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Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary by W. P. Livingstone

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declared it would be better than stoning windows, for she had no
patience with the policy of the women who sought in blind destruction
the solution of political and social evils. "I'm for votes for women,
but I would prove my right to it by keeping law and helping others to
keep it. God-like motherhood is the finest sphere for women, and the
way to the redemption of the world."

Many a clarion call she sent to her sisters across the waters:

"Don't grow up a nervous old maid! Gird yourself for the battle outside
somewhere, and keep your heart young. Give up your whole being to
create music everywhere, in the light places and in the dark places,
and your life will make melody. I'm a witness to the perfect joy and
satisfaction of a single life--with a tail of human tag-rag hanging on.
It is rare! It is as exhilarating as an aeroplane or a dirigible or
whatever they are that are always trying to get up and are always
coming down!... Mine has been such a joyous service," she wrote again.
"God has been good to me, letting me serve Him in this humble way. I
cannot thank Him enough for the honour He conferred upon me when He
sent me to the Dark Continent."

Over and over again she put this idea of foreign service before her
friends at home. Some were afraid of a rush of cranks who would not
obey rules and so forth. She laughed the idea to scorn. "I wish I could
believe in a crush--but there are sensible men and women enough in the
Church who would be as law-abiding here as at home."


During the course of her career Miss Slessor wrote numberless letters,
many of them productions of six, ten, twelve, and fourteen pages,
closely penned in spidery writing, which she called her "hieroglyphic
style." She had the gift, which more women than men possess, of
expressing her ideas on paper in as affluent and graceful a way as in
conversation. Her letters indeed were long monologues, the spontaneous
outpouring of an active and clever mind. She sat down and talked
vivaciously of everything about her, not of public affairs, because she
knew people at home would not understand about these, but of her
children, the natives, her journeys, her ailments, the services, the
palavers, all as simply and naturally and as fully as if she were
addressing an interested listener. But it was essential that her
correspondent should be in sympathy with her. She could never write a
formal letter; she could not even compose a business letter in the
ordinary way. Neither could she write to order, nor give an official
report of her work. The prospect of appearing in print paralysed her.
It was always the heart and not the mind of her correspondent that she
addressed. What appeared from time to time in the _Record_ and in the
_Women's Missionary Magazine_, were mainly extracts from private
letters, and they derived all their charm and colour from the fact that
they were meant for friends who loved and understood her. In the same
way she would be chilled by receiving a coldly expressed letter. "I
wish you hadn't said _Dear Madam_," she told a lady at home. "I'm just
an insignificant, wee, auld wifey that you would never address in that
way if you knew me. I'll put the _Madam_ aside, and drag up my chair
close to you and the girls you write for, and we'll have a chat by the

She could not help writing; it was the main outlet for her loving
nature, so much repressed in the loneliness of the bush. Had she not
possessed so big and so ardent a heart, she would have written less.
Into her letters she poured all the wealth of her affection; they were
in the real sense love-letters; and her magic gift of sympathy made
them always prized by the recipients. She had no home people of her
own, and she pressed her nearest friends to make her "one of the
family." "If," she would say, "you would let me share in any
disappointments or troubles, I would feel more worthy of your love--I
will tell you some of mine as a counter-irritant!" Many followed her
behest with good result. "I'm cross this morning," wrote a young
missionary at the beginning of a long letter, "and I know it is all my
own fault, but I am sure that writing to you will put me in a better
temper. When things go wrong, there is nothing like a talk with you....
Now I must stop, the letter has worked the cure." Her letters of
counsel to her colleagues when they were in difficulties with their
work were helpful and inspiring to the highest degree. On occasions of
trial or sorrow she always knew the right word to say. How delicately,
for instance, would she try to take the edge off the grief of bereaved
friends by describing the arrival of the spirit in heaven, and the glad
welcome that would be got there from those who had gone before. "Heaven
is just a meeting and a homing of our real selves. God will never make
us into new personalities. Everlasting life--take that word _life_ and
turn it over and over and press it and try to measure it, and see what
it will yield. It is a magnificent idea which comprises everything that
heart can yearn after." On another occasion she wrote, "I do not like
that petition in the Prayer Book, _From sudden death, good Lord deliver
us_. I never could pray it. It is surely far better to see Him at once
without pain of parting or physical debility. Why should we not be like
the apostle in his confident outburst of praise and assurance, 'For I
am persuaded...'?" Again: "Don't talk about the cold hand of death--it
is the hand of Christ."

It was not surprising that her correspondence became greater at last
than she could manage. The pile of unanswered communications was like a
millstone round her neck, and in these latter days she began to violate
an old rule and snatch time from the hours of night. Headings such as
"10 P.M.," "Midnight," "8.45 A.M.," became frequent, yet she would give
love's full measure to every correspondent, and there was seldom sign
of undue strain. "If my pen is in a hurry," she would say, "my heart is
not." When she was ill and unable to write, she would simply lie in bed
and speak to her Father about it all.

There was a number of friends to whom she wrote regularly, and whose
relations to her may be judged from the manner in which they began
their letters. "My lady of Grace," "My beloved missionary," "Dearest
sister," were some of the phrases used. But her nature demanded at
least one confidante to whom she could lay bare her inmost thoughts.
She needed a safety-valve, a city of refuge, a heart and mind with whom
there would be no reservations, and Providence provided her with a kind
of confessor from whom she obtained all the understanding and sympathy
and love she craved for. This was Miss Adam, who, while occasionally
differing from her in minor matters of policy, never, during the
fifteen years of their friendship, once failed her. What she was to the
lonely missionary no one can know. Mary said she knew without being
told what was in her heart, and "how sweet," she added, "it is to be
understood and have love reading between the lines." Month by month she
sent to Bowden the intimate story of her doings, her troubles, hopes,
and fears, and joys, and received in return wise and tender counsel and
encouragement and practical help. She kept the letters under her pillow
and read and reread them.

Never self-centred or self-sufficient, she depended upon the letters
that came from home to a greater extent than many of her friends
suspected. She needed the inflow of love into her own life, and she
valued the letters that brought her cheer and stimulus and inspiration.
Once she was travelling on foot, and had four miles of hill-road to go,
and was feeling very weary and depressed at the magnitude of the work
and her own weakness, when a letter was handed to her. It was the only
one by that mail, but it was enough. She sat down, and in the quiet of
the bush she opened it, and as she read all the tiredness fled, the
heat was forgotten, the road was easy, and she went blithely up the

Outside the circle of her friends many people wrote to her from
Scotland, and some from England, Canada, and America. Boys and girls
whom she had never seen sent her letters telling her of their cats and
dogs, of football, and lessons and school. With her replies sometimes
went a snake skin, a brass tray, a miniature paddle, or other curio.
But it was the letter, rather than the gift, that was enjoyed. As one
girl wrote; "You are away out helping the poor black kiddies and
people, and just as busy doing good as possible, and yet you've time to
send a letter home to a little Scottish girl, a letter fragrant with
everything lovely and good, that makes one try harder than ever to do
right, and that fills one's heart with beautiful helpful thoughts."

To her own bairns, wherever they were, she wrote letters full of
household news and gentle advice. To Dan at the Institute she wrote
regularly--very pleased she was when she heard he had been at lectures
on bacteria and understood them!--and when Alice and Maggie were
inmates of the Edgerley Memorial School she kept in the closest touch
with them. Here is a specimen of her letters, written chiefly in Efik,
and addressed apparently to Alice:

MY PRECIOUS CHILDREN--I am thinking a lot about you, for you will soon
be losing our dear Miss Young; and while I am sorry for myself I am
sorrier for you and Calabar. How are you all? and have you been good?
and are you all trying to serve and please Jesus your Lord? Whitie has
gone to sleep. She has been making sand and yoenoe-ing my bedroom, the
bit that you did not finish. Janie has yoenoe-d the high bits, so Whitie
is very tired. Janie has gone to stay all night with the twin-mother
and her baby in the town where Effiom used to live long ago. One baby
was dead, but she is keeping the other, and the chief says, "Ma, you
are our mother, but what you have done will be the death of us." But I
tell them just to die.

The mother almost died. One child was born dead, and Janie and I stayed
all night there. Mary is at Ikot Ekpene. We saw her as we passed in the
motor. The whole town came to-day and put splendid beams in the
verandah both in front and behind, swept all behind, and put on a
corrugated iron roof, did the porch and various other things, and the

Good-bye. Are you well? We are well, through God's goodness. Are you
coming soon for holidays? My heart is hungry to see you and to touch
your hands. Greetings to Ma Fuller. Greet Ma Wilkie and Mr. Wilkie for
me. Greet each other. All we greet you. With much love to Maggie, Dan,
Asuquoe,--I am, in all my prayers, your mother,
M. Slessor.

The girls and Dan also wrote regularly to her in Efik--such letters as

I am pleased to send this little letter to you. Are you well? I am
fairly well through the goodness of God. Why have you delayed to send
us a letter? Perhaps you are too busy to write, but we are coming home
in a fortnight. If you hear we are on the way come quickly out when you
hear the voices of the people from the beach, because you know it will
be us. Greet Whitie, Janie, Annie and all, and accept greeting from
your loving child

After her death there was found at Use a bundle of papers, evidently
much treasured, labelled "My children's letters."


She returned to Use, but only remained long enough to arrange for the
material for the house at Odoro Ikpe. Of the special difficulties that
would beset her on this occasion, she was quite aware. The timber
supply on the ground was scarce, transport would be expensive, there
was no local skilled labour, and she was unable to work with her own
hands, while it was not easy to procure carriers and other work-people,
since the Government, with the consent of the chiefs, were taking
batches of men from each village for the coalfields and railway, a
measure she approved, as it prevented the worst elements in the
community drifting there. But nothing ever discouraged her, and she
returned at the end of April and embarked once more, and for the last
time, on building operations.

Friends kept tempting her to come to Scotland. Her friend Miss Young
was now Mrs. Arnot, wife of the Rev. David Arnot, M.A., Blairgowrie,
and from her came a pressing invitation to make her home at the manse.
"I will meet you at Liverpool," Mrs. Arnot wrote, "and bring you
straight here, where you will rest and be nursed back to health again."
It was proposed that Alice should come with her, and be left at
Blairgowrie while Mary visited her friends. She was delighted, and
wrote gaily that when she did come she "would not be a week-end visitor
or a tea visitor, but a barnacle. It is, however, all too alluring. One
only thing can overtop it, and that is duty as put into my hands by my
King." Then she paints a picture of the piles of timber and corrugated
iron about her for the building of a house, "for the happy and
privileged man or woman who shall take up the work of salvage," and of
Ikpe waiting patiently, and the towns surrendering on all sides, and
adds, "Put yourself in my place, and with an accession of strength
given since I camped up here, how could you do other than I have done?
I verily thought to be with the Macgregors, but this came and the
strength has come with it, and there must be no more moving till the
house is up, when I hope and pray some one will come to it. What a
glorious privilege it all is! I can't think why God has so highly
honoured and trusted me."

She entered on a period of toil and tribulation which proved to be one
of the most trying and exacting in her life. The house itself was a
simple matter. Large posts were inserted in the ground, and split
bamboos were placed between; cross pieces were tied on with strips of
the oil-palm tree, and then clay was prepared and pounded in. But fifty
men and lads were employed, and she had never handled so lazy, so
greedy, so inefficient a gang. Compelled to supervise them constantly,
she often had to sit in the fierce sunshine for eight hours at a time;
then with face unwashed and morning wrapper still on she would go and
conduct school. If she went to Ikpe for a day, all the work done
required to be gone over again. Sometimes she lost all patience, and
resorted to a little "muscular Christianity," which caused huge
amusement, but always had the desired effect. But she was very
philosophical over it. "It is all part of the heathen character, and,
as Mrs. Anderson used to say, 'Well, Daddy, if they were Christians
there would have been no need for you and me here.'" Jean often became
very wroth, and demanded of the people if "Ma" was not to obtain time
to eat, and if they wanted to kill her?

Annie and her husband had been placed at Nkanga, and Jean now managed
the household affairs. The faithful girl had her own difficulties in
the way of catering, for on account of the isolation money frequently
ran done, and she could not obtain the commonest necessities to feed
her "Ma." An empty purse always worried Mary, but it was a special
trial to her independent and sensitive spirit at this period, for she
was in debt to the skilled carpenter who had been engaged, and to the
labourers, and was compelled to undergo the humiliation of borrowing.
On one occasion she obtained a loan of 5s. from one of her rare
visitors, a Government doctor, a Scot and a Presbyterian, who was
investigating tropical diseases, and who, finding her in the Rest
House, had contentedly settled down with his microscopes in the Court
House shed. After working all day in the bush he spent many evenings
with her, and she was much impressed by his upright character, and his
kindness and courtesy to the natives, and said matters would be very
different in Africa if all civil and military men were of the same
stamp. The only other two visitors she had at this time were Mr. Bowes,
the printer at Duke Town, and Mr. Hart, the accountant, the latter
bringing her all the money she needed.

By the end of July the house was roughly built, and she was able to
mount up to the top rooms by means of a "hen" ladder, and there on the
loose, unsteady boards she sat tending her last motherless baby, and
feeling uplifted into a new and restful atmosphere. A pathetic picture
she made, sitting gazing over the wide African plain. She had never
been more isolated, never felt more alone.

So lonely 'twas, that God Himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

She was without assistance, her body was broken and pitifully weak, and
yet with dauntless spirit and quenchless faith she looked hopefully to
the future, when those infant stations about her would be occupied by
consecrated men and women.

XIX. When the Great War Came

Into the African bush, the home of many things that white men cannot
understand, there was stealing a troubled sense of mystery. The air was
electric with expectation and alarm. Impalpable influences seemed
fighting the feeble old woman on the lonely hill-top. She was worried
by transport difficulties. What the causes were she did not know, but
the material did not come, and as she was paying the carpenter a high
wage she was compelled to dismiss him. What work there was to do she
attempted to accomplish with her own thin, worn hands.

In the early days of August the natives began to whisper to each other
strange stories about fighting going on in the big white world beyond
the seas. News came from Calabar that the European firms had ceased to
buy produce: canoes which went down river for rice and kerosene,
returned again with their cargoes of nuts and oil. She wondered what
was happening. Then excited natives came to her in a panic, with tales
of a mad Europe and of Britain fighting Germany. She pooh-poohed the
rumours and outwardly appeared calm and unafraid in order to reassure
them, but the silence and the suspense were unbearable. On the 13th she
received letters and heard of the outbreak of the war. All the
possibilities involved in that tremendous event came crowding upon her
mind, the immense suffering and sorrow, and, not least to her, the
peril to Calabar. Nigeria was conterminous with the Cameroons, and she
knew the Germans well enough to anticipate trouble. The cost of
articles, too, she realised, would go up, and as she had little food in
the house she at once sent to the market for supplies. Already prices
were doubled. Her kerosene oil gave out, and she had to resort to
lighted firewood to read at prayers.

She went on bravely with the routine duties of the station--Dan, who
was now with her, helping in the school--but she longed impatiently
for news, "Oh, for a telegram," she would cry, "even a boy bawling in
the street!" The officer at Ikot Ekpene, knowing her anxiety, sent over
the latest intelligence, but she half suspected that he kept back the
worst. The worst came in her first war mail which arrived when she was
sitting superintending operations at the house. She read why Britain
had entered the conflict and exclaimed, "Thank God! our nation is not
the aggressor." Then came the story of the invasion of Belgium and the
reverses of the Allies. Shocked and sad she essayed to rise, but was
unable to move. The girls ran to her aid and lifted her up, but she
could not stand. Exerting her will-power and praying for strength she
directed the girls to carry her over to the Rest House and put her to
bed. Ague came on, and in half an hour she was in a raging fever which
lasted, with scarcely an interval, for a fortnight. She struggled on
amidst increasing difficulties and worries, the horrors of the war with
her night and day. Her old enemy, diarrhoea, returned, and she steadily
weakened and seemed entering the valley of the shadow. She did not fear
death, but the thought of passing away alone in the bush troubled her,
for her skull might be seized and be worshipped as a powerful juju by
the people.

At last she lay in a stupor as if beyond help. It was a scene which
suggested the final act in Dr. Livingstone's life. The girls were
crying. The church lads stood alarmed and awed. Then they raised her in
her camp-bed and marched with her the five miles to Ikpe. Next morning
they lifted the bed into a canoe and placed her under a tarpaulin and
paddled her down the Creek. They landed at Okopedi beach, where she lay
in the roadway in the moonlight, scarcely breathing. The agent of a
trading-house brought restoratives and sent for Dr. Wood, then at Itu,
who accompanied her to Use and waited the night as he feared she would
not recover. All through the hours her mind was occupied with the war
and the soldiers in the trenches.

Next day she was a little better, but would not hear of going to Itu to
be cared for there. To her Use was home where the children could
minister to her, but realising her lack of strength she sent a message
to Miss Peacock asking her to come over. Miss Peacock said to her
fellow-worker, "Ma must be very ill before she would send for any one,"
and she cycled to Use at once. Mary confided to her that it might be
the end, and "Oh," she exclaimed, "if only the war were over and my
children safe in the Kingdom, how gladly would I go!" She called the
bairns to her and told them what to do in the event of her death. Like
all natives in the presence of serious illness they were greatly upset
and wept bitterly, but as the disorder passed they began to think that
she would get better, and went about their duties, Jean to her
marketing, and Alice to the care of the house, with Whitie to help,
while Maggie looked after the baby.

The shadow of the war continued to darken her heart. She agonised for
the cause which her native land had taken up, and many a cry went up to
God on its behalf in the hour of trial. Miss Peacock remained several
nights, and returned to Ikotobong with a strong presentiment that "Ma"
was not to be long with them, and she and Miss Couper arranged to keep
in touch with her as closely as possible.

As she plodded on towards strength and as better news arrived about the
war situation she began to be more like herself and take up her old
duties. For a time she lay in the verandah on a deck chair; and then
went to the church, conducted the Sunday services, but was obliged to
sit all the time and lean her body against the communion-table. Yet in
the midst of her weakness and suffering she had always a bright laugh
and a word of encouragement for others. Reluctantly she came to the
conclusion that nothing would heal her but a voyage home and as she was
longing for a few more hours--it was not years now--of work she made up
her mind to face it, and to include in her furlough a visit to the
graves of her mother and sister at Exeter. The difficulty of the east
wind in Scotland was overcome by a proposal from Mrs. Arnot, who in the
mystery of things, had suddenly been bereft of her husband, that she
would take a small house where they could live together in quiet. "I
shall meet you," that lady wrote, "and make a home for you and care for
you if God puts it into your heart to come." The wonderful kindness of
the offer brought tears to her eyes and she consented with a great
content. Her plan was to return to Odoro Ikpe, complete the house, and
leave for Scotland early in the spring; and she asked Miss Adam to send
her a hat and boots and other articles which civilisation demanded. Her
only regret was at leaving her people and specially those at Ikpe. "It
is ten years since I first took them on, and they have never got a
teacher yet. It is bitterly hard!" Miss Peacock and Miss Couper
noticed, however, that the old recuperative power which had always
surprised them was gone, and one day she said that she had been
overhauling her desk and tearing up letters in case anything should

The tragedy of the war came home personally to her. Two of her official
friends, Commander G. Gray and Lieutenant H. A. Child, C.M.G., were
serving in the Navy and were both drowned by the capsizing of a whaler
when crossing the bar at the entrance to the Nyong River. "They were my
oldest and most intimate friends here, capable, sane Empire-builders,"
and she sorrowed for them with a great sorrow. Sometimes her old
fighting spirit was roused by the news of the deeds of the enemy. "Oh
if I were thirty years younger, and if I were a man! ... We must not
have peace until Germany licks the dust and is undeceived and stricken
once for all." Her comments brought out the fact that she had followed
European events very closely during the past thirty years, whilst her
letters to her faint-hearted friends in Scotland showed her usual

God does not mean you and me to carry the burden, and German soldiers
are flesh and blood and must give out by-and-by, and they cannot create
new armies, and with long-drawn out lines of battle on East and West
they can't send an army that could invade Britain. They could harass,
that's all, and our women are not Belgians; they would fight even
German soldiers. Yes! they would stand up to William the Execrated.
Moreover, Zeppelins can do a lot of hurt, but they can't take London;
and Ostend and Antwerp are no nearer Britain for any kind of air attack
than Berlin is, and above all our perspective is doubtless better than
yours--any one can see that to try and take towns and to fight in
streets filled with civilians has not a pennyworth of military value.
It is a sheer waste of energy and life which should have been utilised
on the armies and strongholds of a country. Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp,
even Paris, had they got it, would be a mere blare of trumpets, a flash
in the pan, a spectacular show, and if they took Edinburgh or London or
Aberdeen, it would be the same, they would still have to reckon with a
nation or nations. It has all been a mistake for their own downfall,
and they will clear out of Belgium poorer than they entered it. Haven't
the East Indians done nobly? Bravo our Allies!

She had now fallen into calmer mood. "Miss Slessor," she would say
severely to herself, "why do you worry? Is God not fit to take care of
His own universe and purpose? We are not guilty of any aggression or
lust of conquest, and we can trust Him to bring us through. He is not
to be turned aside from the working out of His purpose by any War
Lord." She always fell back on the thought, "The Lord reigneth" as on a
soft pillow and rested there. Writing one morning at 6 o'clock she
described the beauty of the dawn and the earth refreshed and cooled and
the hope and the mystery of a new day opening out, and contrasted it
with the darkness and cold and fog experienced by the army and navy.
"God is always in the world," she said; "the sunshine will break out
and light will triumph." And she did not ignore the deeper issues, "May
our nation be sent from its pleasures to its knees, and the Church be
awed and brought back to Him."

On Christmas Day a service was held at which she intimated the opening
of the subscription list for the Prince of Wales' Fund. She did not
like to speak of war among Christian nations to natives; but it was
current history, and she made the best explanation she could, though
she was glad to turn their thoughts to the day of National Intercession
on the following Sabbath. Dan acted as interpreter in the evening to
Mr. Hart, who gave an address.

To a friend she wrote:

There will be few merry Christmasses in Europe this year. But, thank
God, there will be a more profound sense of all Christ came to be and
do for mankind, and a closer union and communion between Him and His
people, through the sadness and insufficiency of earthly good. He will
Himself draw near, and will fill empty chairs in lonely homes and
hearts, and make His people--aye--and thousands who have not sought Him
in prosperity--to know that here and now He is the Resurrection and the
Life, that he that believeth in Him shall never die.

On New Year's Day Miss Peacock and Miss Couper went to spend the
afternoon with her, and the former writes:

According to old-time customs I had made her her favourite plum-pudding
and sent it over with a message that we meant to come to tea on New
Year's Day. On our arrival the tea-table was set, and the plum-pudding
with a rose out of the garden stuck on the top was on the table. Miss
Slessor was as happy as a girl, and said she had to exercise self-
control to keep from tasting the pudding before we arrived. And we had
a merry meal. Then, when we left, she had to escort us to the end of
the road. A new tenderness seemed to have come into her life, and with
regard to those with whom she differed, she seemed to go out of her way
to say the kindest things possible. She spoke to me of something she
had written which she had torn up and said, "I wonder I could have been
so hard." It was not difficult to see the last touches of the Master's
hand to the life He had been moulding for so many years.


At the turn of the year her thoughts were again with her mother who had
passed away then, twenty-nine years before. She was feeling very weak,
but read and wrote as usual. Her last letter to Miss Adam told, amongst
other things, of the previous day's service and how Annie's little girl
would run about the church and point to her and call to her--"I can't
say 'Don't bring her' for there should be room enough for the babies in
our Father's house." Her closing words to her old friend were, "God be
with you till we meet again." Even in her feeble state she was always
thinking of others. David had taken his wife to Lagos, and her vivid
imagination conjured up all the dangers of the voyage, and she was
anxious for their safety. In the same letter in which she speaks of
them, written on the 5th, she pours out sympathy and comfort to a lady
friend in Edinburgh whose two sons had joined the Forces.

My heart bleeds for you, my dear, dear friend, but God's love gave the
mother heart its love and its yearning over its treasures, so He will
know how to honour and care for the mother, and how to comfort her and
keep her treasures for her. Just keep hold on Him, dear one, and put
your boys into His hand, as you did when they were babies. He is able
to keep them safe in the most difficult and dangerous situations. I am
constantly praying with you, and with others of my friends, who, just
as you, are giving up their dearest and most precious at the call of
Duty. God can enrich them and you and all the anxious and exposed ones
even through the terrible fires. In God's governance not one precious
thing can ever be lost.

On Friday the 8th she sat on a deck-chair in the little garden outside
the door enjoying the sunshine, for the harmattan wind was cold, and
writing some letters. The last she penned was to Mrs. Arnot, in which
she said she was better though "a wee shade weaker than usual." It was
never finished, and was found, later, on her pad. The final words were:
"I can't say definitely whether I shall yet come in March--if I be
spared till then ..."

In the afternoon there was a recurrence of fever. Alice tended her
unceasingly, seldom leaving her bedside, and stretching herself, when
in need of rest, on a mat beside the bed. She was a great comfort to
Mary. On Sunday spirit again dominated body; she struggled up, went
over to the church, and conducted service. Next day she was suffering
acutely from diarrhoea and vomiting, and one of the girls went to
Ikotobong and summoned Miss Peacock, who immediately cycled over.

"I got a messenger," says Miss Peacock, "and sent him to Itu stating
the symptoms, and asking Dr. Robertson to come and see her. All the
afternoon the vomiting and diarrhoea continued until Dr. Robertson
arrived. He had secured some ice at one of the factories, and gave her
some medicine, and both the diarrhoea and vomiting were stopped. All
the afternoon there had been a great restlessness and weariness, and
unless to ask for something she seldom spoke. Her mails were brought
into the room by one of the girls, but she took no notice of them. She
was moved from her bed on to her chair, and back again several times,
but did not seem to be able to rest anywhere; then she would give a
great cry of weariness as if she were wearied unto death.

"As the evening wore on she became quieter, but had a great thirst, and
begged that a little bit of the ice might be put into her mouth. She
had a very quiet night, without any recurrence of the former symptoms,
and I thought she was somewhat better, until the morning revealed how
exhausted she was. The old restlessness began again, and I got a lad
from the school to take a message over to Itu to Dr. Robertson. My
report was that Miss Slessor had had a quiet night, but was suffering
from extreme exhaustion. The doctor sent over some medicine with
instructions, and she seemed again to be able to lie quietly. Once when
I was attending to her she said, 'Ma, it's no use,' and again she
prayed, 'O _Abasi, sana mi yok_' ('O God release me'). As I fed her
with milk or chicken soup, she would sometimes sign to me, or just say
'Ma.' A lonely feeling came into my heart, and as I had to send a
message to Ikotobong, I asked Miss Couper to cycle over in the
afternoon. She stayed all the afternoon, and when she left Miss Slessor
was still quiet, and her pulse was fairly good. This was the 12th.

"The girls--Janie, Annie, Maggie, Alice, and Whitie--were all with me,
and we made our arrangements for the night-watch. It was not a grand
room with costly furnishings; the walls were of reddish-brown mud, very
roughly built; the floor was of cement, with a rug here and there, and
the roof corrugated iron. Besides the bed, washhand-stand, and a chair
or two, there was a chest of drawers which had belonged to her mother,
and in which was found all that was needed for the last service. Her
greatness was never in her surroundings, for she paid little attention
to these, but in the hidden life which we caught glimpses of now and
then when she forgot herself and revealed what was in her mind with
regard to the things that count.

"As the hours wore on, several times she signed to us to turn her, and
we noticed that her breathing was becoming more difficult. It was a
very dark night, and the natives were sound asleep in their houses, but
I sent off two of the girls to rouse two men to go to Itu; and we
waited anxiously the coming of the doctor. A strange uneasiness seemed
to come upon us. All the girls were round the bedside, and now and then
one or two would begin to weep. The clock had been forgotten, and we
did not know the time. A cock crew, and one of the girls said, 'Day
must be dawning,' but when I drew aside the curtain there was nothing
but pitch darkness. It was not nearly daybreak, and we felt that the
death-angel was drawing very near. Several times a change passed over
the dear face, and the girls burst out into wild weeping; they knew
only too well the sign of the dread visitor. They wished to rush away,
but I told them they must stay, and together we watched until at 3.30
God took her to Himself. There was no great struggle at the end; just a
gradual diminishing of the forces of nature, and Ma Akamba, 'The Great
Mother,' entered into the presence of the King."

And so the long life of toil was over. "The time of the singing of
birds," she used to say, "is where Christ is." For her, now, the winter
was past, the rain was over and gone, the time of the singing of birds
had come....

When the girls realised that she was gone, they gave way to their
grief, and lamented their position in the world. "My mother is dead--my
mother is dead--we shall be counted as slaves now that our mother is
dead." The sound of the weeping reached the town and roused the
inhabitants from their slumbers. Men and women came to the house and
mingled their tears with those of the household. They sat about on the
steps, went into the bedroom and gazed sorrowfully on the white still
face of her whom they regarded as a mother and friend. As the news was
passed on, people came from Itu and the district round, to see in death
her who had been _Eka kpukpru owo_, "Everybody's Mother."

As soon as Mr. Wilkie received the telegram announcing the end, he
obtained a launch and sent it up with the Rev. W. M. Christie, B.A.,
who, Mr. Macgregor being at home, was in charge of the Institute. While
it was on the way an English and an Efik service were being held at
Itu. The launch arrived at 5.30 P.M., the coffin was placed on board,
and the return voyage begun. It was midnight ere Duke Town was reached,
and the body rested at Government Beach until dawn. There the mourners
gathered. Government officials, merchants, and missionaries, were all
there. The boys of the Institute were drawn up on the beach, policemen
were posted in the streets, and the pupils of Duke Town school
continued the line to the cemetery. All flags flew at half-mast, and
the town was hushed and still. Great crowds watched the procession,
which moved along in silence. The coffin was draped with the Union
Jack, and was carried shoulder high by the boat boys, who wore black
singlets and mourning loin-cloths, but no caps.

At the cemetery on Mission Hill stood a throng of natives. Old Mammy
Fuller who had loved Mary so much, sat alone at the top of the grave.
When the procession was approaching she heard some women beginning to
wail, and at once rose. "_Kutua oh, kutua oh_," she said. "Do not cry,
do not cry. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Ma was a great

A short and simple service was conducted by Mr. Wilkie and Mr. Rankin,
and some of the native members led the singing of "_When the day of
toil is done_," and "_Asleep in Jesus_." The coffin was lowered by
eight of the teachers of Duke Town School, and lilies and other flowers
were thrown upon it. Mammy Fuller uttered a grateful sigh. "Safe," she
murmured. One or two women wept quietly, but otherwise there was
absolute silence, and those who know the natives will understand the
restraint which they imposed upon themselves. Upon the grave were
placed crosses of purple bougainvillea and white and pink frangipanni,
and in the earth was planted a slip from the rose bush at Use, that it
might grow and be symbolic of the fragrance and purity and beauty of
her life.

"Ma," said Mammy Fuller to Mrs. Wilkie when all was over, "I don't know
when I enjoyed anything so much; I have been just near heaven all the


Many tributes were paid to the dead pioneer. As soon as Sir Frederick
Lugard, the Governor-General of Nigeria, heard of the event he
telegraphed to Mr. Wilkie: "It is with the deepest regret that I learn
of the death of Miss Slessor. Her death is a great loss to Nigeria."
And later came the formal black-bordered notice in the Government

It is with the deepest regret that His Excellency the Governor-General
has to announce the death at Itu, on 18th January, of Miss Mary
Mitchell Slessor, Honorary Associate of the Order of the Hospital of
St. John of Jerusalem in England.

For thirty-nine years, with brief and infrequent visits to England,
Miss Slessor has laboured among the people of the Eastern Provinces in
the south of Nigeria.

By her enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, and greatness of character she has
earned the devotion of thousands of the natives among whom she worked,
and the love and esteem of all Europeans, irrespective of class or
creed, with whom she came in contact.

She has died, as she herself wished, on the scene of her labours, but
her memory will live long in the hearts of her friends, Native and
European, in Nigeria.

Testimony regarding her qualities and work was given in Scotland by the
Mission Committees of the United Free Church, by officials,
missionaries, and others who knew her, and by the Press, whilst from
many parts of the world came notices of her career which indicated how
widely known she had been. The appreciation which would perhaps have
pleased her most was a poem written by a Scottish girl, fifteen years
of age, with whom she had carried on a charming correspondence--
Christine G. M. Orr, daughter of Sheriff Orr, Edinburgh. She would,
doubtless, have had it included in any notice of her work, and here,
therefore, it is given:


She who loved us, she who sought us
Through the wild untrodden bushlands,
Brought us healing, brought us comfort,
Brought the sunlight to our darkness,
She has gone--the dear white Mother--
Gone into the great Hereafter.

Never more on rapid waters
Shall she dip her flashing paddle,
Nor again the dry leaves rustle
'Neath her footstep in the forest,
Never more shall we behold her
Eager, dauntless on her journeyings.

Now the children miss their teacher,
And the women mourn their helper;
And the sick, the weak, the outcast
Long that she once more might touch them,
Long to hear her speaking comfort,
Long to feel her strong hand soothing.

Much in loneliness and danger,
Fevered oft, beset with trouble,
Still she strove for us, her children;
Taught us of the great good Spirit,
He who dwells beyond the sunrise;
Showed to us the love He bears us,
By her own dear loving-kindness;
Told us not to fear the spirits,
Evil spirits in the shadows,
For our Father-God is watching,
Watching through the cloudless daytime,
Watching at the silent midnight,
So that nothing harms His people;
Taught us how to love each other,
How to care for little children
With a tenderness we knew not,
How, with courtesy and honour,
To respect the gentle women,
Nor despise them for their weakness,
But, as wives and mothers, love them.

Thus she taught, and thus she laboured;
Living, spent herself to help us,
Dying, found her rest among us.
Let the dry, harsh winds blow softer
And the river's song fall lower,
While the forest sways and murmurs
In the mystery of evening,
And the lonely bush lies silent,
Silent with a mighty sorrow.

Oh! our mother--she who loved us,
She who lost herself in service,
She who lightened all our darkness,
She has left us, and we mourn her
With a lonely, aching sorrow.
May the great good Spirit hear us,
Hear us in our grief and save us,
Compass us with His protection
Till, through suffering and shadow,
We with weary feet have journeyed
And again our mother greets us
In the Land beyond the sunrise.

Both the Calabar Council and the Women's Foreign Mission Committee in
Scotland felt that the most fitting memorial to her would be the
continuation of her work, and arrangements were accordingly made for
the appointment and supervision of teachers and evangelists at Use,
Ikpe, and Odoro Ikpe, and for the care of the children. It was also
decided to realise her settlement scheme and call it "The Mary Slessor
Home for Women and Girls," with a memorial missionary in charge, and
later an appeal for a capital sum of L5000 for the purpose was issued.
It would have pleased Mary to know that the lady chosen for the
position of memorial missionary was her old colleague Mrs. Arnot. She
had worked hard and waited long for the accomplishment of this idea,
and she may yet, from above, see of the travail of her soul and be

By and by her more special possessions were collected and sent home. If
she had been an ordinary woman one might have expected to see a
collection of the things that a lady likes to gather about her; the
dainty trinkets and souvenirs, the jewellery and knicknacks that have
pleasant associations connected with them. When the little box arrived
it was filled less with these than with pathos and tears. It held
merely a few much-faded articles, one or two Bibles, a hymn-book (the
gift of some twin-mother at home), an old-fashioned scent-bottle, a
pebble brooch, hair bracelet, two old lockets, and her mother's ring--
all these were evidently relics of the early days--a compass, and a
fountain pen.

But there also came a large packet of letters, those received during
her last years, which revealed where her treasures on earth were
stored--in a multitude of hearts whose love she had won. They were from
men in Nigeria--Government officials, missionaries, and merchants--
from men and women in many lands, from the mothers and sisters of the
"boys" to whom she had been kind, from Church officials, from children
--all overflowing with affection and admiration and love. She had often
called herself a "rich woman." One learned from these letters the
reason why.


Miss Slessor had a sure consciousness of her limitations, and knew she
was nothing but a forerunner, who opened up the way and made it
possible for others to come in and take up the work on normal lines.
Both in the sphere of mission exploration and in the region of ideas
she possessed the qualities of the pioneer,--imagination, daring,
patience,--and like all idealists she met with opposition. It was not,
however, the broad policy she originated that was criticised, so much
as matters of detail, and no doubt there was sometimes justification
for this. She admitted that she had no gifts as an organiser, and when
she engaged in constructive work it was because there was no one else
to do it.

What she accomplished, therefore, cannot be measured only by the
visible results of her own handiwork. The Hope Waddell Institute was
the outcome of her suggestions, and from it has gone out a host of lads
to teach in schools throughout the country, and to influence the lives
of thousands of others. She laid the foundations of civilised order in
Okoyong, upon which regular church and school life has now been
successfully built. When she unlocked the Enyong Creek, some were
amused at the little kirks and huts she constructed in the bush, and
asked what they were worth--just a few posts plastered with mud, and a
sheet or two of corrugated iron. But they represented a spiritual force
and influence far beyond their material value. They were erected with
her life-blood, they embodied her love for her Master and for the
people, they were outposts, the first dim lights in the darkness of a
dark land, they stood for Christ Himself and His Cross. And to-day
there exist throughout the district nearly fifty churches and schools
in which the work is being carried on carefully and methodically by
trained minds. The membership numbers nearly 1500, and there is a large
body of candidates and enquirers and over 2000 scholars. The remarkable
progress being made in self-support may be gathered from the following
figures taken from the accounts of the five Creek congregations for

Members Income Cash in bank
Itu . . . . 109 L113 9 4 L97 13 6
Okpo . . . . 101 76 7 7 62 16 8
Asang . . . . 428 184 17 10 865 13 6
Obufa Obio (Chief
Onoyom) . . . 118 118 16 10 736 19 4
Ntan Obu . . . 111 83 11 9 204 1 2

All these churches and others that she began are spreading the Gospel
not only by direct effort, but also by means of their members as they
trade up and down the country.

One cannot estimate the value of her general influence on the natives;
it extended over an area of more than 2000 square miles, from all parts
of which they came to seek her help and advice, whilst her fame reached
even to Northern Nigeria, where she was spoken of as the "good White Ma
who lived alone." To West Africans, a woman is simply a chattel to be
used for pleasure and gain, but she gave them a new conception of
womanhood, and gained their reverence and confidence and obedience.
Although she came to upset all their ideas and customs, which
represented home and habit and life itself to them, they loved her and
would not let the wind blow on her. She thus made it easy for other
women agents to live and work amongst them; probably there is no
similar mission field where these can dwell in such freedom and safety.
And through her womanhood she gave them some idea of the power and
beauty of the religion which could make that womanhood possible. Her
influence will not cease, for in the African bush, where there are no
daily newspapers to crowd out events impressions, and tradition is
tenacious, she will be remembered in hut and harem and by forest camp
fire, and each generation will hand down to the next the story of the
Great White Mother who lived and toiled for their good.

Upon the Mission staff her example acted like a tonic. Her tireless
energy, her courage, her enthusiasm, were infectious and stimulating,
to the highest degree, and stirred many to action. Such an inspiring
force is a valuable asset in a tropical land, where everything tends to
languor and inertia. And in Scotland her influence was also very great.
Round her name and work gathered a romance which deepened and widened
interest in the missionary enterprise of the Church. Her career
demonstrates how important is the personal touch and tie in sustaining
and increasing the attraction of the work abroad. By the spell of her
personality she was able to draw support not only from large numbers of
people within her own Church, but from many outside who had little
thought or for missions. It was because she not a mere name on a list,
but a warm, living, inspiring, human presence. For while she was great
as a pioneer and worker, she was equally great as a woman.


But the interest in Nigeria on the part of the home people as a whole
was never enough for Miss Slessor. It was largely an interest in
herself and her work, and she wanted rather the larger vision which
would realise the possibilities of that great field, and endeavour to
conquer it for the Master. The general indifference on the subject was
a deep disappointment to her. But it had always been so.

The story of Calabar is one of the most thrilling in the history of
missions, yet through it also there runs an undercurrent of tragedy--
the tragedy of unseized opportunities and unfulfilled hopes. As one
reads, he can fancy that he is standing by a forest at night listening
to the sound that the wind brings of a strange conflict between a few
brave spirits, and legions of wild and evil forces, with incessant
cries for help. From the first days of the Mission, urgent appeals for
more workers have constantly been made; there is scarcely a year that
the men and women on the spot have not pressed its urgent needs upon
the home Church, but never once has there been an adequate response.
To-day, as always, the staff is pitifully small. To minister to the
needs of the many millions within the area assigned to the Church,
there are only eighteen European missionaries, three medical
missionaries, and thirteen women agents, apart from the wives of the
married missionaries. In Duke Town and Okoyong, on the Cross River and
the Enyong Creek, and far up at Uburu, the city of the salt lakes, all
the stations are undermanned, and the medical men are overwhelmed by
the thousands of patients who flock to them to be healed.

What Mary Slessor did, other women are doing in the same spirit of
selflessness and courage, but with the same sense of powerlessness to
overtake what is required. The number of these women agents does not
appreciably increase, for, while fresh appointments are continuously
being made, there are usually more changes amongst them than amongst
the men missionaries, on account of resignations from ill-health or
marriage. Yet in Nigeria women have unlimited opportunities for the
employment of their special gifts.

The remarkable feature of the situation is that the Mission is face to
face with an open door. It is not a question of sitting down in the
midst of a religiously difficult and even hostile community as in India
or China, and waiting patiently for admission to the hearts of the
people, but of entering in and taking possession. The natives
everywhere are clamouring for teachers and missionaries, education,
enlightenment, and they are clamouring in vain. The peril is that under
the new conditions governing the country, they will be lost to the
Christian Church. With freer intercommunication, Islam is spreading
south. All Mohammedans are missionaries, and their religion has
peculiar attractions for the natives. Already they are trading in the
principal towns, and in Arochuku a Mullah is sitting, smiling and
expectant, and ingratiating himself with the people. Here the position
should be strengthened; it is, as Miss Slessor knew, the master-key to
the Ibo territory, for if the Aros are Christianised, they will carry
the evangel with them over a wide tract of country.

Miss Slessor's life shadowed by the consciousness of how little had
been done, as well as by the immensity of what was still to do. Making
every allowance for the initial difficulties that had to be overcome,
and the long process of preparing the soil, the net result of seventy
years' effort seemed to her inadequate. There is only a Christian
community of 10,800, and a communion-roll of 3412, and the districts
contiguous to the coast have alone been occupied, whilst no real
impression has been made on the interior. Over the vast, sun-smitten
land she wept, as her Master wept over the great city of old, and she
did what she could--no woman could have done more--to redeem its
people, and sought, year in, year out, to make the Church rise to the
height of its wonderful opportunity--in vain.

She knew, however, that the presentation of startling facts and figures
alone would never rouse it to action; these might touch the conscience
for a moment, but the only thing that would awaken interest and keep it
active and militant would be a revival of love for Christ in the hearts
of the people; and it was for this she prayed and agonised most of all.
For with it would come a more sympathetic imagination, a warmer faith,
greater courage to go forward and do the seemingly impossible and
foolish thing. It would, she knew, change the aims and ideals of her
sisters, so many of them moving in a narrow world of self, and thrill
them with a desire to take part in the saving and uplifting of the
world. There would be no need then to make appeals, for volunteers
would come forward in abundance for the hardest posts, and consecrated
workers would fill up the ranks in Nigeria and in all the Mission
Fields of the Church.

She knew, because it was so in her case. Love for Christ made her a
missionary. Like that other Mary who was with Him on earth, her love
constrained her to offer Him her best, and very gladly she took the
alabaster box of her life and broke it and gave the precious ointment
of her service to Him and His cause.

Many influences move men and women to beautiful and gallant deeds, but
what Mary Slessor was, and what she did, affords one more proof that
the greatest of these is Love.


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