On this day … 12 April 1851

The Preston Chronicle ventured into ‘Darkest Africa’ in the company of the Rev Stephen Kay, superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist circuit in the town, who had spent eleven years in South Africa as a missionary, and on his return to England wrote a book about his experiences.

When the House of Commons instituted an inquiry following the Kaffir War 1834-1836 (now known as the Sixth Xhosa War), Mr Kay was called give evidence. The Chronicle in its article quoted at length from the pamphlet in which Mr Kay published his evidence. In it, he wrote in defence of the tribes:

… who are not here to defend themselves, but who are nevertheless denounced before the British public as a most incorrigible, irreclaimable and sanguinary race of beings. Thus we are again thrown back upon the crude estimate of this people, which was formed at a period when the historian of one of our slave colonies thought that ‘an ourang-outang would make an appropriate husband for a Hottentot female’; and when, influenced by similar prejudices, the legislators of Bermuda could gravely enact that ‘Whereas the negroes, from the brutishness of their nature, are not regarded as men, no man shall suffer in property or person who shall happen to kill one of them’.

He went on:

That anyone should for a moment stand questioning the fact … of our having, in 1819, aggrieved, and inflicted upon this people a great national injury by taking from them about a million acres of their finest pasture land, ‘without money and without price’, is really passing strange.

He had clearly won over the writer of the Chronicle article, who commented:

Mr Kay next shows that the Kaffer chiefs have been systematically ill-treated, and instances a case where a beardless lad, Lieutenant Sparkes, fired at and wounded the brother of one of them with impunity, and another case where a person of the name of Southey hunted down and blew out the brains of the King himself.

The Chronicle and Mr Kay are of their age in their assumption that missionary efforts were for the benefit of the ‘natives’:

Our author vindicates the missionaries from aspersions which have been cast upon them, and proves, as the result of missionary labours, that the deportment of the Kaffer is manifestly altered; that marriage has been introduced; that the views of of the Kaffers with respect to female character are elevated; that many of their heathen cruelties have been checked … that the Sabbath has been established …

Mr Kay concludes with the following, ‘Let us then enter upon a new, and nobler career of conquest. Let us subjugate “savage” Africa by justice, by kindness, by the talisman of Christian truth.’

Although these sentiments now appear insufferably patronising, they are a far cry from the callousness of those of a future editor of the paper, Anthony Hewitson (see 21 January post):

If a few of the missionary collections were turned into another channel, and made for suffering humanity around us, not for Red Indians, idle Brahmins, Hottentots, and pig-tailed Chinamen, made for sick and dying people in our midst, rather than for Mahomedans, Buddhists, and calabash spinners, thousands of miles away, our philanthropy would look more tangible, and our Christianity more practical.

Quite why the editor of the Chronicle in 1851, Lawrence Dobson, chose to give so much space to a pamphlet published many years earlier is unclear. Possibly it was because another Kaffir War was being fought by British troops at the time. Dobson was succeeded as editor by his son, William, a much more engaging character than Hewitson. He is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

The title page from the Rev Stephen Kay's 1833 book about missionary work in South Africa
Illustration from the Rev Stephen Kay's 1833 book about missionary work in South Africa

Pictured are the title page from the book and one of the illustrations.

Mr Kay’s book can be read or downloaded here: https://archive.org/details/travelsandresea03kaygoog

There were in total nine Xhosa Wars stretching over the hundred years from 1779 to 1879: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xhosa_Wars

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