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  • 1916
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in what she undertook.

Many months of strenuous upbuilding followed, constantly interrupted by petty illnesses of a depressing kind. The house at Itu was completed, she herself laying down a cement floor, and Jean whitewashing the walls. Cement underfoot for many reasons was preferred, one being that it was impervious to ants. If these pests obtained hold of a house it was difficult to drive them out, and many a night her entire family was up waging battle with them. In connection with her supplies of cement she was once picked up at Ikunetu by some of her colleagues, who remarked on the number of trunks which accompanied her. “You are surely richer than usual in household gear,” they said. “Household gear!” she echoed; “these are filled with cement–I had nothing else to bring it in!” Once in Scotland a lady asked her if she had had any lessons in making cement. “No,” she replied; “I just stir it like porridge; turn it out, smooth it with a stick, and all the time keep praying, ‘Lord, here’s the cement if to Thy glory, set it,’ and it has never once gone wrong.”

A picture of the days at this time is supplied by Miss Welsh: “We visited the women in their homes–we had evening prayers in such yards as the owners were willing to allow them. From morning till night ‘Ma’ was busy–often far into the night. One brought a story of an unjust divorce, another was sick; one brought a primer for a reading-lesson, another was accused of debt and wished ‘Ma’ to vouch for his innocence; another had, he declared, been cheated in a land case. All found a ready listener, a friendly adviser and helper, though not all found their protestations of innocence believed in, and none went away without hearing of the salvation God had prepared for them.”

The Okoyong people continued to come to her with their troubles. “They seem to think,” she says, “that no one can settle their affairs but this old lady.” Rescues of twin-children were also going on all this time. She could not now rush off, as she used to do, when the news arrived, but she sent Jean flying to the spot, and the infants would be seized and the excited people held in check until she came on the scene. “One more woman spoilt,” she would say, “and another home broken up.”

Nothing gave her greater joy than the rapid development going on at Akani Obio. Chief Onoyom had never swerved from his determination to Christianise his people, and, although knowing practically nothing of the white man’s religion, had already started to build a church, using for the purpose L800 which he had saved. At first he planned a native building, but reflecting that if he were constructing a house for himself it would be of iron, he felt he could not do less for God. He therefore decided to put up as fine a structure as he could, with walls of iron and cement floor and a bell-tower. To make the seats and pulpit he had the courage to use a magnificent tree which was regarded as the principal juju of the town. The story goes that the people declared the juju would never permit it to be cut down. “God is stronger than juju,” said Onoyom, and went out with a following to attack it. They did not succeed the first day, and the people were jubilant. Next morning they returned and knelt down and prayed that God would show Himself stronger than juju, and then, hacking at the trunk with increased vigour, they soon brought it to earth. That the people might have no excuse for absenting themselves from the services during the wet season, Onoyom also erected a bridge over the Creek for their use.

To the dedication of the building came a reverent, well-dressed assembly. The chief himself was attired in a black suit, with black silk necktie and soft felt hat. He provided food for the entire gathering, but would not allow anything stronger than palm wine to be drunk. Very shyly he came up to “Ma” and offered her a handful of money, asking her to buy provisions for herself, as he did not know what kind she liked.

Two short years before, the place and people had been known only to traders.

Up in Arochuku similar progress was being made. Her first long stay there, spent in a hut without furniture–with not even a chair to sit on–was a happy and strenuous one. She was busily engaged in erecting a schoolhouse with two rooms at the back. “Little did I dream,” she wrote, “that I would mud walls and hang doors again. But the Creek is at the back door, and we have bathing in the sunshine, and it is a delightful holiday.” The earlier meetings were held in the open; the chiefs sat on improvised seats, the principal women, clothed and unclothed, squatted on skins or mats on the ground, lads and children stood about, the townspeople kept well back amongst the protecting foliage. In the centre, in the shade of a giant tree, was a table covered with a fine white cloth, and upon it a Bible and a native primer. Here she stood to conduct the service, so strange to the savage people. As she began, there was a stir at the side and a big chief, one of the principal traders to Okoyong in former days, moved into the circle, along with his head wife. He was followed by another and his children, and then others appeared, until she had a great audience. She could scarcely command her voice. To gain time she asked a chief to begin with prayer in the Ibo tongue. All knelt. A hymn followed; there was not the least semblance of a tune, all joining in anyhow, but sweeter music she never heard. The ten commandments were translated, sentence by sentence, by a chief, as were also the lessons and the address. Another hymn was sung, then came a prayer by an old man, and another by a woman, and the meeting closed with all repeating the Lord’s Prayer.

It was the same at other towns and villages along the Creek. Churches or schools were going up and congregations being formed. The notable thing was that women were taking a prominent part in the meetings; this, no doubt, was due to the fact that the pioneer missionary was a woman. And the cry from all the districts was for women and not men–“A White Ma to teach our women book and washing and machine.”

In July Mr. Macgregor was able to visit the infant stations, and was greatly impressed. To him the journey up Creek was a new experience. As the canoe pushed its way through the water-lilies the Institute boys sang Scottish Psalms to the tunes _Invocation_ and _St. George’s_ much to Mary’s delight. “It’s a long time since I heard these,” she exclaimed. “It puts me in a fine key for Sabbath.” At Asang she translated Mr. Macgregor’s sermon to a gathering of 300 people. “Her interpretation,” he says, “was most dramatic; she gave the address far more force in Efik than it had in English. It was magnificent. And how the people listened!” He had the opportunity here of seeing how deftly she handled a “bad” native. “Don’t come to God’s house.” she ended; “God has no need of the likes of you with your deceit and craft. He can get on quite well without you–though you can’t get on without God. Ay, you have that lesson to learn yet.”

At Arochuku it happened to be Egbo day, and the place was astir with naked people, who came and stared at them as they ate. One man, who was dressed in a hat, a loincloth, and a walking-stick, sat in a corner and received a lecture from “Ma,” which lasted the whole meal. They explored the district, saw the tree where criminals were hanged after terrible torture, the old juju-house with its quaint carving and relics of sacrifices, the new palaver-shed of beaten mud, and the great slave- road into the interior. At one spot she stopped and exclaimed, “That was the road to the devil.” It was the path to the Long Juju of bloody memory. They returned by the new road through the _Ikot Mbiam_, the accursed bush into which the sick and dying slaves were flung when their days of useful service were over. At first the people would not use this road; but now the land was laid out in farms and cultivations, a tribute to the influence of British rule.

On the voyage down there were frequent showers in the Creek, and Mary sat with a waterproof over her head and shoulders, a strange figure, but with a face glowing with spirit. When the end was in sight she proposed that they should sing the Doxology, and, none offering to accompany her, she sang it herself-twice….

In the quiet of the tropic nights she read the books and magazines and papers which friends sent her, and in this way kept abreast of world affairs. Her favourite journals were _The British Weekly, The Christian, The Life of Faith_, and _The Westminster Gazette_. Her _Record_ she read from cover to cover. It was with painful interest that she followed at this time the developments of the great Church crisis in the homeland. “It tears my heart,” she wrote, “to see our beloved Church dragged in and through the mire of public opinion.” But she had faith that good would issue out of it all. A keen politician, she thirsted for election telegrams during periods of parliamentary transition. But in all times of public unrest and excitement she fell back on the thought that God was on His throne and all was well.


Ibo or Ibibio–which was it to be? Both regions were calling to her, and both attracted her. As the result of an arrangement with the Church Missionary Society the administrative districts adjoining the Cross River were recognised as the sphere of the United Free Church Mission. “Now that this is settled,” she wrote, “I shall try to take a firmer hold in Arochuku. The church there is almost finished. My heart bleeds for the people, but the Spirit has not yet suffered me to go.” The dark masses behind her at Itu drew her sympathies even more, simply because they were lower in the scale of humanity. “It is a huge country, and if I go in I can only touch an infinitesimal part of it. But it would be criminal to monopolise the rights of occupation and not be able to occupy.”

Her line of advance was practically determined by the Government. Even with military operations still going on a marvellous change was being effected in the condition of Ibibio. The country was being rapidly opened up, roads were being pushed forward, and courts established; the stir and the promise of new life was pulsating from end to end of the land. To her hut at Itu came Government and trade experts, consulting her on all manner of subjects, and obtaining information which no other one could supply. The natives, on the other hand, came to her enquiring as to the meaning of the white man’s movements, and she was able to reassure them and keep their confidence unshaken in the beneficial character of the changes.

She made rapid reconnaissances inland, and these set her planning extension. Even the officials urged her to enter. They pointed to the road. “Get a bicycle, Ma,” they said, “and come as far as you can–we will soon have a motor car service for you,” Motors in Ibibio? The idea to her was incredible, but in a few months it was realised. “Come on to Ikot Okpene,” wrote the officer at that distant centre–“the road is going right through, and you will be the first here.” She thought of these men and their privations and their enthusiasm for Empire. “Oh,” she said, “if we would do as much for Christ!” She, at any rate, would not be found lagging, and in the middle of the year 1905 she sallied forth, taking with her a boy of twelve years named Etim, who read English well, and, at a place called Ikotobong, some five and a half miles inland, she formed a school and the nucleus of a congregation. “I trust,” she said, “that it will be the first of a chain of stations stretching across the country. The old chief is pleased. He told me that the future, the mystery of things, was too much for him, and that he would welcome the light. The people are to give Etim food, and I will give him 5s. a month for his mother out of my store.”

The lad proved an excellent teacher and disciplinarian, and gathered a school of half a hundred children about him. Soon she was again in the thick of building operations, and for a time was too busy even to write. Slowly but surely Ikotobong became another centre of order and light. The officials who ran in upon her from time to time said it was like coming on a bit of Britain, and the Governor who called one day declared that the place was already too civilised for her.

Much to her joy there was a forward movement also on the part of the Church. The Mission Council had not put aside its decision to make Itu a medical base, and had been pressing the matter upon the Foreign Mission Committee in Scotland, which also recognised the value of her pioneer work and the necessity of following it up and placing it upon a proper basis. It was finally agreed to carry out the suggestion. Dr. Robertson from Creek Town was transferred to Itu to take oversight of the work on the Creek, a new mission house and a hospital were planned, and a motor launch for the Creek journeys was decided on. For the launch the students of New College, Edinburgh, made themselves responsible, and they succeeded in raising a sum of nearly L400 for the purpose. The hospital and dispensary and their equipment were provided by Mr. A. Kemp, a member of Braid United Free Church, Edinburgh, an admirer of Miss Slessor’s work, and at his suggestion it was called the Mary Slessor Mission Hospital. When the news came to her she wrote: “It seems like a fairy tale. I don’t know what to say. I can just look up into the blue sky and say, ‘Even so, Father; in good and ill, let me live and be worthy of it all.’ It is a grand gift, and I am so glad for my people.”

Thus relieved of Itu she established herself at Ikotobong. But she was again eager to press forwards, and wished to plant a station some fifteen miles farther on. It was a pace faster than the Church could go. It had neither the workers nor the means to cope with all the opportunities she was creating. It is a striking picture this, of the restless little woman ever forging her way into the wilderness and dragging a great Church behind her.

She had been amused at the idea of riding a bicycle, but she would have tried to fly if she could thereby have advanced the cause of Christ, and when Mr. Charles Partridge, the District Commissioner of Ikot Ekpene, presented her with a new machine of the latest pattern, direct from England, she at once started to learn. “Fancy,” she wrote, “an old woman like me on a cycle! The new road makes it easy to ride, and I’m running up and down and taking a new bit in a village two miles off. It has done me all the good in the world, and I will soon be able to overtake more work. I wonder what the Andersons and the Goldies and the Edgerleys will say when they see that we can cycle twenty miles in the bush!” The Commissioner had also brought out a phonograph with him, and she was asked to speak into it. She recited In Efik the story of the Prodigal Son, and when the words came forth again, the natives were electrified, “Does not that open up possibilities,” she said, “for carrying the Gospel messages into the bush?”

Her work of patient love and faith on the Creek saw fruit towards the end of the year (1905), when the two churches at Akani Obio and Asang were opened. A special meeting of Presbytery was held in the district, and eight members were present at the ceremonies. At Akani Obio the Rev. John Rankin accepted the key from Chief Onoyom in the name of the Presbytery, and handed it to Miss Slessor, who inserted it in the lock and opened the door. There was an atmosphere of intense devotion, and Mr. Weir preached from the text, “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” The collection was over L5.

Boarding their canoe again the party proceeded to Asang, and were met by crowds of people. Flags floated everywhere, and they passed under an arch of welcome. When the new native church, larger even than that at Akani Obio, came into sight, surrounded by well-dressed men and women and children, words failed the visitors from Calabar. Again Mary opened the door, and again the building was unable to hold the audience. Mr. Rankin preached from “To you is the word of this salvation sent.” The collection was watched with astonishment by the visitors. It was piled up before the minister on the table, and bundle after bundle of rods followed one another, coming from those outside as well as those inside, until the amount reached L20–a remarkable sum from a people who were still heathen, but who were eager to know and learn about God and the right way of life. The visitors looked at one another. “It is wonderful,” they said. “Surely it is of God.” “Ma” was pleased but not surprised; she knew how the people were crying for the light, and how willing they were to give and serve. After the meeting the people would not depart, and she and Mr. Weir addressed them outside. On the party returning to Akani Obio an evening service was held, “and,” wrote one of them, “the night closed down on as happy a group of missionaries as one could imagine,” “It was grand,” said another; “the best apologetic for Christianity I ever saw.”

Some weeks later the church at Okpo, where Jean had been teaching the women and girls, was opened in the view of hundreds of the people, who contributed a collection of L7.

Not all the natives regarded these strange doings with equanimity. At Akani Obio some of the chiefs were so alarmed that they left the town in the belief that misfortune would come upon them on account of the church. But when they saw the people throwing away their charms and flocking to the services and no harm befalling them, they returned. They were very angry when Onoyom put away his wives–he made ample provision for them–and took back as his one consort a twin-mother whom he had discarded. By and by came a fine baby boy to be the light of his home. Akani Obio became a prohibition town, and on Sundays a white flag was flown to indicate that no trading was allowed on God’s day.


One of the most baffling of West African problems is the problem of the women. There is no place for them outside the harem; they are dependent on the social system of the country, and helpless when cast adrift from it; they have no proper status in the community, being simply the creatures of man to be exploited and degraded–his labourer, his drudge, the carrier of his kernels and oil, the boiler of his nuts. A girl-child, if not betrothed by her guardian, lacks the protection of the law. She can, if not attached to some man, be insulted or injured with impunity. There was no subject which had given Mary so much thought, and she had long come to the conclusion that it was the economic question which lay at the root of the evil. It seemed clear that until they were capable of supporting themselves, and subsisting independently of men, they would continue in their servility and degradation, a prey to the worst practices of the bush, and a strong conservative force against the introduction of higher and purer methods of existence. Enlightened women frankly told Miss Slessor that they despaired of ever becoming free from the toils of tradition and custom, and that there seemed no better destiny for them than the life of the harem and the ways of sin. It was a serious outlook for those who became Christians,–about whom she was most concerned,–and she could not leave the matter alone. Her active mind was always moving amongst the conditions around her, considering them, seeing beyond them, and suggesting lines of improvement and advance; and in this case she saw that she would have to show how women could be rendered independent of the ties of a House, In Calabar Christian women supported themselves by dressmaking, and much of their work was sent up-country, and she did not wish to take the bread out of their mouths. Gradually there came to her the idea of establishing a home in some populous country centre, where she could place her girls and any twin-mothers, waifs, or strays, or any Christian unable to find a livelihood outside the harem, and where they could support themselves by farm and industrial work. A girls’ school could also be attached to it. Two principles were laid down as essential for such an institution: it must be based on the land, and it must be self-supporting–she did not believe in homes maintained from without. All native women understood something of cultivation and the raising of small stock, and their efforts could be chiefly engaged in that direction, as well as in washing and laundrying, baking, basket-making, weaving, shoemaking, and so forth. Machinery of a simple character run by water-power could be added when necessary.

In view of the uncertainty of her own future, and the opening up of the country, she wisely held back from deciding on a site until she knew more about the routes of the Government roads and the possible developments of districts. She wanted virgin land and good water-power, but she also desired what was still more important–a ready and sufficient market for the products. In her journeys into the interior of Ibibio she was constantly prospecting with the home in mind, and once a chief who thought he had found a suitable site took her into a region of more utter solitude than she had ever experienced in all her wanderings, where a path had to be cut for her through the matted vegetation. Not one of her guides would open his lips; while they feared the wild beasts and reptiles, they feared still more the spirits of the forest, and they remained silent in case speech might betray them to these invisible presences.

Being a European she could not, according to the law of the land, buy ground, but she proposed to acquire it in the name of Jean and the other girls, and then give the Mission a perpetual interest in it. In a report of her work on the Creek, which Miss Adam induced her to write at this time, in the shape of a personal letter to herself, and which appeared in the _Record_, and was characterised by masterly breadth of outlook and clear insight into the conditions of the country, she made a reference to the project, saying: “The expenditure of money is not in question–I am guarded against that by the express command of the Committee. I shall only expend my own, or what my personal friends give me.”


With the few white men in the district she was very friendly. They were chiefly on the Government staff, and included the surveyors on the new road. Most of them were public-school men, and some, she thought, were almost too fine for the work. “Life,” she said, “is infinitely harder for these men than for the missionary. But they never complain. They work very cheerfully in depressing surroundings, living in squalid huts, and undergoing many privations, doing their bit for civilisation and the Empire. And they are all somebody’s bairns.” She won them by her sympathy, entering into their lives, appreciating their difficulties and temptations, and acting towards them as a wise mother would. Her age, she said, gave her a chance others in the Mission had not, and she sought in the most tactful way to lead them to a consideration of the highest things.

Christmastide as a rule came and went in the bush without notice, except for a strange tightening of the heart, and a renewal of old memories. But this year, 1905, the spirit of the day seemed to fall upon these lonely white folk, and they forgathered at Ikotobong, and spent it in something like the home fashion. In a lowly shed, which had no front wall, and where the seats were of mud, no fewer than eight men–officials, engineers, and traders from far and near–sat down to dinner. “They could have gone elsewhere,” wrote “Ma,” “but they came and held an innocently happy day with an old woman, whose day for entertaining and pleasing is over.”

There was no lack of Christmas fare. An officer of high standing had received his usual plum-pudding from home, but as he was leaving on furlough, he sent it to “Ma”; a cake had come from Miss Wright, “the dear lassie at Okoyong,” and shortbread had arrived from Scotland, But there was not a drop of intoxicating drink on the table.

After dinner the old home songs and hymns full of memories and associations were sung, often tremulously, for each had loved ones of whom he thought. Jean, who had secured a canoe and come from Okpo, and the other children, were present, and they sang an Efik hymn; and although Mary was the only Scot present the proceedings were rounded off with “Auld Long Syne.” “I just lay back and enjoyed it all,” she wrote, “It is fifteen years since I spent a Christmas like it. Wasn’t it good of my Father to give me such a treat? I was the happiest woman in the Mission that night! If I could only win these men for Christ– that would be the best reward for their kindness.” Next day they sent her a Christmas card on a huge sheet of surveying-paper, with their names in the centre.

Miss Wright, along with Miss Amess, a new colleague, arrived on the 80th on a visit, and three of the Public Works officials spent the evening with them. Mary began to talk as if it were the last night of the year. “Oh,” said one of the men, “we have another day in which to repent, Ma.” “Have we?” she replied. “I thought it was the last night– and I’ve been confessing my sins of the past year! I’ll have to do it all over again.” These officials asked the ladies to dine with them on New Year’s night, the form of invitation being–

“_The Disgraces three desire the company of the Graces three to dinner this evening at seven o’clock. Lanterns and hammocks at 10 P.M. R.S.V.P_.”

In reply “Ma” wrote some humorous verses. The dinner was given in the same native shed as before. As the table-boy passed the soup, one of the men made as if to begin. “Ma,” who was sitting beside him, put her hand on his and said, “No, you don’t, my boy, until the blessing is asked,” and then she said grace. After dinner the bairns, who had been sitting at the door in the light of a big fire, were brought in, and prayers were conducted by Mary. On that occasion, when Miss Amess was bidding her “Good-bye,” she said to her, “Lassie, keep up your pluck.”

These men were very much afraid of the least appearance of cant, but they would do anything for “Ma”; and when, a few days later, in order to give an object-lesson to the natives, she proposed an English service, they agreed, and one of them read the lessons, and another led the singing. A short time before white men were unknown to the district.


She was, under official ruling, to return to Akpap in April 1906, and she was now reminded of the fact. She was in great distress, and inclined to be mutinous. “There is an impelling power behind me, and I dare not look backward,” she said. “Even if it cost me my connection with the Church of my heart’s love, I feel I must go forward.” And again, “I am not enthusiastic over Church methods. I would not mind cutting the rope and going adrift with my bairns, and I can earn our bite and something more.” She had thoughts of taking a post under Government, or, with the help of her girls, opening a store. In a letter to the Rev. William Stevenson, the Secretary of the Women’s Foreign Mission Committee, she pointed out how her settlement at Itu had justified itself, and referred to the rapid development of the country:–

In all this how plainly God has been leading me. I had not a thought of such things in my lifetime, nor, indeed, in the next generation, and yet my steps have been led, apart from any plan of mine, right to the line of God’s planning for the country. First Itu, then the Creek, then back from Aro, where I had set my heart, to a solitary wilderness of the most forbidding description, where the silence of the bush had never been broken, and here before three months are past there are miles of road, and miles and miles more all surveyed and being worked upon by gangs of men from everywhere, and free labour is being created and accepted as quickly as even a novelist could imagine. And the minutes says “I am to return to Akpap in April!” Okoyong and its people are very dear to me. No place on earth now is quite as dear, but to leave these hordes of untamed, unwashed, unlovely savages and withdraw the little sunlight that has begun to flicker out over its darkness! I dare not think of it. Whether the Church permits it or not, I feel I must stay here and even go on farther as the roads are made. I cannot walk now, nor dare I do anything to trifle with my health, which is very queer now and then, but if the roads are all the easy gradient of those already made I can get four wheels made and set a box on them, and the children can draw me about…. With such facts pressing on me at every point you will understand my saying _I dare not go back_. I shall rather take the risk of finding my own chop if the Mission do not see their way to go on. But if they see their way to meet the new needs and requirements, I shall do all in my power to further them without extra expense to the Church.

“This,” she characteristically added, “is not for publication; it is for digestion.”

There had never, of course, been any intention on the part of the Church to draw back from the task of evangelising the new regions. But the various bodies responsible for the work were stewards of the money contributed for foreign missions, and they had to proceed in this particular part of the field according to their resources. Both men and means were limited, and had to be adjusted to the needs, not in an impulsive and haphazard way, but with the utmost care and forethought. All connected with the Mission were as eager for extension as she was, but they desired it to be undertaken on thorough and business-like lines. The difference between them and her was one of method; she, all afire with energy and enthusiasm, would have gone on in faith; they, more prudent and calculating, wished to be sure of each step before they advanced another.

To her great relief she was permitted to have her way. When it was seen that she was bent on pressing forward, it was decided to set her free from ordinary trammels and allow her to act in future as a pioneer missionary. It was a remarkable position, one not without its difficulties and dangers, and one naturally that could not become common. But Mary Slessor was an exceptional woman, and it was to the honour of the Church that it at last realised the line of her genius, and in spite of being sometimes at variance with her policy, permitted her to follow her Master in her own fashion.

Her faith in the people and their own ability to support the work was proved more than once. It was a plucky thing for these men and women to become Christians, since it meant the entire recasting of their lives. Yet this is what was now being often witnessed. One event at Akani Obio was to her a “foretaste of heaven”–the baptism of the chief and his slave-wife and baby, a score of her people, and sixteen young boys and girls, including one of the lads who had assisted to paddle the canoe on the day when the Creek was first entered. She was ill, and was carried to and from the town in sharp pain and much discomfort, but she forgot her body in the rare pleasure she experienced at the sight of so many giving themselves to Christ. She had to hide her face on the communion-table. “Over forty sat down in the afternoon to remember our Lord’s death ’till He come.’ It cannot go back this work of His. Akani Obio is now linked on to Calvary.” She thought of those rejoicing above. “I am sure our Lord will never keep it from my mother.”

The news from Arochuku was also cheering, although the messages told of persecution of the Infant Church by the chiefs, who threatened to expel the teachers if they spoiled the old fashions. “And what did you say to that?” she enquired. “We replied, ‘You can put us out of our country, but you cannot put us away from God.'” “And the women?” “They said they would die for Jesus Christ.” She was anxious to visit Arochuku again, but there had been exceptional rains, and the Creek had risen beyond its usual height and flooded the villages. Akani Obio suffered greatly, the church being inundated. The chief was downcast, and in his simplicity of faith thought God was punishing him, and searched his heart to find the cause, until “Ma” comforted him. He determined to rebuild the church on higher ground, and this intention he carried out later. About a mile further up the Creek he chose a good site, and erected a new town called Obufa Obio, the first to be laid out on a regular plan. The main street is about forty yards wide, and in the middle of it is the chief’s house, with the church close by. The side streets are about ten yards wide. All the houses have lamps hanging in front, and these are lit in the evenings, The boys have a large football field to themselves. Chief Onoyom, who is one of the elders of session, continues to exercise a powerful influence for good throughout the Creek.

One incident of the floods greatly saddened Mary. A native family were sleeping in their hut, but above the waters. The mother woke suddenly at the sound of something splashing about below. Thinking it was some wild animal, she seized a machete and hacked at it. Her husband also obtained his sword and joined in. When lights came, the mangled form of the baby, who had fallen from the bed, was seen in the red water. Distracted at having murdered her child, the mother threw herself into the Creek and was drowned.

So convinced was Mary of the importance of Arochuku, and so anxious to have a recognised station there, that she offered to build a house free of expense to the Mission, if two agents could be sent up. This brought the whole matter of extension to a definite issue, and a forward movement was unanimously agreed on by the Council–the ladies being specially anxious for this–any developments to take place by the way of the Enyong Creek. A committee was appointed to visit Arochuku and to confer with Mary. Two ladies were actually appointed by the Council, one being Miss Martha Peacock, who was afterwards to be so closely allied with her. When these matters came before the Foreign Mission Committee in Scotland, a resolution was passed, which it is well to give in full:

1. That they recognise the general principle, that, in all ordinary circumstances the Women’s Foreign Mission should not make the first advance into new territory, but follow the lead of the Foreign Mission Committee, the function of the former being to supply the necessary complement to the work of the latter.

2. That, however, in view of (_a_) the earnest desire of the people of the district in question to receive Christian teaching, and their willingness to help in providing it; (_b_) the fact that the region has been claimed by the United Free Church as within the sphere of its operations, and has had that claim acknowledged by the Church Missionary Society; (_c_) the steps which have already been taken by Miss Slessor, and what she is further prepared to do: they regard it as not only highly desirable, but the duty of the Church to occupy the region in question as soon as it is possible.

3. That in view, on the other hand, of the present condition of their funds, which are overtaxed by the already existing work, the Committee deeply regret that it is beyond their means to add two new members to the staff, as the Council requests, and that, therefore, the sending of two new agents to Arochuku must be meantime delayed.

4. That the Committee, however, approve of the acceptance by the Mission Council of Miss Slessor’s generous offer to build the house, but recommend the Council to consider whether the execution of the work should not be delayed till there is a nearer prospect of new agents being supplied.

They further return thanks to Miss Slessor for her generosity, and record their warm appreciation of her brave pioneer work; and they express the earnest hope that the Church, by larger liberality, may soon enable them to make the advance which has been so well prepared.

Meanwhile the Rev. John Rankln had been given a roving commission in order to ascertain the best location for the future station, and he came back from a tour in Ibo and Ibibio and fired the Council with the tale of what he had seen, and the wonderful possibilities of this great and populous region.

“Close to Arochuku within a circle, the diameter of which is less than three miles, there are,” he said, “nineteen large towns. I visited sixteen of these, each of which is larger than Creek Town, The people are a stalwart race, far in advance of Efik. The majority are very anxious for help. A section is strongly opposed, even to the point of persecution of those who are under the influence of Miss Slessor, and others have already begun to try to live in ‘God’s fashion.’ This opposition seems to be one of the most hopeful signs, as proving that there will be at least no indifference. The head chief of all the Aros, who was the chief formerly in control of the ‘long juju’ is one of those most favourable. He has already announced to the other chiefs his intention to rule in God’s ways. He has been the most keen in asking the missionary to come. A new church will be built, and he offers to build a house for any missionary who will come.”

With something like enthusiasm the Committee set apart Mr. Rankin himself to take up the work at Arochuku, and accepted the responsibility of sending him at once….

Thus Arochuku, like Itu, passed into the control of the Foreign Mission Committee, and became one of their stations and the centre of further developments, and thus Miss Slessor’s long period of anxiety regarding its position and future was at an end.


Recognising that “Ma” had an influence with the natives, which it was impossible to abrogate, the Government decided to invest her with the powers of a magistrate.

The native courts of Nigeria consist of a number of leading chiefs in each district, who take turns to try cases between native and native. The District Commissioner is _ex-officio_ president of those within his sphere, and each court is composed of a permanent vice-president and three chiefs.

Before leaving Itu she was asked informally whether she would consent to take the superintendence of Court affairs in the district, as she had done in Okoyong, but on a recognised basis. If she agreed, the Court would be transferred to Ikotobong to suit her convenience and safeguard her strength. She was pleased that the Government thought her worthy of the position, and was favourable to the idea. Already she was by common consent the chief arbiter in all disputes, and wielded unique power, but she thought that if she were also the official agent of the Government she might increase the range of her usefulness. Her aim was to help the poor and the oppressed, and specially to protect her own downtrodden sex and secure their rights, and to educate the people up to the Christian standard of conduct; and such an appointment would give her additional advantage and authority. “It will be a good chance,” she said, “to preach the Gospel, and to create confidence and inspire hope in these poor wretches, who fear white and black man alike; while it will neither hamper my work nor restrict my liberty.” On stating that she would do the work she was told that a salary was attached to the post, but she declared that nothing would induce her to accept it, “I’m born and bred, and am in every fibre of my being, a voluntary.”

The formal offer came in May 1905, in the shape of this letter:

1. I am directed by His Excellency the High Commissioner to enquire whether you would accept office as a Member of Itu Native Court with the status of permanent Vice-President. His Excellency is desirous of securing the advantage of your experience and intimate knowledge of native affairs and sympathetic interest in the welfare of the villagers, and understands that you would not be averse to place your service at the disposal of the Government.

2. It is proposed to assign you a nominal salary of one pound a year, and to hand you the balance–forty-seven pounds per annum–for use in forwarding your Mission work.

3. It is proposed to transfer Itu Court to Ikotobong.

She thanked the Government for the honour and for the confidence reposed in her, and said she was willing to give her services for the good of the people in any way, but she declined to accept any remuneration.

She took over the books in October, acting then and often afterwards, as clerk, and carrying through all the tedious clerical duties. It was strange and terrible, but to her not unfamiliar work. She came face to face with the worst side of a low-down savage people, and dealt with the queerest of queer cases. One of the first was a murder charge in which a woman was involved. Women were indeed at the bottom of almost every mischief and palaver in the country. With marriage was mixed up poisoning, sacrifice, exactions, oaths, debts, and cruelty unspeakable. Mary was often sick with the loathing of it all. “God help these poor helpless women!” she wrote. “What a crowd of people I have had to-day, and how debased! They are just like brutes in regard to women. I have had a murder, an esere case, a suicide, a man for branding his slave- wife all over her face and body; a man with a gun who has shot four persons–it is all horrible!”

Here are three specimen charges, and the results, in her own writing:–


O. I. Found guilty of brawling in market and taking by force 8 rods from a woman’s basket. One month’s hard labour.

P. B. Chasing a girl into the bush with intent to injure. One month’s hard labour.

U. A. (a) Seizing a woman in the market. (b) Chaining her for 14 days by neck and wrists. Throwing _mbiam_ with intent to kill should she reveal it to white man. Sentenced to six months’ hard labour, and to be sent back on expiry of sentence to pay costs.

She had the right of inflicting punishment up to six months’ imprisonment, but often, instead of administering the law, she administered justice by giving the prisoner a blow on the side of the head!

The oath taken was usually the heathen mbiam. For this were needed a skull and a vile concoction in a bottle, that was kept outside the Court House on account of the smell. After a witness had promised to speak the truth, one of the members of the Court would take some of the stuff and draw it across his tongue and over his face, and touch his legs and arms. It was believed that if he spoke falsely he would die. After Miss Slessor took up her duties, a heathen native, who had clearly borne false witness, dropped down dead on leaving the Court, with the result that _mbiam_ was in high repute for a time in the district.

Although three local chiefs sat by her side on the “bench,” and the jury behind her, she ruled supreme. “I have seen her get up,” says a Government official of that time, “and box the ears of a chief because he continued to interrupt after being warned to be quiet. The act caused the greatest amusement to the other chiefs.” They often writhed under her new edicts regarding women, but they always acquiesced in her judgment. For not providing water for twin-mothers, she fined a town L3. Miss Amess tells of a poor woman wishing a divorce from her scamp of a husband. The “Court” evidently thought she had sufficient cause, and there and then granted the request, and asked her colleague to witness the act. The woman was triumphant, feeling very important at having two white people on her side, while the man stood trembling, as “Ma” expressed her candid opinion of him. In the Government report for 1907 it was stated that a number of summonses had been issued by the District Commissioner against husbands of twin-bearing women for desertion and support, and in every case the husbands agreed to take the women back, the sequel being that other women in the same plight were also received again into their families. “The result,” says the report, “is a sign of the civilising influence worked through the Court by that admirable lady, Miss Slessor.”

Some of her methods were not of the accepted judicial character. She would try a batch of men for an offence, lecture them, and then impose a fine. Finding they had no money she would take them up to the house and give them work to earn the amount, and feed them well. Needless to say they went back to their homes her devoted admirers. Her excuse for such irregular procedure was, that while they were working she could talk to them, and exercise an influence that might prove abiding in their lives. This was the motive animating all her actions in the Court. “When ‘Ma’ Slessor presided,” it was said, “her Master was beside her, and His spirit guided her.”

The Court was popular, for the natives had their tales heard at first hand, and not through an interpreter. “Ma’s” complete mastery of their tongue, customs, habits, and very nature, gave her, of course, an exceptional advantage. One District Commissioner spent three days in trying a single case, hearing innumerable witnesses, without coming within sight of the truth. In despair he sought her aid, and she settled the whole dispute to the satisfaction of every one by asking two simple questions. It was impossible for any native to deceive her. A Government doctor had occasion to interview a chief through an interpreter. She was standing by. As the chief spoke she suddenly broke in, and the man simply crumpled up before her. The doctor afterwards asked her what the chief had done. “He told a lie, and I reprimanded him–but I cannot understand how he could possibly expect me not to know.” Again and again she reverted to the matter. “To think he could have expected to deceive _me_!” Another official tells how a tall, well-built, muscular chief cowered before her. “Having no knowledge of the language, I could not tell what it was all about, but plainly the man looked as if his very soul had been laid bare, and as though he wished the earth would open and swallow him. She combined most happily kindliness and severity, and indeed I cannot imagine any native trying to take advantage of her kindness and of her great-hearted love for the people. This is the more remarkable to any one with intimate personal acquaintance with the native, and of his readiness to regard kindness as weakness or softness, and his endeavour to exploit it to the utmost.”

All this Court business added to her toil, as a constant stream of people came to her at the Mission House in connection with their cases. She did not, however, see them all. It became her practice to sit in a room writing at her desk or reading, and send the girls to obtain the salient features of the story. They knew how to question, and what facts to take to her, and she sent them back with directions as to what should be done. When she was ill and feeble she extended this practice to other palavers. People still came from great distances to secure her ruling on some knotty dispute, and having had their statements conveyed to her, she would either give the reply through the girls, or speak out of the open window, and the deputation would depart satisfied, and act on her advice. Her correspondence also increased in volume, and she received many a curious communication. The natives would sometimes be puzzled how to address her, and to make absolutely sure they would send their letters to “Madam, Mr., Miss, Slessor.”


A pleasant glimpse of her at this time is given in some notes by Miss Amess. On Miss Wright going home–she shortly afterwards married Dr. Rattray of the Mission staff, both subsequently settling in England– Miss Amess was not permitted to stay alone in Okoyong, and she asked to be associated with Miss Slessor at Ikotobong. It was a happy arrangement for the latter. “What a relief it is,” she wrote, “to have some one to lean on and share the responsibility of the bairns. Miss Amess is so sane and capable and helpful, and is always on the watch to do what is to be done–a dear consecrated lassie.” Miss Amess says:

When I went to Calabar I heard a great deal about Miss Slessor, and naturally I wished to see her. She had been so courageous that I imagined she must be somewhat masculine, with a very commanding appearance, but I was pleasantly disappointed when I found she was a true woman, with a heart full of motherly affection. Her welcome was the heartiest I received. Her originality, brightness, and almost girlish spirit fascinated me. One could not be long in her company without enjoying a right hearty laugh. As her semi-native house was just finished, and she always did with the minimum of furniture and culinary articles, the Council authorised me to take a filter, dishes, and cooking utensils from Akpap, and I had also provision cases and personal luggage. I was not sure of what “Ma” would say about sixteen loads arriving, because there were no wardrobes or presses, and one had just to live in one’s boxes. When “Ma” saw the filter she said, “Ye maun a’ hae yer filters noo-a-days. Filters werna created; they were an after-thocht.” She quite approved of my having it all the same.

Mail day was always a red-letter day. We only got letters fortnightly then. She was always interested in my home news and told me hers, so that we had generally a very happy hour together. Then the papers would be read and their contents discussed. To be with her was an education. She had such a complete grasp of all that was going on in the world. One day after studying Efik for two hours she said to me, “Lassie, you have had enough of that to-day, go away and read a novel for a short time.”

She was very childlike with her bairns and dearly loved them. One night I had to share her bed, and during the night felt her clapping me on the shoulder. I think she had been so used with black babies that this was the force of habit, for she was amused when I told her of it in the morning.

There was no routine with “Ma.” One never knew what she would be doing. One hour she might be having a political discussion with a District Commissioner, the next supervising the building of a house, and later on judging native palavers. Late one evening I heard a good deal of talking and also the sound of working. I went in to see what was doing and there was “Ma” making cement and the bairns spreading it on the floor with their hands in candle light. The whole scene at so late an hour was too much for my gravity.

When at prayers with her children she would sometimes play a tambourine at the singing, and if the bairns were half asleep it struck their curly heads instead of her elbow.

Her outstanding characteristic was her great sympathy, which enabled her to get into touch with the highest and the lowest. Once while cycling together we met the Provincial Commissioner. After salutations and some conversation with him she finished up by saying, “Good-bye, and see and be a guid laddie!”

While out walking one Sabbath we came across several booths where the natives who were making the Government road were living. She began chatting with them, and then told them the Parable of the Lost Sheep. She told everything in a graphic way, and with a perfect knowledge of the vernacular, and they followed her with reverence and intense interest all through. To most of them, if not to all, that would be the first time they had heard of a God of Love.

She had really two personalities. In the morning one would hear evildoers getting hotly lectured for their “fashions,” and in the evening when all was quiet she lifted one up to the very heights regarding the things of the Kingdom. She always had a wonderful vision of what the power of the Gospel could make of the most degraded, though bound by the strongest chains of superstition and heathenism. One might enter her house feeling pessimistic, but one always left it an optimist.


A touch of romance seemed to be connected with all her work. The next idea she sought to develop was a Rest-House or week-end, holiday, or convalescent home, where the ladies of the Mission, when out of spirits, or run down in health, could reside and recuperate without the fear of being a trouble or expense to others. In a tropical country, where a change and rest is so often essential to white workers, such a quiet accessible resort would, she thought, prove a blessing. But there was no money for the purpose. One day, however, she received a cheque for L20. Years before, in Okoyong, Dr. Dutton of the Tropical School of Medicine had stayed with her for scientific study. He went on to the Congo, and there succumbed. On going over his papers, his family found her letters, and in recognition of her kindness and interest, sent her a gift of L20. Thinking of a way of spending the money which would have pleased her friend, she determined to apply it to the building of her Rest-House.

The site for such a resort required to be near the Creek, and she discovered one on high land at Use between Ikotobong and Itu, and two miles from the landing-beach. The road here winds round hills from which beautiful views are obtained. On this side one sees far into Ibo beyond Arochuku, on that the vision is of Itu and the country behind it, while on the west the palm-covered plain rises into the highlands of Ikot Ekpene. It is one of the fairest of landscapes, but is the haunt of leopards and other wild beasts, and after rain the roadway is often covered with the marks of their feet.

The ground was cleared, and building operations begun, the plan worked out being a small semi-European cottage and native yard. Other cottages would follow. Before long, however, the feeling grew that Ikotobong should be taken over by the Women’s Foreign Mission Committee, and she foresaw that Use would require to be her own headquarters.

Towards the end of the year Miss E, M’Kinney, one of the lady agents, called at Use, and found her living in a single room, and sleeping on a mattress placed upon a sheet of corrugated iron. As the visitor had to leave early in the morning, and there were no clocks in the hut, “Ma” adopted the novel device of tying a rooster to her bed. The plan succeeded; at first cock-crow the sleepers were aroused from their slumbers.

It was not so much a rest-house for others that was needed, as a rest for herself. She was gradually coming to the end of her strength. Throughout the year 1906 she suffered from diarrhoea, boils, and other weakening complaints, and the Government doctor at last frankly told her that if she wished to live and work another day, she must go home at once. Her answer to his fiat was to rally in a wonderful way. “It looks,” she said, “as if God has forbidden my going. Does this appear as if He could not do without me? Oh, dear me, poor old lady, how little you can do! But I can at least keep a door open.” It was, however, only a respite. By the beginning of 1907 she could not walk half-a-dozen steps, her limbs refused to move, and she needed to be carried about. It was obvious, even to herself, that she must go home. Home! the very word brought tears to her eyes. The passion for the old land and “kent” faces, and the graves of her beloved, grew with her failing power. A home picture made her heart leap and long. “Oh, the dear homeland,” she cried, “shall I really be there and worship in its churches again! How I long for a wee look at a winter landscape, to feel the cold wind, and see the frost in the cart-ruts, to hear the ring of shoes on the hard frozen ground, to see the glare of the shops, and the hurrying scurrying crowd, to take a back seat in a church, and hear without a care of my own the congregation singing, and hear how they preach and pray and rest their souls in the hush and solemnity.”

She arranged to leave in May, and set about putting her household affairs in order. The safeguarding of the children gave her much solicitude. For Jean and the older girls she trembled. “They must be left in charge of the babies, with only God to protect them.” Dan, now six years old, she took with her as a help to fetch and carry. Her departure and journey were made wonderfully easy by the kindness of Government officials, who vied with each other in taking care of her and making her comfortable. One of her friends, Mr. Gray, packed for her, stored her furniture, conveyed her to Duke Town, and asked his sister in Edinburgh to meet her. Mr. Middleton, of Lagos, wrote to say he was going home, and would wait for her in order to “convoy her safely through all the foreign countries between Lagos and the other side of the Tweed.” “Now there,” she wrote to the Wilkies–“Doth Job serve God for nought?” Very grateful she was for all the attention. “God must repay these men,” she said, “for I cannot. He will not forget they did it to a child of His, unworthy though she is.” After the voyage she wrote: “Mr. Middleton has faithfully and very tenderly carried out all his promises. Had I been his mother, he could not have been more attentive or kind.”


A telegram to Mrs. M’Crindle at Joppa informed her that her friend had arrived at Liverpool and was on the way to Edinburgh. She met the train, and saw an old wrinkled lady huddled in a corner of a carriage. Could that be Miss Slessor? With a pitying hand she helped her out and conveyed her, with Dan, to the comfort of her home.

But soon letters, postcards, invitations, parcels began flowing in. “This correspondence,” she wrote, “is overwhelming. I cannot keep pace with it.” There was no end to the kindness which people showered upon her. Gifts of flowers, clothes, and money for herself and her work, and toys for Dan were her daily portion. “It is a wonderful service this,” she said, “which makes the heart leap to do His will, and it is all unknown to the nearest neighbour or the dearest friend, but it keeps the Kingdom of Heaven coming every day anew on the earth.” One L5 was slipped into her hand for her bairns. “My bairns don’t require it,” she replied, “and won’t get it either, but it is put aside, till I see the Board, as the nest-egg of my Home for Girls and Women in Calabar. If I can get them to give the woman or women, I shall give half of my salary to help hers, and will give the house and find the servants, and I can find the passage money from personal friends. Pray that the Board may dare to go on in faith, and take up this work.”

Between spells of colds and fevers she visited friends. At Bowden again she had the exquisite experience of enjoying utter rest and happiness. A pleasant stay was at Stanley, with the family of Miss Amess, who was also at home, and with whom she rose early in the morning and went out cycling. She cycled also with Miss Logie at Newport, but was very timid on the road. If she saw a dog in front she would dismount, and remount after she had passed it. She went over to Dundee and roamed through her former haunts with an old factory companion, looking wistfully at the scenes of her girlhood.

“I have been gladdened,” she wrote to an English friend, “at finding many of those I taught in young days walking in the fear and love of God, and many are heads of families who are a strength and ornament to the Church of Christ. About thirty-five or thirty-eight years ago three ladies and myself began to work in a dreadful district-one became a district nurse, one worked among the fallen women and the prisons of our cities, and one has been at home working quietly–and we all met in good health and had such a day together. We went up the old roads and talked of all God had done for us and for the people, and again dedicated ourselves to Him. It was probably the last time we shall meet down here, but we were glad in the hope of eternity.”

She had not been in Scotland since the Union of the Churches, and one of her first duties was to call upon Mr. Stevenson, the Secretary of the Women’s Foreign Mission Committee, and his assistant, Miss Crawford. She had a high sense of the value of the work going on at headquarters, and always maintained that the task of organising at home was much harder than service in the field. But she had a natural aversion to officialdom, and anticipated the interviews with dread. She pictured two cold, unsympathetic individuals–a conception afterwards recalled with amusement. What the reality was may be gathered from a letter she wrote later to Mr. Stevenson: “I have never felt much at home with our new conditions, and feared the result of the Union in its detail, though I most heartily approved of it in theory and fact. No! I shall not be afraid of you. Both Miss Crawford and yourself have been a revelation to me, and I am ashamed of my former fancies and fears, and I shall ever think of, and pray for the secretaries with a very warm and thankful heart.”

There was an element of humour in her meeting with Miss Crawford. The two women, somewhat nervous, stood on opposite sides of the office door. She, without, was afraid to enter, shrinking from the task of facing the unknown personage within–a woman who had been in India and written a book, and was sure to be masculine and hard! She, within, of gentle face and soft speech, leant timidly on her desk, nerving herself for the coming shock, for the famous pioneer missionary was sure to be “difficult” and aggressive. When Mary entered they glanced at one another, looked into each other’s eyes, and with a sigh of relief smiled and straightway fell in love. When Mary gave her affection she gave it with a passionate abandon, and Miss Crawford was taken into the inmost sanctuary of her heart. “You have been one of God’s most precious gifts to me on this furlough,” she said later. In her humility Miss Crawford spoke about not being worthy to tie her shoe. “Dear daughter of the King,” exclaimed the missionary, “why do you say that? If you knew me as God does! Never say that kind of thing again!”

The ordeal of meeting the Women’s Foreign Mission Committee was also a disillusionment. Her friend, Dr. Robson, was in the chair, and his opening prayer was an inspiration, and lifted the proceedings to the highest level. Nothing could have been kinder than her reception, which delighted her greatly. “There was such a sympathetic hearing for Calabar, especially from the old Free Church section, who are as eager for the Mission as the old United Presbyterians.” A conference was held with her in regard to the position of Ikotobong, and her heart was gladdened by the decision to take over the station and place two lady missionaries there, Miss Peacock and Miss Reid. At another conference with a sub-committee she discussed the matter of the Settlement, gave an outline of her plans, and intimated that already two ladies had offered L100 each to start the enterprise, while other sums were also on hand. The sub-committee was much impressed with the sense of both the necessity and promise of the scheme, and recommended the Women’s Committee to express general approval of it, and earnest sympathy with the end in view, and to authorise her to take the necessary steps on her return for the selection of a suitable site, the preparation of plans, and estimates of the cost of the ground, buildings, and agents, in order that the whole scheme might be submitted through the Mission Council, at the earliest practicable date, for sanction. The general Committee unanimously and cordially adopted this recommendation.

It was expected that she would address many meetings throughout the country during her furlough to interest people in her work and projects, but she astonished every one by intimating that she was leaving for Calabar in October, although she had only been a few months at home. In her eyes friends saw a look of sorrow, and said to one another that the burden of the work was lying upon her heart. But few knew the secret of her sadness. To some who remonstrated she said, “My heart yearns for my bairns–they are more to me than myself.” The truth was that a story about Jean had been set afloat by a native and had reached her in letters, and she could hardly contain herself until she had found out the meaning of it. At all costs she must get back. Even her pilgrimage to the graves of her dear ones in Devon must be given up.

Much against her will and pleading she was tied down to give at least three addresses in the great towns, but with her whole being unhinged by the shadow that overhung her, she had little mind for public speaking. Her old nervousness in the face of an audience returned with tenfold force. “I am trembling for the meetings,” she wrote, “but surely God will help me. It is His own cause.” And again, “I am suffering tortures of fear, and yet why is it that I cannot rest in Him? If He sends me work, surely He will help me to deliver His message, and to do it for His glory. He never failed me before. If He be glorified that is all, whether I be considered able or not.”

She never prepared a set speech, and when she was going up to the Edinburgh meeting with Mrs. M’Crindle, she turned to her and said, “What am I to say?” “Just open your lips and let God speak,” replied her friend. She was greatly pleased with the answer, and on that occasion she never spoke better. Dr. Robson presided, and Mrs. Duncan M’Laren, in bidding her farewell on behalf of the audience, said, “There are times when it needs God-given vision to see the guiding hand. We feel that our friend has this heavenly vision, and that she has not been disobedient to it. We all feel humbled when we hear what she and her brave colleagues have done. In God’s keeping we may safely leave her.”

At the meeting in Glasgow the feeling was even more tense and emotional, and a hush came over the audience as the plain little woman made her appeal, and told them that in all probability she would never again be back. At the benediction she stood, a pathetic figure, her head drooping, her whole attitude one of utter weariness.

On the eve of her departure she was staying with friends. At night they went into her room and found her weeping quietly in bed. They tried to comfort her, and she said half-whimsically that she had been overcome by the feeling that she was homeless and without kith and kin la her own country. “I’m a poor solitary with only memories.” “But you have troops of friends–you have us all–we all love you.” “Yes, I ken, and I am grateful,” she replied, “but”–wistfully–“it’s just that I’ve none of my ain folk to say good-bye to.”

She was very tired when she left, “I’m hardly myself in this country,” she said. “It has too many things, and it is always in such a hurry. I lose my head.” Again kind hands eased her way, and settled her on the steamer. Dan was inconsolable, and wept to be taken back to Joppa.

The voyage gave her a new lease of life. The quietness and peace and meditation, the warm sunshine and the breezes, the loveliness of the sky and sea, rested and healed her. This, despite the conduct of some wild passengers bound for the gold-mines. One day she rose and left the table by way of protest, but in the end they bade her a kindly good- bye, and listened to her advice. At Lagos the Governor sent off his aide-de-camp with greetings, and a case of milk for the children. Mr. Grey also appeared and escorted her to Calabar. “Am I not a privileged and happy woman?” she wrote to his sister.

The same note of gratitude filled a letter which she wrote on board to Dr. Robson, asking him to put a few lines in the _Record_ thanking every one for their kindness, as it was impossible to answer all the letters she had received. The letter itself was inserted, and we give the concluding paragraph:

To all who have received me into their homes, and given me a share of what are the most sacred things of earth, I give heartfelt thanks. What the Bethany house must have been to our Lord, no one can better appreciate than the missionary coming home to a strange place, homeless. I thank all those who have rested me, and nursed me back to health and strength, and who have nerved me for future service by the sweet ministries and hallowing influences of their home life. To the members of the Mission Board for their courtesy, their confidence, and sympathetic helpfulness, I owe much gratitude. And not only for services which can be tabulated, but for the whole atmosphere of sympathy which has surrounded me; for the hand-clasps which have spoken volumes; for the looks of love which have beamed from eyes soft with feeling; for the prayer which has upheld and guided in days gone by, and on which I count for strength in days to come; for all I pray that God may say to each giving, sympathetic heart, “Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto Me.”

She was praying all the while for her bairn. On her arrival, as fast as boat would take her, she sped up to Use. The chiefs and people came crowding to welcome her, bringing lavish gifts of food-yams and salt and fish and fowl. There were even fifty yams, and a goat from the back of Okoyong. Dan with his English clothes was the centre of admiration, and grave greybeards sat and listened to the ticking of his watch, and played with his toy train….

To her unspeakable relief she found the story about Jean to be a native lie. She was too grateful to be angry.


The short furlough in Scotland, broken by so much movement and excitement, had done little permanent good. She was tired when she began her work, and there came a long series of “up and down” days which handicapped her activity, yet she continued her duties with a resolution that was unquenched and unquenchable. “Things are humdrum,” she wrote, “just like this growing weather of ours, rainy and cloudy, with a blink here and there. We know the brightness would scorch and destroy if it were constant; still the bursts of glory that come between the clouds are a rich provision for our frail and sensitive lives.” Her conception of achievement was a little out of the common. One day she sat in court for eight hours; other two hours were spent with the clerk making out warrants; afterwards she had to find tasks to employ some labour; then she went out at dusk and attended a birth case all night, returning at dawn. Whole days were occupied with palavers, many of the people coming such long distances that she had to provide sleeping accommodation for them. Old chiefs would pay her visits and stay for hours. “It is a great tax,” she remarked, “but it pays even if it tires.” Sundays were her busiest days; she went far afield preaching, and had usually from six to twelve meetings in villages and by the wayside. Often on these excursions she came across natives who had made the journey to Okoyong to consult her in the old days. The situation was now reversed, for people from Okoyong came to her. One day after a ten hours’ sitting in Court she went home to find about fifty natives from the hinterland of that district waiting with their usual tributes of food and a peck of troubles for her to straighten out. It was after midnight before there was quiet and sleep for her. Her heart went out to these great-limbed, straight-nosed, sons of the aboriginal forest, and she determined to cross the river and visit them. She spent three days fixing up all their domestic and social affairs, and making a few proclamations, and diligently sowing the seeds of the Gospel. When she left she had with her four boys and a girl as wild and undisciplined as mountain goats, who were added to her household to undergo the process of taming, training, and educating ere they were sent back.

In what she called her spare time she was engaged in the endless task of repairing and extending her forlorn little shanties. There was always something on hand, and she worked as hard as the children, nailing up corrugated iron, sawing boards, cementing floors, or cutting bush. Jean, the ever-willing and cheerful, was practically in charge of the house, keeping the babies, looking after their mothers, and teaching the little ones in the school. Up to this period she had never received more than her board, and “Ma” felt it was time to acknowledge her services, and she therefore began to pay her 1s. per week.

Now and again in her letters there came the ominous words, “I’m tired, tired.” On the last night of the year she was sitting up writing. “I’m tired,” she said, “and have a few things to do. My mother went home eighteen years ago on the passage of the old year, so it is rather lonely to-night with so many memories. The bairns are all asleep. But He hath not failed, and He is all-sufficient.” She was often so wearied that she could not sit up straight. She was too exhausted to take off her clothes and brush her hair until she had obtained what she called her “first rest.” Then she rose and finished her undressing. She would begin a letter and not be able to finish it. The ladies nearest her, Miss Peacock and Miss Reid at Ikotobong, redoubled their attentions. Miss Reid she said was “a bonnie lassie, tenderly kind to me.” What Miss Peacock was to her no one but herself knew. She was a keen judge of character, though generous, almost extravagant in her appreciation of those she loved, and Miss Peacock has justified her estimate and her praise. “Sterling as a Christian, splendid as a woman, whole-hearted as a missionary, capable as a teacher, she is one after my own heart,” she wrote. “She is very good and kind to me, and a tower of strength. I am proud of her and the great work she is doing.” Miss Peacock began the habit about this time of cycling down on Saturday afternoons and spending a few hours with her, and Mary looked forward to these visits with the greatest zest.

The friends at home were also ceaseless in their kindness. They scrutinised every letter she sent, and were frequently able to read between the lines and anticipate and supply her needs,–much to her surprise. “Have I been grumbling?” she would enquire. “You make me ashamed. I am better off than thousands who give their money to support me.” A carpet arrived. “And oh,” she writes, “what a difference it has made to our comfort. You have no idea of the transformation! The mud and cement were transformed at once into something as artistic as the ‘boards’ of the bungalow, and the coziness was simply beyond belief. It did not look a bit hot, and it was so soothing to the bare feet, and I need not say it was a wonder to the natives, who can’t understand a white man stepping on a cloth–and such a cloth!” On another occasion a bed was sent out to her, and she wrote: “I’ve been jumping my tired body up and down on it just to get the beautiful swing, and to feel that I am lying level. I’m tired and I’m happy and I’m half-ashamed at my own luxury.” And next morning, “What a lovely sleep I’ve had!”

The Macgregors made their first visit to Use in 1908, and on arrival found “Ma” sitting with a morsel of infant in her lap. She was dressed in a print overall with low neck; it was tied at the middle with a sash, and she was without stockings or shoes. On the Sunday she set out early on foot on her customary round, carrying two roasted corn-cobs as her day’s rations, whilst Mr. Macgregor took the service at Ikotobong. He was tired after his one effort, but when he returned in the evening he discovered her preaching at Use Church-her tenth meeting for the day, and her tour had not been so extensive as usual. At six o’clock next morning people had already arrived with palavers. One woman wanted a husband. “Ma” looked at her with those shrewd eyes that read people through and through, and then began in Scots, “It’s bad eneuch being a marriage registrar, without being a matrimonial agent forby. _Eke mi’o!_ Mr. Macgregor, send up any o’ your laddies that’s wanting wives.” Then she went into Efik that made the woman wince, and pointed out that she had come to the wrong place.

She watched with interest the progress of the Creek stations, although they were out of her hands. There were now at Okpo forty members in full communion, and the contributions for the year amounted to L48: 3: 3. At Akani Obio, where there were forty-five members in full communion, the total contributions amounted to L98: 11: 4. And at Asang, where there were one hundred and fifteen members, the contributions amounted to L146: 68. At those three stations the total expenses were fully met, and there was a large surplus. Where four years ago there was no church member and no offering, there were now two hundred members, and contributions amounting in all to L287.

So the Kingdom of her Lord grew.


One experience of 1908, when she was down at Duke Town attending the Council meetings, is worth noting. Though she liked the bush better she was always interested in watching the movements there. “It is a great cheer to me,” she said, “to meet all the young folks, and to be with them in their enthusiasm and optimism, and this vast hive of industry, the Hope Waddell Institution, with its swarm of young men and boys, gives me the highest hopes for the future of the Church and the nation now in their infancy. Mr. Macgregor is a perfect Principal, sane, self- restrained, and tactful, but I would not be in his place for millions.” The town was a very different place from that which she first saw in 1876. It was now a flourishing seaport, with many fine streets and buildings. The swamp had been drained. There was a fully-equipped native hospital, and a magnificent church in the centre of the town, and the Europeans enjoyed most of the conveniences and even the luxuries of civilisation.

On this occasion an invitation came from the High Commissioner to dine at Government House, and meet a certain woman writer of books. She would not hear of it. She had no clothes for such a function, and she did not wish to be lionised. The Macgregors, with whom she was staying, advised her to go; they thought it would do her good. She consented at last, but when she left in a hammock, which had been specially sent for her, there was the light of battle in her eyes. Mr. Macgregor knew that look and laughed; there was no doubt she was going to enjoy herself; she had still the heart of a school-girl, and greatly loved a prank. When she returned, her face was full of mischief. “Ay,” she said, “I met your lady writer, and I made her greet four times and she gied me half a sovereign for my bairns!”

Under the title of “But yet the pity of it,” the authoress gave an account of the meeting in the _Morning Post_, in a way which excited laughter and derision in the Calabar bush. It was in the pathetic strain:

“I am not given to admiring missionary enterprise,” she wrote. “The enthusiasm which seems to so many magnificent seems to me but a meddling in other people’s business; the money that is poured out, so much bread and light and air and happiness filched from the smitten children at home.

“But this missionary conquered me if she did not convert me.

“She was a woman close on sixty, with a heavily-lined face, and a skin from which the freshness and bloom had long, long ago departed; but there was fire in her old eyes still, tired though they looked; there was sweetness and firmness about her lined mouth. Heaven knows who had dressed her. She wore a skimpy tweed skirt and a cheap nun’s veiling blouse, and on her iron-grey hair was perched rakishly a forlorn broken picture-hat of faded green, chiffon with a knot of bright red ribbon to give the bizarre touch of colour she had learned to admire among her surroundings.

“‘Ye’ll excuse my hands,’ she said, and she held them out.

“They were hardened and roughened by work, work in the past, and they were just now bleeding from work finished but now; the skin of the palms was gone, the nails were worn to the quick; that they were painful there could be no doubt, but she only apologised for their appearance.”

“Ma” is thus made to tell the incident of the witness dying suddenly after attending the court at Ikotobong:

“‘If you put _mbiam_ on a man and he swears falsely he dies. Oh, he does. I ken it. I’ve seen it mysel’. There was a man brought up before me in the court and he was charged wi’ stealing some plantains. He said he had naught to do with them, so I put _mbiam_ on him, an’ still he said he had naught to do wi’ them, so I sent him down to Calabar. An’ see now. As he was going he stopped the policeman an’ laid himself down, because he was sick. An’ he died. He died there. I put _mbiam_ on him, an’ he knew he had stolen them and died.’

“There was pity in her face for the man she had killed with his own lie, but only pity, no regret.”

So well was she succeeding with her mystification that she went on to talk of the hard lot of women and “the puir bairns,” and then comes the conclusion:

“‘My time’s been wasted. The puir bairns. They’d be better dead.’

“Her scarred hands fumbled with her dress, her tired eyes looked out into the blazing tropical sunshine, her lips quivered as she summed up her life’s work. ‘Failed, failed,’ she cried. All that she had hoped, all that she had prayed for, nothing for herself had she ever sought except the power to help these children, and she felt that she had not helped them. They would be better dead….

“But the Commissioner did not think she had failed. Is the victory always to the strong?

“‘She has influence and weight,’ he said ‘she can go where no white man dare go. She can sway the people when we cannot sway them. Because of her they are not so hard on the twins and their mothers as they used to be. No, she has not failed.'”

And so with a reference to Thermopylae, and the Coliseum and Smithfield, the lady litterateur places her in the ranks of the immortal martyrs of the world.


This was one of the waiting periods in Mary Slessor’s life, which tried her patience and affected her spirits. The mist had fallen upon her path, and the direction was dim and uncertain. She had received what she thought was a call from a distant region up-country, but if she settled far away, what would become of her home for women and girls? She had no clear leading, and she wished the way to be made so plain that there could be no possibility of mistake. Friends were sending her money, and the Government were urging her to start the Settlement, and promising to take all the products that were grown. “The District Commissioner was here to-day,” she wrote. “He wonders how he can help me, has had orders from the Governor to assist me in any way, but the Pillar does not move. I have building material lying here, and have a L10 note from a friend at home for any material I want, but there is no leading towards anything yet…. I am longing for an outlet, but I can’t move without guidance.” She would not hurry–the matter was not in her hands. God, she was assured, was “softly, softly,” working towards a natural solution, and as she was only His instrument, she could afford to wait His time.

One night the mist on the path lifted a little, and next day she walked over the land at Use, and there and then fixed the site for the undertaking. There was ample room for all the cultivations that would be required, and plenty of material for building and fencing, and good surface water. Already she had three cottages built, including the one she occupied, and these would make a beginning. She at once set about obtaining legal possession, and with the permission and help of Government she secured the land in the name of the girls. The Council agreed with her that it was most advisable to develop industries which the people had not yet undertaken, such as basket-making, the weaving of cocoanut fibre, and cane and bamboo work. When asked if she would agree to remain at Use for one year to establish the Settlement and put it in working order with the assistance of one or two agents, she would not commit herself. She rather shrank from the idea of a large institution; it ought, in her view, to begin in a simple and natural way by bringing in a few people, instructing them, and then getting them to teach others. And there were other regions calling to her. When reminded that a large sum of money was on hand for the project, she said it was not all intended for this special purpose; much of it was for extension; and she pointed to the needs of the region up the Cross River, stating that she was willing to have the funds used for providing agents there.

Nothing more definite was decided, and meanwhile she went on quietly with the beginnings of things. She planted fruit trees sent up by the Government,–mangoes, guavas, pawpaws, bananas, plantains, avocado pears, as well as pineapples, and other produce, and began to think of rubber and cocoa. She also started to accumulate stock, though the leopards were a constant menace. She had even a cow, which she bought from a man to prevent him going to prison for debt–and often wished she had not, for it caused infinite trouble, and the natives went in terror of it. Although it had a pail attached to it by a rope, it was often lost, and the whole town were out at nights searching for it. It would run away with the whole household hanging on, and so little respect did it pay to dignitaries, that on one occasion it ran off with the Mother of the Mission and the Principal of the Hope Waddell Institute, who had been pressed into the humble service of leading it home. “Ma Slessor’s coo” became quite famous in the Mission.

It was characteristic of her that she did not want her name to be put to anything, and she thought the Settlement should be called after Mrs. Anderson or Mrs. Goldie, who did so much for women and girls.


During the year 1909 she continued to fight a battle with ill-health. She was compelled to give up much of her outdoor work, for an oppressive sense of heart-weakness made her afraid to cross deep streams and climb the hills. Sometimes she used her cycle, but only when she could obtain one of the girls or lads to run alongside and assist her up the ascents. Boils, an old enemy, tortured her again; she was covered with them from head to foot, and was one mass of pain. “Only sleeping draughts,” she said, “keep me from going off my head.” As the months went on she became feeble almost to fainting point, and had given up hope of betterment. A note of sadness crept into her letters. “I cannot write,” she told a friend at home, “but there is no change in the heart’s affection, except that it grows stronger and perhaps a little more wistful as the days go by and life gets more uncertain.” She was anxious to recover sufficiently before March, to do honour to two deputies who had been appointed by the home Church to visit the Mission, and who were expected then, and if possible to return to Scotland with them. But she scarcely anticipated holding out so long. Jean, unfortunately, was not with her. It had been discovered that she had long been suffering in silence from an internal complaint, and the medical men now advised an operation. “Ma” was opposed to this, and left her for a time at Duke Town for a change and treatment, which did her much good.

It was sheer will-power that gained her a little strength to face the ordeal of the official visit. She determined to make no change whatever in the course of her daily life, and she was afraid the deputies might not find things to their liking and be disappointed. They were the Rev. James Adamson, M.A., B.Sc., of Bonnington, Leith, and the Rev. John Lindsay, M.A., Bathgate, who was accompanied by Mrs. Lindsay. They entered the Creek one market day, when it was crowded with canoes, and the landing-beach–one for the missionaries had just been constructed at Okopedi–was swarming with people, amongst whom the arrival of the strangers caused the greatest excitement. On bicycles the party proceeded uphill to Use. Mr. Adamson went on ahead, and at a spot where a few rough steps were cut in the steep bank he saw a boy standing, He called out, “Ma Slessor?” The boy signed to Mm to come–it was a short cut to the house. Clambering up the bank and making his way through the bush, Mr. Adamson came upon a little native hut. Miss Slessor advanced to meet him. “Come awa in, laddie, oot o’ the heat,” was her greeting. When the Lindsays arrived it was also her chief concern to get them into the shade. Mr. Adamson was her guest, whilst the Lindsays went on to Ikotobong. His room–an erection built out from the house–had mud walls and a mat roof, and was furnished with a camp-bed, a box for dressing-table and another for a washstand, and for company he had abundance of spiders and beetles and lizards. He proved a delightful guest. “He is a dear laddie,” wrote Mary; “all the bairns are in love with him, and so am I!”

While he was with her a woman came to the yard with twins. She had been driven out of her house and town, and had come several miles to “Ma” for shelter. Her husband and her father were with her–which denoted some advance–and the three were crouched on the ground, a picture of misery. The twins were lying in a basket and had not been touched. Mr. Adamson helped “Ma” to attend to them, and she felt as proud of him as of a son when she saw him sitting down beside the weeping mother and gently trying to comfort her. She gave the parents some food and a hut to sleep in, and made the man promise to stay until the morning. Neither would, however, look at the twins, and they were given over to the girls.

A service was held at which Mr. Lindsay was also present, and about a hundred people attended. “Take our compliments to the people of your country,” the latter said to the deputies, “and tell them that our need is great, and that we are in darkness and waiting for the light.” What astonished the natives was to see the white visitors standing up courteously when spoken to by black men.

From the meeting the party cycled to the little wattle-and-thatch Court House at Ikotobong, Miss Slessor being pushed by Dan up the hills. She took her seat at the table in the simplest possible attire. Before her was a tin of toffee, her only refreshment, with the exception of a cup of tea, during a long sitting. The jury, composed of the older and more responsible men in the various villages, occupied a raised platform behind. In front was a bamboo railing, which formed the dock; at the side another railing marked the witness-box. Several cases were heard, the witnesses giving their evidence with volubility and abundant gesture, and the judge, jury, and clerk retiring to a little shed at the back to discuss the verdicts. One was that of a man who, under the influence of trade gin, had hacked his wife with a machete, because she had insulted his dignity by accidentally stumbling against him. Such a case always aroused “Ma’s” ire, and she wished a severe punishment awarded. The jury were very unwilling. The headman started by laying down as a fundamental principle that men had a perfect right to do whatever they liked with their wives; otherwise they would become unmanageable. But in deference to the white woman’s peculiar views they would go the length of admitting that perhaps the husband had gone a little too far in the use of his instrument. He had not done anything to merit a severe sentence, but in view of the prejudices of the “Court,” they would send him to prison for a short term.

Suddenly the “toot” of the Government motor-car was heard, and in a moment jury, witnesses, prisoners, and policemen rushed out of the building to catch a glimpse of the “new steamer” that ran on the road. Then back they drifted, and the proceedings went on.

Mr. Adamson appreciated the service which Miss Slessor was accomplishing by her work in the Court. She told him she did not care for it; “the moral atmosphere of a native court is so bad,” she declared, “that I would never go near one were it not that I want the people to get justice.” But he saw the exceptional opportunity she possessed of dispensing gospel as well as law. “As a rule,” he says, “her decision is accompanied by some sound words of Christian counsel.” He left Use with a profound admiration both for herself and Miss Peacock. “Words,” he wrote in the _Record_, “cannot describe the value of the work that is being done by these heroic women.”

There was no improvement in her health as the months went on, and another severe illness caused by blood-poisoning shattered her nerves. The Wilkies spared no labour or love to heal and strengthen her. “Once more,” she wrote, “I believe I owe my life to them.”

She felt that the time had come to relinquish her court work, and accordingly in November she sent in her resignation. The Commissioner of the Eastern Province wrote in reply:

DEAR MISS SLESSOR–I have been informed of your decision to resign the Vice-Presidentship of the Ikotobong Native Court by the District Commissioner, Ikot Ekpene, which I note with great regret, and take this opportunity of thanking you for the assistance you have in the past given the Government, and of expressing my deep appreciation of the services you have rendered to the country during the period you have held the office which you have now relinquished.–Believe me, Yours very sincerely,


She slipped out of the work very quietly, and was glad to be free of a tie which hindered her from moving onward on her King’s more pressing business.


The Government motor car, which now ran up and down the road into the interior, was the cause of several changes in the household of Use. In charge of it at first was a white chauffeur, who, curiously enough, was a member of Wellington Street Church in Glasgow, which now supported Miss Slessor, and with him was a native assistant, a young well- educated Anglican, who came from Lagos. When the car made its appearance Dan was so fascinated with it that he could scarcely keep off the road, and he now struck up an acquaintance with the native driver, which brought him many a rapturous hour. “Ma,” who did not then know the lad, was in terror for the safety of his body and his morals, and so despatched him as a pupil to the Institute at Duke Town to be under the care of Mr. Macgregor. But David, the driver, had done more than capture Dan; he had captured the heart of one of the girls–Mary. Annie was already happily married, and she and her husband were preparing to join the Church; but Mary was not disposed to follow her example, although she had two suitors, one in Okoyong, and one in Ibibio. “Why can’t I stay at home with you?” she said to “Ma.” “I don’t want to go anywhere.” But the Lagos lad succeeded where others had failed, and “Ma,” giving her consent, they were married, before the District Commissioner in Court. David went back to his work, and his wife to the Mission House, for “Ma” would not allow him to take her home until the Church ceremony had been performed. Mr. Cruickshank appeared one day before he was expected, and before the wedding-gown was quite ready, but a note was sent to David, and he cycled down in his black suit. Miss Annie M’Minn, then at Ikotobong, came and dressed the bride, the children put on white frocks, and there was a quaint and picturesque wedding.

There was also, of course, a breakfast. It was given in the verandah of the hut. David was early on the scene arranging tables and forms, and Miss Peacock and Miss M’Minn laid and decorated them, a conspicuous object being a bunch of heather from Scotland. Jean and the bride cooked the breakfast. By 11 o’clock the company had assembled. At the head sat an aged Mohammedan in white robes and turban, a friend of David’s family. A number of his co-religionists had come to the district, and some even attended “Ma’s” services. This particular man greatly admired her. “Only God can make you such a mother and helper to everybody,” he had said at his first interview, and on leaving he had taken her hand and bent over and kissed it, and with tears in his eyes invoked a blessing upon her. Few expressions of respect from white men had touched her more, though she was half-afraid her feeling was scarcely orthodox. Then came the bride and bridegroom and “Ma’s” clerk. At the next table sat another of David’s friends–an interpreter–and a lad from the bride’s house, headman on the road Department; David’s next-door neighbours, a man and his wife; and eight headmen over the road labourers. Outside were the school children, who were fed by Jean with Calabar chop, sweets, and biscuits.

After the breakfast the Mohammedan came indoors to Miss Slessor and made a speech. “I knew David’s mother before he was born,” he said, “and I praise God he was led here for a wife.” David came forward, “Mother,” he said, “you won’t let us go without prayer?” and down he knelt, and she committed the couple to God, A pie and cake, which the Ikotobong ladies had baked, were presented, along with a motor cap, silk handkerchief, ribbon, and scissors. One of “Ma’s” presents was a sewing-machine. Then she walked down to see them off, supported in her weakness by the Mohammedan, When the pair arrived at their home, the latter stood on the doorstep praying for them as they entered on their new life. It was only a bamboo shanty run up by the Government, but it was a home, and not, like all others, a room in a compound, and family worship was conducted in it in English. Good news came from it as time went on. The bride was sometimes seen driving in the motor car. “She was here this morning,” writes the house-mother, “full of importance as she passed to market. She had biscuits for the children, a new water- jar and a bunch of fine bananas for me, and the whole house were round her full of questions and fun, and you would think she had become a heroine, just because she was married two months ago. She is very happy and proud of her husband.” “Ma” watched over her with jealous care, and when in due time a baby arrived, she was as delighted as if it had been of her own blood.


The hot, dry season was always a trial to Miss Slessor; it shrivelled her up, and reduced her energy, and she panted for the cooling rains. This year it affected her more than ever. The harmattan was like an Edinburgh “haar,” though it was not cold except between midnight and daybreak; the air was thick with fine sand dust, and often she could not see three yards away. She longed for a “wee blink of home,” and a home Sabbath. “But though the tears are coming at the thought, you are not to think for one moment that I would take the offer if it were given me! A thousand times no! I feel too grateful to God for His wonderful condescension in letting me have the privilege of ministering to those around me here.”

How the interest of the spiritual aspects of her work submerged the afflictions of her body was seen when the first baptismal service and communion at Use took place. With her dread of the spectacular she did not make the event known, but the little native church was crowded, men and women squatting on the floor, and the mothers with babies on the verandah. Mr. Cruickshank conducted the service. Mary took a “creepie” stool–her mother’s footstool of old–and sat down by the young communicants to help them and show them what to do. “David,” she wrote, “had bought a bottle of wine for his wedding, but of course it was never opened, and he said to me, ‘Keep it, Ma, it may be useful yet.’ So it was drawn for our first communion well-watered. The glass sugar- dish on a teaplate was the baptismal font, but it was all transfigured and glorified by the Light which never shone on hill or lake or even on human face, and some of us saw the King in His beauty–and not far off. Bear with me in my joy; this sounds small in comparison with home events, but it is only a very short time since this place was dark and degraded and drunken and besotted.”

The glow and exaltation of the service lingered with her for weeks, and her letters are full of sprightliness and wit. She told of a visit from Lady Egerton–“a true woman”–and of the Christmas gift from their Excellencies–a case of milk; and of the present of a new cycle sent from England from “her old chief” Mr. Partridge, to replace the old one which he thought must be worn out by this time. The wonders of aviation were engrossing the world then, and she merrily imagined a descent upon her some afternoon of her friends from Scotland, and discussed the capabilities of her tea-caddy.

Well on into the next year she was busy with regular station work, teaching, training, preaching, building up the congregation, and acting as Mother to her people and to many more. Then in the midst of her strenuous activity she was suddenly and swiftly struck down by what she termed “one of the funniest illnesses” she ever had. The children were alarmed, and sent word to David. He informed the white officers, and they rushed in a motor car down to Use and removed her to Itu, where she was nursed back to life by Mrs. Robertson. “I shall never forget the kindness and the tenderness and the skill which have encompassed me, and I shall ever remember Dr. Robertson and his devoted wife, and ask God to remember them for their goodness. Dr. Robertson brought me out of the valley of the shadows and when I was convalescent he lifted me up in his strong arms and took me to see the church and garden and anywhere I wished, just as he might have done to his own mother.” Her friends in Calabar also did everything they could for her, the Hon. Mr. Bedwell, the Provincial Commissioner, sending up ice and English chicken and other delicacies in a special launch.

The little daughter of the missionaries was a source of great delight to her who loved all children. She was a very winsome girl, and had won the hearts of the natives, who regarded her with not a little awe. She was the only white child they had seen, and were not sure whether she was not a spirit. “Ma” and she had good times together, playing and make-believing. “Maimie and I,” she wrote, “have been having the dolls out for a drive, and we have just given them their bread and milk and put them to bed!”

When she was convalescent the Macgregors insisted on her coming down to Duke Town for a change, and the Government placed the fast and comfortable _Maple Leaf_ at their disposal. She protested, saying she could not put herself on a brother and sister whose lives were so strenuous, but they would take no refusal. They turned their dining- room into a bedroom for her convenience, and here she talked and read the newspapers and the latest new books and her Bible, and wrote long letters to her friends. “I am doing nothing but eating,” she told her children, “and am growing fat and shedding my buttons all over the place.” But underneath all her gaiety and high spirits she felt profoundly grateful for the wonderful goodness and mercy God had made to pass before her, and the perfect peace He had given her. “Here I am,” she said, “being spoiled anew in an atmosphere not merely of tender love, but of literary and cultured Christian grace and winsomeness, and it has been as perfect a fortnight as ever I spent.” She had literally to run away from the kind attentions of the Government officials and doctors, and a swift Government launch again conveyed her up-river. Jean, who had long since returned, had bravely held the fort for the five Sabbaths she had been absent, and David and his wife had been there to protect her, and the work, therefore, had been kept going.

After each breakdown she seemed to feel that she must make up for lost time, and she planned an advance towards Ikot Ekpene, being anxious to secure that point and the intervening area for her church. On her bicycle she made a series of pioneer trips into the bush, here and there selecting sites for schools, interviewing chiefs about twin- mothers, and generally preparing the way for further operations. About twelve miles’ distant, or half-way to Ikot Ekpene, where there was a camp, she met some forty chiefs and arranged for ground for a school and the beginning of the work, and for a hut for herself at the back of the native prison, where, she thought, she would have some influence over the warders. As she was never able to establish this station, its history may be rounded off here. Early in the year 1911 she brought the matter before the Calabar Council, which agreed to build a house at Ibiacu out of the extension fund, and later she went in a hammock to complete the arrangement, accompanied by Miss Welsh, who, as “Ma” phrased it, “fitted into bush life like a glove,” and who occupied and developed the station. This young missionary lives alone, looks after the children, has a clever pen and clever hands, and Is following very much on the lines of the great “Ma.” To the chagrin of the latter, Ikot Ekpene was taken over by the Primitive Methodist Mission before she could secure it, but she consoled herself with the thought that it did not matter who did the Master’s works so long as it done….

Then her path, which had been so long hidden, cleared, and she saw it stretching out plain and straight before her.


l9l0-January 1915. Age 62-66.


“_It is a dark and difficult land, and I am old and weak–but happy_.”


The new sphere to which Miss Slessor felt she was called, had been occupying her attention for some time. During one of the minor military expeditions into the interior, the troops were suddenly attacked by a tribe who fled at the first experience of disciplined firing. A lad who had been used by the soldiers was persuaded by some of their number to conduct them to the great White Mother for her advice and help. When they appeared at Use, she and they talked long and earnestly, and they returned consoled and hopeful. Some time afterwards the guide came down on his own account, bringing a few other lads with him. Her influence was such that they wished to become God-men, and they returned to begin the first Christian movement in one of the most degraded regions of Nigeria.

She knew nothing of the place save that it was away up in the north- west, on one of the higher reaches of the Enyong Creek, and a two days’ journey for her by water. The lads lived at a town called Ikpe, an old slave centre, that had been in league with Aro, and the focus of the trade of a wide and populous area. It was a “closed” market, no Calabar trader being allowed to enter.

On her return from Scotland the young men again appeared, saying that there were forty others ready to become Christians, begging her to come up, and offering to send down a canoe. She disliked all water journeys, and even on the quiet creek was usually in a state of inward trepidation. But nothing could separate her from her duty, and she responded to the call. For eight hours she was paddled along the beautiful windings of the Creek; then a huge hippopotamus was encountered, and frightened her into landing for the night on the Ibibio side, where she put up in a wretched hut reeking with filth and mosquitoes. Here the Chief was reaching out for the Gospel, holding prayers in his house, and trying to keep Sabbath, though not a soul could read, and the people were laughing at him. As the Creek made a bend she left the canoe and trudged through the bush to Ikpe. She found the town larger and more prosperous than she had anticipated, with four different races mingling in the market, but the darkness was terrible, and the wickedness shameless, even the children being foul-mouthed and abandoned. The younger and more progressive men gave her a warm welcome, but the older chiefs were sulky–“Poor old heathen souls,” she remarked, “they have good reason to be, with all they have to hope from tumbling down about their ears.” The would-be Christians had begun to erect a small church, with two rooms for her at the end. That they were in earnest was proved by their attitude. She had eager and reverent audiences, and once, on going unexpectedly into a yard, she found two lads on their knees praying to the white man’s God.

She made a survey of the district, and came to the conclusion that Ikpe was another strategic point, the key to several different tribes, which it would be well to secure for the Church, and she made up her mind to come and live in the two rooms, and work inland and backwards towards Arochuku. There was the Settlement to consider, but that, she thought, she could manage to carry on along with the occupation of Ikpe.

Her bright and eager spirit did not reckon with the frailties of the body. When she returned, she entered on a long period of weakness. Now and again deputations came down to her. Once a score of young men appeared, and before stating their business said, “Let us pray.” She made another visit, saw the beginnings of the church at Ikpe, and another at Nkanga on the Creek bank, three miles below Ikpe, and, what affected her more, heard rumours of a possible occupation by the Roman Catholics. “I must come,” she said to herself.

On one journey she was accompanied by Miss Peacock, who rose still more highly in her regard on account of the resolute way in which she braved the awful smells in the villages. On another, Mr. and Mrs. Macgregor shared the hardships of the trip with her. When these two arrived at the landing-beach for Use, a note was put into their hands from “Ma,” to the effect that she had not been able to obtain a canoe, and they had better come to the house until she saw what the Lord meant by it. They remained at Use some days, “Ma” suffering from fever, but refusing to postpone the trip, saying that if she had faith she would be able to go. They were to start early one morning, but her guests sought to keep her in sleep until it was too late. They succeeded until 1 A.M., when she awoke, gave directions about packing, and rose. “What do you think of her?” they asked of Jean. “She is often like that, and gets better on the road,” she replied, which was true. As “Ma” herself said, “I begin every day, almost every journey in pain, and in such tiredness that I am sure I can’t go on, and whenever I begin, the strength comes, and it increases.”

The party left at 3.15 in the moonlight, and soon afterwards were in a canoe. For hours they paddled, past men with two-pronged fish-spears fishing, by long stretches of water-lilies of dazzling whiteness, by farms where the fresh green corn was beginning to sprout, by extensive reaches of jungle where brilliant birds flitted, and parrots chattered, and monkeys swung from branch to branch by a bridge of hands. They stopped for lunch, and Mr. Macgregor was interested in watching her methods with the people. A chief wished to see the Principal, and said he was anxious to place two more boys with him in the Institute. She told Mr. Macgregor to say he would see him after they had eaten. The business-like Principal thought this a waste of time, but she held that he must not cheapen himself–if he made food of more importance than the education of their boys they would think him dignified and respect him. And she was right.

By and by they came to a tortuous channel as narrow as a mill-dam, and it was with difficulty that the canoe was punted through. They swept on under trees, hung with orchids, where dragon-flies flashed in and out of the sunlight. This was the country of the hippos, and the banks were scored by their massive feet; it was also, as they found to their cost, the haunt of ibots, a fly with a poisonous bite. After passing over a series of shallows they reached Ikpe beach towards dark, and camped in the unfinished church, “Ma” in the “vestry,” and the Macgregors inside the building.

Mr. Macgregor had seen much of Nigeria, but he had never witnessed such degradation as he found existing here. The girls went without any clothing, except a string of beads, and the married women wore only a narrow strip of cloth. He had again a lesson in native manners. Paying ceremonial visits to the chiefs, they sat and looked at the ground, and yawned repeatedly, and after a time left. To him the yawning seemed rude, but “Ma” said it was the correct thing, and when the chiefs returned the calls he knew that, as usual, she was right.

One of the questions that the chiefs asked was, “Is this the man you have brought to stay and teach us?” “Ma” turned to the Principal with a wry face. “Well,” she said in English, “I like that. They’ll need to be content wi’ something less than a B.D. for a wee while–till they get started at any rate.” She informed them who Mr. Macgregor was, and the great work he was doing in Calabar, and that in the goodness of his heart he had come up to see the position of things in the town.

“Ma”–incredulously–“do you mean that this is not the man who is to come and lead us out of darkness?”

“No, he is not the man-yet.”

“Ma”–reproachfully–“you always say wait. We have waited two years, and again you come to us and say wait. When are you coming to us?”

There was nothing for it but to put them off once more. But she improved the occasion by extolling the Institute, with the result that when they left, two boys were taken to the canoe and consigned to Mr. Macgregor’s care, one decently clad in a singlet and loin-cloth, and the other with only a single bead hanging at the throat.

Mr. Macgregor went exploring on his own account, and came across a Government Rest House perched on the brow of a cliff, with a magnificent view over the plain. Here he noticed that the people were particularly opposed to white men. One of the villages “Ma” had labelled “dangerous,” and he learnt that when the Court messengers appeared, they were promptly seized, beaten, and cast out. This, it is interesting to note, came to be the scene of “Ma’s” last exploits. He rejoined the ladies at Nkanga, where the little native church had been completed. They held the opening service. The Principal had no jacket; his shirt was torn, his boots bore traces of the streams and mud through which he had passed. Miss Slessor wore the lightest of garments. It was one of the strangest opening ceremonies in the history of Missions, but they worshipped God from the heart, and “Ma” seemed lifted out of herself, and to be inspired, as she told the people what the church there in their midst meant, and the way they should use it for their highest good.

The Macgregors left her at Arochuku, and she continued down-creek. She had been upheld by her indomitable spirit throughout the journey, but now collapsed, and was so ill that she had to spend the night in the canoe. In the darkness she was awakened by one of the babies crying, but was so weak that she could not move. The girls were sound asleep, and could not hear her. Exerting her willpower, she rolled over to the