David Livingstone, Missionary

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Bob Teevan

David Livingstone, Missionary

A few years ago, a friend and former colleague arranged for me to view some of the archives in storage awaiting a reopening of the refurbished David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, Scotland. This opportunity to see the papers and equipment of this Scottish missionary provoked an interest in the work of Livingstone and missionaries in general.

My new interest led to the purchase of this postcard.

David Livingstone – who is internationally recognized by the presumptive question asked of him by the Welsh and New York Herald newspaper reporter Henry Morton Stanley – lived from 1813 to 1873. While his image may be seen on postage stamps and postcards, this postcard has only loose links to him.

The card carries no title and is a printed copy of a photograph featuring three gentlemen who are standing on or near what could be a “gypsy caravan.” There are however no gypsies about and the caravan has the words “China,” “India,” and “Madagascar” painted on its side with “The John Williams’ Missionary Van” painted above the door. All three gentleman are well dressed and leave me with the impression that they are closely linked to it as opposed to members of the public being photographed with the caravan as a backdrop.

At this point in my research the only persons named John Williams who spring to mind are a legendary Welsh Rugby Union player who was known better by his initials J.P.R., and the composer famous for many film soundtracks including Star Wars. The card was posted within Highbury in London on June 25, 1908 and predates both these men. So, who was John Williams and what did he do with a missionary van?

First to the card and the message it carries. The card was sent by someone who signed with the initials E. P., and it is addressed to Miss A. Palmer at 51 Highbury Hill, Highbury, N (which infers “North London”). With the address I located a 48-year-old cook named Miss Alice Palmer working there in the employment of 88-year-old Miss Mary Richards Christie. The head of the household was of independent means and also at home that evening was her 84-year-old widowed brother; her 58-year-old niece, together with two friends and a further domestic servant.

Their three-story semi-detached property still stands although it now holds three residential apartments. I suspect it will have a current value of between two and three million British Pounds Sterling, and it is therefore not a surprise that the 1911 non-domestic service residents were each of independent means. Miss Alice Palmer was presumably both a decent cook and contented as she had been with Miss Christie as a Cook since at least 1901.

The message on the card reads. “They will not need this lady after all so the holidays are all right, please take care of this card, hoping you enjoyed the exhibition much love from E.P.”

I have no idea who ‘They’ were or what lady was then not needed. I may have an idea as to what exhibition was to have been enjoyed and I am delighted that Alice Palmer appears to have followed the instructions to ‘take care of this card’ as 113 years later it still exists.

There were not too many references to this missionary van in the British Newspaper Archives although the Rhyl Record and Advertiser of February 29, 1908, carries the following.

MISSION VAN. The John Williams Missionary Van, which has been making a tour of North Wales in connection with the London Missionary Society, in charge of the Rev T D Rutherford, arrived at Rhyl on Tuesday. On Tuesday and Wednesday interesting meetings were held for both children and adults in the Carmel Welsh Congregational Chapel, and on Thursday and Friday meetings were held at Christ Church. There was an exhibition of relics and curiosities collected in the various mission fields, and an interesting feature was a number of young children arrayed in native costumes.

As this newspaper article is only a few months before the card was posted I think it safe to believe that this is the missionary van referred to and that it was doing a tour, no doubt raising awareness and funds, on behalf of the London Missionary Society.

T. D. Rutherford M.A. is frequently mentioned in newspaper articles from about 1898 to 1910 in connection with temperance lectures. The Rev T. D. Rutherford M.A. is also mentioned (Rugby Advertiser of October 15, 1910) in connection with the LMS and in this undated note I found on the internet.

A leaflet by Mr. A. D. Stewart, of Edinburgh, entitled Thankful for a Deficit, and by the Rev. T. D. Rutherford, M.A., on the John Williams Missionary Van, have been published, and a leaflet by the Rev. J. D. Jones, M. A., B.D., Chairman-Elect of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, will be issued shortly.

The London Missionary Society (LMS) was a predominantly Congregationalist missionary society formed in England in 1795 at the instigation of Welsh Congregationalist minister Dr Edward Williams working with evangelical Anglicans and various nonconformists. The LMS establish missionary posts throughout Oceania, Africa, and the Americas and “aimed to create a forum where evangelicals could work together, give overseas missions financial support and co-ordination.” It also advocated against opponents who wanted unrestricted commercial and military relations with native peoples throughout the world.

In view of the above I think it reasonable to speculate that one of three gentlemen in the image may be the Rev. T. D. Rutherford.

So, the John Williams Missionary Van was sponsored by the London Missionary Society and the Rev. T. D. Rutherford is possibly featured in the image. Is one of the other men John Williams? I’m afraid not as both the teachings of John Williams – and he himself for that matter – had been “digested” many years before.

John Williams was an English missionary who was born in 1796. Albeit he was trained and raised as a foundry worker he joined the LMS in 1816 and in 1817 he sailed with his wife and others to the Society Islands in the South Pacific. He travelled in the South Pacific for many years and returned to England before returning to the Polynesian Islands again in 1837. “In 1839 John Williams’s missionary work whilst visiting the New Hebrides came to an abrupt end, when he was killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromango whilst he was preaching to them.” He is sometimes referred to as the Martyr of Erromango.

The exhibition THE ORIENT IN LONDON may have prompted the following article from the Clifton Society of January 2, 1908.

The Orient in London has been chosen as the main title of the great missionary exhibition to be held in the Agricultural Hall from June 11 to July 11 next. The object of the exhibition – to inform Londoners of the true nature of missionary work and of the condition of the nations among whom it is done – will be in no way concealed; but the plans are already far enough advanced to suggest that the exhibition will be of interest, even to those who care little or nothing for its object.

For instance, the Exhibition Herald, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 100,000, devoted entirely to this scheme, contains in its new number an outline of eight Scenes from the South Seas, representing the landing of John Williams, the Martyr of Erromango, in 1830, and the industrial as well as educational and religious work carried on in various islands of the Pacific. These eight will form only one section, and perhaps the smallest of a large series of scenes representing life in India, China, south and central Africa, Madagascar, and New Guinea, as well as the South Sea Islands.

A Pageant of Darkness and Light is to be held in the minor hall. There will be several scenes symbolically representing conditions of life in the non-Christian world and the transformation achieved or in course of achievement by Christianity. The participants will number about 450, mostly singers.

A large part of the exhibition will be devoted to Africa. In this section will be found the most valuable collection in the whole building—the relics connected with Dr. Livingstone, who went out as representative of the London Missionary Society in 1841. There will also be relics of great interest connected with Morrison, Moffat, Chalmers, and other great missionaries.

From the North Wales Times (February 22, 1908), there is this,
The special literature in connection with the great missionary campaign which is being organised this year by the London Missionary Society includes Welsh biographies of Dr. Griffith John, David Jones, of Madagascar, Dr. David Livingstone, Dr. Robert Morrison, and John Williams, the martyr missionary of Erromango.”

I wonder if the postcard was to be taken care of as the subject interested both the sender and Miss Palmer and if the exhibition to which the card refers was that in June and July 1908?

As a child in Scotland, I was well aware of the activities of Dr. David Livingstone although had never heard of John Williams? Do Welsh children know of him? Do foreign readers know of either Williams or Livingstone? Did anyone know of John Williams?

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It would be interesting to travel back in time and visit The Orient in London” in order to view it through my twenty-first century perspective. I’m guessing the presentation would fall short of being deemed “politically correct”.

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