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  • 1916
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aged six and five months respectively, who have already won the hearts of some of our neighbours and the love of all the school children. Seven women have literally touched them, and all the people, including the most practical of the chiefs, come to the house and hold their palavers in full view of where the children are being nursed. One chief who, with fierce gesticulations, some years ago protested that we must draw the line at twins, and that they should never be brought to light in his lifetime, brought one of his children who was very ill, two months ago, and laid it on our knee alongside the twin already there, saying with a sob in his voice, ‘There! they are all yours, living or dying, they are all yours. Do what you like with mine.’

“Drinking, especially among the women, is on the decrease. The old bands of roving women who came to us at first are now only a memory and a name. The women still drink, but it is at home where the husband can keep them in check. In our immediate neighbourhood it is an extremely rare thing to see a woman intoxicated, even on feast days and at funerals. None of the women who frequent our house ever taste it at all, but they still keep it for sale and give it to visitors. Indeed it is the only thing which commands a ready sale and brings ready money, and their excuse is just that of many of the Church members at home, that those who want it will get it elsewhere, and perhaps in greater measure. But we have noted a decided stand being taken by several of the young mothers who have been our friends and scholars against its being given by husbands or visitors to their children. We have also thankfully noted for long that on our making an appearance anywhere there is a run made to hide the bottles, and the chief indignantly threatens any slave who brings it into our presence.

“All this points to an improvement in the condition of the people generally. They are eager for education. Instead of the apathy and incredulous laugh which the mention of the Word formerly brought, the cry from all parts is for teachers; and there is a disposition to be friendly to any one who will help them towards a higher plane of living. But it brings vividly before us the failures and weaknesses in our work; for instance, the desultoriness of our teaching, which of necessity stultifies the results that under better conditions would be sure to follow. School teaching has been carried on under great difficulties owing to the scattered population, the family quarrels which made it formerly a risk to walk alone, the fear of sorcery and of the evil spirits which are supposed to dwell in the forest, the denseness of the forest itself, which makes it dangerous for children to go from one place to another without an armed escort, the withdrawing of girls when they have just been able to read in order to go to their seclusion and fattening, and the consequent drafting of them to great distances to their husbands’ farms, the irregular attendance of boys who accompany their masters wherever they go, and who take the place of postmen and news-agents-general to the country.

“There have been difficulties on our own side–the distances consume time and strength, the multifarious claims made on the Mission House, the household itself which is usually a large one having in addition to servants those who are training for future usefulness in special spheres–as the Mission House has been until quite lately the only means of getting such training–and having usually one or more of the rescued victims of heathen customs. The Dispensary work calls also for much time and strength, nursing often having to accompany the medicine; the very ignorance and superstition of the patients and their friends making the task doubly trying. Then one must be ever at hand to hear the plaint of and to shelter and reconcile the runaway slave or wife or the threatened victim of oppression and superstition. Visitors are to be received, and all the bothersome and, to European notions, stupid details of native etiquette are to be observed if we are to win the favour and confidence of the people.

“Moreover we must be both able and willing to help ourselves in regard to the wear and tear in our dwelling and station buildings. We must make and keep in repair buildings, fences, drainage, etc., and all amid surroundings in which the climate and its forces are leagued against us.

“Add to all this the cares of housekeeping when there is no baker supply, no butcher supply, no water supply, no gas supply, no coal supply, no laundry supply, no trained-servant supply, nor untrained either for that matter, except when some native can and will lend you a slave to help you or when you can buy one–which, under ordinary circumstances is a very doubtful practice, as, though in buying the person you are literally freeing him, the natives are apt to misinterpret the motive, and unless you are very fortunate in your purchase, the slave may bring you into conflict with the powers that be, owing to their law which recognises no freedom except that conferred by birth. After all this is seen to day by day, where is the time and strength for comprehensive and consecutive work of a more directly evangelistic and teaching type?–specially when the latter is manned year by year by the magnificent total of one individual. Is it fair to expect results under such circumstances?”


In the year 1896 Miss Slessor realised that she was no longer in the centre of her people. Like all agricultural populations addicted to primitive methods of cultivation, they had gradually moved on to richer lands elsewhere. Even Ma Erne had gone to a farm some distance away. A market had been opened at a place called Akpap, farther inland and nearer the Cross River, and farms and villages had grown up around it, and she saw that it would be necessary to follow the population there. The Calabar Committee–a Committee had succeeded the Presbytery–was at first doubtful of the wisdom of transferring the station, largely owing to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the new site, the nearest landing-place being six miles away, at Ikunetu on the Cross River. There was some advantage in this, however, for the Mission launch was constantly moving up and down the waterway. The voyage was between low, bush-covered banks broken by vistas of cool green inlets, with here a tall palm tree or bunch of feathery bamboos, and there a cluster of huts, while canoes were frequently passed laden with hogsheads of palm oil for the factory, or a little dug-out containing a solitary fisher. The track from Ikunetu to Akpap was the ordinary shady bush path, bordered by palms, bananas, orange trees, ferns, and orchids, but in the wet season it was overgrown with thick grass, higher than one’s head, which made a guide necessary, since one trail in the African forest looks exactly like another.

After some consideration it was decided to sanction the change, and to build a good Mission House with a beach shed at Ikunetu. Long before the house was built, however, and even before it was begun, Mary installed herself at Akpap, in conditions similar to those of her first year at Ekenge. Her home consisted of a small shed of two divisions, without windows or floor, into which she and the children and the furniture were packed. And from this humble abode, as from a palace, she ruled Okoyong with all the dignity and power of a queen. Never had her days been so busy or her nights so broken and sleepless. No quarrel, tribal or domestic, no question of difficulty of any kind, was settled other than in the Mission hut. Sometimes the strain was almost greater than she could bear. There was much sickness among the children, and an infectious native disease, introduced by a new baby, caused the death of four. Matters were not mended by an epidemic of small-pox, which swept over the country and carried off hundreds of the people. For hours every day she was employed in vaccinating all who came to her. Mr. Alexander, who was the engineer of the Mission at this time–the natives called him _etubom ubom nsunikan_ “captain of the smoking canoe”–remembers arriving when her supply of lymph had run out, and of assisting her with a penknife from the arms of those who had already been inoculated.

The outbreak was severe at Ekenge, and she went over and converted her old house into a hospital. The people who were attacked flocked to it, but all who could fled from the plague-stricken scene, and she was unable to secure any one to nurse the patients or bury them when they died. She was saddened by the loss of many friends. Ekpenyong was seized and succumbed, and she committed his body to the earth. Then Edem, her own chief, caught the infection, and she braced herself to save him. She could not forget his kindness and consideration for her throughout all these years, and she fought for his life day and night, tending him with the utmost solicitude and patience. It was in vain. He passed away in the middle of the night. She was alone, but with her own hands she fashioned a coffin and placed him into it, and with her own hands she dug a grave and buried him. Then turning from the ghostly spot with its melancholy community of dead and dying, she tramped through the dark and dew-sodden forest to Akpap, where, utterly exhausted, she threw herself on her bed as the land was whitening before the dawn.

Towards the village that day two white men made their way,–Mr. Ovens, who was coming to build a Mission House, and Mr. Alexander who had brought him up. When they arrived at the little shed it was eleven o’clock in the forenoon. All was quiet. “Something wrong,” remarked Mr. Alexander, and they moved quickly to the hut. A weak voice answered their knock and call, and on gaining entrance they found “Ma” tired and heavy-eyed. “I had only just now fallen asleep,” she confessed. But it was not for some time that they learned where she had been and what she had done.

When, two days later, Mr. Alexander went over to bring some material from the old house, he found it full of corpses and not a soul to be seen. The place was never fit for habitation again, and gradually it was engulfed in bush and vanished from the face of the earth.

Conditions were the same far and wide, and her heart was full of pity for the helpless people, “Heartrending accounts,” she wrote, “come from up-country, where the people, panic-stricken, are fleeing and leaving the dead and dying in their houses, only to be stricken down themselves in the bush. They have no helper up there, and know of no Saviour. I am just thinking that perhaps the reason God has taken my four bairns is that I may be free to go up and help them. If the brethren say that I should go I shall.”

It is not surprising that these events had a depressing effect upon her; she said she had no heart for anything. It was an unusual note to come from her, and indicated that her strength was waning. The presence of Mr. Ovens was a help; his sense of humour seasoned the days, and he made light of difficulty and trial, though he was far from comfortable. One of the divisions in the shed had been turned over to him, she and her children crowding into the other. The place was infested by ants and lizards, and all night the rats used his body as a springboard to reach the roof. There was always one scene in the strange household which touched him with a feeling of pathos and reverence–family worship in the evening. A light from a small lamp illumined the interior. Miss Slessor sat on the mud-floor with her back resting on the wall. Squatting before her in a half-circle were the girls and boys of the house. Behind these were ranged a number of baskets filled with twin babies. “Ma” spoke and prayed very simply and naturally. Then a hymn of her own composition was sung in Efik to the tune of “Rothesay Bay,” she accompanying it with a tambourine. If the attention of the girls wandered she would lean forward and tap them on the head with the instrument.

One human solace never failed her–the letters from home. How eagerly she longed for them! How they lifted her out of her surroundings and chased away for a time the moral miasma that surrounded her and often seemed to choke her as if it were physical. Some one wrote about the Synod meetings. “It is easy to be good,” she said, “with all the holy and helpful influences about you. Fancy a crowd of Christians that fill the Synod Hall! It makes me envious to read about it. Away up here among heathenism, working away with the twos and the threes and the tens, one almost forgets that there are crowds who would die for Christ. But, with all their imperfections, there are, and we are not in a losing cause at all. I am seldom in Duke Town or Creek Town, and hear little in the way of sermons, and have little of the outward help you have. But Christ is here and the Holy Spirit, and if I am seldom in a triumphant or ecstatic mood I am always satisfied and happy in His love.”

Her furlough was overdue, but there was a difficulty in filling her place, and she would not leave the people alone. Meanwhile she kept “drudging away” as well as she could from dawn till dark. People were coming to her now from far-off spots, many from across the river from unknown regions who had never seen a white person before, drawn to her by the fame of her goodness and power. At first they sat outside, and would not cook or eat or drink inside the compound because of the twins, but by and by they gained courage and mixed with the household. The majority of these people were neither bright nor good-looking, but she only saw souls that were precious in the sight of her Master. In one of her letters she describes what was the daily scene: “Four at my feet listening; five boys outside getting a reading-lesson from Janie; a man lying on the ground who has run away from his master and is taking refuge until I get him forgiven; an old chief with a girl who has a bad ulcer; a woman begging for my intervention with her husband; a nice girl with heavy leglets from her knee to the ankles, with pieces of cloth wrapped round to prevent the skin being cut, whom I am teaching; and three for vaccination.”

On the last night of the year she wrote: “My bairns have been made happy and myself glad by a handsome Christmas box from the Consul- General and Colonel Boisragon of our Consular staff. They were up with a party, and spent the greater part of three days with me, trying to do good among my people: and they have sent dolls and sweets and fruit and biscuits, and many useful things for the house, and a carpenter to mend my stair, and plane and rehang my doors. He is here now doing odds and ends about the house, so I feel quite cheered up. He (the Consul) must have gone to a steamer and got all these things for us, for there are no such things for sale here, and it shows how much interested he is in mission work. It is seldom, comparatively, that Government officials care for these things.”


As Mr. Ovens was at Akpap engaged on the new Mission House the Calabar Committee decided to send her home in 1898 whether they could supply the station or not. “It will be rather trying to get back to the home kind of life and language,” she said; “but I shall just want a place to hide in: away from conventionalities and all the paraphernalia of civilisation.” Her chief problem was the disposal of the children, whom she dreaded to leave under native influences. There were so few missionaries in the field then that it was difficult to find homes for them. She settled two babies, some of her girls, and the former slave- woman with a lady agent. The rest she made up her mind to take with her. It was a daring thing to do, but doing daring things was her normal habit. She justified herself to a friend by saying that Janie was now a big girl and a great help. Mary was five years old and able to fend for herself; Alice was about three and fairly independent, and Maggie was sixteen months, and could sit about and be easily amused.

The next problem was how to equip both herself and her retinue for the voyage. Her wardrobe had been gradually deplenished in the bush, and during her illnesses ants had eaten up all that remained. She and the children had nothing but the old garments they had on. But she was not dismayed: in the simplicity of her faith she believed that the Master knew her difficulty, and would come to her aid and provide all her needs. And she was not disappointed.

When at Duke Town, preparatory to departure, a box from Renfield Street Church, Glasgow, arrived for her, and she went down to the beach and opened it to see if it contained anything she might require. And everything she required was there, including many knitted and woollen articles–a most uncommon circumstance. There was also a shawl–“I do not know what I should have done without that on the voyage,” she said. The ladies of the Mission took the cloth and flannelette and soon had the whole party fitted out. In acknowledging the box she begged the givers not to be vexed at what she had done: the articles had been used in the service of Christ as much as if they had been distributed in Okoyong.

She was so far spent that she was carried on board. On the voyage she received much kindness, and believing that God was behind it all she accepted everything as from Him and was very grateful. Her simple faith in the goodness of her kind was shown by the fact that the telegram she despatched on arriving at Liverpool to Mrs. M’Crindle, Joppa, was the first intimation that lady received that she was coming. And at the railway station she confidingly handed her purse to the porter, asking him to take it and buy the tickets, Mrs. M’Crindle met her at the Waverley Station, Edinburgh. There was the usual bustle on the arrival of a train from the South. The sight of a little black girl being handed down from the carriage caused a mild stir, when another came the interest increased, when a third dropped down a crowd gathered, when a fourth stepped out the cabmen and porters forgot their fares and stared, wondering who the slight, foreign-looking lady could be who had brought so strange a family.


Eagerly looked for after her heroic service in Okoyong she received a warm welcome from her friends in the United Presbyterian Church. For some weeks she lived at Joppa, and then anxious to be independent she took a small house near at hand, where she and Janie managed the work and cooking. It was not a very comfortable _menage_, and Miss Adam, one of the “chief women” of the Church and Convener of the Zenana Mission Committee, made arrangements for her and the children staying at Bowden, St. Boswells. Here, looking down upon a beautiful expanse of historic border country, she spent a quiet and restful time. As her vitality and spirits came back she began to address meetings, and found that the interest in her work had deepened and extended.

She was, if anything, shyer than ever, and would not speak before men. At a drawing-room gathering in Glasgow the husband of the lady of the house and two well-known ministers were present. She rose to give an address, but no words came. Turning to the men she said, “Will the gentlemen kindly go away?” The lady of the house said it would be a great disappointment to them not to hear her, “Then,” she replied, “will they kindly go and sit where I cannot see them?” When she began to speak she seemed to forget her diffidence, and she held the little audience spell-bound. At a Stirling meeting a gentleman slipped in. After a slight pause she said, “If the gentleman in the meeting would hide behind the lady in front of him I would be more at my ease.” On another occasion she fled from the platform when called on to speak, and it was only with difficulty that she was brought back. When people began to praise her she slipped out and remained away until they had finished.

“She was a most gentle-looking lady,” writes one who heard her then, “rather below the average height, a complexion like yellow parchment, and short lank brown hair: a most pleasing expression and winning smile, and when she spoke I thought I had never heard such a musical voice.” She went to her home-city, Aberdeen, and addressed a meeting in Belmont Street Church, which her mother had attended; and of her power of speech the Rev. Dr. Beatt, the minister, who was in the chair, says: “It was characterised by a simple diction, a tearful sympathy, a restrained passion, and a pleading love for her people, which made it difficult to listen to her without deep emotion.” At one meeting in Glasgow she spent an hour shaking hands. “What a lot of love there is in the world after all,” she said gratefully. She received such a reception at a meeting in Edinburgh that she broke down. Recovering herself she earnestly denied that her work was more remarkable than that of any other missionary in Calabar: “They all work as hard or harder than I do.” She went on to plead for an ordained missionary for Okoyong. “I feel that my work there is done, I can teach them no more. I would like to go farther inland and make a home among a tribe of cannibals.”

Many a stirring appeal she made for workers.

“If missions are a failure,” she said, “it is our failure and not God’s. If we only prayed and had more faith what a difference it would make! In Calabar we are going back every day. For years we have been going back. The China Inland Mission keep on asking for men, men, men, and they get what they want and more than we get. We keep calling for money, money, money, and we get money–of great value in its place–but not the men and the women. Where are they? When Sir Herbert Kitchener, going out to conquer the Soudan required help, thousands of the brightest of our young men were ready. Where are the soldiers of the Cross? In a recent war in Africa in a region with the same climate and the same malarial swamp as Calabar there were hundreds of officers and men offering their services, and a Royal Prince went out. But the banner of the Cross goes a-begging. Why should the Queen have good soldiers and not the King of Kings?”

Her nervous timidity was often curiously exhibited. She was, for instance, afraid of crowds, and she would never cross a city street alone; and once, when she was proceeding to a village meeting she would not take a short cut through a field because there was a cow in it. Yet she was never lacking in high courage when the need arose. At a meeting in Edinburgh several addresses had been delivered, and the collection was announced. As is often the case the audience drew a sigh of relief, relaxed attention, and made a stir in changing positions. Some began to whisper and to carry on a conversation with those sitting near them. She stood the situation as long as she could, then rose, and spoke, regardless of all the dignitaries about her, and rebuked the audience for their want of reverence. Were they not presenting their offerings to the Lord? Was that not as much an act of worship as singing and praying? How then could they behave in such a thoughtless and unbecoming manner? There was something of scorn in her voice as she contrasted the way in which the Calabar converts presented their offerings with that of the well-educated Edinburgh audience. When she sat down it was amidst profound silence. “That is a brave woman,” was the thought of many.

With her bairns she left towards the end of the year (1898), Miss Adam accompanying them to Liverpool to see them safely on board. A more notable person than she realised, she was sought out by a special representative of Reuter’s Agency and interviewed. Her story of the superstitious practices connected with the birth of twins in West Africa had the element of horror which makes good “copy,” and most of the newspapers in the kingdom next day gave a long description of these customs and of her work of rescue. Incidentally she stated that up to that time she had saved fifty-one twins from destruction. She thought nothing of this talk with the reporter, never mentioning it to any one, and was unaware of the wide publicity accorded to her remarks. She spent Christmas on board the steamer. Again every one was kind to her, the officers and stewards vying with each other in showing her attention. All along the coast she was well known, and invitations came from officials at Government headquarters, but these she modestly declined. She was interested in all things that interested others, and would discuss engineering and railway extension and trade prices and the last new book as readily as mission work and policy. The children she kept in the background, as she had done in Scotland, and would not allow them to be spoiled. On arrival in Calabar they were much made of, and it was only the experienced Janie who did not like the process.


An exceptionally trying experience followed. Arrangements had been made by the Committee in Scotland for the better staffing of the station, but these broke down, and for the next three years she worked alone, her isolation only being relieved by an occasional visit from the lady missionaries in Calabar. During that long period she fought, single- handed, a double battle in the depths of the forest. She was incessantly at war with the evils that were still rife about her, and she had to struggle against long spells of low fever and sleeplessness. And right bravely did she engage in the task, conquering her ill-health by sheer will-power, and gaining an ever greater personal ascendancy over the people.

1. A Mother in Israel

The gradual pacification of Okoyong brought about by her influence and authority increased rather than diminished her work. As the people settled down to orderly occupations and trade the land became valuable, and disputes were constantly cropping up regarding ownerships and boundaries. There was much underground palavering, of which no one knew but herself, which kept her always on the strain. She had to mother the whole tribe, and it took all her patience and tact to prevent them reverting to their old violent practices. A Government official of that time, who had to enquire into a number of cases over which there had been correspondence with her, says, “I stayed with ‘Ma’ and had my first lesson in how to deal with natives. It did not require very long for even a ‘fresher’ to see what a power in the land she was. All came to her in any kind of trouble. As an interpreter she made every palaver an easy one to settle, by the fact that she could represent to each side accurately what the other party wished to convey.”

Her fame had gone still farther, and people were now coming from places a hundred miles distant to see the wonderful person who was ruling the land and doing away with all the evil fashions. And what did they see? A powerful Sultana sitting in a palace with an army at her command? No. Only a weak woman in a lowly house surrounded by a number of helpless children. But they, too, came under her mysterious spell. They told her of all the troubles that perplexed their lives, and she gave them advice and helped them. In one week she had deputations from four different tribes, each with a tale of wrong and oppression. Innocent people fled to her to escape the fate decreed by the witch-doctor: guilty people sheltered with her, knowing that they were sure at least of nothing worse than justice. She welcomed them all, and to all she spoke of the Saviour, and strove to bring them to His feet. And none went away without carrying some of the fragrance of that knowledge, and in remote districts unvisited by the white man it lingered for years, so that when missionaries went there later on they would come across a man or a woman who said, “Oh, I know all about Jesus, the White Mother once told me.”

She was so interested in these strangers that the desire came to know more about them and their surroundings, and she made numerous trips up the Cross River by Mission steamer and canoe and visited the townships on the banks. On one of these journeys she felt for the first time that death was at her side. A dispute had arisen between Okoyong and Umon, and the Umon people, strong in the belief that she would mete out justice even against her own tribe, begged her to come and decide the quarrel. It was a long day’s journey for the best walkers, “but,” said she, “if they can do it in a day, so can I.” A well-manned canoe was, however, sent for her, and she proceeded in it with some of the twin- children. They were speeding down a narrow creek leading into the river, a man standing with his paddle at the bow to negotiate the canoe past the logs and trees, when a hippopotamus, which was attended by its young, rose immediately in front and attacked it savagely. The man at the bow instantly thrust the paddle into the gaping mouth, and shoved the canoe violently to one side. Mary seized some large tin basins with covers, which the natives used for holding cooked food, and placed them outside in front of the part where the children were sitting, and where the infuriated hippopotamus was trying to grip and upset the canoe. These curious weapons succeeded in baffling the monster. Several times it made a rush and failed. The shouting, the snapping of the jaws, the whirling of the paddles, the cries of the children–“_O Abasi ibom Ete nyana nyin mbok O!_” (“O God, Father, please save us, Oh!”)–almost unnerved her. The hippo at last made for the stern, where some of the paddlers beat it off and kept it at bay long enough to enable the others to turn the canoe and rush it out of its reach.

But she could not now afford to be long away from her station, for the utmost vigilance was required to combat the evils around her. In spite of British laws and gunboats twin-murder continued in secret. She noticed, however, that where the people came within the influence of the Mission their fears gradually disappeared. What pleased her was that women to whom she had been kind voluntarily brought in twins to her that would otherwise have been killed. One day she and Mr. Alexander were sitting at breakfast when a woman walked in, and without remark placed a large calabash on the table. Mary thought it was a dish of native food and said, “You have come too late, we have just finished.” Still the woman was silent. Mary opened the calabash and found that it contained two twin boys.

There were other promising signs. The mother of a twin baby who was saved came to the Mission House and lived there, working at the farm during the day. One master took a twin and the mother home. All his other wives at once gathered up their children and left him, but he remained firm. As the woman had been a neighbour of “Ma’s” at Ekenge, it is probable that her influence had told on her then. But the outstanding event in this direction was that a twin boy was taken home by his parents, who were determined to keep him. The affair made a great stir, but she told all the chiefs that she would stand by the parents, and if they dared to say a word or trace any calamity to the family she would “make palaver.” They were grimly silent, but could not dispute her word. She believed that their attitude was only due to fear, which would die away if a stand were made.

Her work in school and Bible Class was beginning to tell. Six of the best boys of free birth and good standing whom she was training were now Christians, and working in the villages around. Two, sons of the most powerful chiefs in the district, took the reading and another was the speaker. It was not much to boast of perhaps. “I feel the smallness of the returns” she said, “but is the labour lost? A thousand times No!”

2. _The Cares of a Household_

Her most trying fight during these years was with ill-health. She was now occupying the new house, which she pronounced “lovely,” but it was hotter than any she had lived in, and she often sighed for “her lowly mud-hut” again. At one time she was three months in bed, and recovery was always a slow and weary process. The people were afraid she would have to go to Scotland and came and assisted her in every way, while her boy scholars maintained the services. But often she would struggle up and conduct the Sunday meetings herself, although it meant a sleepless night. “I am ashamed to confess,” she wrote, “that our poor wee services here take as much out of me as the great meetings at home did.” To fill in the wakeful hours she would rise in the middle of the night, light a candle, and answer a batch of correspondence. There were friends to whom she did not require to write often: “Ours is like the life above, we do not need to tell; we can go on loving and praying, but this is a rare thing in the world.” Others were not so considerate. Some of her letters at this period are marked “Midnight,” “3 A.M.,” “Just before dawn,” and so on. But more often she was unable to sit up, and was too tired to write, and lay thinking of her last visit home, and particularly of her sojourn at Bowden; “I never had such a time; I live everything all over again during these sleepless nights; it grips me more than my real home life of long ago.”

She never grumbled to her correspondents, even when in the grip of nervous debility. Her letters are filled with loving enquiries about people, especially young people, at home. She kept them all in mind, followed their lives with interest, and was always anxious to know if they had consecrated themselves to the service of Christ. “Life is so great and so grand,” she would write, and “eternity is so real and so terrible in its issues. Surely my lads out here are not to take the crown from my boys at home.”

Now and again, however, a strain of sadness is perceptible in her letters, perhaps due to the state of her health and her isolation, as well as the outlook abroad, which was then unrestful. “All is dark,” she said, “except above. Calvary stands safe and sure.” Often she wondered what worldlings did in the midst of all their entanglements and the mysteries of life and death without some higher hope and strength. “Life apart from Christ,” she would say, “is a dreadful gift.”

Her own future loomed uncertain, and the thought of the children began to weigh upon her mind: “It is not likely I shall ever go home again. I feel as if I did not want to. How could I leave the bairns in this dreadful land? Who would mother them in this sink of iniquity?” And soon afterwards she wrote: “I do not think I could bear the parting with my children again. If I be spared a few years more I shall have a bit of land and build a wee house of my own near one of the principal stations, and just stay out my days there with my bairns and lie down among them. They need a mother’s care and a mother’s love more than ever as they grow up among heathen people, and I could do a little, through them, for the dark homes and hearts around, and it would be a house and home for them when I am gone, where the missionaries could be near them.”

Janie, the faithful, unselfish soul who had been with her from babyhood, was at last married. “Her husband,” she said, “is my best scholar, and if his social standing is not the highest, he is a real companion to her and to my bairns, who worship him.” The ceremony was performed by “Ma,” and the entry, in Efik, in a tiny marriage register runs as follows:–

_December 21, 1899.

Janie Annan took oath before Obon (chief), Okon Ekpo, and Erne Ete, that she will marry Akibo Eyo alone, Akibo also took oath that he will marry Jane alone. They went to the farm with Eme Ete.


The break in the family life gave her much more to do, but Janie–or Jean as she was now more often called–still clung to her, and spent much time at the Mission House attending to the babies as before, her husband not objecting to her handling the twins, and even allowing her to take one home to her house during the day. But difficulty and disappointment came, as they so often do in Africa, and once more Jean became an inmate of the household, in which she was to remain to the end. One day a baby arrived whose mother had died after giving it birth, and she took it and made it her special child. This was Dan MacArthur Slessor–called after a home friend of the Mission–a black boy who was to become almost as well known in Scotland as Jean herself.

By and by with returning strength the house-mother was able to resume her old strenuous ways from cock-crow till star-shine. The cares of her household never grew fewer. “Housekeeping in the bush,” she would remark, “means so much more as well as so much less than in Scotland. There are no ‘at homes,’ no drawing-room ornaments to dust, no starched dresses, but on the other hand there are no butchers or bakers or nurses or washerwomen, and so I have to keep my shoulder to the wheel both indoors and out of doors.” There were defects in the situation; she did not need other people to tell her that; she was often overwhelmed with the multitude of her duties, at her wits’ end to manage all the children. “I have only three girls at present,” she writes, “and I have nine babies, and what with the washing and the school and the palavers and the visitors, you may be sure there are no drones in this house.” Sometimes she would stand in a state of pretended distraction and repeat–

_”There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.”_

She was not a housewife in the real sense, although she knew domestic economy with the best, and there were days when she arose in her might and introduced order and tidiness, but matters soon fell back into the normal conditions. She was always quite candid about her deficiencies. “I have not an elaborate system or method of work; it is just everything as it comes. I am afraid my mind is not a trained machine. It only works as it chooses.”

Yet no family of white children could have been more cared for or loved. She endeavoured to make Sunday a specially pleasant day for them, and tea then was always a happy function. All sat at a big table in the hall–Jean, Mana, Annie, Mary, Alice, and Maggie, with bunches of small boys and girls on the floor. It was then that boxes of delicacies from home were opened and devoured. How grateful she was to all her friends! “The gifts,” she would write, “are veiled in a mist of love, real Scottish love, reticent but deep and strong, full of pathos and prayer; the dear love inspired in our strong rugged Scots character by the Holy Ghost and moulded by our beloved Presbyterianism of the olden time; love that does not forget with the passing years.” Two years after she returned she related cheerfully that she was still wearing the dress that had been given to her on furlough as her best on the occasions when Government officials called upon her.

She saw pathos in these gifts, but none of that deeper pathos which lay in her own life. She saw nothing to grieve about in her own position, but only in the empty houses along the Cross River. She was not anxious about herself, but desperately anxious about the extension of Roman Catholic influence in Calabar. “To think,” she exclaimed, “that all our blood and treasure, love and sacrifice and prayer, should have been given to make a place for them.”

From her house in the bush she had been eagerly watching the sweep of that great movement which culminated in 1900 in the union of the United Presbyterian and Free Churches of Scotland. She loved the blue banner of the United Presbyterian Church, and one of her constant admonitions to the younger generation was to carry on the grand old traditions. At first she had been inclined to favour a kind of fraternal federation, each denomination keeping its distinctive principles, but she came to believe in the transfusion of the two streams of spiritual life.

“We must not forget,” she wrote, “that the Free Church people were met at the Disruption by an empty exchequer and a confusion and blank that taxed all their energies. It took them such hard work in those days to get churches and homes for themselves that they got a bias that way, and the outlook to the ‘other sheep’ may not have been so wide as that of our forefathers. These used the little prayer-houses and humble meeting-places for prayer and preaching: they were men nursed in persecution and contempt and poverty, and they reaped God’s compensations in a detachment from the world, and in the grit and spirituality and faith and unity which stress and persecution breed. And we have inherited it all, and it is our contribution to the Church life of to-day.”

Her hope was that the Union might create a new and enlarged interest in the foreign field and fill up the ranks in Calabar; but she was to be disappointed in this, and she often expressed the view that the Mission to which she had given her heart and life had been swallowed up, and had somehow lost its individuality….

Into the United Free Church the United Presbyterians brought thirty- eight women missionaries and one hundred and eighty-five women agents, and the Free Church brought sixty European women missionaries and ten Eurasians, and nearly four hundred native women agents, making, on the women’s side of the work alone, a total missionary staff in round numbers of one hundred European workers assisted by nearly six hundred local agents, and all these were now put under a new body, the Women’s Foreign Mission Committee, composed of some of the most gifted and consecrated minds of the Church.


A dramatic public event which vitally affected her own life and the course of the mission enterprise brought her seclusion to an end. The story belongs more to the next phase of her career, but may be briefly noticed here. With the extension of British influence into the interior of the continent the form of Government had undergone another development. Two protectorates were formed, Northern and Southern Nigeria, and Sir Ralph Moor was appointed High Commissioner of the latter. The same policy of pacifying and “cleaning up” the country continued; but there were still large stretches practically untouched by the agents of the Government, including the territory lying between the Cross River and the Niger, in the upper part of which slave-raiding and trading went on as it had done for centuries. The Aros, a powerful tribe who controlled the juju worship, were the people responsible for this evil. They would not submit to the new conditions, continued to make war on peaceable tribes, and indulged in human sacrifices, blocked the trade routes, and resisted the authority of the Government. One officer was only able to penetrate fifteen miles west of the Cross River, not without perilous experiences, and then was obliged to beat a rapid retreat to escape being killed and eaten. The Government was very patient and conciliatory; but it became absolutely necessary at last to despatch a small expedition, and a field force was organised at Calabar for the purpose. Dr. Rattray of the Mission staff was attached to it as medical officer. The Aros did not wait for the advance; they raided a village only fifteen miles from Ikorofiong, and, as a precaution, all the missionaries upriver were ordered down to Duke and Creek Towns.

Okoyong was unmoved by these matters, “Ma” Slessor’s authority was supreme, but while the Government believed that all would be well, they thought it better that she should also come to Calabar until the trouble was over. Very much against her will she complied. They sent up a special convoy for her, and treated her with all consideration. They even offered to build a house at Creek Town for her and her large family; but she did not wish to become too closely identified with the Government, and declined their kindly assistance. She found accommodation in part of the hospital, where, however, she had no privacy, and was not very comfortable.

It was the first time she had been in Calabar since her arrival three years before, and she was not happy. She was never otherwise than ill, and she longed to get away from the crowd and “the bright, the terribly bright sky.” The children also were unwell. But there were compensations. The Okoyong people kept steady during the unrest, and remained true to their Queen. They came down to see her, brought all their disputes for her to settle, and loaded her with gifts of food, which were very acceptable, as prices had risen. Her lads kept on the services, and the people attended regularly. She heard good news of the twins, which the mothers had taken in order to relieve her; they were in four different homes in four different districts, and nothing had been said by the people. One of her oldest friends, the wife of a big chief, a wealthy leisured woman, bore twins. She instantly wrote to the chief telling him to put her into a canoe and send her down to Creek Town. “I am sorry for her,” she said, “but we cannot make different laws for the rich and for the poor, and yet one may press too far with a chief, and incite rebellion. After all we are foreigners, and they own the country, so I always try to make the law fit in, while we adjust things between us.”

A campaign of three months sufficed to break the power of the Aros, but long before that she was wearying to be back in Okoyong. At last she appealed to the Commissioner. He asked her to wait until a certain movement of troops was completed. Smilingly she replied that she would be off at the first opportunity–and she went.

Her enforced sojourn in Creek Town was followed by the best results. New missionaries had come out in whom she became interested. The one to whom she owed most was the Rev. A. W. Wilkie, B.D., who soon afterwards married a daughter of Dr. George Robson, the Editor of the _Missionary Record_. With these two she formed a friendship which was to prove one of the joys of her life. Mr. Wilkie understood her from the first; his keen insight enabled him to explore a character that was growing ever more complex, and he possessed that quality of understanding sympathy to which alone her sensitive nature responded.

She enjoyed meeting these young workers who had come to carry on the traditions of the Mission; she liked them because of their eagerness and energy and their desire to do things. All her knowledge was at their disposal, and she would tell them of the golden days of the past and describe the characteristics and superstitions of the people as well as speak of the higher things of life. Some of them thought her the most fascinating woman they had ever met. “Her talks,” they declared, “are better than medicine.” Many a wise bit of counsel she passed on to her sister missionaries. “She gave me at the very beginning of life in Calabar,” says one, “a piece of advice that I have never forgotten, and which has comforted me over and over again. I was saying that in a place like Duke Town it was so difficult to know exactly what to do, and she said, ‘_Do?_ lassie, _do?_ You’ve not got to do, you’ve just got to _be_, and the doing will follow.'” “Make a bold stand for purity of speech and charity of judgment,” she told another, “and let none of the froth that rises to the top of the life around you vex or disturb your peace.” Many acknowledged that they had their lives enriched, their faith strengthened, and their work helped by contact with her.


The younger missionaries began to frequent Akpap, and from the accounts of their visits we obtain some unstudied and vivid pictures of “Ma” and her household. This slight woman with the shrunk and colourless skin, the remarkable deep-set eyes, and the Scots tongue, so poor in the gifts of the world, so rich in the qualities of the spirit, made a deep impression upon them, although it is a question whether they ever fully understood all she was and did. They lived in the European atmosphere, she in the native; they noticed only superficial aspects, she moved deep beneath the surface amongst conditions of which they were only dimly aware.

“We walk for five or six miles along the pleasant bush path,” writes one, “and as we near the big trees and the clearing round the Mission House, children’s voices cry, ‘Ma is coming,’ and a sweet, somewhat strident voice inquires, ‘What Ma? Jean put the kettle on, Jean put the kettle on.’ ‘And we’ll all have tea,’ sings out my friend. ‘How are you, Ma?’ for we have reached the verandah, and ‘Ma,’ eagerly hospitable, is giving us a royal welcome.” She was usually found barefooted and bareheaded, with a twin-baby in her arms and a swarm of children about her, or on the roof nailing down the sheet-iron which a tornado had shifted, or holding a palaver from the verandah, or sitting in Court, but always busy. “No one can have much time for rest here,” was the verdict of one missionary after a short stay. “Her power,” wrote another, “is amazing; she is really Queen of the whole of Okoyong district. The High Commissioner and his staff leave the administration of it in her hands. It is wonderful to see the grip she has of the most intricate native and political questions of the country. The people tell me she knows their language better than they do themselves, and that they appeal to her on their own customs and laws. She has done a magnificent work, and the people have a deeper reverence for her than you can imagine. When they speak of her their tones change. One thing I noticed, she never allowed a native to sit in her presence. She keeps them all at a respectful distance, although when they are ill, sometimes with the most loathsome diseases, she will nurse them; and she never shakes hands with them. She told the High Commissioner to do so with some–but for herself, never! When I asked her the reason she looked at me and said simply, ‘I live alone.'”

The reference to her command of the language bears out what all competent observers have stated. Some missionaries retain their accent even after long service and speak as foreigners, but she had all the vocabulary, the idioms, the inflections, the guttural sounds, the interjections, and sarcasms, as well as the quick characteristic gestures that belong only to the natives. “She excelled even the natives themselves in their own tongue,” says Mr. Luke. “She could play with it and make the people smile; she could cut with it and make them wince; she could pour spates of indignation until they cried out, ‘_Ekem!_ Enough, Ma!’ and she could croon with it and make the twins she saved happy, and she could sing with it softly to comfort and cheer.” One visitor who accompanied a missionary friend found her haranguing a crowd who had arrived to palaver. She stopped now and again and spoke to the visitors in broad Scots. “Well,” said the missionary afterwards, “what do you think of her?” “I would not like her to catch me stealing her chickens!” was the reply.

One of the qualities which astonished her guests was her utter fearlessness. There were no locks on her mission doors. She went everywhere, condemning chiefs, fining them, divorcing them; and came home to her bairns to be a child with them, and to romp and sing to them queer little chants of her own composition. One story of these days her visitors carried away. A murder had been committed, and the slayer was pursued by the people, who intended to follow out their custom and torture him. He was seized and chained. Straining to break loose, his eyes almost bursting from their sockets, he cried, “Beware! You may kill me, but my spirit will come back and spoil you. Ay, it will not be you, the slaves, but you, the chiefs, that will suffer. Beware! I will come if you do not take me to Ma’s house.”

He was taken to “Ma,” who on hearing the evidence ordered him to be conveyed to Duke Town. Then she loosed him from his chains and sat down with him alone in the house for the whole afternoon. The doors and windows were open, and all he had to do was to strike her down and fly. But she showed no fear. At night he was again chained and placed in the prayer-room or store-room underneath until the guard arrived. During the night he managed to slip off his chains and was free to escape into the bush. When she went into the room in the morning with food and called him, there was no sound or reply. It was dark in the place, but she entered and moved around to find the prisoner. At the back of the door she came into contact with his swinging body. He had taken off his loin-cloth and hanged himself.

Her visitors noticed, almost with wonders her devotion to her children and the little morsels of humanity that came pouring in upon her. Miss Welsh, LL.A., thus describes the household: “Jean, the ever-cheerful and willing helper; Annie the drawer of water and hewer of wood, kind willing worker; Mary the smart, handsome favourite; Alice the stolid dependable little body, and Maggie the fusionless, Dannie the imp, and Asoquoe who looked with his big innocent eyes a wee angel, and who yet was in constant trouble, chiefly for insisting on sharing the cat’s meals. Then there were the babies–a lovely wee twin-girl, whom their mother was nursing, a poor wee boy almost skin and bone lying cradled in a box. Behind the house in a rough shelter was another twin-mother caring none too kindly for her surviving child.” Another writes, “I never saw anything more beautiful than her devotion to these black children. She had a poor sick boy in her arms all the time, and nursed him while walking up and down directing the girls. He died at 11.30 and she slept with him in her arms all night. Next morning he was put in a small milk packing-case, and the children dug a grave and buried it and held a service.”

And here we have the scene at evening prayers: “We began with an Efik hymn of her own, which she repeated line by line, while the little ones chanted it with a weird intonation. They then sang the whole to the tune _French_. She tested their memory of the morning lesson, and gave them a homely but powerful address, interrupting herself once to tell us how hydrophobia had broken out a few days before, and how she had held one poor lad of ten in her arms until he died. She prayed, and the children bowed down their heads till they rested upon the ground. They next chanted the ‘Amen,’ and half-chanted the Lord’s Prayer, and finished with what she called ‘one of the new fanciful English hymns– ‘If I come to Jesus.’ Then very simply and sweetly she commended us all to the Father’s love and care.”

Long talks, often prolonged into the night, would follow. “How Ma talked,” says Miss Welsh, “and what a privilege it was to listen, what an experience, and what an education! How she made the past vivid as she lived it over again–the days of her girlhood–her mischievous pranks, her love of fun, her early days in Calabar, tales of the old worthies, tales of herself, and her own life, of her early pioneering, of loved ones at home, of kind letters whose messages of cheer she would share, of comfort and help from God’s word–from the passage of the day’s reading, of new lessons learned, of new light revealed. I can still hear her, still listen with the old fascination, still enjoy her wild indignations, still marvel at her amazing personality, her extraordinary vitality and energy, still feel as I have ever felt her God-given power to draw one nearer to the Lord she loved so well.”

When her guests departed she would walk with them a long way, her feet bare, her head uncovered. “No,” said a missionary, “I would not like to see other ladies do that, but I would not care to see her different. It is easy to give a false impression of her. She is not unwomanly. She is eccentric if you like, but she is gentle of heart, with a beautiful simplicity of nature, I join in the reverence which the natives show her.”


Miss Slessor began to feel that her days in Okoyong were drawing to a close. Her part of the work there was done. The district was civilised, and all that the station required was organisation in detail and steady development. But she was not one to rest in any circumstances in which she was placed. She abated nothing of her devotion in the interests of the peoples and although her strength did not now allow her to take long journeys on foot she never hesitated to answer the call upon her sympathy and courage. She had more than one adventure in these days, but she had passed through so many hard experiences that she made light of them, regarding them as mere incidents in the day’s work.

One afternoon, while she was in school, there appeared before her a young man of the superior class of slaves, who said his wife had given birth to twins in the bush more than twelve miles away. All the people had deserted her, a tornado was brewing–would she come and help?

“Ma” thought of her brood of children, and one a sickly baby, but turning them over to the slave twin-mother she had bought, and leaving food with her in her hut, she committed the whole twelve to Providence and set out with Jean.

The young man led them at a breathless pace. “If only you could _dion_ the rain-cloud,” he cried back. “I am praying that God may keep it back,” was all Mary could jerk out. The way seemed endless, and the shadows of night fell swiftly about them, but at last they arrived near the spot and were joined by the mistress of the slave and an old naked woman. They found the mother lying on the ground surrounded by charms. “Ma” pushed these away with her foot. The night was pitch dark, there were occasional raindrops, and the woman was delirious. She ordered the husband and his slave-man to make a stretcher. They regarded the idea with horror, and pleaded that they could never carry her, their belief doubtless being that they would die if they touched the unclean burden. All begged “Ma” to leave the woman to her fate, but she turned upon them with a voice of scorn, and such was her power that the men hastily set to and constructed a rough stretcher of branches and leaves, and even helped to place the woman upon it.

Before leaving, a sad little ceremony had to take place. One of the infants was dead, and Jean took her machete and dug a little cavity in the ground, and upon some soft leaves the child was laid and covered up. She then lifted the other twin, the men raised the stretcher, and the party set off, a fire-stick, red at the point, and twirled to maintain the glow, dimly showing them the way. The rain kept off, but it was so dark that “Ma” had to keep hold of the hem of Jean’s dress in order not to lose her. The latter stumbled and fell, bringing down Mary also. “Where are you?” each cried, and then a hand or a foot was held out and gripped. Sometimes the men dropped to their knees, but the jolting brought no cry from the unconscious form they were carrying.

By and by they drew up in the utter solitude, and had to confess they were lost. The men left to grope for signs of the path and the two women were alone. Jean grew depressed, not on her own account but on “Ma’s,” for she knew that she was utterly exhausted, and could not hold out much longer. “What if they desert us?” she said. “Well,” replied Mary, trying to appear as if fatigue and fear and wild beasts had no existence, “we shall just stay here until the morning.” Jean’s response was something like a grunt. One of the men returned. “Can’t find a road,” he grumbled, and disappeared again.

What was that? A firefly? No, a light. The other man had discovered a hut, and had procured a lighted palm tassel dipped in oil. Poor as it was the light served to show the way until the path was reached.

After sore toil they gained the Mission yard. The men laid the stretcher in an open shed and, overcome with their exertions, threw themselves down anywhere and went asleep. But there was no rest yet for Mary. Securing some old doors and sheets of iron she patched up a room for the woman, In which she could pass the night.

The children were awakened and crawled out of Iye’s hut into the yard crying in sleepy misery. Jean and Annie carried them to the Mission House and put them to bed, and brought back some hot food for the patient, who was constantly moaning, “Cold, cold; give me a fire.”

Not till she was fed and soothed did Mary give in. She could not summon sufficient strength to go upstairs, but lay down on the floor where she was, with her clothes on, and all the dirt of the journey upon her, and slept till daybreak.

The baby died next day, and the mother hovered at the point of death. Mary strove hard to save her, but the result was doubtful from the first. None in the yard would give any help save Jean; the woman was a social leper, and all sat at a safe distance, dumb or blaspheming. Conscious at the end, the poor girl cried piteously to her husband not to reproach her. “It is not my fault,” she said, “I did not mean to insult you.”

“Ma” placed her hand on her hot brow calming her, and prayed that she might find an entrance into a better world than the one which had treated her so badly. When she passed away she thrust aside the leper woman whom her people sent to assist her, and washed the body herself and dressed her so that for once a twin-mother was honoured in her death. She was placed in a coffin of corrugated iron, strengthened with bamboo splints, and beside her were put the spoons and pot and dish and other things which she had used.

Her husband and his slave bore her away into the bush, and there at a desolate spot, where no one was likely to live or plant or build, they left her and stole from the place in terror.


On the fifteenth anniversary of that notable Sunday in 1888 when Mary settled at Ekenge, the first communion service in Okoyong was held. It crowned her service there, and put a seal upon the wonderful work she had accomplished for civilisation and for Christ. Alone, she had done in Okoyong what it had taken a whole Mission to do in Calabar. The old order of heathenism had been broken up, the business of life was no longer fighting and killing, women were free from outrage and the death menace, slaves had begun to realise that they were human beings with human rights, industry and trade were established, peace reigned. Above all, people were openly living the Christian life, and many lads were actively engaged in Church work.

No congregation had been formally organised, but the readiness of the young people to join the Church was brought to the notice of the Rev. W. T. Weir, who was stationed at Creek Town, with the result that he was appointed to go up and conduct the necessary services.

On the Saturday night in August corresponding to the one when she arrived, a preparatory service was held in the hall beneath the Mission House, and in the presence of the people seven young Christians were received into the Church by baptism. More were coming forward, but the fears of their friends succeeded in preventing them. “Wait and see,” they urged, “until we know what the thing is.” Some of the parents anxiously asked “Ma” whether the ceremony was in any way connected with _mbiam_.

On Sunday came a great throng, which filled the hall and overflowed into the grounds, many sitting on native stools and chairs, and even on gin-boxes. Before the communion service she presented eleven of the children, including six she had rescued, for baptism.

It was a quiet and beautiful day, with the hush that comes with God’s rest-day all the world over. As the company gathered to the first Memorial Table in Okoyong, she thought of all the years that lay behind, and was greatly moved. In the stillness the old Scottish Psalm tunes rose thrilling with the gratitude and praise of a new-born people. After the bread and wine had been partaken of, thanks were returned by the singing of the 103rd Psalm to the tune _Stroudwater_. When the third and fourth verses were being sung–

_Kprukpru muquankpo ke ima | All thine iniquities who doth Enye adahado; | Most graciously forgive: Anam udoeno okure, | Who thy diseases all and pains Ye ndutukhoe fo. | Doth heal, and thee relieve.

Enye onim fi ke uwem, | Who doth redeem thy life, that thou Osio ka mkpa; | To death may’st not go down; Onyun odori fi eti | Who thee with loving-kindness doth Mfoen y’aqua ima_. | And tender mercies crown–

She seemed to be lost In a trance of thought, her face had a far-away look, and tears stood in her eyes. She was thinking of the greatness of God’s love that could win even the oppressed people of dark Okoyong.

She could not let the assembly break up without saying a few words. Now that they had the beginnings of a congregation they must, she said, build a church large enough for all who cared to come. And she pled with those who had been received to remain true to the faith. “Okoyong now looks to you more than to me for proof of the power of the Gospel.”

In the quiet of the evening in the Mission House, she seemed to dwell in the past. Long she spoke of what the conditions had been fifteen years before, and of the changes that had come since. But her joy was in those who had been brought to confess Christ, and she was glad to think that, after all, the work had not been a failure. And all the glory she gave to her Father who had so marvellously helped her.

For a moment also her fancy turned to the future. She would be no longer there, but she knew the work would go on from strength to strength, and her eyes shone as she saw in vision the gradual ingathering of the people, and her beloved Okoyong at last fair and redeemed.


1902-1910. Age 54-62.


_”I feel drawn on and on by the magnetism of this land of dense darkness and mysterious weird forest.”_


Again had come the fulness of the time, and again Mary Slessor, at an age when most women begin to think of taking their ease, went forward to a new and great work for Christ and civilisation. Kind eyes and loving hands beckoned to her from Scotland to come and rest, but she gazed into the interior, towards vast regions as yet unentered, and saw there the gleam of the Divine light leading her on, and she turned with a happy sigh to follow it.

In this case there was no sharp division between the old and new spheres of service. For ten years she had been brooding over the conditions in the territory on the west side of the Cross River, so near at hand, so constantly skirted by missionaries, traders, and officials as they sailed up-river, and yet so unknown, and so full of the worst abominations of heathenism.

Just above Calabar the Cross River bends back upon itself, and here at the point of the elbow the Enyong Creek runs inland into the heart of the territory towards the Niger. At its mouth on high ground stands the township of Itu, of sinister reputation in the history of the West Coast. For there on the broad beach at the foot of the cliff was held & market which for centuries supplied Calabar and the New World with slaves. Down through the forest paths, down the quiet waters of the Creek, countless victims of man’s cupidity had poured, had been huddled together there, had been inspected, appraised, and sold, and then had been scattered to compounds throughout the country or shipped across the sea. And there still a market, was held, and along the upper borders of the Creek human sacrifice and cannibalism were practised. Only recently a chief had died, and sixty slave people had been killed and eaten. One day twenty-five were set in a row with their hands tied behind them, and a man came and with a knife chopped off their heads.

It is a strange irony that this old slave creek, the scene of so much misery and anguish, is one of the prettiest waterways in West Africa. It is narrow and still and winding, and great tropical trees covered with the delicate tracery of creepers line the banks, their branches sometimes interlacing above, while the undergrowth is rich in foliage and blossom. Lovely orchids and ferns grow in the hollows of the boughs and old trunks that have fallen; but the glory of the Creek is its water-lilies, which cover the surface everywhere, so that a boat has often to cut its way through their mass. On either hand, side-creeks can be seen twisting among the trees and running deeper into the heart of the forest. The silence of the primeval solitude is unbroken save when a canoe passes, and then a startled alligator will slip into the water, monkeys will scurry chattering from branch to branch, parrots will fly screaming away, blue kingfishers and wild ducks will disappear from their perch, and yellow palm birds will gleam for a moment as they flit through the sunlight. The Creek is beautiful at all times, but in the early morning when the air is cool and the light is misty and the vistas are veiled in dimness, the scene is one of fairy-like enchantment.

Above the Creek all the country between the Cross River and the Niger up to near Lokoja in Northern Nigeria, was occupied by the Ibo tribe, numbering about four millions, of a fairly high racial type, who were dominated by the Aros clan dwelling in some twenty or thirty towns situated close together in the district of Arochuku (“God of the Aros”). A remarkable and mysterious people, the Aros were light- coloured, intelligent, subtle, and cunning. More intellectual and commercial than warlike, they developed two lines of activity–trade and religion–and made each serve the other. Their chief commodity was slaves. Each town controlled certain slave routes, and each had a definite sphere of influence which extended over a wide tract of territory. When slaves were scarce they engaged mercenaries to raid villages and capture them. But they had usually a supply from the Long Juju situated in a secret, well-guarded gorge. The fame of this fetish was like that of the Delphic oracle of old; it spread over the country, and people came far distances to make sacrifices at its shrine, and consult the priests on all possible subjects. These priests were men chosen by the various towns, who were raised to a semi-sacred status in the eyes of the people. Enormous fees and fines were imposed, but the majority who entered the spot never left it alive; they were either sacrificed and eaten, or sold into slavery. The shrine was built in the middle of a stream, which was alive with ugly fish with glaring eyes that were regarded as sacred. When the friends of the man who had entered saw the water running red, they believed that the Juju had devoured him. In reality some red material had been cast in, and the man would be sent as a slave to a remote part of the country.

The priests despatched their emissaries far and wide; they settled in townships, swore blood brotherhood with the chiefs, and took part in local affairs. They planted farms, and traded and acquired enormous power. When disputes arose they got the matter sent for adjustment to the town in Aro within whose sphere of influence they lived, or to the Long Juju. In this way they acted as agents of the slave system. Other men took round the slaves on definite routes. Their usual plan was to leave one on approval, obtaining on their own part so much on each, or a slave of lower value. When the trader returned the bargain would be completed. The usual price of a new slave was 200 or 300 rods and a bad slave. So widespread was the net east by the Aros, and so powerful their influence, that if a chief living a full week’s journey to the north were asked, “What road is that?” he would say, “The road to Aro.” All roads in the country led to Aro.

A few years before this a party of eight hundred natives had proceeded from the territories about the Niger to consult the Long Juju on various matters. They were led by a circuitous route to Arochuku, and housed in a village. Batches of from ten to twenty were regularly taken away, ostensibly to the Juju, but were either sacrificed or sold into servitude, only a miserable remnant of 130 succeeding in reaching the hands of Government officials.

Of a totally different type were the people living to the south of the Creek, called the Ibibios. They were one of the poorest races in Africa, both morally and physically, a result largely due to centuries of fear and oppression. Ibibio was the chief raiding-ground of the head-hunters, and the people lived in small isolated huts and villages deep in the forest, in order to lessen the risk of capture. In demeanour they were cowed and sullen, gliding past one furtively and swiftly, as if afraid; in language and life they were untruthful and filthy. The women, who wore no clothing save a small piece of native cloth made of palm fibre, were mere beasts of burden. All the young people went naked. Most unpromising material they seemed. Yet they never ceased to draw out the sympathy and hope of the White Mother of Okoyong; there was no people, she believed, who could not be recreated.

She knew a great deal about the Aros and their slave system, more, probably, than any other white person in the country. Indeed few had any knowledge of them. “What is sad about the Aro Expedition,” wrote Mr. Luke, one of the Cross River pioneers, “is that nearly all the town names in connection with it are unknown to those of us who thought we had a passable knowledge of Old Calabar. I never heard of the Aros, of Bende, or of Arochuku. It is somewhat humiliating that after over fifty years’ work as a mission, the district on the right bank should be so little known to us.” Mary had first-hand acquaintance with the people. Refugees came to her from both Ibo and Ibibio with stories of cruelty and wrong and oppression; chiefs from both regions sought her out for advice and guidance; slave-dealers from Arochuku and Bende, with their human wares, called at Ekenge and Akpap, and with many of these she was friendly, and learned from them the secrets of their trade. She told them frankly that she was coming some day to their country, and they gave her a cordial invitation, but hinted that it might not be quite safe. It was not the danger that prevented her. She would have gone before, but the difficulty was providing for Okoyong when she was absent. She would not leave her people unless they were cared for by competent hands. She asked for two ladies to be sent in order that she might be free to carry out her idea of visiting the Aro country, but none could be spared, and so she had, perforce, to wait. It was not easy, but she loyally submitted. “The test of a real good missionary,” she wrote, “is this waiting, silent, seemingly useless time. So many who can distinguish themselves at home, missing the excitement and the results, get discontented, morose, cynical, and depreciate everything. Everything, however seemingly secular and small, is God’s work for the moment, and worthy of our very best endeavour. To such, a mission house, even in its humdrum days, is a magnificent opportunity of service. In a home like mine a woman can find infinite happiness and satisfaction. It is an exhilaration of constant joy–I cannot fancy anything to surpass it on earth.”

Then came the military expedition to break up the slave system and the false gods of Aro. The troops were moved into Arochuku by way of the Creek, and the forces of civilisation encountered the warriors of barbarism in the swamps and bush that edge the waterway. When the troops entered the towns they found juju-houses everywhere, and in almost every home were rude images smeared with the blood of sacrifice. The dreaded Long Juju was discovered in a gloomy defile about a mile from Arochuku. The path to it wound a tortuous way through dense bush, with others constantly leading off on both sides, evidently intended to puzzle the uninitiated. A watch-tower was passed where sentinels had been posted. At the bottom of the valley, between high rocky banks clothed with ferns and creepers, ran a stream which widened out into a pool covered with water-lilies. In the dim light was seen a small island, and upon it a rude shelter surrounded by a fence of gun- barrels. Lying about were gin-bottles, cooking-pots, and human skulls, the witness of past orgies. At the entrance was a white goat starving to death.

Most of the chiefs had never seen-a white man, and when Sir Ralph Moor went up to hold a palaver, their interest was intense. They sat on the ground in a semicircle in the shade of a giant cotton tree, suspicious and hostile, listening to the terms of the Government, which included disarmament, the suppression of the juju-worship, and the prohibition of the buying, pawning, and selling of slaves. After much palaver these were agreed to. Over two thousand five hundred war-guns were surrendered, but sacrifices continued–and still to some extent go on in secret in the depths of the forest. Much work also had still to be done before Government rule was generally accepted. Throughout the whole time occupied by the expedition, but more particularly in the later stages, the important chiefs kept continually in touch with “Ma” Slessor, and one official states that it was to her influence more than all the force and power of the Government emissaries that the final settlement of the country was due….

It is interesting to speculate what might have been the course of events had she been able to carry out her plan before the punitive expedition was called for. Mr. Wilkie goes so far as to say that “had she been settled in the Aro country it is doubtful whether an armed expedition would have been necessary, and it is at least possible that the suppression of the slave-trade would have been achieved by the peaceable means of the Gospel.” Primitive peoples often bend more quickly before Christ than break before might of arms.


A large tract of new territory was now open to outside influences. Who was to be the first to settle in it–official, trader, or missionary? Mary studied the situation again in the light of the new conditions, obtaining information first-hand from officials and natives. There were two stations on the west of the Cross River–Ikorofiong, which, however, was really an Efik trading town, and higher up, Unwana, which was a back-water and unfit for a base for inland work. Tentative efforts had been made from time to time to secure a footing elsewhere, but had come to nothing, and the policy of the Mission had been to continue up-river as being the line of least resistance. Her conviction was that extension, for the present at least, should take place not up the river, where the stations were cut off from the base during the dry season, but laterally across the country between the Cross River and the Niger. There were, she saw, three strategetic factors which dominated the situation–the Enyong Creek giving admission to the new territory, Itu at its mouth, and Arochuku, the religious and political centre of the Ibos. The central position of Itu impressed her; it commanded the three contiguous regions and peoples–the Ibo, Ibibio, and Efik, and her plan was to seize and hold it as a base, then one of the towns of Arochuku as the threshold of Iboland, and, if possible, Bende. Her views did not commend themselves to all her colleagues in Calabar, but how wise, how far-seeing, how statesmanlike was her policy the later history of the Mission proves.

She felt she could do nothing until help was obtained for Akpap. Fortunately there was one lady missionary in Calabar who had the courage to prefer Okoyong to quieter stations-Miss Wright of the Girls’ Institute, who asked the local Committee to send her there as assistant to Miss Slessor; and although the Committee approved, the matter was referred to the Women’s Committee at home. As there seemed no prospect of anything being done, she began to move quietly along her own lines. Her school lads were now old enough and educated enough to be used as advance agents, and her hope lay in these. In January 1903 she left Akpap with two boys, Esien and Effiom, and one of her girls, Mana, and canoed to Itu, and planted them there to teach school and hold services. Esien took the chief part in the latter, whilst Effiom led the singing. Mana’s work was the teaching of the girls. A few weeks later she found that the results had exceeded all her dreams. The chief said he was too old to change his ways, but the younger ones could learn the new ideas–anyway God had made him, and so was bound to look after him whatever sins he committed. But the children were eager to learn, and made apt scholars, and the people crowded to the services until there was no more room for them. She went up again and selected a site on the top of the hill with a magnificent view and built a school, speeding the work with her own hands, and set the willing people to construct a church, with two rooms for herself at the end. When one of her fellow-missionaries, Dr. Rattray, heard of this he wrote: “Bravo! Uganda was evangelised by this means, and the teachers there could only read the gospels and could not write or count; the Mission understood its business to be to spread the Gospel, and all who could read taught others and spread the news. Perhaps we educate the people too much, and make them think that education is religion.”

When in February she heard that the Roman Catholics were intending to settle at Bende her heart was heavy. “The thought that all that is holiest in the Church, should have been shed to create an opening for that corrupt body makes me ill. And not even a station opened or the hope of one! Oh, if I were able to go or send even a few of my bairns just to take hold. The country is far from being at rest, but if the Roman Catholics can go so can I…. There is a great future for Nigeria; if only I were young again and had money!”

She wrote to Dr. Adam, a Government friend in Bende, a soldier of the Church as well as a servant of the King, and he supplied her with all the information she needed. Bende, he said, was not the place it was supposed to be; the population numbered from two to four thousand; it was not likely to become a trading centre; whilst the overland transport was a disadvantage. The journey was by launch to Itu, by steel canoe up the Enyong Creek, thence by foot or hammock to Arochuku and Bende. He stated that Bishop Johnston of the Church Missionary Society was already in Bende prospecting.

When she received his letter she said to herself, “Shall I go?” She did not wish to compromise the mission in any way, and proposed to go about the matter quietly, at her own expense. She would travel if necessary in a hammock, as she was not so sure of herself as of old, and would find rest at wayside huts, and she would take Iye to act as interpreter where the women did not know Efik. “I would do what I like, and would come back to my work rested and refreshed. But–I want God to send me.”

What was influencing her also was the conviction that the end had come for her at Akpap. Again she had the consciousness that it was time for the station to be taken over by an ordained missionary, who would build up a congregation. “I shall not say that I shall leave my home without a pang, but I know that I can do work which new folk cannot do, and my days of service are closing in, and I cannot build up a church in the way a minister can.” She believed that in the special conditions of West Africa women were better than men for beginning work in the interior. And she still retained her faith in the home-trained domesticated type–girls who had brothers and sisters and had learned to give and take and find duty in doing common things, rather than those turned out by the training schools, who were, she thought, apt to be too artificial and full of theories. Her ideal of a man missionary was Dr. Rattray, who was a good carpenter and shoemaker and general handy-man,–“far better accomplishments than a college education for the African field.” She did not, of course, depreciate culture, so long as practical qualities of heart and hand went with it.

The proposal regarding Miss Wright going to Akpap having been agreed to, she began to look forward to her advent as an event that would determine the future. Seldom has one been so eagerly watched for; for months it was nothing but “When Miss Wright comes,” “Wait till Miss Wright comes,” so on. For days before she appeared the household were in excited mood, every morning fresh flowers were placed in her bedroom, the boys and girls kept themselves dressed and ready to receive her. When she did arrive it made all the difference that was hoped. She was a capable, unselfish, plucky girl; she knew the language, and was experienced in the ways of the people. Very quietly she slipped into the method of the house, taking the school and dispensary off “Ma’s” hands, and looking after the babies with the same pitying sympathy. The girls became quite at home with her, in the long nights she would sing to them, recalling the times in the bush when Mr. Ovens used to entertain them. “She is a right sisterly helpmate,” wrote Mary, “and a real help and comfort in every way. Things go as smoothly as on a summer’s day, and I don’t know how I got on alone. It seems too good to be true.”

III. On To Arochuku

On a morning of June 1908 she left Akpap for Itu, tramping the forest path to Ikunetu in order to pick up the Government launch on its weekly journey to the garrisons up-river. The Government, as usual, gave her every facility for carrying on her new work, granted her free passages, took charge of her packages and letters, placed their Rest Houses at her disposal, and told her to ask for whatever she wanted. She did not care to trouble them unduly, but was very grateful for their consideration. On arriving at Ikunetu she went into the teacher’s house to rest, charging the boys to call her as soon as they sighted the launch. They did not notice it until it was too late for her to signal, and it passed onwards and out of sight. But she was not put out; her faith was always strong in the guiding hand of God; and she turned and tramped back the same long road. When she reached the Mission House tired and weary, she assured Miss Wright that all was well–God had not meant her to travel that day, and she must have been kept back for some purpose.

Next week she set out again, and when she joined the launch at Ikunetu, Colonel Montanaro, the Commander of the Forces, was on board on his way up to Arochuku. In the course of their conversation he gave her a pressing invitation to go there, and to accept his escort. She was almost startled by what seemed so direct a leading. But she was not prepared for a longer journey; she had no change of clothing or supply of food. She thought and prayed over the matter all the way. “Here is the challenge to enter that region of unbroken gloom and despair,” she mused. “If it is not entered now, the Roman Catholics will come in, and the key position to the whole territory will be taken out of our hands, and only the coast tribes be left to the Mission. If I go now we shall be the first in the field, and it will not be discourteous to the Roman Catholics–as it would be if we came in afterwards.” Before the end of the journey she consented to go.

When she arrived at Arochuku she found herself in the old slave centre of the Aros, a densely populated district, some 80,000 people living within a radius of a few square miles. It was a strange experience to walk over these roads that had been trodden for centuries by countless feet on their way to the pens of the coast and the horrors of the “middle passage,” and latterly to the Efik slave-market, and to gaze on the spot where the secret iniquities of the Long Juju had taken place; stranger still to receive a welcome from the men who had been responsible for these evils. The chiefs and traders, many of whom she knew, were delighted with her courage and touched by her self- sacrifice, and promised to do all they could to assist her work. Making arrangements to come up later and start a school, she left, profoundly thankful for the privilege she had been granted, and praying that the Church at home would have a vision of the grand opportunity opening up before it.

The officials of the Church, of course, knew of the opportunity, but the members at large were not interested. Dr. Robson, as Convener of the Calabar Sub-Committee, pointed out how the situation was practically a crisis–no ground had been broken west of the Cross River, no teachers had been sent to the east. For a quarter of a century the supply of men had not sufficed for the existing needs of the Mission, and extension had been impossible. The givings of the Church for foreign missions had been far below the urgent requirements. Either, he said, the staff and income must be largely increased, or they would have to step aside and invite others to divide the field with them. No adequate response was made to this and similar appeals, and the lonely pioneer was forced onwards upon her solitary path.

A short time afterwards she went back to Arochuku, taking two lads, and a school was opened in the palaver shed of Amasu, one of the towns nearest the Creek, A hundred children crowded into the building along with women and men, and not a few of the old slavers, and the scholars were soon well on in the first book. In one village which she visited she found a young trader who had brought news of the Christ religion from the Niger, and was anxious to introduce a church and teacher. When she left the district again, the people came to the landing-beach and cried after her, “Don’t be long in coming back, Ma! If you don’t care for us, who will care for us?”

As her canoe was paddled down the creek, she lay back enjoying the beauty of the scene. The water was as smooth as a mirror, and like a mirror reflected the delicate tracery of the overhanging foliage; bright birds sailed hither and thither, gorgeous butterflies flitted about, and brilliant blossoms coloured the banks. She had passed in succession two snakes attempting to cross the stream, and was watching the efforts of a third when a small canoe shot out from behind a clump of bushes and bumped into her craft. She apologised to the man in it, but standing cap in hand he said, “I meant it, Ma; I have been waiting for you; my master at Akani Obio sent me to waylay you and bring you to his house.” Taking a letter from his cap he handed it to her.

The canoe was turned and entered a still creek, a picture of delicate loveliness, with multitudes of lilies and other aquatic plants, which made her feel as if she were moving through an exquisite dream. A shingly beach, evidently a busy trading-place, was reached, and there stood a young man and young woman, handsome and well-dressed, who assisted her to land. They led her into a good house and into a pretty room with concrete floor, a European bedstead, clean and dainty, with mosquito curtains and all the appointments that indicated people of taste. The man was Onoyom Iya Nya, a born statesman, the only one in the district who had not been disarmed by the Government, and the one who had been chosen President of the Native Court, and was shaping well as a wise and enlightened ruler.

It was a moving story that Mary heard from his lips, while his wife stood by and listened. It went back to 1875 when he was a boy. One day a white man appeared in the Creek, and all the people decamped and hid. He, alone, stayed on the beach, and in response to a request from the white man, offered to lead him to the chief’s house. During the palaver that ensued he lingered by, an absorbed listener. When the white man left he was tried by the heads of the town and severely punished for having acted as guide. The stranger was the Rev. Dr. Robb, one of the ablest missionaries in the Mission, then stationed at Ikorofiong.

The boy never forgot the incident. But he grew up a heathen, and went to the cannibal feasts at Arochuku. When his father died, ten little girls were slaughtered, and five of the bodies were placed beneath the corpse, and five above, that they might occupy the position of wives in the spirit world. He married, but misfortune seemed to dog him. His house was burned down, and then his child died. Seeking for the man who had wrought these things by witchcraft, in order to murder him, he met a native who had once been a Mission teacher in Calabar, but who had fallen into evil ways and was now homeless and a drunkard.

“How do you know,” the latter said, “that it is not the God of the white man that is angry with you? He is all-powerful.”

“Where can I find this God!” the chief queried.

“I am not worthy to say, but go to the white Ma at Itu, and she will tell you.”

“I will go,” was the reply.

He took a canoe and watched for Mary on the Creek, but missed her. In his impatience he engaged the old teacher, who had still his Bible, to come and read _Iko Abasi_ to him. Again he sent for “Ma,” but she had gone on to Arochuku. Then he kept a man on the look-out in the Creek, and it was he who had intercepted her.

“And now,” he said, “will you show me what to do?”

As he told the story several big, fattened ladies had come in, and a number of children and dependants. She prayed with them, sent for the teacher’s Bible, and talked with them long and earnestly. The chief’s wife made her a cup of tea, and she left, promising to come later and see what she could do to develop a station.

The detour had made her late, and the canoe ran into a sudden storm of wind and rain, but her heart was jubilant, and kept singing and praying all the way to Itu. For God was good, and He was leading her, and that was perfect happiness.


The problem was how to follow up so promising a beginning. It occupied her thoughts day and night, but she came to the conclusion that she could not conscientiously leave Miss Wright alone at Akpap. The station was too isolated for her, and if she became ill it might be weeks before any one knew. An alternative was to remain herself at Akpap, and allow Miss Wright to go to Itu, where she would be in touch with the Mission, and could canoe down to Calabar if anything went wrong. The plan she liked best was to hand the station over to a minister, so that both she and Miss Wright could establish themselves at Itu and work the Creek between them. As the months went by and she paid flying visits to the infant causes at Itu and Amasu, she became more and more convinced of the magnificent opportunity lying to the Church’s hand in these regions. At Itu the congregation had grown to one of over three hundred intelligent and well-dressed people meeting in a church built by themselves. In August at Amasu she found a school of sixty-eight on a wet day, and of these thirty-eight could read the first book. That they had been brought under discipline was shown by the fact that as she entered all rose silently and simultaneously, as if they had been years instead of weeks at school.

The same month witnessed an event which gave her unbounded happiness. Jean, and Mana the slave-girl, Iye the twin-mother of Susie, Akom the first-fruit of Ekenge, and Esien the teacher at Itu, were baptized, and sat down at the communion-table. Many others were there, and joined in spirit in the celebration, but owing to difficult native complications could not take the step, and Mary never cared to force matters. Esien’s mother had been very unwilling for her son to come under Christian influence, and now she was not only present, but actually sat beside two twin-mothers. Akom’s face was transfigured. Jean’s adopted child, Dan, was also baptized on the occasion, and it was a great and solemn joy to Mary to see her oldest bairn give him to God, and promise to bring him up in His fear.

In October she was at Itu watching the building of the house for herself and teacher, and nothing delighted her more than the way in which the women worked along with the men. “I wish Crockett had been here to gather the shafts and sparks of wit and satire that flew with as much zest as ever obtained in a Galloway byre or market fairin’. It is such a treat to me, for no intercourse is permitted between the sexes in Okoyong, except that of the family, and then it is strained and unnatural, but here they were daffin’ and lauchin’ as in Scotland. How wholesome are God’s own laws of freedom and simplicity.” The house was to, have six rooms–three for herself, one for Miss Wright or other lady missionary, one for Mana, and one for Esien and Effiom. “I’m afraid that is too much for you,” she said, thinking of the mats which were not easy to obtain. “It’s not too much, Ma; nothing can be too much. We will do it.” One woman came and insisted on washing her feet in hot water. She had to give in, and as she sat down the woman said, “Ma, I’ve been so frightened you would take our teacher away because we are so unworthy. I think I could not live again in darkness. I pray all the time. I lay my basket down and just pray on the road.”

This woman sometimes prayed in the meetings, and electrified the audience, and she had begun to have devotions in her own home, though her husband laughed at her. There were many others of the same type, and it was a black slave-girl who had been the one behind it all. Mana taught and nursed and trained them, quietly and modestly, as a mother might. It was an inspiration to Mary to see her; as she looked upon such results she cried, “Oh! if only the Church knew. If only it would back us up.” To her friends she wrote, “Prayer can do anything; let us try its power.”

Returning to Akpap with two of the girls and some small children, she was caught in a tornado and made her way over the six miles of bush- road through pelting rain. The darkness was lit up by almost continuous lightning, but they lost their way, and she had at last to commandeer an old native to lead them. Such experiences were now part of her ordinary life again. On her trips up and down the Creek she was constantly drifting into strange situations, and being reduced to sleeping on mud floors, or on straw in the open, drinking tea made in empty milk tins, and subsisting for days on yam and oranges. And always she was treated by the natives with as much gallantry and courtesy as if she were a queen, and always she was singing in her heart psalms of thanksgiving and gratitude.

But she was not able as formerly to resist the effects of such exposure, and was often weary, and her weariness brought nervousness and lack of sleep. At times she was afraid of the unknown future opening out before her, and appalled when she thought of all the details of labour, supplies, and management that were coming upon her shoulders. In the dark she would rise and cry, “Calm me, O God, and keep me calm.” Then she would go and look at the sleeping children and comfort herself with the sight. “Surely,” she would say, “I have more reason to trust God than childhood has after all the way He has led me.”


She at last determined to give up her furlough in Scotland, now drawing near, and spend the time instead in prospecting in the new country. All her hopes and aims were expressed in a definite and formal way in the following document, which she sent to be read at the November meeting of the Committee–now the Mission Council–at Calabar:

I think it is an open secret that for many years the workers here have felt that our methods and modes were very far from adequate to overtake the needs of our immense field, and, as the opportunities multiply and the needs grow more clamant, the question grows in importance and gravity. The fact that only by stated consecutive work can a church be evolved and built up, and a pagan nation be moulded into a Christian people, cannot be gainsaid, and yet there is an essential need for something between, something more mobile and flexible than ordinary congregational work and methods. The scattered broken units into which our African populations are divided, their various _jujus_ and _mbiams_ and superstitions which segregate even the houses of any common village, make it necessary for us to do more than merely pay an occasional visit, even if that visit results in a church or a school being built.

Many plans suggest themselves. Church members organised into bands of two or three or four to itinerate for a week over local neighbourhoods; native teachers spending a given number of days in each month in the outlying parts of their districts; trading members of the church undertaking service in any humble capacity on up-river trading stations–in these and many other ways the gaps might be bridged and a chain of personal interest and living sympathy link on the raw heathen to the church centres, and the first rays of gospel light be conveyed and communication be opened without the material expense which the opening of new stations involves. For instance, I have spent a Sabbath at Umon, and ever so many Efik traders, men and women, joined in the congregational worship, reading from Bibles and hymn-books which had been locked in their boxes; but either timidity or some other cause kept them silent when there was no one to lead. Could not a beginning be made for those, either by initiating such a service or organising those who were trading at any place so that evening worship or some such simple way of bringing gospel truth before the minds of the heathen could go on continuously? The same holds good of Itu and other places.

For the last decade the nearer reaches of the river on which we ply have occupied a great deal of my thoughts, but from various causes no sort of supervision at all adequate suggested itself. So there has been little definite work accomplished. A few readers at Odot, desultory teaching at Eki and the back of Itu, and Umon, covers it all, I fear.

With Miss Wright’s coming, opportunities, not of our personal seeking, have forced themselves on us, and though we have done the best we could with the materials at hand, all seems so little and incomplete that the following proposal or petition or request or whatever you may term it, has been prepared, and that from no mere impulse of the moment but after careful, prayerful consideration. I may say here that Miss Wright is fully in sympathy with it, and it is from both of us.

By the 2nd January 1904 I shall have been out five years, and so my furlough would then be due, but as I have not the slightest intention of going to Britain–I am thankful to say I do not feel any necessity for so doing–I propose to ask leave from the station for six months, during which time I should, in a very easy way, try to keep up an informal system of itinerating between Okoyong and Amasu. Already I have seen a church and a dwelling-house built at Itu, and a school and a couple of rooms at Amasu. I have visited several towns of Enyong in the Creek, and have found good enough accommodation, as there are semi- European houses available and open for a lodging. I shall find my own canoe and crew, and shall stay at any given place any length of time which the circumstances suggests so as not to tax my own strength, and members of my own family shall help in the elementary teaching in the schools. From our home here we should thus superintend the small school at Idot, and start in a small way work at Eki, and reside mostly at Itu as the base, working the Creek where the Enyon towns are on the way to the farther base at Amasu, reside there or itinerate from there among the Aro people in an easy way, and back again by Creek and Itu home.

What I have to ask of you is that in order to do this a lady be sent out to be with Miss Wright. The latter is perfectly capable of attending to the station; the school and dispensary work are already in her hands, and with some one to help her I have not the slightest hesitation in leaving her in charge. Both ladies could co-operate in the travelling as choice or circumstances pointed, and as Miss Wright has had a large share in the formation and equipment of the Itu and Aro stations it would be very natural that she should take such a part in developing them as might suggest itself to her. The three of us, I have no doubt, could dovetail the details of the work so that no part should suffer, nor should any special strain be put on our health. We should like this to take shape by the end of the year, as the people will be more get-at-able in their villages in such a visitation kind of way than in the ordinary church methods during the dry season. All work in towns is slack then, and village and visitation work have their proper value.

In proposing this I know I am going in the very face of what seems to be the only possible way of dividing our stations. My own desire is to have a missionary with his wife and a native teacher take over Okoyong, congregate the educated, and at least nominal Christian part of our community, and build up a church in the ordinary way. He has more than he can undertake to work upon in Okoyong alone, and he has endless scope for extension up between the rivers toward Ugep and Edi-Iba.

It may be out of my province to speak of anything outside my own station, but in as far as I know I am voicing the opinion of the missionaries who are now working up Higher. I may say that if we are to compass the peoples that lie at our hands, such as Itu, Enyong, Umon, and those who may be reached all the year round, we ought to have Itu manned as a proper European station. All and each of these peoples can be reached and worked from Itu. Then as a natural and strategic point in the business conduct of our Mission, Itu is incomparable. It was not without reason that it was the slave mart, and that it became the Government base for all work both for north and flank. The gateway to the Aros and the Ibibios, holding the Enyong, and being just a day’s journey from what must ever be our base, namely the seaport of the ocean steamers, having waterway all the year round and a good beach front, it is the natural point, I think, at which our up and down river work should converge.

But I am willing to change, and Miss Wright is willing to change, any plan of ours in order to let any larger undertaking make way if it should be proposed.

This communication was considered, and various proposals made, but the finding of the Council was that they were unable to accept the whole responsibility of the scheme, and that the matter should be forwarded to the Women’s Committee in Scotland, and Miss Slessor asked to wait their decision. The question of further development was, however, discussed, and the unanimous opinion was that Itu should be adopted as a medical station in view of extension into the Aro country.

Miss Slessor was not discouraged. She next asked Mr. Wilkie to come and see the nature of the ground for himself, and the possibilities it held; and the result was a New Year trip up the Creek, the party consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkie, Miss Wright, and herself. She was far from well–far more unwell than even Miss Wright was aware of–but she, nevertheless, resolved to go, and was conveyed to Ikunetu in a hammock. At Itu they camped at the church and house, neither of which was yet finished, the doors being temporary erections, and the windows being screened by grass mats. Mrs. Wilkie’s camp-bed occupied one end of the church, Miss Wright’s the centre, whilst at the other end Miss Slessor’s native sofa was placed with mats round it for the children. Mr. Wilkie found a resting-place in one of the native houses in the town. Military operations were still progressing, and there was a camp of soldiers at the foot of the hill, whose presence terrified the people, and they besought the missionaries to remain for their protection until the men moved on, and this they did. Colonel Montanaro, who arrived later, called on the ladies, and had a long talk with Mary, to whom he expressed his delight at the result of his invitation to Arochuku. “These men,” she wrote, “are held by invisible but strong bands to what is good, though outsiders do not see it.”

On the way up the Creek they were obliged to pass the night at Akani Obio, where Chief Onoyom came down to the beach and escorted them to his house, and gave them all the room they required, two courts lit up by European lamps, and new mats. His fine face and courteous manners made the same impression on the strangers as they had done on Miss Slessor. It was found that the native teacher had been doing his best, but the chief was keen for all the advantages of a station, and was relying upon “Ma’s” word to assist him. Next morning they again took to the canoe, but the water became so shallow that they had to land and tramp six miles to Amasu, passing the trenches where the natives sought to ambush the punitive force. New roads were being constructed everywhere, and barracks had been erected on a wind-swept hill in the neighbourhood.

The church was built near the Creek, and was still incomplete. As there was no house they camped in the church as best they could, Mrs. Wilkie sleeping on a mud seat. The district, including the scene of the Long Juju, was inspected, and the people interviewed, and the party returned as they had come. They stopped at several villages, in one of which an old chief brought out a box containing Bibles and a _Pilgrim’s Progress_ and reading-books. “I had a son,” he said, “I was fond of him, and he was anxious to learn book and God palavers, and I bought these books and got some one to teach him, and was looking forward to my boy becoming a great man and teaching the people good ways, but two moons ago he died, and I have no more heart for anything…. I want God,” he continued fiercely, “and you won’t leave me till I find Him.” “Oh, father,” replied Mary, “God is here. He is waiting for you.” The chief found God, and became a Christian.


Miss Slessor’s indomitable spirit never gave in, but her body sometimes did. She had been suffering much these past months from weakening ailments brought on as the result of exposure and lack of nourishing food, and she finally collapsed and was again far down in the dark valley. But kind hands ministered to her and nursed her back to health. “I rose,” she said, “a mere wreck of what I was, and that was not much at the best. My hair is silvered enough to please any one now, and I am nervous and easily knocked up, and so rheumatic that I cannot get up or down without pain.” She was gladdened by the news that the Mission Council had given her permission to make her proposed tour, and was not troubled by the condition that she must not commit the Mission to extension. The Council thought that in view of her illness she ought rather to go home, and offered to provide for the work at Akpap and care for her children until she returned. But the burden of the Creek lay sore on her mind, and as Miss Wright’s furlough was also due, she wished to be near Akpap in case of need. She informed the Council that if she could be relieved she would begin her tour at once. When Miss Wright left she gave more into the hands of Jean, who, she said, was as good as any white servant; her right hand and her left.

When the matter once more came up at the Council it was decided to send up two ladies to Akpap, and she was at last free to carry out her desire. She looked forward to the enterprise with mingled feelings. “It seems strange,” she said, “to be starting with a family on a gipsy life in a canoe, but God will take care of us. Whether I shall find His place for me up-river or whether I shall come back to my own people again, I do not know. He knows, and that is enough.”

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this new forward movement was that she was going at her own expense, backed by the private liberality of friends in Scotland, and assisted by native girls and boys, who received nothing from her but their board. She never asked the Mission to defray any of the expenditure which she incurred, and the building was accomplished by herself and household, with the free labour of the people. All that the opening up of the Enyong Creek to the Gospel cost the Mission was her salary–which was now L100 per annum. She spent scarcely anything of this on her own personal wants. “I have no object on earth,” she wrote at this time, “but to get my food and raiment, which are of the plainest, and to bring up my bairns.” A certain amount was reserved at home by Mr. Logie, who all these years had managed her affairs, and even this she was always encroaching upon. Whenever she saw an appeal in the Press for any good object she would write to him and request him to send a contribution.

There were many matters to be attended to before she left Akpap, and she went down to Duke Town to hand over the business of the native Court, and buy material for the buildings in the Creek. It was the first time for many years that she had been on Mission Hill, and she greatly enjoyed her stay with the Wilkies, in whose home she was able to find quietness and comfort. The old people who knew the early pioneers of the Mission flocked to see her, and her sojourn was one long reception. A “command” invitation also came from the Commissioner, but this she had the temerity to decline, saying that she was not visiting. It is doubtful whether she had the attire fit for the occasion. He, however, came to see her, and was charmed with her personality.

It was on this visit that she brought another of the younger missionaries under her spell–the Rev. J. K. Macgregor, B.D., Principal of the Hope Waddell Institute. After his first meeting he wrote: “A slim figure, of middle height, fine eyes full of power, she is no ordinary woman. It was wonderful to sit and listen to her talking, for she is most fascinating, and besides being a humorist is a mine of information on mission history and Efik custom.” Mr. and Mrs. Macgregor grew into intimate friends, and their home, like that of the Wilkies’, thereafter became a haven of healing and rest.

She reached her base, Itu, with her family, in July, her health still enfeebled, but her spirit burning like a pure fire, and established herself in a house that was still unfinished. “What a picture it presented,” writes a Government doctor who visited her then. “A native hut with a few of the barest necessities of furniture. She was sitting on a chair rocking a tiny baby, while five others were quietly sleeping wrapped up in bits of brown paper and newspapers in other parts of the room. How she managed to look after all these children, and to do the colossal work she did my comprehension.” The joy of the people at her advent boundless. Her bairns had done wonders; the congregation numbered 350, all devout, intelligent people. “To-day,” she wrote, “as the custom is after the lesson, the bairns each took a part in prayer, and before we rose a boy started ‘Come, Holy Spirit, come.’ We sang it through on our knees.”

But calls came every day from other regions. A deputation from the interior of Ibibio pled, “Give us even a boy!” Another brought a message from a chief in the Creek; “It is not book that I want; it is God!” The chief of Akani Obio again came. “Ma,” he said, “we have L3 in hand for a teacher, and some of the boys are finished with the books Mr. Wilkie gave us and are at a standstill.” And, most pathetic of all, one night, late, while she was reading by the light of a candle, a blaze of light shone through the cracks of the house, and fifteen young men from Okoyong appeared before her to say that the young ladies who had come to Akpap had already gone, and they were left without a “Ma.” She sent them to a shelter for the night, and spent the hours in prayer, “Oh Britain,” she exclaimed, “surfeited with privilege! tired of Sabbath and Church, would that you could send over to us what you are throwing away!”

Invited to the Mission Council in November 1904, she went, this being her first attendance for six years, and gave what the minutes call a “graphic and interesting account” of what had been accomplished. In Itu a church and teacher’s house had been built; and there were regular Sabbath services and a catechumens’ class, with forty candidates, and a day-school was conducted. At Amasu, Arochuku, a good school was built, and ground had been given by the chiefs. There were also the beginnings of congregations and buildings at four points in the Creek, at Okpo, Akani Obio, Odot, and Asang. The work, she said, had not yet reached a stage when she could conscientiously leave it; but she hoped before departing to see established such a native, self-supporting agency under the control of the Mission as would guarantee a continuance of the enterprise. The Council received her report with thankfulness, and gave her permission to continue for other six months on the same condition as before–that no expense to the Mission should be involved