Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Stewart, James

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STEWART, JAMES (1831–1905), African missionary and explorer, born at 5 South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh, on 14 Feb. 1831, was son of James Stewart, at one time a prosperous cab proprietor in Edinburgh, who lost his means as tenant (1842–7) of the farm of Pictstonhill, between Perth and Scone. His mother was Jane Dudgeon, of Liberty Hall, near Gladsmuir, in Haddingtonshire. After attending successively a preparatory school, Edinburgh High School, and Perth Academy, James worked as a boy on his father's farm. When the farm was abandoned, he was put to business for a time in Edinburgh. From 1850 to 1852 and 1854 to 1856 he was at Edinburgh University, spending the intervening two years (1852-4) at St. Andrews. He took the arts course, but mainly interested himself in science. His study of botany yielded two short treatises : 'A Synopsis of Structural and Physiological Botany, presenting an Outline of the Forms and Functions of Vegetable Life'(n.d.), and 'Botanical Diagrams' (1857), both of which were long in use as school and college text-books.

From 1855 to 1859 Stewart studied theology at New College, Edinburgh. The summer session of 1858 was passed at the University of Erlangen, and at the close he made a tour through Europe, including Greece and Turkey. Later, he visited North America, crossing to the Pacific coast. In 1859 he began the study of medicine at Edinburgh University.

Meanwhile in 1857 Stewart came under the spell of David Livingstone [q. v.], who as then revisiting Scotland. In 1860 he announced to the foreign missions committee of the Free Church of Scotland his intention of establishing a mission in Central Africa. He was told that a separate fund, independently administered, was needful. Accordingly he formed an influential committee, at whose request he went to Central Africa to make inquiries. With Mrs. Livingstone, who was rejoining her husband, he sailed from Southampton on 6 July 1861, and reaching Cape Town on 13 Aug., he arrived on 9 March 1862 at Livingstone's headquarters at Shupanga. There for four busy months he often acted as both doctor and chaplain. Deciding to push into the interior, he, with only one white man,, a member of the Universities' Mission, explored on foot the highland lake region on both sides of the Shire and the district now covered by the Blantyre Mission. He returned, after many perilous adventures, to Shupanga on 25 Sept. 1862, and, a fortnight later, started to explore the Zambesi. Reaching Shupanga again on New Year's Day 1863, he was in Scotland in the autumn. The special mission committee in Edinburgh, on receiving his report in November, declined immediate action. The Royal Geographical Society, which elected him (1866) an honorary fellow, acknowledged that his travels had helped to extend British territory and to undermine the slave traffic.

Stewart's interrupted medical studies were resumed at Glasgow University in 1864 and completed in 1866, when he received the degrees of M.B. and CM., with special distinction in surgery, materia medica, and forensic medicine. At the end of 1866 he returned to Africa, reaching, on 2 Jan. 1867, Lovedale, near the eastern boundary of Cape Colony, 700 miles northeast of Cape Town. In 1870 Stewart became principal of the Lovedale Missionary Institute, which was founded in 1841 by the Glasgow Missionary Society for the training of native evangelists. Under Stewart's supervision the institute greatly extended its operations. Though supported financially by the Free Church of Scotland (now the United Free Church), Lovedale, under Stewart's rule, became a non-sectarian centre of religious, educational, industrial, and medical activity. Lovedale, owing to Stewart's efforts, is now recognised as one of the foremost educational missions in the world, and its methods have been widely adopted.

In 1870 Stewart co-operated in the establishment of a mission at Umsinga in Natal as a memorial to the Hon. James Gordon, brother of the seventh earl of Aberdeen, and in 1875 he founded the Blythswood Mission Institute, Transkei, which was opened in July 1877 with accommodation for 120 native and thirty European boarders, and quickly proved a powerful civilising agency.

On 18 April 1874, while at home for the purpose of raising money for Lovedale and Blythswood, he attended Livingstone's burial in Westminster Abbey, and soon reopened the question of establishing a mission in that part of Africa associated with Livingstone's name. In May he brought his proposal before the general assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, urging the foundation of a mission town to be called Livingstonia. 10,000l. was soon raised, a small steamer, the Ilala, was built, and an advance party which made its way to Lake Nyasa in 1875 founded Livingstonia near Cape Maclear at the southern end of Lake Nyasa. Next year, on 21 Oct., Stewart arrived and chose a new site at Bandawe, 200 miles farther north, on the western side of the lake. He spent fifteen months in organising the settlement. Meanwhile he and Dr. Robert Laws explored Lake Nyasa, which they found to be 350 miles long, with a breadth varying from sixteen to fifty miles. They were the first white men to set foot on its northern shores. The natives were the most unciviUsed they had seen. Stewart soon arranged to start a store for the benefit of the natives. The African Lakes Corporation, Ltd., 'the first of all the trading companies in that region, was formed, and did excellent civilising service' (Stewart's Dawn in the Dark Continent, p. 219). The corporation acquired a capital of 150,000l., and proved of immense service in fighting the slave traffic. Stewart, who returned to Lovedale at the end of 1877, left Livingstonia, which he modelled on Lovedale, to the guidance of Dr. Laws. Its prosperity grew quickly. The mission now consists of a network of stations stretching for many miles along the western shore of Lake Nyasa as well as inland, while Livingstonia itself has become a city of modern type.

From 1878 to 1890 Stewart chiefly devoted his energies to the consolidation and expansion of Lovedale, alike on its missionary and its educational sides. Sir George Grey [q. v.] obtained for him a government grant of 3000l. for industrial training there. He erected technical work-shops, initiated a mission farm of 2000 acres, and founded a mission hospital, the first in South Africa, where native nurses and hospital assistants might be trained, and a medical school begun.

Stewart became a leading authority on all native questions, and was frequently consulted by Sir Bartle Frere [q. v.]. General Gordon [q. v.], Cecil Rhodes [q. v. Suppl. II], and Lord Milner. In 1888 he helped to draft a bill codifying the native criminal law, and did much to ensure the adoption by Cape Colony of the principle that legally the native has equal rights with the white man. In 1904 he gave evidence before the Native Affairs Commission, stoutly opposing the creed of Ethiopianism, which aimed at setting up in Africa a self-supporting and self-governing native church.

In September 1891 Stewart, amid many difficulties and dangers, established a new mission on the model of Lovedale, within the territories of the Imperial British East Africa Company, now the East African Protectorate, about 200 miles from Mombasa. This East African mission is now large and flourishing.

Returning to Scotland, Stewart in the winter of 1892-3 gave a course of lectures on evangelistic theology to the divinity students of the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen; in 1892 he received from Glasgow University the honorary degree of D.D., and in 1899 he was moderator of the general assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. Later in 1899, at the seventh general council of the Alliance of Reformed Churches at Washington, U.S.A., he pleaded for a union of all presbyterian churches in the mission fleld, in an address entitled 'Yesterday and To-day in Africa.'

Stewart defended British action in the Boer war (1899-1901) on the ground that the Transvaal government was incurably corrupt and injurious to the interests of the natives and the country. In 1902 he delivered the Duff missionary lectures in Edinburgh, which, published as 'Dawn in the Dark Continent' (1903), gave a popular account of what missionary societies have accomplished in Africa, and is used as a text-book in mission circles in Great Britain and America. He revisited America in 1903 to examine new methods in negro colleges. Returning to Lovedale in April 1904, he presided over the first General Missionary Conference at Johannesburg (June). In November 1904 and January 1905 he was at Cape Town with a view to furthering native education. He died at Lovedale on 21 Dec. 1905, and was buried on Christmas Day on Sandili's Kop, a rocky eminence about a mile and a half east of Lovedale. At the funeral all races and denominations in South Africa were represented.

A presentation portrait, painted by John Bowie, A.R.S.A., Edinburgh, now hangs in the United Free Church Assembly Hall of Edinburgh.

In November 1866 he married Mina, youngest daughter of Alexander Stephen, shipbuilder, of Glasgow. She survived him, having borne him one son and eight daughters.

As the founder of Livingstonia, Stewart played no mean part as an empire-builder. Lord Milner described him as 'the biggest human in South Africa.' Besides the works cited, Stewart was author of : 1. 'Lovedale, Past and Present,' 1884. 2. 'Lovedale Illustrated,' 1894. 3. 'Livingstonia, its Origin,' 1894. 4. 'Kafir Phrase Book and Vocabulary,' 1898. 5. 'Outlines of Kafir Grammar,' 1902. He was also a contributor to religious and geographical periodicals, and founded and edited the newspapers, 'Lovedale News' and the ’Christian Express,' both of which are pubhshed at Lovedale and have well served the mission cause.

[Life of James Stewart, D.D., M.D., by James Wells, D.D. (n.d.); Robert Young, F.R.G.S., African Wastes Reclaimed, illustrated in the Story of the Lovedale Mission, 1902; J. W. Jack, Daybreak in Livingstonia, 1901; W. A. Elmslie, Among the Wild Ngoni, Edinburgh, 1899; reprint, 1901.]

W. F. G.