Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Coillard, François
COILLARD, FRANÇOIS (1834–1904), protestant missionary under the Paris Missionary Society in the Zambesi region, born at Asnières-les-Bourges, Cher, France, on 17 July 1834, was youngest of the seven children of Franois Coillard, at one time a prosperous yeoman, who also had a considerable dowry with his wife, Madeleine Dautry. Both parents were of Huguenot descent. The boy was baptised in the Temple at Asnières on 5 Oct. 1834. Two years later his mother was left a nearly destitute widow.
After attending the protestant school at Asnières, and passing under revivalist influences, Coillard offered himself in 1854 to the Société des Missions Évangéliques de Paris, and was trained for missionary work, partly at the University of Strassburg (1855) and partly in Paris. In 1857, having been ordained at the Oratoire, Paris, he was sent to Basutoland, which had been the society's sphere since 1833. On his arrival at Cape Town on 6 Nov. 1857, he found Basutoland disturbed by war, and it was not until 12 Feb. 1859 that he reached Leribe. There he worked for twenty years. His activities are graphically described in his journal and in letters which he wrote in large characters to his aged mother until her death in 1875. Early difficulties arose, partly from the witchcraft, animism, and polygamy of the Basutos, and partly from the hostility of the chief Molapo, son of Moshesh, who had been baptised and had apostatised.
At an interview at Witzie's Hoek in July 1865 between Sir Theophilus Shepstone [q. v.] and the Basuto chief Makotoko, Molapo's cousin, who was threatened by the Boers, Coillard acted as interpreter and peacemaker, roles which he invariably filled. In April 1866, by order of the Orange Free State government, the missionaries evacuated Leribe, and Coillard perforce spent some time in Natal. In 1868, when the British protectorate was established over Basutoland, he visited Motito and Kuru man in Bechuanaland at the request of the Paris Evangelical Mission, and at Kuruman had his first meeting with Robert Moffat [q. v.]. In 1869 he returned to Leribe, and the next six years showed how fruitful Coillard's devotion to the Basutos was becoming. On 27 July 1868 he had baptised Makotoko; in 1870 came the conversion and baptism of Moshesh; and in May 1871 the church at Leribé was completed. Coillard's twenty years' work for Basutoland made him, involuntarily, a political power and a civilising and educative influence. He translated into Sesuto some hymns and certain of La Fontaine's fables.
In April 1877 Coillard, with his wife and niece Élise, undertook an expedition to the wild and majestic Banyai territory, north of the Limpopo river. By December 1877 the party found themselves at Buluwayo as Lobengula's prisoners. They had partially evangelised the Banyai on the way, and Lobengula refused his sanction for further effort. They turned southward to Shoshong in the territory of the friendly Khama, who commended them to the Barotsi chief and set them on their way from Mangwato across the Makarikari desert. By August 1878 they had reached Sesheke, the chief town on the Lower Zambesi, and were cordially greeted by the subordinate Barotsi chiefs, finding everywhere the traces and the influence of David Livingstone [q. v.]; but they failed to obtain an interview with the Barotsi king, Lewanika.
After a visit to Europe (1880–2) and a meeting at Leribé with General Gordon on 21 Sept. 1882, they started again for Barotsiland. In March 1886 Coillard was received by Lewanika at Lealui, and from that time till 1891 was engaged in establishing strong mission stations at Sesheke, Lealui and Sefula, promoting industrial work, and urging Lewanika to develop cattle-rearing and agriculture. In 1890 and following years Coillard engaged somewhat unwillingly in the negotiations between Lewanika and the British South Africa Company, and in a letter to Cecil Rhodes [q. v. Suppl. II] on 8 April 1890 agreed, while he could ‘not serve two masters,’ to be a medium of communication. In bringing about the signature of the first treaty between Lewanika and the Company on 27 June 1890, he acted on the belief that for the Barotsis ‘this will prove the one plank of safety’ (cf. Coillard's On the Threshold of Central Africa, p. 388). But the missionary had great difficulty in keeping the king from violating the treaty. (On Coillard's whole attitude towards British influence, see an appreciative letter by Mr. P. Lyttleton Gell, in The Times, 5 July 1904.)
After a serious illness in 1895, Coillard spent 1896–8 in Europe; but by 21 Feb. 1899 he was again at Leribé on his way back to the Zambesi. The Barotsi country, now styled North-west Rhodesia, was being peaceably administered. But great mortality ensued among the missionary recruits of 1897 and onwards, eight out of twenty-four dying and eleven returning home. Coillard's last years were clouded by an outbreak in 1903 of Ethiopianism under Willie Mokalapa, who drew away for a time many Barotsi converts. He was still engaged in preaching at the Upper Zambesi stations, when hæmaturic fever carried him off, at Lealui, on 27 May 1904; he was buried under ‘the great tree’ at Sefula, near his wife, who had died on 28 Oct. 1891.
On 26 Feb. 1861 Coillard married in Union Church, Cape Town, Christina, daughter of Lachlan Mackintosh, a Scottish baptist minister, who was a friend and co-worker of James Alexander Haldane [q. v.] and of Robert Haldane [q. v.]. Coillard's wife accompanied him in all his African travel.
Coillard's right to recognition rests not so much on the number of his converts as on his steady exercise of a civilising influence over Basutos, Matabeles, and Barotsis many years before their territory came within the British sphere, and on the consistency with which ‘this single-hearted and indomitable Frenchman’ created an atmosphere of trust in British administration. A short, keen-eyed, white-bearded man, he was a notable figure in modern South African history. His religious position was that of English evangelical nonconformity. In 1889 Coillard published ‘Sur le Haut Zambèze’ (2nd edit. 1898), which appeared in an English translation by his niece, Catherine Winkworth Mackintosh, entitled ‘On the Threshold of Central Africa’ (1897).
[C. W. Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi, 1907; É. Favre, Francois Coillard; enfance et jeunesse, 1908. See also F. Coillard's preface to H. Dieterlen's Adolphe Mabille, missionnaire, 1898; and the Journal des Missions Évangéliques during his period.]