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"Mother of All the Peoples"

"Mother of All the Peoples"

Tuesday January 13 2015

Today (January 13) is the 100th anniversary of the death of Mary Slessor, the pioneering Scottish missionary to Nigeria.

Mary’s name is revered in Nigeria, where she continues to be known as ‘mother of all the peoples’ for her work in saving the lives of twins (overcoming local superstition that twins represented evil spirits) and working to improve the lives of the local community in Calabar. She introduced basic medical assistance, imported key skills from her native Scotland and encouraged trade and the local economy, even becoming an effective magistrate for the British Governor – the only female judge within the British Empire.

The Moderator, the Rt Rev John Chalmers, is representing the Church of Scotland in Nigeria as the anniversary is honoured.

A memorial is also being unveiled today in Dundee, where Mary began her teaching.

Life and Work is privileged to hold the archives of the Record of the United Free Church, which merged with Life and Work in 1929. A delve through the collated 1915 issues unearthed tributes and accounts of Mary’s life and death:

The late Miss Slessor of Calabar

The Passing

The following account of the passing away of Miss Slessor, by Miss Peacock of Ikotobon who was present at the end, has been received:

“Miss Slessor’s girls, Janie, Annie, Maggie, Alice and Whitie, were all with me, and we made our arrangements for the night-watch. Several times Miss Selssor signed to us to turn her and we noticed that her breathing was becoming more difficult. It was a very dark night and the natives were sound asleep in their houses, but I sent off two of the girls to rouse two men to Itu, and we waited anxiously the coming of the doctor. Several times a change passed over the dear face and the girls burst out into wild weeping; they knew only too well the sign of the dread visitors. There was no great struggle at the end; just a gradual diminishing of the forces of nature and Ma Akamba (The Great Mother) entered into the presence of the King. Shortly afterwards the doctor arrived.

“When the people in the town heard the girls weeping, they came to the house, and I shall never forget the scene. Men, women and children mourned with a great lamentation. Until the coffin arrived, natives from different places visited the house to gaze for the last time on the face that had been so dear to them.”

The Rev James Adamson of Bonnington, recalled ‘the soul of a pioneer’.

Recalling one evening at Mary’s mud home, he wrote: “A woman comes staggering along with a basket, and flings it and herself on the ground near the door. The basket contains two infants – twins, born a few hours ago. The woman is their mother, driven from her home into the bush under the curse that falls upon such mothers. She has come to the only place where she knows she will find shelter and protection. The children have to be washed and tended, the mother is found a hut to rest in, and a message is sent for the father. When he comes, angry and sullen, he is told that he must take his wife home again as soon as possible, and let no harm come to her; the children in the meantime will remain under the missionary’s care. That is how one cruel superstition is being combated and overcome. And no one has done more for the poor twin–mothers than Miss Slessor.”

Read more in the March edition of Life and Work.

"I Worked With Mary Slessor"