Chapter 31: Missionary Museum

The Hangman's Inn in Kei Road. Murray is far loeft at back. Brian Randles left front. Margery second left back.

The Hangman's Inn in Kei Road. Murray is far left at back. Brian Randles left front. Margery second left back.

Meanwhile the last months of 1974 dawned nearer, so Margery and I went to King William’s Town to see whether we could find a home for ourselves when I took over the curatorship of the Missionary Museum. There were not houses to let there and we did not fancy living in a hotel in a big town, Then Brian Randles came to our aid: he told us that he and one or two others who worked in the Kaffrarian Museum had about houses in a little place named Kei Road only about 15 miles from ‘King’, as everybody called the town, and that the little hotel in Kei Road was a very pleasant and ‘homey’ place to live in until we could get a house there. We therefore went to Kei Road, saw the hotel, spoke to the couple who ran it and arranged that we would come to take over ‘our’ room in it in the afternoon of the 31st October so that I could take over the Museum on the 1st of November.

We therefore came to the Kei Road hotel, which rejoiced in the name ‘The Hangman’s Inn’, on 31st October as arranged and next morning Brian Randles came there to take me to my new occupation at the Missionary Museum,. I was its only staff member at that time as the only other, a caretaker and cleaner, had been murdered in an attack while at home only a few days before. Brian first took me to the Kaffrarian Museum to meet its staff, under Mr , its Director, as we had to work together most of the time. Then he showed me the filing cabinet and the visitors’ book, the two things which I should mostly use. He also showed me the list of Foundation Members of the South African Missionary Museum in whicyh, of course, my name appeared; very appropriate!

The facade of the Missionary Museum on the day of its official opening in January 1976. Photo by Tony McGregor

The facade of the Missionary Museum on the day of its official opening in January 1976. Photo by Tony McGregor

Thus started a period in my life which I enjoyed greatly. I was very fortunate in that a day or two later a Black man came to the Museum to see the caretaker. He was, of course, very shocked to hear of the death of his friend. He stayed with me for some time and I found him a most interesting person. He had for many7 years been an interpreted to one of the Cape Judges and spoke very good English. I found that he could talk Afrikaans also, as well as Xhosa, Zulu and seSotho. It struck me that he would be a very good man to take the unfortunate dead man’s place, so I asked him whether he would like to take his friend’s place. When he agreed I at once sent him over to the Kaffrarian Museum with a note suggesting that he would be a good person to have in the vacant situation and suggesting that this man be enrolled as the caretaker and interpreter in the ‘my’ museum.

Later I learned that he had been a policeman and had risen to the rank of Sergeant before he became the Judge’s interpreter, and that his knowledge of the law was really wonderful and most useful, although he had never had any legal training. He obviously had a very quick brain and, having spent some twenty or thirty years working in Courts of Law, he became very knowledgeable in our law. Anyway, to cut a long story short, he applied for and was given the vacant post in the Missionary Museum, and thus began a friendship that lasted for six years and more.

One of the first things I did in the Museum was to go through the list of ‘Friends of the Museum to see whether any of our friends in Kei Road were of their number. I made a list of those who had and another of those who might be persuaded to join.

Gueest looking at exhibits in the Museum on the day of its official opening. Murray McGregor's 'office' was behind the rail at the back. The pictures on the back wall are three of 14 German Stations of the Cross donated to the Museum by a Catholic mission station

Guests looking at exhibits in the Museum on the day of its official opening. Murray McGregor's 'office' was behind the rail at the back. The three large pictures hanging on the back wall were part of a set of 14 German Stations of the Cross donated to the Museum by a Catholic mission station

Then I began to look through the material in the filing cabinet. I found that there was just a hodge-podge of foolscap paper, some with information about individual missionaries, others about mission stations and a few about mission societies or churches which had sent out missionaries. I decided to that to make things easy we should have all these information sheets divided into three categories and to print the letters and numbers on the outside of the files in different colours. If I remember rightly it was black for the church or mission, red for the individual mission stations and green for the individual missionaries. I spent a lot of each day on arranging the files in this way.

A ceiling light in the Museum

A ceiling light in the Museum

While doing this it occurred to me that I knew a number of missionaries who had served with me in Healdtown, Blythswood, Buntingville and Butterworth. So I made a list of them and worked out a sort of ‘questionnaire’ to send to each one of them. I got these sent out via the Kaffrarian Museum, who put the stamps on each letter: postage in those days was, I think, about 4 cents for an ordinary letter! The last item on each questionnaire was a request for the recipient to write on the back the names and addresses of any former or present missionary that he/she knew about.

While only about two-thirds of these letters were replied to the amount of information thus gleaned enabled me to ad hundreds of pages to our files. Each of these missionaries had worked on a mission station for a church or mission society, so from each reply I was able to the files of the church or missionary society the names of people who hade worked for them and. Opf course, the names of the station on which each one had worked. Also most of the replies contained the names of other missionaries that these people had known, and so the work of finding out what church or society each missionary had worked for and at which station or stations, was an ongoing process, which continued throughout all the six years I worked in the SA Missionary Museum. When I was ‘superannuated’ out of the museum in June 1980 there were 140 box files of information about missionaries instead of seven.

Another thing I had to do was to collect as many books about missions and missionaries that I could. I had collected quite a few while I was teaching, and had been given a number also by my friend Mark Taylor who had been an Anglican missionary for some time, and also from his wife Helen, whose father and grandfather had been missionaries in Southern Africa. From, these books I also got much more information to add to the files, with a cross-record to each book.

Besides all this we collected pictures of missionaries to hand on our wall, also many pictures of mission stations, past and present. These were also added to our collection of facts about mission work and added to the interest in the museum.

Another duty that I had to fulfil was to visit present mission stations, to photograph them and their staffs and, if lucky, perhaps to get things to take back to the Museum. We started this with my old mission Blythswood, because I knew that two old printing presses which had been used there in the period c1906 – 1930 had, when they became redundant, simply been thrown out into a hole in the grass! We had no vehicle but the Kaffrarian Museum had an old truck which we could sometimes use. So, after I had served in the Missionary Museum about three years I was able to use it. We had a camera in the Museum also, so I asked my wife Margery to accompany me to Blythswood to pick up the old printing presses, to take photos of the present Blythswood (we had several fine pictures of the Blythswood of a century ago), and to return as soon as possible. While we were away my caretaker, Mr Rani, was in charge of the Museum, with orders to ask Mr Brian Randles to help him in any emergency.

We had safe journey, although the old truck really needed new shock absorbers and its engine was so noisy that we had to shout to make ourselves audible. We received a warm welcome at Blythswood, took several pictures, got the help of several students to pick up the old printing presses, clean them and lift them onto the back of the lorry, where I roped them down firmly to prevent their rolling around in the truck. We came back via Butterworth (Mission) so that we could take pictures of the present church to add to our display on that mission, the first Methodist one in the Transkei.

We did not have many exhibits in the Missionary Museum but, on our travels, we often found or were given pieces of old furniture or implements to add to what was already there. Our longest journey was to the Mariazell Mission, [I think that Murray means Mariannhill] some miles away from Durban, a big mission of the Roman Catholic Church, where we were given all sorts of small articles and several books, most of the printed on the Mission’s press. We stayed there for several days so that we got pictures of almost every part of this great mission which is, with Lovedale, the finest and most practical of all the stations that we knew about. Most of the staff there, including the Fathers and the Nuns, were Africans, and all devoted to their Lord and to His people on earth. They, too, had their original printing press, safely mounted in a huge glass case, and so were almost taken aback when I suggested, laughingly, that they should present it to the Missionary Museum! That was the longest and, I think, most fruitful of all our trips.

A third duty that was mine in the Missionary Museum was to write books about the old mission stations and, if necessary, existing missions. (I say this because most of the missions still in service had produced books or booklets about the founding of the station, the pioneer missionaries, the people that they worked among, and a short description of events and people that had carried on the work. Being a professional historian I loved this duty.

The first one I tackled was Blythswood. This station had a wonderful history. The Church of Scotland Mission had in 1824 started a mission station at Lovedale which later, in 1842, became a mission institution, with schools for children in the lower classes and for advanced students who wished to take a teacher training course. This later broadened out into an institution with hostels for girls and for boys. So three schools were flourishing there; the biggest one for children in the kindergarten, another for children beyond the kindergarten state who wanted to better their education and another of those who had passed through the second stage and now wanted training to enable them to become teachers. At first all the teachers and instructors were from Scotland but, as the years went by, young African men and women became sufficiently educated to be able to train children in all these categories. The history of Lovedale was written in 1942 by the Rev Mr Shepherd as the greatest part of his work for his doctor’s degree and was accepted as such by the University of Fort Hare, which was itself an offshoot of Lovedale. So the Rev Mr Shepherd, the Principal of Lovedale in 1942 became the Rev Dr Shepherd.

My own institution of Blythswood, of which I was a leading member for nearly 20 years, (1940 – 1960), was an offshoot of Lovedale. In the early 70s of the last century [i.e. the 19th Century] the Fingo tribe in the Transkei became the first Black tribe to ask to become British subjects. They had a very fine man as their mentor at that time, Captain Blyth, who had been for some time the representative of the British Government with them. He was a wonderful man who had completely won the respect of the Fingos, whom he had ‘governed’ for several years. He got them to do together many things for their own benefit. For instance, he prevailed upon them to build roads in the Transkei, several local ones and one big one from Umtata [now Mthatha] to the Kei River, to make their trade with the whites in East London and other places in the colony easier and thus more profitable. He saw to it that they were paid for their labour. To ensure that they did not waste their money he used his small police escort to chase all dealers of alcoholic liquor out of the Transkei and to see that none came back. He also, in order to improve their standard of living, encouraged mission bodies to start their great work among the Fingos, the first being the Church of Scotland.


Captain Matthew Blyth

The next book I wrote was a history of Butterworth. Like several other town in South Africa it began as a mission station. It had been founded in September 1827, when a group of Methodist missionaries under the leadership of that wonderful man and Christian the Rev William Shaw, were given permission to build the mission by the Xhosa chief Sarili. Among the papers I found in the Missionary Museum was an old annual report on the Wesleyan mission work all over the world, which was issued by the Church in Britain somewhere about 1825. From the Cape their chief story was the founding of a ‘ring’ of stations from Grahamstown eastward to the sea in Natal. Two or three of these had already been started. This publication had pictures of various happenings on the mission world and one of these showed the missionaries and the African chief and his headmen talking together. I was able to get this picture, the first ever made of the Xhosa chief, reproduced, which enhanced the value of the publication.

At the beginning of 1977 I got into touch with the Principal of Blythswood and the Town Clerk of Butterworth, to remind the first that September of that year would be the centenary of the opening of the Institution, and to remind the latter that September would be the 150th anniversary of the founding of Butterworth. I was very gratified when each of these gentlemen came to see me to ask what they should do. From Blythswood I actually had three people to discuss the matter with me, and they visited me several times afterwards. I was, of course, able to give each of these men something of the history of their institutions and was very gratified when each of them asked me to visit them in September and, during the ceremonies, give a talk to those gathered on the history of their communities. Thus in the last week of September Margery and I went first to Blythswood to spend Friday and Saturday there, and then to Butterworth to spend Sunday and Monday. We enjoyed these visits very much, and it seemed a long time since we had been amongst friends there. At Blythswood it was almost strange to be in the guest room of the Principal’s house which, 17 years before, had been our home and, in Butterworth, to meet young professional people who had been my pupils and to enter again the school hall that had seen so many prize-givings with me in the chair! One of the items at the Blythswood celebrations was a Past vs. Present students football match, in which we met many friends in the ‘Past’ team. At the festival supper that night I was asked to give a short talk on the history of Blythswood, while the Minister of Education of the new Transkei government, a delightful man, gave us a talk on what was being planned for the future of the country.

I had already prepared, written and had printed books on ‘Butterworth’ and ‘Blythswood’, so had taken copies with me to present to the Town Clerk and the Principal of the respective institutions, and was able to sell copies of each to interested people, the money, of course, going to the Missionary Museum.

The success of these two booklets made me look for other missions which might be similarly described. I found that 1980 would be an anniversary year for four other mission stations, two of which would be 150 years old and another two 100 years old. So I started collecting all the information and pictures that I could use to write the books, and most interesting it was.

Meanwhile we had been gratified by the increase in the number of visitors we had to the Museum. People from all over the world visited us. I used to take them round the Museum and show and explain all the exhibits, and most visitors appreciated this, but some just said, ‘Thank you, we would like to go around by ourselves’! My ‘caretaker and cleaner’, Mr Barry Rani, was a great help in showing people around. To begin with he used to follow our visitors and stand behind them, listening carefully to all that I had to tell them. Very soon he had mastered the stories behind each of the exhibits. Then he used to take it on himself to usher any ‘coloured’ or ‘black’ visitors around the Museum. He was an imposing figure as he walked or stood in his long brown ‘overcoat’ of thin material, his badge of office, listening to visitors or taking the round. His time in the Police Force had taught him to walk and stand strictly upright and that, with his height of 6 foot 2 inches and his silver hair, always attracted the attention of visitors.

Frequently we had a whole school or a class from a school visiting us and then I would make them first sit down on the pews which remained in t6he old church and give them a short ‘introduction’, also warning them not to touch any exhibit nor to make a noise. They always had one or more teachers with them who always cooperated to see that there was no ‘sky-larking’ or noise among the children.

Frequently people came to us with books or articles connected with missionaries or mission work in general. These we were very pleased to receive and would enter into our inventory after giving each one a number. During my years at the Museum the inventory grew considerably.

In 1978 I became 70 years old but thought nothing of it, as I was, praise the Lord, very strong and well, completely able to do the work in the Museum, which I enjoyed very much, especially the ‘digging out’ of interesting facts and stories of mission work. As more and more visitors came each month the Museum Section of the Cape Provincial Administration in that year agreed to our request for an addition to our staff: I was permitted to apply for and engage a female secretary who would attend to all our correspondence and otherwise help me. I was able to appoint a lady that I knew who had done some mission work in Natal, Mrs Enid Briggs. I asked her to attend to the letters, etc., first thing in the morning and then to the cross-recording in our three sets of files, so that if we wanted to know, for example, what mission stations the Methodist (or Catholic or Anglican or Baptist, etc) had, say, in 1890 this would be available. Also if we wanted to know on which missions

King William's Town Mercury report on Murray's appointment

King William's Town Mercury report on Murray's appointment

any person had served it could easily be found. What it came down to was that for every entry in our ‘Church or Mission Body’ file there would be one in the ‘Mission Stations’ file and one in the ‘Missionary’ file. This was a long and soon, a tedious task but it was well done. Unfortunately, before it was completed I had left the Museum.

In the beginning of 1980 I was surprised to be shown a letter to the Director of the Kaffrarian Museum which said that the Private Secretary to the Provincial Secretary ‘had noted with surprise that a person of over 70 years of age was still occupying a senior administrative position in the Cape Museum Department’ and instructed the Director to get rid of him as soon as possible. This missive upset the Director so much that at first he could not bring himself to show it to me, and meantime the Museum Board put in a letter to the Cape Administration saying that I was in good health and doing good work in the Missionary Museum and asking to be allowed to keep me as curator. This started a correspondence which lasted several months until at last the Secretary in Cape Town sent a sever letter to the Director ordering him to get rid of me as soon as a competent person arrived to become curator. Unfortunately for me there was: a retired missionary was looking around for a position that he could manage, and he applied for the post. So I had to get out by 30 June 1980.

I need not say how disappointed I was. I loved the work I had been engaged on and felt absolutely that I could have carried on for many years more. It is now (1991) nearly eleven years since I left the Museum, but I feel so well, the Lord be praised, that I’m sure I could have carried on until today!facade-of-missionary-museum-used-as-logo

One response

15 11 2009
Tina Pohlandt-Watson

I read your article with great interest. I would like to learn more about Captain Matthew Blyth. Did he have a family? Who was his wife and did he have children? What happened to them after his death in 1889? Was he buried in South Africa. If so where?
Any information would be great. Thank you

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