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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Alexander Cruickshank

Looking Back

Friday September 17 2021

Looking Back: Etubom Cruickshank

In 1936, the Aberdeen missionary Alexander Cruickshank retired after serving for 55 years in Calabar, Nigeria. In September's magazine, a colleague paid this tribute.


Alexander Cruickshank with members of his teaching staff



Farewell to Calabar

By the REV J. T. DEAN D.D.

AT the missionary meeting of the General Assembly the Moderator paid a tribute to Dr. Cruickshank, and conveyed to him the thanks of the Church for his long and faithful service for Christ in Calabar. One who has known Dr. Cruickshank’s work for many years would try to point out some of its outstanding features.

Tending the Sick

One could not ascent the stair to the verandah of the mission-house without being conscious of an aroma compounded of the odours of many drugs. And naturally so; for at the foot of the stair was the door of the dispensary. But the selling of medicines was only a small part of the work don.

Here are two cases which the writer remembers having seen during a short visit to Ikorofiong. A little girl was brought badly scalded with boiling water. With the greatest gentleness, Dr. Cruickshank removed the dead skin, anointed the poor raw back with soothing oil, and bound it up. And this he did day after day till the little one was healed. The chief of a town far up the river, with a twelve-year-old ulcer on his leg, got himself paddled down to put himself under his care. Dr. Cruickshank saw that the ulcer was beyond his skill to dela with, and sent him on to the hospital at Itu; but not before he had washed and bound up the leg, and done everything he could to make the sufferer comfortable.

The Fight against Twin-murder

Alexander CruickshankAkin to his sympathy with the people in their bodily ailments was his long fight against the practice of twin-murder. Many a midnight journey did he take when he heard that twins had been exposed in the bush. And he aimed not only at saving the lives of the children, but at changing the attitude of the people.

After the Government had laid its hand firmly on the country, Dr. Cruickshank could say to those who brought twins to the mission-house with the obvious purpose of getting rid of an unwelcome burden, “No, take them home and look after them. And remember you are responsible to the Government for their lives.”

A Big Family

One could not but be amazed at the size of the Ikorofiong household, which was seen when the boys assembly in the evening for prayers. No fewer than forty to fifty boys filled the benches. One could imagine the continuous stream of boys passing through the mission-house, entering hungry, naked, and ignorant, and going out after a number of years to take their places in life, some as pastors and evangelists, some as teachers, some to enter Government service, some to settle down in the district as farmers or traders and to be the backbone of the Ikorofiong Kirk. There are hundreds throughout Nigeria to whom Dr. Cruickshank was not only spiritual father but all the father they knew.

And there was his educational work in the more strict sense. Schools were planted in al the villages round Ikorofiong, and in the evenings after prayers he spent many an hour in coaching the pupil teachers.

The Power of a Personality

Dr. Cruickshank’s unique place in the community was gained by his Christ-inspired personality. For all those fifty-five years he has been the best known and most beloved many in that wide district. Increasingly he won the confidence of the people, till he became their guide in every matter.

Once another Government official, who had been at Ikorofiong settling some matter, was relating his experiences to the wife of one of our missionaries. She asked him if Mr. Cruickshank had been of help to him. “Oh no,” he replied, “he has no influence; you never hear his name mentioned.” She asked if he had heard anything of Etubom. “Oh,” he answered, “Etubom was a bit of a nuisance. They would do nothing without consulting Etubom.” “And what do you think Etubom is?” she asked. “Oh, I suppose a big chief or a juju.” One can imagine his astonishment to learn that “Etubom” was none other than Alexander Cruickshank.

Building up the Church

But all the work and all the influence he gained were regarded by Dr. Cruickshank as ancillary to preaching the Gospel and building up the Church of Christ. The growth of the Church in Ikorofiong has been marvellous. In 1898 the membership stood at about 40. Now it exceeds 1500, and is the largest in the Calabar Mission. No minister working under home conditions can realise the patient and persistent work involved in training all these in Christian truth, so that they might attain the high standard of knowledge which Dr. Cruickshank required of his catechumens before they were admitted into full membership.

A large crowd of Nigerians gathered to bid farewell to Alxander CruickshankThough Dr. Cruickshank spent all his time in Ikorofiong, his interest and influence extended over the whole mission. When, just before his departure for home, he made a tour of all the stations, his journey was like a triumphal progress. All united to do him honour. Those who witnessed his final departure from Ikorofiong have said that it was indescribable.

It was a great pleasure to his fellow-missionaries when, nine years ago, he received the O.B.E. from the King; and when, on the occasion of his jubilee, Aberdeen University conferred upon him the degree of D.D., there was only one person who thought him unworthy of the honour – Dr. Cruickshank himself.

But what written word could do justice to a life of such length and breadth and depth? Those who know him best know how impossible it is. Happily, he is still with us, and in Scotland; and there is much work to be done in Scotland for Calabar. Dr Cruickshanks has a splendid story to tell. Ministers will be enriching their own souls by spending a Saturday night in hearing it as they sit with him by the study fire; and the interest of their congregations will be widened and deepened by seeing and hearing one who has done so much in the quietest of ways for the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

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