More postcards from the LMS collection

More postcards from the LMS collection

This blog provides discussions of some more aspects of the work on the LMS collection done during the second week of fieldwork which we have found interesting and noteworthy. There are seven discussions here out of the 70 or so that could have been written!

Postcard 8. More on prepositional politics
See Postcard 2. It was the older generation, the first cohort of LMS missionaries arrivind after those who came in ones and twos, who during the late 1810s and 1820s used terms such ‘Caffres’ and ‘the Caffre Nation’ to describe people who came from or lived in ‘Caffraria’. That is, they used it as an ethnic term to describe a particular people who lived in a specific territory, and they did so with comsiderable respect for a powerful nation. By the end of the 1840s most of this cohort died within a short time of each other. Those who survived for longer, such as James Read senior and his son James Read junior, continued with such terms, spellings and non-racialised usage, while the succeeding cohort of younger missionaries used ‘Kaffir’ and ‘Kaffirs’ to categorise African peoples, although with few exceptions not in an intentionally pejorative way and still with strong ethnic connotations.

The source of earlier usage? The influence of what they refer to as the ‘European Missions’ was considerable for the first cohort and they took over a terminology and spellings – including ‘Caffres’ and ‘the Caffre Nation’ – as used in particular by missionaries of the Paris Missionary Society. By the 1860s, there was lamentation about its likely collapse in southern Africa and particularly in what is now Lesotho.

Why the change for the succeeding cohort? Phonetics seems to have played a part, that they wrote the word as it sounded to them, because they did not have first-hand close working relations with French speakers from the Paris mission that the first cohort had had. In addition, these men of the second cohort do not seem to have had the close working relations with particular African polities and their leaders that the first cohort had also had, so there is less specificity of names and dealings with particular individuals by missionaries beholden to powerful forces in these independent polities. For the second cohort and those who came after them, this was increasingly replaced by more generalised dealings with African peoples in the context of baptisms, church services, schools and the other apparatus of a more settled and controlling version of missionary life.

Postcard 9. A catch-up on dockets
By 1872, all the incoming letters on file have attached to them (with small pieces of string threaded through the paper) the printed dockets mentioned in last week’s blog and discussed in a Trace which can be accessed here. There are printed headings on the docket which are very similar to those discussed for this Trace, although the 1872 version is more simple. It is also clear that at this point it was printed as a fullscap sheet which was then trimmed to fit whatever notation was written on it, rather than being printed at a  smaller size as it was later. We are sampling the LMS collection, and the years immediately before 1872 were not part of the sample, so tantalisingly at this point we cannot say exactly when the printed docket was introduced, and this will have to wait for the next archive trip when we will go back and hunt for this.

Postcard 10. Squabbling and its meanings
If anyone asked me to say without much thinking what are the key features of the contents of the hundreds of letters by missionaries I’ve read over the last two weeks, it would be (1) claiming money from central LMS and wanting more of it, and (2) squabbling and back-biting between them, squabbles which took often petty forms but which in some cases at least had doctrinal origins, and which were also attempts to raise themselves in the hierarchy of missionary influence and power. Some thoughts about an instance of this latter are as follows.

Robert Moffat founded the Kuruman mission, in the north-western area of the Cape and over many years the largest mission station in southern Africa, including by being the location of the first translation and printing of the bible in an African language (Sesotho). It had a number of missionaries based there, also oversight of African teachers running outstations, and with a large population living in the area around the station when first founded. Moffat acting closely with his wife Mary headed Kuruman in a rather dictatorial away over a long period from 1817/1824 to 1870, but with considerable dissent erupting at various points over this time, including from within the Kuruman mission station.

In this context and almost as soon as he set up shop after arriving in southern Africa, Moffat established himself as a leading voice among the missionaries there. In particular he did so by challenging the established leadership of Johannes van der Kemp and James Read snr, and by maintaining a direct line of contact with the Foreign Secretary at LMS headquarters. His letters lay claim to his moral superiority over Van der Kemp and Read snr and emphasise his leadership of a group of younger missionaries who threatened to break away from the LMS structure.

Both Van der Kemp and Read snr had married African women and also both of them at various points had liasions outside of marriage with others, and it was the extra-marital ‘immoralities’ that were the focus of the attacks from Moffat and others. In summary, Van der Kemp and Read snr had ‘sinned’ in this fashion, and more importantly had infringed their own principles in offending against the honourable estate of marriage, although many of the other missionaries had equally complicated relationships with the women they were surrounded by but were not subject to vitriolic campaigns in the same way. The effect was to displace leadership from these older men – Van der Kemp was removed from his superintending position, for instance, and Read snr from his mission position and fellowship in its church – and relocate it around Moffat in particular.

It was an irony seemingly entirely lost on Robert Moffat that locally a case was made against him in 1838 on similar grounds, that he had an illicit liaison which resulted in the birth of a near-white child whose baptism had caused considerable talk and scandal, while he had gone on a trip to the Interior to avoid exposure and possible retribution like removal from communion. This charge was investigated in detail including taking witness statements, to inconclusive conclusion because really it was impossible to prove such things one way or another, not least because Moffat was not the only white man in the area and the accusers did not seem to include the woman concerned.

At least one of the sources of dissent at Kuruman related to Moffat’s assumption of the moral high ground in these matters. Ann Hamilton, married to the artisan missionary Robert Hamilton, wrote a number of letters in her own capacity to the LMS Directors in London. She was definitely a supporter of James Read snr against Moffat, at first thought the charge against him was a put up job, and later emphasised that he had confessed and had acted to put things right with his marriage and regarding the other woman and so should be forgiven. The strong implication is that anything else would be unchristian. Ann Hamilton also had her own issues both with Moffat and the LMS, not least because she experienced a strong call to the religious life and wanted to act on this and in effect to be a missionary in her own right. In 1818-1820, over which time Ann Hamilton’s letters were written, this fell on stony ground.

Another source of dissent involved some of the missionaries who worked with Moffat at Kuruman. On occasions when Moffat was away for long periods, for instance, Robert Hamilton made pacificatory overtures to missionaries on other stations and wrote positive letters to them about their activities and successes, things he certainly did not do when the hyper-critical Moffat was in residence, as these other missionaries somewhat sharply reminded him in their replies. In addition, while William Ashton was trained by Moffat as a printer and typeset the translated bible over his years at Kuruman, he wrote frequent letters expressing his strong reservations about many of the missionary practices engaged in by Moffat and that only his sense of duty concerning ‘the Gospel’ kept him there.

As time went on, there were also strong rumblings of dissent from within Moffat’s family, with a number of his adult children disagreeing in particular with his long-standing practice of giving or trading guns with the African rulers he came into contact with, both around Kuruman and on his extended trips to the Interior. Those who became missionaries themselves – John Smith Moffat and his wife Emily Unwin, and his younger sister Bessie who married Roger Price – disassociated themselves from this. Robert Moffat’s position was that this created an obligation and through this provided an inroad into establishing a missionary presence and more importantly the presence of Christian teaching; and also that having weaponry provided people with a defence against in particular marauding Boer commando groups. The Smith Moffats and the Prices saw this as the thin end of a wedge, and thought that apart from their own presence that of whites in African polities should be strictly controlled and limited.

Postcard 11. Who was Mrs Smith? Where are the women?
From her letters and also complaints about her in letters from others including Robert Moffat, it comes across quite strongly that Ann Hamilton not only experienced a strong call to become a missionary in her own capacity, but also that she was increasingly repelled by certain, probably sexual, practices engaged in by her husband. Her attitude towards James Read snr is interesting in this respect, for while she first found it difficult to believe what was said about him, she later had a ‘forgive and forget’ approach. She was not the only white woman in missionary circles who responded in this way to his sexual transgression. A notable example concerns a Mrs Smith of Cape Town, who wrote fairly regularly to the LMS Directors in London reporting on various missionary matters both in Cape Town and more widely.

Mrs Smith does not appear in histories of the LMS, nor has she appeared in any substantive accounts of missionary activities. However, the letters indicate that she played an important role as a source of information and guidance and it is likely that she did this acting as a leading member of the Cape Town LMS Auxiliary Society. There were Auxiliary Societies both in Britain and in South Africa; and while locally they pursued somewhat different objectives, they had a fund-raising basis and the South African ones endeavoured to make the local missions as self-sustaining as possible. This inevitably led them also to play a role in relation to policy and practice on the part of the missionaries. In her letters regarding James Read snr, Mrs Smith gives an epistolary shrug and a clear indication of how the Directors should deal with the situation. Her stance is that the Directors did not really understand the circumstances in which the missionaries lived and worked, Read had expiated his wrongdoing, so they should all get over it.

Interesting in her own right, it is frustrating not to be able to find out more about Mrs Smith. But she is of course also interesting because she is visible, and behind her there are many women who remain nameless and voiceless but whose involvement and work were crucial. The public faces of the Auxillary Societies, like that of organisations generally at the time, were definitely male; but behind-the-scenes there were many active women, and there are some small signs that they were the most active and vociferous members. One of these signs is in fact not so small, and concerns a considerable scandal that erupted around the ordination of the Rev Vogelgezang and the employment of his daughter in running the local infant school. In brief, Vogelgezang had been associated with both the Dutch Reform Church and the Wesleyans but was refused ordination by them once he was better known. He then turned his attention to John Philip and the LMS in Cape Town, who later ordinated him, something a friend of Philip’s referred to as the worst thing he had ever done. Vogelgezang’s daughter ran an infant school under LMS and Auxillary Society aegis. Financial and other irregularities were detected and a formal investigation and hearing was held. Many of the otherwise invisible women involved in such activities suddenly come into view, for they gave statements about these events which were recorded against their names. Clearly they were major presences in both the school and the Auxillary Society, in the same way that ‘missionary wives’ like Mary Moffat, Emily Smith Moffat and Bessie Moffat Price may be absent from the official record, but are central to the informal one as shown by letter-writing outside of the LMS context. The LMS incoming letters invisibilise the key role of women in missionary activites and thereby inflate that of men.

Postcard 12. ‘The Interior’ and other buzzwords
At different points in time, terms and phrases become current and occur in many letters, then slowly their use dies away to be replaced by others. The notion of ‘the Interior’ is one of them. It stands in a literal sense for territory outside the boundries of the Cape Colony and particularly going north further into the African continent. But also in a figurative and symbolic sense it stands for that Holy Grail for missionaries at the time, of working with ‘the people’ and being alone with just the hand of God upon them in their teaching of the people concerned and converting them to Christianity. ‘The Caffre Nation’ is another and has already been mentioned. ‘My people’ is a third of these resounding phrases, particularly in the 1820s to the 40s, while by the 1870s it had been reworked as ‘my poor people’, a phrase constantly reiterated in letters at this time. A fourth is ‘native agency’, discussed in Postcard 14 below.

Postcard 13. William Ross and Fanny Hockly: histoire croissee
In 1849, the LMS missionary William Ross met and married Fanny Hockly. He met her in ‘the Colony’, his letters to the Directors inform them. After they were married, they set up a new station at Likhatlong, beyond the borders of the Cape at that time and to go to which they had special dispensation. Fanny Hockly was a younger daughter of the Elizabeth Hockly who was also the mother of Harriet Townsend nee Hockly later Pringle. They were very much Eastern Cape people and there is no indication of how or where she met William Ross. However, that she did indicates one of those conjunctures or crossings or interminglings of people that show what is known as ‘histoire croissee’ happening at a quotidien level. Many examples of this are thrown into relief by material in the LMS collections.

The missionary William Ross working in the far north of Southern Africa was thereby connected with the Hocklys and the Pringles. Earlier Gottlob and Rebecca Schreiner travelled as new very young missionaries on a ship to South Africa with John Philip, James Read snr, Andries Stoffels and Jan Tzatzo. Later the Matabeland missionary Charles Helm (the last of three generations of Helm missionaries) sold his soul in mistranslating a document that was then signed by the Matabele ruler Lobengula in effect giving away his kingdom to Rhodes and his Chartered Company, and Helm later also accepted further favours from the Rhodes connection. In between, Ettie Stakesby Lewis with her adopted daughter Effie and her younger sister Olive Schreiner stayed in her ox-waggon on the mission station of John Brown at Taung. Formerly at Kuruman, Brown was married to Sarah, the granddaughter of James Read snr and daughter of James Read junior. Effie later married one of the younger Brown sons called Arthur, while Olive later wrote movingly of meeting the mixed-race Mrs Brown, who had talked to her about her own experience of racial prejudice and also respecting her children’s. Ettie and Olive’s aunt Elizabeth Lyndall had come to South Africa to establish infant schools and she later married the Paris Society missionary Samuel Rolland, who appears in many LMS letters. These are just a few examples among the many that join up entangled lives and also indicate points of connection across the many letters and ‘seperate’ collections that the WWW project is concerned with.

Postcard 14. More ‘Native agency’
By the 1840s another buzz phrase had come into use among the LMS missionaries, that of ‘native agency’ or ‘Native agency’, as mentioned in last week’s blog. Once a system of ‘native teachers’ existed and involved these men (never women) having responsibility for conducting the activities of outstations, the possibility of other organisational roles came onto the agenda. In some areas, for example Matabeleland, the dearth of conversions and baptisms, indeed the strong local resistance to Christianity, put this on the distant horizon, and was in part the source of the missionary positive response to the Chartered Company invasion, which they justified by subsuming it under the heading of Christianisation. But in some other areas, it was immediately a possibility. For example, in the 1830s both the Griqua Andries Stoffels and the Xhosa Jan Tzatzoe among others already held high places in church hierarchies in the Eastern Cape and there were strong calls for ‘native ministry’.

There is nothing like money for concentrating the mind. In 1871-2, the central LMS response to a financial crisis brought about by a huge and increasing missionary presence in different parts of the world was self-sufficiency around ‘native agency’. A number of South African missions with large and active Auxiliary Societies had already made applications to take over full responsibility for the churches concerned, including paying the stipend of the minister. Another did so when an attempt was made to remove a well-established missionary and replace him with someone not known to the Deacons or congregation. In late 1871, the LMS Directors issued a revised budget dispatch, “to relinquish the South African and Kaffirland Missions at the earliest practicable date”, and which announced self-sufficiency and agency as almost a done thing.

At a special meeting in Kuruman in January 1872, the South African missionaries present (a high proportion of those in post) all protested strongly that this ignored circumstances, although an ultimate goal. The circumstances? Unlike other LMS Missions, that in South Africa was concerned with people who were the first generation following ‘heathenish practices’ and had parents who were ‘heathens’, unlike the situation claimed for Missions in some other parts of the world. The bottom line for the LMS in London was financial. What motivated the missionaries in southern Africa Is more difficult to pin down, but was almost certainly connected with the strongly independent turn that the self-sufficient missions took. The example of the Kat River Settlement  would have been in mind. A former mission station that politely threw off LMS governance when their favoured pastor was threatened with removal would also have been in mind. What these conjured up was that self-sufficient churches would escape missionary control, which would reside locally instead. Agency? Yes, but a good way off, and just a modicum!

Last updated: 27 October 2016


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