Conditions in many parts of east and central Africa were unstable and insecure. The Scots in Nyasaland faced constant disruption from slave raiding and local warfare, as well as the activities of the Portuguese and, after 1888, Cecil Rhodes's British South Africa Company. Lacking the power to control wider events, they turned instead to the British government to secure the conditions in which Christianity could be promoted. Instructions to the Blantyre missionaries - 'You must always keep in view the fact that you are labouring to found and build up a Christian Church, and not laying the foundations of a British Colony or of a small State'15 - sounded increasingly hollow.
This situation was widely replicated during the partition of Africa. Missions haunted the corridors of the international conferences in Berlin (1884-5) and Brussels (1890), and their respective ministries of foreign affairs. Immediate goals were often temporarily defined in starkly secular terms: 'we should have the backing of all who have sunk capital or life or labour in our part of Africa. Our object should be the limitation of Portugal... to the river Ruo, and a 3 per cent tariff.'16 Alliances of convenience for a time brought many societies not only rapprochement with secular business and wary officialdom, but access on the ground and political weight - in Buganda, the Congo basin, 'Rhodesia' (Ndebeleland andMashonaland), AsanteandYorubaland. On the one hand the Methodist Dennis Kemp declared his 'firm conviction that the British Army and Navy are today used by God for the accomplishment of His purposes'.17 On the other, where previously he had found missionaries exceedingly tiresome, Harry Johnston (the one-time British Commissioner for Central Africa) praised missions for doing government's work for them. 'As their immediate object is not profit, they can afford to reside at places till they become profitable. They strengthen our hold over the country, they spread the use of the English language, they induct the natives into the best kind of civilization and in fact each mission station is an essay in colonization.'18
Neither in Africa nor in other parts of the world was this situation to last. French missions were prepared on occasion to welcome their government's backing, where it might bring them secure access and keep Protestant heretics at bay, as in the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of 1874. However, they were normally very reluctant to call on state aid, given its persistently anticlerical
15 Hanna, The beginnings ofNyasaland, p. 41.
16 J. M. McMurtrie to A. Hetherwick, 22 Dec. 1886, and to J. Rankin, 23 Dec. 1886, National Library of Scotland, Ms /7534, ff. 270, 273.
17 D. Kemp, Nine years at the Gold Coast (London: Macmillan, 1898), pp. 194, 232-4, 256.
18 Oliver, Sir Harry Johnston, p. 182.
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