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Mary Slessor: Letters 81–84

Letter no. 81

10th August 1913

Miss Slessor has been awarded an Honorary Associate of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which was bestowed on her at a special gathering in Duke Town. Many old friends had gathered there, and her thoughts had turned to Mr Partridge. She therefore writes to tell him of it, and to ask for news of him. She approves of the new D.C. at Itu and is very appreciative of his work there. She stresses the improvements in the life of the village in the six years she has been there, and the advances being made by the missionaries in their schools and Church work. She closes with many good wishes.

(Address on envelope reads)
C. Partridge Esqr
District Commissioner
Ijebu Ode
(Ijebu Ode deleted & re-addressed in another hand to Idah)

[Post-marked Calabar Aug 15th; Lagos Sep 12th; presumably re-posted at Lagos on September 21st; and arrived in Idah on Sep 13th]
Sunday Evening 10. 8. '13

My Dear Old Friend

I have been reading the papers your Father so kindly sends me every week, & it makes me think of how much I wished you had been here last week when I saw so many old friends. I missed you & Mr Child, & thought how nice it would have been to have seen you there. So many were new people, & I am not good at making up with new people. You would no doubt hear of the honour done me by the Government making me an Hon Associate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, & of how they would not hear of sending it, the Badge up quietly to me, but told me a few old friends wd. meet in the Mission House at the Institute. & Behold, they made quite a public thing of it. Mr & Mrs Bedwell & Mr & Mrs Harcourt were there, & altogether it was quite imposing. We spoke of you during that week of frivolity, & of Mr Child & those who were so near, & yet so far & inaccessible. But that did not bring you, or any news of you. How are you? & Where are you? & do you keep well? & is your work & environment to your taste? & - & - & O, so many things I shd. like to know. I note your excuse for not writing, that writing fills all yr. time & is nauseating. Yes! but it limps a good deal that excuse. Seek a better one next time! Have I disappointed you? or vexed you? I shouldnt like to do so, for my old fashioned kind of affectionate respect, is of a sticky order, & I don’t readily forget. Besides I have many things tangible & real to keep me in mind, *if* *I* *did* forget. But I often remember you where it is best to be remembered, & pray God to be your environment & your guard & guide.

Mr Brooks is gone home rather ill with gastritis which would not be overcome. We have a very fine gentlemanly, sympathetic & fair-minded man as D.C. [Note 1] at Itu at present. What a releif it is to have such! & how proud it makes me when the natives see our men at their best. Those round here are rejoicing in every bit of his work, but they always say, O, I hope he will not be taken away. Thats the weak spot in our Service, the lack of continuity in the expression of our Laws & rule. This gentleman is named Mr Porter. You may know him, as he has been a long time on the Lagos side. Ikot Obon Court is an awful sham now a days, & Udo Antia gets on his high Horse & invents his lies occasionally when he is out of prison. He has supplied the Clerk of their Court with a wife as usual & so gains power & prestige.

Our bairns are all growing up. In fact are big lads & women now. Annie presented us with a fine baby girl 3 weeks ago. They are very proud of it. She took the baby to Church today, & at the close of the forenoon Service she went home to her own house.

Monday Morning

The light went away last night & I cant write by lamplight now a days. You would know such a difference here now. The village has larger houses, open yards, & spaces. A new Church with the village square in front, where the lads play foorball, & the Chiefs sit in the evenings. All are nicely - not grandly - clothed. Every house has its readers. No more witch doctors, no drinking. A new Church semi European to stand the Tornados. Paid every penny themselves, the old Church as school. All fronting the Road. A burying ground, instead of the old Burial in the House, & many another thing which has worked out in a very natural way. Following on their being told of the Governments giving of honour, they have brought a load of yams, & a goat as their congratulation. When I went to the opening of the Okoyon new Church the other day, they sent a nice brotherly note with 20/- of a subscription, all unknown to me. So you see they pay for better things than the old folks cared for, & they are a most intelligent congregation to work on on Sabbath days. You need not jump to the conclusion that I'm making them perfect. Thats not in sight yet. Only when I'm at Ikpe, I can judge better the distance they have come in 6 years. I have not any news. I'm only writing because, I felt how far away you are when I was in Duke Town last week, & I wanted to send a Handshake over to you. I never felt more unworthy, or more small in my own respect than when I was singled out from others who are, & have been working with far better results than mine. & I thought of all that you did & suffered in making the foundations here firm & sure & stable. "God is not unrighteous to forget" - that's the reward worth having, & the consciousness of having done what one could. Now Good bye, God be with you & bless you,

I am as ever Yours Affectionately

M M Slessor


P.S. I have sold 4 New Testaments at 1/6 [Note 2] each - to lads out between Use Ndon, & Itu Udo this morning. That will shew you how the light is spreading. A lady - Miss Welsh is at Itu Ndo living in a Native House, & doing a fine work from the boundary of Miss Peacock's parish on to near Ikot Ekpene. Miss Peacock has schools at Ikot Ebom, Ikot Nsen, Ntre Obio, & on this side, all self supporting & taught by lads from the district, also 300 people mostly every Sabbath Afternoon at Ikot Obon, from all the surrounding district. MMS

Editorial Notes:

  1. D.C. = District Commissioner
  2. One shilling and six pence (or 7 and a half new pence)
Transcription By: Leslie A. Mackenzie, 1997
Data Entered By: Ruth E. Riding, 1998

Letter no. 82

16th October 1913

Miss Slessor welcomes Mr Partridge's letter to her and comments on its contents. With it was a news cutting which appears to relate to another Mary Slessor! She thereupon gives the background to her own family, and says she is the last of her line. Again she wishes he were back in Calabar, but is happy with the presence of Mr Porter the current D.C. at Itu. She has thoughts of moving on could she find someone else to take over her place. A second twin has been saved in Ikpe "but it is slow work". Annie and baby are with her until a small pox vaccination can be given it, and Mary is expecting another child.

(Address on envelope read)
C. Partridge Esqr
District Commissioner
So. Nigeria C.P.
(Post-marks include: Ikot Ekpene October 23rd 1913; Calabar Oct 24th; and Idah Nov 6th)

Ikpe Ikot Nkon
16th Oct 1913

My Dear Old Boss

It *was* a pleasure to see your handwriting once more! I had given up all hope of hearing again, & often & often wondered how I had disappointed you. It is good indeed to have you writing in the Old Way. What do you mean by not having obeyed the Authorities? It was a queer Authority, or a queer Order! I am quite confident of that; & I think I can quite congratulate you too, As to your independence of mind & spirit; Well, it does not "matter a button" to me where you are, & why you are there! for I am perfectly satisfied that you are at your duty. I am glad you like your Station! Thats a weakness of yours, by the way. If you have the Apostles "Godliness", certainly the Great "Contentment" is never lacking, & it is a gift which one thanks God for. Never a Whine have I heard in all your experiences, & it brightens up ones own outlook immensely to have such optimism always in the forefront. I wish you had only been "banished" to this province! You will know that Mr Brooks was sent home ill with Gastritis which refused to yield to treatment. So things have gone in rather an irresponsible way up here. But we have had a rarely good man in Mr Porter at Itu, who is the first Gentleman we have had for years. You, Mansfield, Hargrove, Porter, thats how I count them.

This is the 20th, I never get long at a time to sit, to write or sew or read! I have not had a mail for some time. I used to get it regularly, but I have only had 3 in over 6 weeks, so I shall send this on at first chance whenever that may come, in order to catch you before you go home. You will be going into the winter, & I do not envy you that experience, but I hope it will be a good time for you & that you may get a good stock of health & strength, of every kind, & a rest from strain & [brain?] fag. I have been going over to Ndot, & Ekpri Abam of late & we get some Xtian [Note 1] lads from the former town to our Sabbath services. A good distance to come, isnt it? I wish I could get any one to take this place, I should like then to build over there. The people are so numerous & the land lies so high, it ought to be healthy. "Will ye no come back again?" You know all the places better than anyone else even down to the present, & your personality has been stamped on them. They don’t want White Man's rule, or his God, but one or two individuals represent to them the best & highest they have known.

Thank you for the newspaper cutting. What a romantic history that namesake of mine had. I have no doubt we are of the same stock, for all are from the North of Scotland, & came across the North sea I beleive. but I have never heard of this branch. Our lot came from inland a bit, not from the Coast, & are farther north than Peterhead. My Father was also a "Robert", & was from Buchan, & his branch are New Deer & Glenlivet & Cabrach, etc Farmers, One family Millers, from generations. Then last time I was there, 40 years ago, two sons were at Cambridge; who have gone South. I saw Rev Alex Slessor of Aberdeen time before last I was at home. His sons were at the University then in Aberdeen, & one at least, is a Clergyman now, but I have never kept correspondence with any of them, & my own family are all gone long ago. Mother & Janie - the last of us - died in Exeter nearly 25 years ago. A Soldier branch is in the North of England. Capn Slessor came to Sierra Leone a long time ago with his regiment, & we had some correspondence, but I let it drop. So I am a lonely creature, but I am human enough to like to see that there is some virility in our blood after all. Well again I thank you for your thought of me. What a "screed" this is all about myself, but I have no news at all. Miss Peacock will be landing at Calabar today I hope. I long to see her, but Mary expects an *event* in her family soon, so I shall not leave this side till it is over. Annie & her husband with their baby are only 5 miles from us. They hold the Nkana Station as Teachers family. Small pox has again broken out here & there, so I have Annie & baby here till I get the latter vaccinated. I am asking for Lymph from Ikot Ekpene. We have a fine twin boy & his mother in the yard. He is a month old. They are to get a house in town ready for them this week, so the twin will be the 2nd to have lived in Ikpe Town. but it is slow work. Now it is school time, so ta ta, May your Furlough be a happy one. God bless you & be ever your environment, actively & consciously wherever you are, I am as ever

Yours Affectionately

Mary M Slessor

Editorial Note:

  1. Xtian = Christian
Transcription By: Leslie A. Mackenzie, 1997
Data Entered By: Ruth E. Riding, 1998

Letter no. 83

24th December 1914

Miss Slessor has [and is] not keeping too well and has suffered much distress from the loss of two old friends, the advent of the First World War, and because she thought she had been forgotten by Mr Partridge. However, here are his Christmas Puddings to prove that is not so, and the household makes merry. Her letter tells of her joy at hearing from him [while asking for more news of him], and goes on to describe her health, her family, the Mission work, and the village of Use, among many topics.

(Envelope addressed to)
Chas Partridge Esqr
Via Onitsha
(Date stamps read: Calabar Jan 2nd; Onitsha Jan 16th)

[Note: This envelope bears several additions in Charles Partridge's handwriting, including the usual filing information giving the date it was written ie. "Miss Slessor: 24th Dec.1914". On other occasions he has written the poignant note "Miss S. died 13th Jan. 1915" and "Recd. 17th Jan. 1915"]

Use Ikot Oku
24. 12 '14

My Dear Old Friend

The Plum Puddings have just come in, & as this is Xmas Eve, I have ordered one to be opened & the whole lot of us are to have it tonight, which has caused great Excitement & all are jumping about like Crazy things. Whitie is away to the village to tell Annie, so that she may come for her share.

But, dear friend, it is not the Puddings but the dear old Handwriting & remembrance that gives me a full heart, & I must confess to you that by this weeks launch I was telling Mr Maxwell - who is up the Cross River with troops, having volunteered for the Nigerian Territorial Service - that the depression caused by the death of two old friends such as Mr Child & Mr Grey, & *YOUR* *DEFECTION*, has taken a very great part of the rest of life away, & made me feel that I do not care very much whether I get over this long illness or not. Please to forgive me for my want of Faith, but I thought you had let me drop out of your regard & memory, & it pained me exceedingly. Specially since this terrible trouble of German Hatred & *jealousy* has come to involve our Empire, & threaten our Home life with unspeakable gloom. So my joy & comfort is profoundly deep, & it is better than the medicine I am forced to take now a days in order to help the old machine to run on, till warm weather, & Rest comes to the Home land. O I have missed you, & I have had to tear up & burn so many of your letters since I was able to get about a little, that it ached more, only I had to clear out my desk, as one never knows how soon an attack may pick me off, & I don’t want to leave anything of personalities lying about for prying eyes.

Now here is a sheet of paper filled with my precious self! What about you? Where are you? What are you doing? How do things go with you? O you old dear, I *am* overjoyed to know you have thought of me. I felt almost ashamed the other day, when Obon Asogni Amban came from Itu to see me & asked about you, & I could give him no answer. We went over so many things that happened in the Old days! days which were so different, & also so difficult, compared with these days when things slip & slide along well defined lines, & the old things are dear to both Native & European. During late months Use have had trouble from Ikot Obon. The outsider says most of it arises from your Old Interpreters ambition & domineering fashions. For he is an awful scamp! When he is out of prison, there is not much Peace or Rest about, but whether it is the superior "Kultur" of the Upper town, or his spite because Use refuses to give him a site at their beach to build trade on. There is often talk about you & they wish that you who ["Fioho-d"?] - Found them, & knew all the old relations, were back again. When Udo Antia breaks out too, in the district, as he can when the D.O. [Note 1] is changed, or a man who does not know him comes on, there is many a cry for "Our Udo Afia Ikot Ekpene" [Note 2] to be here to understand. & Perhaps one of God's reasons for keeping me here so long, is the keeping of such miserable characters in subjection & silence to a certain extent. The fact is that when I go to Ikpe, or to Odoro Ikpe, these, & other scally wags jump up & do all they can to Feather their nests, & to trimph over the weaklings. Shall you ever come round this way again to work? I hope against hope often that it may be so. Calabar is only 3rd rate now, & very few Europeans come this way on any errand. We seldom see a White face other than the missionaries, but in those we are most fortunate. Dear Miss Peacock is still my neighbour at Ikot Obon, & Miss Coupar, a new, & very young girl is with her, & is a comfort to her & to me. I think you knew Miss Welsh. She used to be in Creek Town. She has a native house at Ibiaku, Itu Udo & this is her 2nd term there. She gets on wonderfully, & the lads are all at school. Indeed the bush schools are very numerous all the way out to Ikot Ekpene. Miss Peacock herself is responsible for 7 of them all taught by the natives of this district. We here in this place have a neat Church fenced in, & all cleaned, & a big common for the boys of the school & town to play Football – the light failed here for we had our party & our Pudding, & tea, & the House cups & saucers & tea pot, & a fine bit of bread, & it was lovely!! Only I got too tired of the noise, & Annies baby, & retreated to do a bit of writing. Well I was to say that you would not beleive this the same place as when you were here. Nice houses, Flower gardens, wide paths in the village. The houses built up the hills both sides of the road, & the bush all cleared. The doors of the houses painted, windows, & seats in front of the Common, the Church with its small belfry. Everything is beautiful, & they have cleared my Cycle road for a new school, so as to let me have less fatigue. We have a small burying ground now, & it tells its own tale of civilized life. Our old Chief Ekpo Nive died long ago. Last week, another feeble old man who held his place died, & I do not know who shall succeed. But this is Xmas Morning, & I must wish you - out loud with my voice - a very happy Xmas & a very Good New Year. God can carry it all to you, & give you all I wish, without any interval for Telegraph or Post, *& He Will.* May 1915 be the best year you have yet known. I have a house now in Odoro Ikpe, that high hill land 5 miles from Ikpe Ikot Nkon. & the people do very well by me. I was there for 8 months, this Church carrying on its own work. When the first serious *reverses * in Flanders & France came, it shook me so, I thought it was a shock, & for long was so ill, that when they carried me to Ikpe, & then brought me here, I was almost unconscious, & 3 months have made little way towards recovery. But I can hold out till March, & things are not worse at home I shall probably then take a trip to Scotland, or at least to Canary. The two young women at the marriageable age, are such a drag on my fears in leaving them. The Grandchildren are coming now, & Mary & David & their 2 kiddies are now in Lagos I expect, as he got a months leave. I find this is a half sheet of paper. I'm sorry it is so untidy, but it carries much loving grateful regard all the same, & the whole household joins me in it. Hoping you will soon write if only a scrap to say how you are, & where, & etc I am dear Old Boss

Yours ever Affectionately

M M Slessor

Editorial Note:

  1. D.O. Probably "District Officer"
  2. Udo Afia Ikot Ekpene. Charles Partridge's local name
Transcription By: Leslie A. Mackenzie, 1997
Data Entered By: Ruth E. Riding, 1998

Letter no. 84

n.d. (5th Dec 1914?)

This item comprises a Christmas Card in an envelope.

The envelope is addressed to:
C. Partridge Esqr.

It is date stamped Dec.5th, 1914, and carries a note in Charles Partridge's handwriting "Sent to my Father C.P."

The internal leaf of the Card is printed
"Greetings and all Good Wishes from Calabar
Use Ikot Oku, Calabar
Xmas, 1914"

The card is inscribed "To thank you for Continued Kindness in sending me the Precious Messengers from Week to Week, & to wish you & your family every blessing for all the years to come

Yours most gratefully

Mary M Slessor"
Transcription By: Ruth E. Riding, 1998
Data Entered By: Ruth E. Riding, 1998