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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter IX - A Rapid Journey

“At length I spake -
"No! here I must not stay.
I'll rest to-night - to-morrow go my way.
*          *          *
The tree tops now are glittering in the sun:
Away! 'Tis time my journey was begun.”


MACKAY having completed the track to Mpwapwa, the Church Missionary Society, fully alive to the barbarous method of employing human beings as burden-bearers for some six hundred miles into the interior, next instructed him to try the bullock-wagon system, which has been so successful in South Africa.

It was a work of no ordinary difficulty, as, not only had the oxen to be trained, but, what was a still greater undertaking, the men had to be taught to drive them! It was also an unprecedented rainy time for the season of the year, which was a tremendous hindrance, not only to starting, but to progress. The whole country was deluged, and the wagon track a mere mud swamp. The Church Missionary Society had, however, sent him out a very active and useful assistant - a young English carpenter named Tytherleigh. He was a first-class workman, and was able to render most valuable service in improving the carts, etc. Having also more muscular strength than Mackay, he could better manage the wilder oxen. Unfortunately they could not encamp in his favourite resort, the village of Ndumi, six miles from the coast, as they found, by painful experience, that the oxen died fast there, so they were obliged to pitch their tents for a month in the heart of a bog or marsh in the midst of the unhealthy Sadani plain. One morning, in the space of less than three hours, the rain-gauge showed one inch and a third of rainfall!  Mackay draws an amusing picture of his attempts to sleep under a strong canvas tent, with his waterproof coat on and an umbrella up!  It was seldom, however, as bad as that; and active exercise, constant employment, plenty of quinine, and intense earnestness in the work on hand, kept him and Tytherleigh in good health and spirits!

At last they started, in December 1877. Six large carts finished and loaded, eighty oxen trained to draw them, sixty men (the half of whom were drivers, leaders, or brakesmen, and the rest porters), five donkeys, a flock of sheep and goats, and six dogs, made up the caravan.

But every day the carts were upset two or three times, and each mile was got over by the expenditure of a very great deal of manoeuvering with and hard driving of long teams of oxen. Twenty spanned into one cart could scarcely move with a load of half a ton.

Writing to a young friend in the end of December, he says: “We have no Christmas or New Year parties here, nor anything else that would suit your ideas of novelty. ‘Nothing new’ is the order of every day, but get up at 4 a.m., get the cook up and all hands. Tents down and yokes arranged, and then with the first streak of light the oxen spanned in, while we meantime drink a cup of coffee and quinine with a piece of weevily ship's biscuit. When I get my waterproof leggings on, we are off. Marching or sticking in the mud, yelling, beating the oxen, digging the carts out of holes, cutting trees, etc., take all the forenoon till 11 or 12 o'clock, when we halt. Tents up, clothes changed, and breakfast eaten. Then a boma (enclosure) made for the cattle at night. Various. little things occupy the time till dark, when we dine. Then a little reading or writing till 9 o'clock, when we go to bed.

“That looks rather an uninteresting life. But the care and responsibility of the caravan and all connected with the march make one have quite enough to do, and sometimes more than enough. When you see ---, [a half-witted lad], tell him I require a heavy man to act as ballast for my carts, to keep them from turning over, and probably he would be well qualified to fill the situation; but he must send in testimonials first, which he had better get printed, so that each bullock may have a copy!

“A terrible scorpion crawled over me just now. I should like you to see half the horrors of the kind I see in a day – snakes and ants below till one shudders from top to toe, and terrible biting, stinging, huge flies all above and about, drawing blood at every bite. Last night I was busy sleeping, when just at my ear a terrible growl of a hyaena made me spring to my feet, seize my rifle and fire; but 'Bobby,' my dog, was before me, and set up such a furious bark that the beast skulked off before I had time to present it with a bullet. I daresay you think it a dastardly kind of life, to lie with a revolver under one's pillow and a rifle at one's side, but it is necessary here, for anything may happen at any moment, and it is best to be ready.”

“About a dozen men have deserted from me within the last four months, generally taking cloth, etc., with them, besides their advance. Still I have a lot of tolerably decent fellows, who I do not think will run away. But they are all cowards, and let their master shift for himself while they have a pair of heels.”

“Here I must correct your ideas of getting acclimatised. Does a man who has had repeated attacks of bronchitis or lung disease become the stronger and more acclimatised to stand the severe Scotch winter? It is with fever as with everything else: the more attacks, the more liability to attack, and therefore the less strength of constitution left to weather out the disease when it takes hold.”

“A proper meaning might be given to acclimatisation, by saying it means the having learned by painful experience to know how and what to do to avoid as much as possible the chance of being laid down sick.”

"I have just arrived at the ford of the Rukigura river, the first great affluent of the Wami. It is at present in flood, and a mighty rushing river it is, neck deep. How I am to cross it I cannot tell. By putting up ropes and pulleys, much in the same way as life-saving apparatus from wrecks is done, I think I shall contrive to get all the men and the goods across, but then eighty oxen, and the carts and

several donkeys, will be no such easy matter. However, it either must be done or we must wait till all the water runs past; and who knows when that will be, seeing every day brings thunder and lightning and rain?”

“I have adopted a new flag for our mission - a blue ground with a large red cross in the middle. Each cart has a small one, while a large one waves over my tent door every day.”

“But my legs have got cramp, sitting on the ground like a tailor, writing this, so 1 must have done.”

One night, soon after this, he was wakened up by a colony of brown ants, which were leading their caravan right through his tent. He was lying on a mattress on the floor, and they crawled over it and him by thousands. He got on the top of a box, and his men set fire to the whole ground, inside and round about the tent. After an hour's struggle they gradually disappeared on his line of march, but he had to sleep on the top of his box till daylight.

The natives did not respect the road which had been made at so much expense and labour. In some places where they had been clearing, they left trees and bushes right across it, while in many parts they chose to think that the white man's operations in levelling the ground were preliminary to their sowing their corn on it.

The heavy rains had made terrible ruts in the declines, and the pole oxen kept tumbling and falling and repeatedly getting into terrible entanglements. On one occasion, when they came to a steep descent, the first cart wheeled right over into a large hidden landslip, and the goods, which were rescued with great difficulty, were found to have sustained much damage. Of course, it was most trying to find things going to smash, but Mackay was never one to “cry over spilled milk”; he simply got the cart to rights again, reloaded, and jogged along. About this time he had an accident which rendered him lame for a week or two. He had just succeeded in getting the second cart over a stream, when he got entangled in a bush and the wheel caught his right foot; down he went: and over it went the wheel, and doubled the shock by going over the calf of his left leg. After roaring a good deal and nearly fainting he got a cup of tea made, and applied Friar's balsam and bandages. Two of his men put their loads into the carts, and getting out the light hammock they carried him along. But it was to be a day of delays, for cart after cart upset, and the chief of the village, hearing of his arrival, considerately took him seven victims to be vaccinated, and one little boy to be cured of spine disease!

In the early spring the heat of the sun was terrible, and in many parts of the route the caravan was pestered with vipange (a sort of tsetse fly), long brown and huge yellow ones - which alighted by thousands all about, drawing blood from the oxen and stinging Mackay and his men fearfully. This was a bitter disappointment. A track had been made with great toil; oxen had been trained to go in yoke; men had been taught to drive them; teak wagons had been brought from Bombay; the Church Missionary Society had spared no expense in giving the undertaking a fair trial; and by the month of February the half of the oxen were dead, and many more ailing - evidently caused by the poisonous sting of the tsetse.

To add to their discomfiture, the farther inland they went the more the natives enjoyed witnessing the mishaps which daily befell them. Their suspicions had become aroused that the great teams of oxen coming along the white man's road were but a prelude to Europeans entering the country in vast numbers. In many places they blocked the way with bushes, drove the cattle back again into the rivers as soon as they had been got safely over, and greatly resented their treading down the corn which had been sown on the track. Indeed, the chief of Mevero sent Mackay word by two gentlemen of the International Expedition, who were on their way to the coast, that if he took his teams by his village he would shoot him!

Writing home on the 21st February, 1878, he says: “It is not all plain sailing in East Africa, but we have it very much easier than the first travellers who went inland, and every attempt is accompanied with fewer difficulties than before. I have not been on the march to-day, but have taken a rest in the lonely forest. Damp and swamp have been trying me sorely. I am just recovering from an attack of fever, and feel very weak, but as the carts had to be repaired, I have been at work all day, though ill able for it. It is indeed a day of small things yet with me, but only, I hope, as a prelude to greater things to come. Small beginnings may lead to something higher and better in the future, but the first steps cannot be anything but tedious. The longest night has always had a dawn when done, and here I do believe no far distant time will see a very different order of things from what has been always in the past. Rome was not built in a day. My friend, C. M--- of Prague, used to suggest ‘it was built perhaps in a night also!' We are indeed groping in the dark as to how or what we ought to do first, but great bodies grow slowly, and the garden of the devil cannot be reclaimed for God all in a year.

“This will certainly be yet a highway for the King Himself, and all that pass this way will come to know His name.

“I have received terrible news this afternoon. Two letter-carriers of the London Missionary Society came from Kisessa, en route for Zanzibar. They had seen on the way servants of Said bin Salim, Governor of Unyanyembe, who told them that there had been fighting at the island of Ukerewe, in the Lake Victoria, and that the two white men (Englishmen) were killed with some fifty of their men, also an Arab named Songoro, with all his men. This is a fearful calamity to our mission, if true; and you can fancy the state of suspense I am in. I am writing the British Consul at Zanzibar to make inquiries and let me know the truth, as I hear the Arabs at Unyanyembe have sent letters to inform the Sultan of the matter. Lieutenant Smith and O'Neill were the only two Englishmen in the neighbourhood of Ukerewe, as far as I have any knowledge. It is not like Lieutenant Smith to take to fighting. In fact, he is the last of us to do so; but he may have had fever, or been obliged to defend himself.”

“Africa is not a country where a tale becomes truer by telling it, and on that account I have some hope. I have written, however, to the Church Missionary Society and also to Messrs. Smith and Mackenzie, our agents at Zanzibar, to telegraph to the Society if they find the news to be correct.”

The fertile valley of the Mkindo river was inundated, and they had to drag the carts through miles of what was as bad as the great Makata swamp at any time - mud and mire and decaying vegetation ad nauseam, except where it was covered waist-deep with water, or, what was a greater hindrance, bamboos and tiger-grass twenty feet high, and too dense to yield to the wheel of a heavy wagon. Here the tsetse was very trying, and the oxen dying two or three a day.

On the evening of the 24th February he had sent on word to Tytherleigh, who was a few miles ahead, to abandon the carts, and drive on the surviving cattle to the Usagara Mountains, when he lay down, being utterly worn-out with anxiety and fatigue. He was next attacked three times by scorpions, and rose before dawn, unrefreshed, and went on his way with his shattered caravan. He had not proceeded many miles before he was overtaken by letter-runners from the coast (who had crossed his own), bringing news that the report of the disaster at the lake was believed at Zanzibar, and warning him of the danger ahead.

He writes: “Our good doctor - my own dear friend of many years - went to his rest nine months ago, and now these brave brethren, Smith and O'Neill, have fallen. There were eight of us sent out - two invalided and four gone Home! Only two remaining. Poor Africa! When will it be Christianised by missionaries at this rate? But God has other hands in reserve, whom He will bring to the front, fast and unexpectedly, and the work will proceed whether we break down or not.

“The Arabs are all, I hear, vowing vengeance - on the King of Ukerewe, so I must hurry up to prevent further bloodshed.”

Having got the goods safely stored, and leaving Tytherleigh to get the two best carts dragged along empty to Mpwapwa, he swam across the much-flooded Mkindo river, and started on the 25th of March on a rapid journey to the lake. Going over rough ascents and steep descents he reached Kitange, where the people were tangle-haired and red-ochred, with little clothing, as in Ugogo. There he bought a fowl and forty cobs of Indian corn for two yards of cloth.

Marching over jungly ground and through open forests, and sleeping at night by muddy-looking pools of water which would not stand the test of sanitary inspection, he reached Mpwapwa on the 30th. There he found Mr. Thomson, of the London Missionary Society, looking for oxen, but without success. Mackay spent a pleasant Sunday with his three friends, and in the evening Mr. Thomson preached an edifying sermon on the words, “Let your light shine.”

He had intended travelling through Ugogo with only five men, so that he might not be detained by the chiefs on the way for honga, but found it necessary to take six on from Mpwapwa, as he did not well see how to dispense with any of the small loads. But the problem which he could not solve was speedily solved for him.

They had slept at Chumio, some twelve miles west of Mpwapwa, and plunged into the thirty-six-miles-long pori or waterless plain, called Marenga Mkali. Knowing thieves were often about in this wilderness, he ordered his men to march close together (Indian file), he himself being next to the last. Towards evening of the first day, one of the men happened to fall behind a few yards, without his knowledge, when he heard a cry, “I'll be killed!” and turning back he found a gang of Wazaramo robbers had sprung out of the bush, and giving the fellow a blow with a club on the stomach, had seized his load and disappeared. To track them in the bush was found hopeless, so he had quietly to submit to the loss, which was serious, as the contents of the bale were –

10lb. of ship biscuit,
3lb. of cheese,
1 tin of jam,
1 tin of meat.
1 bottle of brandy (for medicine),
2 oz. quinine,
8 candles,
18 boxes of matches,
1 Colt revolver (new) and 15 cartridges,
60 rounds of Mama cartridges,
1 pocket filter,
1 large water gourd,
1 parcel addressed Rev. C. T. Wilson, Uganda.

Thus all his provisions and all his cartridges were gone; but the loss of the quinine, of which he took daily several grains, was the greatest trouble of all. Without this medicine he knew it was useless to attempt going far westward. While he was considering whether he should go back the thirty miles to Mpwapwa, or trust to meet an Arab on the way who might, but not probably, have a little of the famous fever specific, a caravan of Wanyamwezi came up and camped close by. The leader was an Arab trader from Unyanyembe, travelling in a most comfortable manner - tent, Persian carpet, cooking utensils, sweets, coffee, any quantity of fine rice, etc. He entertained Mackay most kindly, giving him a good dinner of rice and curried fowl, and presenting him with a most welcome gift - a packet of candles and a box of matches! Next morning Mackay sent back, under charge of this trader, one of his men with a note to the brethren at Mpwapwa, asking them to send him some quinine without delay.

 Resolving to march by easy stages till “Ramazan” returned with the medicine, they went on right through the desert. After the loss of the previous day he took care the men kept close together, and he himself brought up the rear, keeping a very sharp look-out against thieves. They next came to the densely populated district of Ugogo, where the chiefs are very troublesome in extorting honga, and give but a cold welcome to small parties who carry little to be robbed of. Sometimes they allowed him to put up in their dirty tembes, and sometimes they refused him that privilege, when he slept in a small hut in an old Nyamwesi camp. Such huts are not so large as a cole of hay, and it was impossible for him to stretch himself inside. Still he preferred such places to the tembes, which swarm with vermin of all kinds.

It was providential that he had to delay on the road till his man returned, for he thus barely escaped falling among thieves of a more formidable nature than the highwaymen who ran off with his goods in the desert This was a band of roving Wahehe, [See “A. M. Mackay, Pioneer Missionary of the Church Missionary Society to Uganda,” p. 63.] who hovered about his camp at Mtamburu. Mackay says: “Had they chosen to demand everything I had, I was ill able to resist. But my hope was in God, who will deliver me in time of danger. May He grant us a safe journey to Unyanyembe. In case of being attacked by them in the desert, I have put in my pocket the valuable gold watch the Church Missionary Society are sending to the governor for his kindness to Lieutenant Smith. I should be very sorry to lose their other gift - a fine Arabic Bible - even more than the watch, but it is too large to conceal about my person.

“I was amused at the old chief here performing his divination last night and this morning, with a few long pieces of stick on the ground, which he arranged in threes, and odd ones together, to divine as to the chance of the Wahehe returning, or as a charm against their coming and taking away another ox.”

“It rained heavily all last night, and not a dry spot in the tembe, and no light. Succeeded in finding my waterproof coat, and in covering goods with rubber sheet; but it was very wet in hammock, and floor of dung made a perfect mire. One of my men. had his arm bitten painfully by a scorpion, and it swelled badly.”

In the forest and jungle, after leaving Mtamburu, there was an abundance of flies, which he believed to be the tsetse, only with a double instead of a fourfold style of proboscis. They were of the size of the common fly, but with the back part striped yellow like the bee. They bit and drained blood painfully. There were also many long grey-spotted flies, and a yellow sort with long projecting sword, as at Mkinyo, near Mvomoro. Another variety injected a fine needle out of the proboscis, which it kept straight out and sucked blood sorely. He noticed that the needle swel1ed very much in the middle with blood, just as ink does in a pen.

Reaching Nyambwa, the seat of the fat old chief Pembe ra Pera, who so blackmailed the expedition eighteen months previously, Mackay halted to dine, and succeeded in buying some mwere porridge and a calabash of buttermilk for a little tobacco. Thence he went along many miles of mud to Mwanza, where his person, his clothes, and his arms were the constant theme of admiration of crowds of natives. The mosquitoes were very trying, and as he had to share a corner of a tembe with the father and all the family, who lay on ox-hides, on the floor, he had no pleasant reminiscences of his sojourn there.

The first effects of a fortnight without quinine were now beginning to tell on him. By the time he reached Dahumbi, he felt in the unhappy position which is called “in for fever.” Shivering and shaking having come on, he took from his pocket the tiny phial of aconite he always carried in case every other medicine was stolen or lost, and was measuring out a dose, when his eyes were gladdened by the sight of “Ramazan” arriving with two men from Mpwapwa and a small bundle, among the contents of which was a bottle of that invaluable specific, sulphate of quinine, from which he derived so much benefit that he was able to proceed on his journey next day. But constant wettings, and having frequently to wade for hours at a stretch through a flooded country, together with badly-cooked porridge of coarsely-ground grain (the only thing to be had), brought on other symptoms, which rendered him so weak that by Good Friday he could not carry his rifle. For a long time he had been on half rations. Coffee, tea, sugar, and salt were all done. Had it not been for a couple of tins of cocoa, which Mr. Last had kindly sent from Mpwapwa, most probably he would have never reached Uyui. Alas! this also came to an end; but at this juncture he met a large caravan with more than a thousand porters, carrying a quantity of ivory to the coast. The leader was an Ujiji Arab, who knew Livingstone and Stanley and Cameron, and out of his esteem for these white men he gave Mackay a couple of fowls - a most acceptable present.

At last, on the 30th of April, he caught sight of the chief’s village in Uyui. It is a large place, stockaded and concealed among trees. Mackay knew it was his destination, from seeing three white donkeys grazing outside the village. He was quickly shown to the Baraza of the “Wali,” where sat the venerable Said bin Salim and his family and followers. This kind old man, a few months before Mackay's arrival, had purchased two hundred slaves who had been brought to Unyanyembe for sale, and immediately after doing so set them all free!

This action so irritated some unscrupulous slave traders that they turned him out of Unyanyembe where he had been governor for sixteen years, and he had to flee, alone and empty-handed, to Uyui. His children managed to join him by stealth; but such was the hostility of the new governor, that the old man dare not even send for his goods.

While at Uyui, Mackay was often heart-sick at the cruelties of the slave-trade, which were perpetrated under his very eyes, but being alone, he could only protest against such wrongs.

The caravans started for the coast during the night, so that he might not see them, but he could hear the clink of the chains, and the piteous wails of the mothers who had been separated from their children, and fancy he heard the refrain, -

“And yet He has made dark things
To be glad and merry as light:

*          *          *

And the sweetest stars are made to pass
O'er the face of the darkest night.
But we who are dark, we are dark!
Ah, God, we have no stars!
About our souls in care and cark
Our blackness shuts like prison-bars:
The poor souls crouch so far behind
That never a comfort can they find
By reaching through the prison-bars”

As Mackay was the guest of the ex-governor, he was of course associated with him by the hostile Arabs, who did all they could to thwart his progress by preventing him from buying a single yard of cloth or an ounce of coffee, or anything else he needed for his further journey to the lake.

They also in Mackay's absence, and without his knowledge, seized the property of the Church Missionary Society, which he had stored in Said bin Salim's house, thereby subjecting him to much privation and consequent sickness, while the C.M.S. work was greatly hindered.

These Arabs, knowing well that the presence of Englishmen would sooner or later stop their traffic in slaves, had been sending down messengers to agitate among the Wagogo, to cause them to prohibit the passage of carts through their country. They also bribed the chief of Uyui to drive both him and the ex-governor away, and pretended that they had orders from the British Consul to that effect.

Mackay then went to Unyanyembe, and showed the new governor his letters of introduction from the Sultan of Zanzibar and Dr. Kirk to Arabs in the interior, but no explanation was of any avail. Kisessa would “have nothing to do with white men”; and Mackay was glad to shake the dust of the place off his feet.

Just at this juncture, however, he was treated with great hospitality by Sheik Thain bin Abdullah, who had once travelled through Ugogo with Stanley; and indeed he invariably received kindness from both Arabs and natives who knew anything of the great traveller.

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