries, and would much rather they had remained away. They naturally thought they meant to take possession of their land and ultimately drive them out of what they had held from time immemorial; or, as the Portuguese and Arabs did in succession on the coast, reduce them to a condition of servitude. Mackay says: “We know they need our aid, but they do anything but wish it. Their minds are too depraved to understand anything to be for their good which does not supply their immediate animal wants. Making as our starting-point the supply of these in a legitimate way, so that we may win their confidence, and not merely tell them, but bring them to see that we are their friends, much of the difficulty is over, and we can lead them on from Nature to Nature's God, we can bring them to believe our tale is true, that by nature they are enemies of God, but by grace may be reconciled to Him. Being in the world ourselves, and wishing to bring men not only who are in the world, but of it, into the family of the sons of God, common sense seems to indicate that by making stepping-stones of their dead selves we may lead them from the temporal things they as yet only can understand, to the higher things, the things unseen and eternal.”

To narrate the delays, worries and anxieties which these pioneers had to undergo in starting their expedition to the interior would be endless. Like all African travellers, they soon learned that it was useless to attempt doing anything at all without having first laid in an inexhaustible supply of patience. In fact, if one does not take patience with him to Africa, he must buy it dearly there, at any cost, even of life itself. They had taken out with them a light cedar boat, the Daisy, which had been built in three sections for transport by land to the greatest of the Great Lakes, and they found some difficulty in getting all her parts out of the Custom House. Then the three-cylinder engine arrived with its reversing lever seriously damaged, while the box containing the main shaft and stern tube had been carried off to Shanghai and was never seen at Zanzibar. To take an engine up country without a shaft for the propeller is as good as going out to shoot with a gun the barrel of which is wanting. Accordingly Mackay had to prepare drawings for a new shaft and couplings with stern-tube, and with Captain Sullivan's (H. M.S. London) kind consent, this was well manufactured by the chief engineer, Mr. Green. The Blake's patent pump and many other articles were broken, and every other day Mackay was up at the French Mission getting some blacksmith or carpentry work done. One day he had the sections of the Daisy's boiler carried to their station by a lot of pagazi (porters). Black men cannot work at anything without singing, and as they groaned under the heavy loads, ten at each piece, they chanted all the way in broken Suahili, “White man give plenty pence!”  Of course Mackay did so, giving each man twopence for a couple of hours' hard work! But each requires only three farthings a day to live on, so they considered they had extra good luck.

At last the whole was packed in convenient loads, and shipped by dhows to Bagamoyo, on the mainland.  Here, Mackay says, the day ran somewhat thus:-

“Get up at daylight; coffee, oranges, and quinine at 6 am; weighing goods, packing them into bales of 60 lb. each, directing, arranging till 7 a.m. At 7 sound the drum and take out my 35 soldiers (?) for drill; 8 o'clock till 10, packing; then breakfast. Hard work at hosts of things till lunch, then go at it again till dark, with hundreds of Wanyamwezi, Wahumas, Wasagara, etc. After dark, dinner; then work again. As yet it has been hard times with most of us, physically and mentally.”

"Starting an expedition like ours taxes all our wisdom and strength. It is almost impossible to convey to English minds a correct idea of the manner of life in this part of the world - whether the white man's or the native's. The floor of the tembe where I write this is thickly covered with sleeping niggers and bales of goods. This may sound strange, but it is stranger still to have it to go through.”

The C.M.S. had given instructions that the Wami and Kingani rivers should be explored, with a view to the expedition taking advantage of a water route, if found practicable. Consequently, Mackay riveted the three sections of the Daisy together, and Lieut. Smith and he went up the Wami for seventy miles, but found it unfit for navigation. Mackay and Mr. Holmwood, Vice-Consul, next explored the Kingani for 160 miles with the same result.

The boat had again to be taken to pieces, and as it was found each section would require twenty men to carry it, Mackay unriveted it into smaller pieces, adapted to two men each, and cut away entirely six feet out of the middle.

The greatest trouble of all was in collecting pagazi (porters) enough to carry the goods, etc., up country. In this they derived much benefit from the experiences of the great travellers who had preceded them. Writing at this time, Mackay says: “As to Stanley, it is hard from the home standpoint to form a judgment. Let critics come out even this length (Bagamoyo), and see how they would act in similar circumstances. Of course retaliation would never do for missionaries, but Stanley is preparing the way for us, and has placed ready to our hands a great deal of information that will be especially valuable to our party. But to talk of Africa having been 'opened up' by the passing through it of Speke, Grant, Stanley, and Cameron is to talk of a large pumpkin being opened up by passing through it a fine needle!”

At length the expedition started on its arduous march. It was intended Mackay should be whipper-in, and lean the rear caravan, with machinery and valuables and everything else which the others had left behind; but on setting out on the 27th of August, he could only muster two hundred pagazis, fourteen so-called askari (soldiers), who never had had a gun in their hands before; three carpenters, one mason, and three engine boys, while four donkeys and a little dog served to wind up the list of the company!

The loads were chiefly the Daisy - which took about fifty men; beads and cloth took more than fifty. The rest carried machinery, books, provisions, tools, agricultural implements, etc. The valuable observing instruments, medicines, gunpowder, and such-like, were intrusted to Zanzibar men, of whom he had about a score. Again, much barter cloth had to be left, so Lieutenant Smith and the Doctor remained in Bagamoyo to secure more porters.

Mackay says: “Suddenly to have stepped into the position of 'father' to such a large family of children, every day crying out ‘POSS-HO!’ which may be translated, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ is by no means a joke. Their little disputes and complaints I have to settle. My interpreter is very poor in English, and makes as much misunderstanding as the reverse. Still we get on wonderfully; at times one method of argument succeeding-at times another.

“It occurs to me often as a poser - if two hundred men on march can give such endless trouble, what anxiety must poor Moses have been in on his march with more than two million souls? The Lord God was with him, seems to be the only explanation, and my fears are all calmed by the fact that this caravan is the Lord's, and He will give all necessary grace for guiding it.”

Mackay had concentrated his energies in making rapid marches, but it was fearfully hard work, and the over-fatigue brought on fever and the other disease so fatal to white men in Africa, which so reduced his strength that he could not walk, and had to be helped on to his donkey, which he had been previously using as a beast of burden.

He had very little sickness in his camp, however, which was a matter of great thankfulness, as smallpox was raging ahead and the caravans in front suffered greatly. One fellow, Terekesa, with a Nyamwesi caravan of his own, left several dead in every camp. The road was actually strewn with the skeletons of bodies which the hyenas had recently picked bare.

Soon after leaving the coast Mackay vaccinated as many of his men as he had lymph for, and the cases took well, but he only got over two or three dozen. When a few fell ill of the dire disease, he took another route, when practicable, to avoid Terekesa, whom his men shuddered to think of. Hence they had a couple of days' marching through a swamp which they otherwise would have avoided. Mackay says: “It would have shocked the ideas of English doctors to see my small-pox boy wading knee-deep, for a couple of days, with his legs covered by the eruption. But here he is to-day, with precious little doctoring, as well as possible.” But while such treatment suited the boy, Mackay became so much worse that he had to send back word to Lieutenant Smith, who then hurried on, with only one man, at the rate of thirty miles a day, on foot, to relieve him of the charge of his great caravan. By mischance, however, he took another road and got on ahead. Accidentally Mackay heard of this and dispatched messengers to catch him up, which they did. The Lieutenant then waited until Mackay overtook him, in a couple of days.

Mackay says: “My dear brother brought me new life and home letters, which so far revived me that I was able to let him go next day right on to Mpwapwa, bringing on my caravan myself, as I had done.”

This place he reached on the 10th of October. Much he had vexed himself over the short marches of his men during the previous fortnight, as he was anxious to see his brethren again before they proceeded on to the lake; but a merciful Providence regulated it otherwise, and by means of the delays of the porters, delivered him unwittingly from what might have ended in serious calamity to many of them, and perhaps disaster to nearly the whole expedition.

Mpwapwa may be considered an oasis in the great salt desert. Caravans must all pass through it, and must be provisioned there after the hunger on the marches behind, and with a supply for several days in front. They had all been led to believe the place was a land of plenty, but food was then not to be had, except by going great distances for it, and even then paying prices much above ordinary.

One day Lieutenant Smith ordered the pagazi to cut grass to thatch the mission house. He did not know that the men were already almost exasperated at having to payout their own cloth, owing to the dearness of provisions, and were merely waiting the spark to kindle the fuel of impatience and wrath among them into flame. At once they all picked up their guns and their own cloth and bolted, leaving their loads in camp.

Unasked, and entirely of their own accord, the Wagogo - natives of Mpwapwa - seeing the white man's men desert, turned out of their villages in great numbers, and with martial skill and true bravery drove them all back in to camp.

Next day the caravan started, but the men set off, most of them, without their loads. They ultimately, however, returned for them, and by the 7th October Lieutenant Smith saw the vanguard of the expedition finally leave Mpwapwa. Mackay had fixed that same day as the latest date of his arrival at that place, but glad he was and thankful to God that it found him still two marches back. Had he arrived then, or sooner, his men, two hundred and twenty in number, might have joined also in the desertion and demoralisation, and who knows what might have been the result!

Writing on the 19th of October, Mackay says: “Early this morning I found another of my men had died of smallpox. He was the second case of death, and being a man of middle age, like the other, I had given up his case as fatal and looked for his death sooner. His messmates had taken him out one hundred and fifty yards from camp and thrown down the corpse among the maweri stubble. I ordered them to take their spades and bury him, which they seemed almost determined not to do. The Zanzibar men would not go near him, being Mohammedans. So, weak as I was, I opened the package of spades - shouldered one, and set off to find the body. A flock of ravens soon betrayed the place. In the few hours he had lain dead the hyaenas had already eaten off his feet and scalp! The ground I found far too hard where he lay, so tying a rope about his body with my own hands, so as to save the two or three men who followed me from infection, I caused them to drag him one hundred yards to the bed of the nearly dry river, where we made a proper grave, and interred him in spite of the demand of some natives for cloth from me for the privilege I had used. I told them that ‘if burying did not suit them they could disinter the body, but they should pay me for removing a dead man from the field!’”

One of the artisans of the expedition had died in Zanzibar, and Mackay was greatly disappointed on reaching Mpwapwa to find the other two invalided. The one especially, who was a blacksmith and a handy man in other respects, had become a perfect wreck, having allowed himself to succumb to the enervating power of the East African climate. There he was lying in a mud tembe, up the hill, with no disease whatever - but ready to die if he were allowed. Mackay writes: “The secret of it all seems to be, he wants to go home, and if he recovers home he must go. [Both artisans soon returned to England. ]  But there am I, going on to the lake, with our boat in pieces - a hundred pieces - to be rebuilt, in fact to be made another craft, seaworthy; here are three steam engines to be made use of. Here we have on the road my boiler in rings and plates, etc., all to be riveted (not merely bolted) together, with red-hot rivets. Forgings without end to do, and much such work, and who is now to help me with it all? O'Neill is not up to the use of my sort of tools, while the Doctor and the Lieutenant are not to be expected to be workers in iron and steel.

“Do not think I am talking of imaginary difficulties, The matter is serious to think of, but will be much more serious when we reach the lake; but we are not there yet, and much may befall us before then, in the five hundred miles' march. But the same God who has guided us till now, will guide us all through till the very last item of our work is done.” Mackay waited at Mpwapwa for Dr. Smith, who arrived on the 19th of October, and having given the new-comers an ox to feast on, he let them rest for a day; and, finally, the two Scotchmen, at the head of a caravan now increased to three hundred and ten souls, made for Chumio, where they quietly spent the Sunday with Lieut. Smith.

Next morning they all set out on the long and trying march over the dreary Marenga Mkali desert, where neither water nor food is to be had. This they accomplished in two days, when they reached Ndebwe, where an old woman, the “Sultany,” with a dried-up skin, brought them a present of some matama (meal) and milk, for which she got more than double the value in cloth. Next they arrived at the villages of the great greedy chief of Mvumi, where the first honga (tribute) was demanded of them. After four or five days' palaver they had the matter settled by being robbed of thirty-nine valuable cloths, equivalent to £9 in English money. Right glad to shake off their feet the dust of the place where they had been so blackmailed, they marched to the next tribute man, whose place is called Mtamburu. Honga here should be small, but the dirty, greasy old chief demanded of them a deole, or fine large silken shawl, “such as became a king,” he said, in addition to twenty-four of their most valuable cloths. They had nothing of the kind among their stores, nor would they give him gunpowder, of which he insisted they had many casks. At last, after losing a day, he relieved them of forty-one cloths, one double-barrelled gun, one powder-flask, and a few percussion caps. But the greatest loss of all to Mackay was his health, which the bad water of the place again deprived him of. The Doctor was also laid down, but he soon recovered, while Mackay, in his weak state, relapsed into a worse condition than before, so that he could scarcely endure being carried in a hammock.

His companions were determined he should return in charge of the doctor, but this he would not agree to, believing that a couple of days' rest at a good halting-place would set him up. Forty miles more marching, the greater part of which was through a delightfully green jungle abounding in large herds of elephant, zebra and giraffe, brought them to Nyambwa, the quarters of the greatest chief in Ugogo, whose name is Pembe ra Pera, which signifies the horn of a rhinoceros. This potentate's modest demand was only fifty cloths! Two days' palaver made him content with forty-five, after which he was to present them with an ox (for which of course they would have to pay), so as to make Lieutenant Smith his brother. The latter was sitting in the palace, or rather hen-house, and the matter of the honga being settled he thought he would entertain the king by showing him some of the wonders of white men. Taking a matchbox from his pocket he struck a light, which his majesty thought good to interpret as an evil machination and a design on his life. Rushing from the audience chamber, he sent to say that for such a grave offence as had been committed, they would have to pay thirty more cloths. Next morning he was satisfied with twenty-five, which with what they had previously given, made a total tribute of seventy cloths, or much more than a man's load, and in value about £20!

The district over which Pembe ra Pera reigns is a great cattle country. Six hundred oxen were driven into his tembe every night, while many more were the property of the people round about.

Here Mackay would have liked to stay, for some days at least, until he could gain strength enough to be carried back. The three days' rest had already restored him a little, and the king agreed willingly that the sick white man should stop with him, but Mackay felt sure that he should have difficulty in getting out of his majesty's hands without the payment of an indemnity. Accordingly he determined to be off at once, and on the 8th of November he was once more on the shoulders of two strong men, and with eight additional to carry his tent, sextant, chronometer, clothes, cooking apparatus, and some cloth to buy food by the way, he bade a sorrowful “good-bye” to his dear brethren, little dreaming that their earthly journey was nearly run, and started eastwards.

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