A biographical article describing Miss Slessor's work, in the “Record of the Home & Foreign Mission Work of the United Free Church of Scotland”, August 1913, p372. It includes a photograph of Miss Slessor taken on her return from the Canary Islands.
A note elsewhere (in the announcement of Miss Slessor's death in the “Record”) mentions that this was written by Rev. J. K. MacGregor.
Miss Mary M. Slessor
The Story of her Romantic Career
Miss Slessor has been enrolled as an Honorary Associate of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England, of which the King is Sovereign Head and Patron and the Duke of Connaught Grand Prior. This honour has been conferred upon her in recognition of her services “in the cause of humanity.” Apart from her missionary work she has earned the gratitude of the Government by influencing the native tribes of Southern Nigeria to settle down and cease fighting among each other.
Few women, or men, have served God and man better than Miss Slessor has. Giving up everything, she has, to her surprise, discovered that the path of sacrifice (of which she never thinks) is the path of fame (for which she does not care). Living in the wilds of Africa, where white people are few, she finds that the eyes of many in her own country and the world over are turned on her. Her services have been recognized by the Order of the Hosital of St. John of Jerusalem. The honour was never more worthily gained, for surely no one has more devoted herself to the relief of suffering humanity than Miss Slessor has done.
It is six years since Miss Slessor was last home and many must still have vivid recollections of the shy and nervous, yet forceful, little lady whose greatest ordeal was to face the crowds that came to listen to her interesting addresses. She dislikes publicity, and is able to endure it because she never goes before the public unless the path of duty leads her there, and then she thinks not of the public but solely of her duty. When publicity is forced on her, she withdraws within herself, and those who come to stare depart with a totally wrong impression of her.
Miss Mary Mitchell Slessor hails from the East country. Her years, till she went to Calabar, were spent north of the Tay, mostly in Dundee and its neighbourhood. Even then she showed qualities which, developed under the stress of circumstances in Calabar, have made her such a force for righteousness. Who that has heard her tell how she tackled the gang of roughs that had determined to spoil the services in the Mission Hall in Dundee has not been thrilled? There she stood in the wynd (Note 1), encircled by the gang, undergoing the ordeal of a leaden weight swung nearer and nearer her head. She never winced, never faltered. At last the leader was satisfied. “She's game, boys,” he cried, and they, who had resolved to scoff, kept to the bargain they had made with her and went to the service. To this day Miss Slessor remembers these lads - grandfathers some of them now are - and she delights to tell of those who have done well in life.
In 1876 she was appointed to Calabar, and was at first stationed in Duke Town. She was full of life and fun, and “Daddy” Anderson, as the late Rev. William Anderson was called by everyone, must often have shaken his head over the Mission Agent, who boasted afterwards that she had climbed every tree between the Mission Hill and Old Town, where she taught school. Meanwhile she was laying the foundations of that mastery of the Efik language and of native law and custom which I have heard competent judges declare to be unequalled by that possessed by any other European. After she went to live at Old Town she lived very close to the natives. She entered into their thought, learned their family relationships (which in a polygamous country, where ties are loosely held to, are exceedingly intricate), became acquainted with the cross currents of native opinion, and acquired that patience and decision which are essential to anyone who would influence them. Under trying circumstances she displayed that determination, courage, and tact which have made her such a power for good amongst the people.
These were the old fighting days, when every village had a feud with its neighbours and life was cheap. A man did not dare to go alone along the paths through the bush. Even when going for water to the springs the women took their lives in their hands. Besides the spirits were supposed to dwell in the bush and molest people, any tree might have behind it a foe of flesh and blood. Sometimes this intermittent murder was fanned into a war, and village went out to attack village. At these times Miss Slessor knew not danger. On more than one occasion she has heroically gone into the zone of fire and stayed there till the combatants went home, for they would not fire lest she whom they respected so much should be hurt. Then, when they had separated, she negotiated terms of peace. By her tact and persuasiveness, by her unfailing sympathy and insight and good humour, she has frequently been a successful mediator, and for her sake towns that hated each other have sunk their differences.
Her Courage and Faith
With that fearless unselfishness which has characterized all her life, she went in 1887 up to Ekenga amongst the wild and, at that time, cannibal tribe of the Okoyong, a sept of the Ododop people that migrated from the north-east to the country between the Calabar and the Cross Rivers. Here she had to live close to God, if she was to live at all. I can picture her landing at the beach in the evening after being paddled all day from Duke Town. Before her stretched five miles of path through the forest which was infested with leopards. And she had no lamp. Home she must get, and, as she herself has put it, she went in faith that the path of duty was the path of safety. “He has promised that we can take up serpents, why should I be afraid of leopards?” So along the track she walked, praying, “O God of Daniel, shut their mouths.” Hers is the faith that always abides under the shadow of the Almighty. It was not on land alone that dangers were to be faced. On the river, when a hippopotamus attacked the canoe in which she was travelling, she covered the children's heads with her dress that they might not see the danger and spurred the men on to paddle harder, knowing that their courage depended on them seeing her calm. One can easily believe her when she says she was afraid that time, but what is courage but faith conquering fear?
When the Okoyongs continued their wanderings to Akpap, Miss Slessor went with them. She was the first, and for many years the sole, European who resided amongst them, and her influence over them was extraordinary. She found all the horrors of witchcraft, the poison bean ordeal, and twin murder rife amongst them. Shortly after her arrival, the chief's son was killed by the fall of a tree, and his father enquired of the witch-doctor who had been the cause of his son's death. Twelve persons were accused of it, and they were put in chains that they might undergo the poison bean ordeal. Miss Slessor never rested till they were all released, and through her exertions the chief's son was buried without the sacrifice of a single human life. Such a thing had never before been known in Okoyong. Brawls were of frequent occurence, and in them Miss Slessor by her courage saved many a life. On one occasion when a man had run amok with a drawn sword, she tripped him from behind and got the sword from his grasp.
When Native Courts were started in Southern Nigeria, she was asked by Sir Ralph Moor, the High Commissioner, to take charge of the one in her district. Later, and till recently, she held a similar position in connection with the Native Court of Ikotobong, in the Ikot Ekpene District. In this way her work as a missionary was linked up with the systematic pacification of the country which the Government had entered after she began her labours. It is noteworthy that no punitive expeditions have been required in the country over which she ruled as uncrowned queen.
Naturally her influence has been greatly directed to the helping of women and children. Already at Old Town she had begun to care for twin children, who had formerly been thrown into the bush as accursed, and for twin mothers who had been banished from the towns, springs, and markets. These she took under her special protection, and many hundreds have, through her instrumentality, been saved from a fate too terrible to contemplate. She has done much to elevate the position of all classes of women, and in Okoyong succeeded in abolishing the ordeal by burning oil, which was resorted to in cases of suspected infidelity.
Miss Slessor's mind was far too broad for all her interests to be absorbed by any one section of the community, and realizing the importance of industrial training for the elevating of the people, she advocated strongly this branch of education. As the result of her appeal, the Hope-Waddell Training Institution was started in 1895.
Influence Over the People
The help that she has given in opening up the country to trade has been enormous. While the Efik people still held a monopoly of trade with the factories and acted as middlemen for all up-river tribes, she herself brought down canoes from the Calabar and Cross Rivers to the factories, and thus showed the up-river people the benefits of direct trading. During the war between Kwa and Efik, the only way by which the Kwa people could get to the factories was by going through the grounds of her house at Old Town during the night.
Her self-forgetful labours have won for Miss Slessor a great influence over the people - an influence which extends over an area of more than 2000 square miles. So great is her personality that to her house at Okoyong there resort natives from Ugep and even from the country north of the Cross River, from the north-west from Arochuku, west from Uyo, east from Oban, seeking her help and advice. Her fame has reached even to Northern Nigeria, where the natives know of the “good white Ma who lives alone.” In this way she has exerted a profound influence for civilization that is yielding great fruit.
In all her varied activities, in all her plannings and journeyings, it is as a missionary of the Gospel that Miss Slessor has always worked. It was to further the Kingdom of God that she went to Calabar, and for that, even in the Native Courts and palaver sheds when she listened to the woes and quarrels of the people, she has laboured. She is the greatest pioneer missionary that our Mission in Calabar has had. After the Aro expedition in 1902, the people of Enyong Creek came and begged her to come amongst them. Soon at Itu, which had been the greatest slave-market on the Cross River, a little church was built, and in that district and along the banks of the Enyong Creek, there are now more than a dozen churches with over a thousand Church members. She still labours for the cause she loves, and at Use and Ikpe is instructing the people and building up young churches.
For some time her health has given her friends some anxiety, but she was greatly benefited by a short holiday to the Canary Islands at the end of last year. God grant that in health and strength for many years to come she may be spared to help the people for whom she has lived, and to whom she has brought the Word of Life.
(In writing this sketch free use has been made of passages in “Calabar and its Missions.”)
- Wynd = lane or narrow alley in a town (Scots)
Miss Slessor describes a happy Christmas when they had the pleasure of visitors. Afterwards Mary experienced some dangerous situations when some trouble arose which required action by a unit of the army, and she calmed and helped a prisoner and his family. Both road and rail have arrived in her area. A new church is to be opened in Duke Town, but owing to a bout of fever and the unsettled state of the country Mary has decided not to attend. The school house and church is almost finished, and the court takes up most of her time.
From Miss Slessor, Ikot Obon, 17th January, 1906.
I had Miss Wright and Miss Amess for a week and more at Christmas;(Note) we had such a happy time, though we were crowded. There were over half-a-dozen Europeans here, and as the surveyors are Christian men, we dined with them in the open shed in which they lived, and also had tea with them several times. Then trouble arose through a disloyal house here, and so we have had ten European officers in this bush for the last ten days. Every spot is ablaze at night with fires; there are sixty soldiers, a captain and sergeant, with their retinue of servants, all in tents and booths; and then two railway surveyors with horses and servants. They and our road surveyors have been “held up” by these people.
After careful going about it, the man came in, and his people brought a number of guns and he his revolver. I have just had the privilege of hearing his commands, and his depositions to his mother and daughter and one confidential slave, and he has gone quietly to his cell, and they have gone quietly to take hold of his goods and children till he comes back in four years' time. My being here gained the mother this privilege, and I think I may win them not only to loyalty but to Christ.
Next week there will be silence again, but only the silence which brings the sound of an abundance of rain. For here is road and rail, where six months ago was dense darkness and silence. Oh that our Church may move on and *in*! Am I to give up this opening? I cannot see the way to turn back.
This is an eventful day in Duke Town; the new church is to be opened. I should have liked to go, and could have had a good escort, but I have had fever the last three weeks, and this unsettled state of the country absolutely forbade my thinking of it. May there be souls born and nurtured for God in that building! As there were so many of us here last Sabbath, I asked them to hold some sort of service if only for example's sake, and we mustered seven, and had some singing, and a chapter, and some good talking.
The court takes up a great deal of my time, but I do not know how to let any of it go, for it holds such possibilities for good. The schoolhouse, which is also the church, is almost finished. This is harvest season, so the boys have little time, but we have worshipped there the last two or three weeks. Last Sabbath we had over thirty men from the road; the navvies are over five hundred in number on the four miles between here and the beach. This would make a fine field of itself, as the men come from all parts.
Editorial Note: This event is mentioned in Item GD.X.260.19viii b) a letter from Miss Amess in Akpap, dated 20th January 1906.
This letter is included because Miss Amess was such a close friend and co-worker of Miss Slessor's. She describes her work at the Akpap Mission and mentions her visit to Miss Slessor during the New Year holidays.
From the Women's Missionary Magazine, April 1906?
From Miss Amess, Akpap, 20th January, 1906
The work here is most interesting; we have five boys and two girls staying with us. The youngest boy is about five years old; he knows English fairly well and sings several English hymns. One feels the great hope of the future is to win the children for Christ. They are just as lovable as white children; I like to watch their little black faces during worship, as they are answering the Bible questions. We have school from 9 to 11, and from 3 to 5. The attendance varies considerably; one day we had eighty-three present. The natives are busy with their farms just now, so we have had only from thirty-five to forty this week.
On Sabbaths there is morning service which Miss Wright conducts; in the afternoon she has the Sabbath School, and I go with a few of the native Christians to have a meeting at one of the farms. One of the native Christians speaks, and I give out the hymns, and one Sabbath spoke through an interpreter. Miss Wright gives me an Efik lesson every night. We are reading the “Pilgrim's Progress” in Efik.(Note) Will you kindly remember me in prayer with regard to my learning the language? I hold on to the promise, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” It is really wonderful how God hears and answers prayer about even the details of our life.
We went to see Miss Slessor during our New Year holidays; she was so glad to see us. The natives have a true friend in Miss Slessor; she lives for their highest welfare. She speaks Efik just like them, with all their inflections and gestures. It is good to meet a veteran on the field, unflagging in her zeal for God's glory and the extension of His kingdom. We are expecting her here for a week soon, as the chief of this place died a few months ago, and there are some matters to settle.
On the Sabbath we were at Ikot Obon; we went to a village about three miles from Miss Slessor's house. At first the people were frightened, they had never seen a white woman before, but after a little persuasion we got about one hundred gathered together for a service. Miss Wright had the privilege of telling the story of Jesus and His love to some who had never heard about the Saviour before. Oh, the need for more labourers! Truly the harvest is great, but the labourers are few.
Editorial Note: A copy of this work in Efik, donated by her friend Charles Partridge, is included in the Dundee Central Library's “Mary Slessor Collection”.
The article is an edited version of material contained in Miss Slessor's letter to Mr Stevenson, Ref: GD.X.260.02, dated 28th February 1906. q.v.
An article in the Women's Missionary Magazine of June 1906.
The hospital is a grand gift, and I am so glad with and for our people in its bestowal. Itu is already being justified as the site for such a house of healing, for there are hundreds of men on the river frontage there, making a railway embankment. It will be the base of lines for road and rail that shall intersect the whole of this Ibibio country, down to the estuary and across to the Niger. Such things are being rushed before our eyes; things that never entered our wildest dreams of Calabar. In all this, how plainly God has been leading me! First to 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 roads, and miles more all surveyed, and being worked upon by gangs of men from everywhere, and free labour is being accepted and created as quickly as even a novelist could imagine!
There is a pressing need for some industry at which a respectable Christian woman, wishing to earn her living, could do so apart from native marriage. Every woman born here can work the land, raise stock, etc., and we could get land up country for this purpose. There is room for women who could do laundry work near the river, as there are weekly steamers, and officers are scattered all over the Cross River, Aro Chuku, and Ibibio districts. Then, too, there is baking, and as this great tribe is still unclothed, there could be dress-making up here. Then there should be elementary schools both for boys and girls, with farm work, mat-making, etc., attached; and these scattered about would supply Sabbath services.
The first communion at Itu was most thrilling. The new teacher at Akani Obio seems to find a good field for his energies and zeal, and the converts there seem quite as enthusiastic as ever. Asan has peculiar difficulties, on account of the relationship of old families to slaves, but they too have got a teacher, and I trust the Word will conquer all the old fashions and the passions of the people. My oldest girl is at Okpo, doing a little among the women and girls at school, and she says the services go on steadily and prosperously. The lads there too do a little in the Ibibio land behind them.
Pray for boys and girls, taught of God, to teach small schools all over the land! There are 700 men on the four or five miles between here and Itu, living in grass huts by the roadside. They are from every part of the country, and it is such a grand chance to sow the seed and have it carried far and near as they return to their homes! This navvy work will go on. There are two gangs near, who come from the place where at first the Government had to go and fight. They come to church without being asked now, and are very attentive. The service is very informal, but the building is almost ready. We have been worshipping in it these two months, and it is Gospel they hear, if it is not oratory. We have forty scholars, and a fairly good congregation wherever we go, a hundred or so just now in morning service, as it is farm time. For the rest it is just living among them and doing every daily and social duty in such a way as shall win their confidence and affection.
This article is taken from Miss Slessor's Report to Mr Stevenson, 23rd March 1912. See item GD.X.260.11.
An article assumed to be from the Women's Missionary Magazine of July 1912? This item includes a photograph entitled “A Bridge in the Up-River Region”. Facts about the Up-River Work, Calabar The following account of her work comes from Miss Slessor too late to be incorporated in the Report of the Women's Foreign Mission. We have pleasure in passing it on to our readers. “Early last year I had to go under doctor's orders; so more or less I had to do things in a soft sort of way, which would not let one feel satisfied. But my Use people………” (There follows a version of part of the letter GD.X.11 already transcribed.)
An article from “The Record of the Home & Foreign Mission Work of the United Free Church of Scotland”, (possibly the issue for December 1907 or January 1908) page 21. It includes an interesting map of the Cross River area. A warm letter of thanks from Miss Slessor to all those who have written to her, made donations for her work, and those who gave her hospitality, on her recent visit home. This item also contains a sketch map of the mission area included in a part article by Rev. Wilkie.
It is an exceptional act to print a farewell letter from a missionary returning after furlough, but in view of the exceptional circumstances of Miss Slessor's pleading for Old Calabar, and of the quality of the letter itself, we have pleasure in inserting it
DEAR DR. ROBSON, – As it is quite impossible to answer privately all the kind letters and messages sent to me by sympathizing friends from all parts of the Church, may I beg of you to express my thanks by a few lines in the “Record”. Such messages make the heart very sad and very tender at parting times, but they are a great strength and stimulus too, and I trust they will make me more earnest and faithful, and more worthy of the trust and friendship they express.
For all the gifts to the Lord's Treasury so graciously and prayerfully given in answer to appeals for help, I also tender my thanks. I know they have already been acknowledged to each giver by the King Himself, as they have been registered in Heaven, but I am also the debtor of all, for I have received such help to faith, and such tender rebukes for faithlessness, that the gifts, and the letters which have accompanied them, have been to me a special means of grace. May I ask that prayer not only accompany the gifts, but also *follow* them, that God may give the leading, and the wisdom in administering them, so that the utmost may be realized, and all mistakes avoided.
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 Home 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 ministers 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.” – With gratitude, I am yours in Christ's service,
M. M. Slessor
Dr. Robertson, who is to take over the station at Itu as well as run the proposed hospital there, has been up to choose the site and set his men to work clearing the land. As soon as he and his wife are established, Miss Slessor will be free to move on. This she views with a mixture of relief and a sense of loss. A church is to be opened in Akani Obio at the end of the month. A twin mother has been helped by the Christian women at Itu. A murder has just been committed near by, and she is waiting to see how the situation develops and what will be required to be done.
It has been arranged that Dr. & Mrs. Robertson should carry on the work at Itu, the district which has been opened up by Miss Slessor.
From Miss Slessor, Itu, 7th October 1905
This is a lovely morning. Dr Robertson came up on Friday morning at 5.30, and, without seeing the outlook, as the mist was heavy, chose his site, measured it, and left his fourteen boys to work on it, clearing roots and levelling ground. Itu is so happy and thankful for the new station; a thrill of new hope and life seems to quiver all up the creek. Dr Robertson will go to Calabar again for what he needs, and for a boy to cook, etc., and then come and take charge at the end of next week. That means, that after the services of to-morrow and the services for the following week, when I would be here to introduce him to the routine, as it were, my work in Itu as direct pastor Itu is finished, and I am at liberty to run up the creek or into Ibibio, just as God may lead. It is a great relief, but it brings a sense of loss, too, for I hardly before realised how much one is helped by good Christian intercourse, even among two-year old Christians, till I see myself thrown back again on the stiltified, almost fossilised, moral sense of the degraded Ibibio heathen. It is a trial to the children, too, for they have no equals in Ibibio, and the Itu people have made us love them dearly. Itu will love and cherish Mrs Robertson; God grant them both grace and help, and make their lives here a blessed success. If all goes well I would like the induction and baptismal services together. It was like a fairy tale to hear that Dr Robertson had been given a blank cheque for the hospital; I can only look up into this blue, blue sky, and say, “'Even so, Father,' let me live and be worthy of it all, and worthy Thee.”
I have almost engaged another teacher-boy; I think it best to create readers and lay foundations as fast and as far-spread as we can, so that the Word may propagate itself. The Chief at Akani Obio says he will be ready for the opening of the church by the end of this month, but he wishes his friend, Mr. Wilkie, to be there. The chief has been bereaved, indeed, in the loss of his wife. Only nine or ten neighbours, that is, heads of houses, came to the funeral, as there was no devil-making or drink, and they had such a time of singing and praying, that “those who were not convinced as to Chritianity by preaching, had to believe what they saw and heard from that death-bed.” He keeps very firm, so do they all. I shall have more time now to see them; but Ibibio, with its multitudes, calls, so does the Aro country. We must thin out at Calabar, unless we can get more labourers.
A twin-mother from Enyon is here now. The two babes have died, but the people do not want her back. The church women at Itu have made Christianity a reality to her and her people during this trial. They lived with her while I was away, so dividing the time that she was never alone. She is recovering her spirits, and is amazed at what she has seen and heard. The old chief has cut down the old juju tree in the town, and removed the dirty altar and its furnishings. God bless and comfort him for his courage and faith.
… (Later, from Ikot-Obong) My new room is crowded with a savage lot of men and women. A murder has been perpetrated close by, about a woman. She is but a girl, and they have brought her here in preference to tying her up and torturing her to confess whom she wants for her husband, seeing she declares she will never marry this one to whom she has been betrothed from infancy. She has invented several excuses, the chief one being that there is one of his wives whom she does not like. God help these poor down-trodden women! The constant cause of palaver and bloodshed here is marriage. It is a dreadful state of society. I have left them a little, to see whether she will confess. If she will not, I cannot give her over to them; the safer way is to keep her as a prisoner on parole, and get a place for her to sleep with some woman near. The two policemen are away to see the murdered man. If there is to be a riot, I shall go myself; but if they are able to take the prisoner away in quietness, the matter will have to go to the station and garrison for this district. It is almost impossible for a European magistrate to hold this horde of people; I wish we had mission stations here and there to which things could come till they are enlightened a little. What an awful thing heathenism is! How much Calabar has to be thankful for indirectly in having the Gospel. It is only in the face of such darkness as this that one realises the safety and enlightenment and general comforts of life that flow from the presence of God's Word. . . .
I have been thinking much about the Christian's armour, and the shoes have come home to me more than ever before. Just now, I am the feet of the Church, as it were, and I am to go with shoes of peace. What a preparation for the Government that is – to pave the transition roads with Gospel peace! Pray that I may have both patience and tact, and that I may be able to lift the whole question up to a higher than a political plane.