Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

The Story of Uganda

"Lead us and teach us, till earth and heaven

Grow larger around us and higher above."

— Mrs. Browning

L ONG before the conquest of the Egyptian Sudan, men had been exploring the land to the south, in order to discover the sources of the Nile. The story of how Bruce discovered the source of the Blue Nile has already been told. Men of all nations had vied with one another in their search for the sources of the White Nile, which flows past Omdurman and Fashoda. Even a lady, "the richest heiress in the Netherlands," started with her mother and aunt, her lady's-maid and 200 servants, to explore a tributary of the White Nile, the Bahr-el-Ghazal. But the country is unhealthy for Europeans. Her mother and aunt died of fever, and she herself was subsequently murdered by natives.

It was reserved for Englishmen to make the final discovery. While Livingstone was exploring the Nyassa region, two explorers were leaving Zanzibar to investigate a large lake, known to lie north of Tanganyika. Disaster dogged their steps through this fever-stricken country, guides deserted them, illness assailed them; but with that resolute perseverance, which alone ensures success, they pushed on towards their goal. But one of them—Grant—soon grew too ill to go farther, and it was left for his more fortunate companion, Speke, to behold the great sheet of water, to which he gave the name of Victoria Nyanza or Victoria Lake, after his queen. He discovered that the Nile flowed out of this great lake to the northward, though he missed the lake into which it next flowed. This discovery was left to another Englishman, Baker, who with his wife met Speke on his way to Khartum. After learning Speke's great news they journeyed on, to be rewarded by finding a lesser lake to the west of Victoria Nyanza, which they at once christened Albert Nyanza, after Prince Albert, the husband of the Queen of England, who had recently died. Into this lake they traced the Nile's entrance and exit, and with this great news they made their way homewards.

Their way was terribly impeded by thick tangles of a water-weed, known as the sudd, which choked the upper reaches of the Nile. To-day the sudd has been removed at great labour and expense, and the river thus rendered navigable as far as Gondokoro.

Much light had been thrown on this country beyond the Sudan, but still the geography was uncertain, when Stanley, in 1875, closed the quest of 2000 years for the source of the Nile. His intercourse with Livingstone on the shores of Tanganyika had roused his interest in the deep secrets of the Dark Continent, and when the life-work of the old explorer was over, he started off with enthusiasm to carry it on.

"I have opened the door," Livingstone had said; "I leave it to you to see that no one closes it after me."

"I am ready to be, if God wills it, the next martyr to geographical science," Stanley affirmed.

Arrived at Zanzibar, he marched to the southern shore of Victoria Nyanza. Here he put together the sections of an English boat, which he launched on the lake, and in the "Lady Alice," he made his famous circumnavigation. He proved once for all, that the Nile left it at its northern end, and for 300 miles raced between high rocky walls over rapids and cataracts, till it passed into the Albert Nyanza and out of it northwards to Khartum. The river and two lakes formed the boundary of Uganda, the "Pearl of Africa," which country Stanley now entered. He was warmly received by the king, Mtesa.

"My mother dreamt a dream," said Mtesa with confidence, "and she saw a white man on this lake in a boat coming this way, and lo, you have come!"

The country ruled over by this king was large and fertile, but the people were uncivilised, and executions for slight offences took place daily, by the orders of the king. Stanley was greatly struck by the intelligence of the king—he at once grasped the possibilities of Uganda as a centre of civilisation for the surrounding country.

"I see in Mtesa the light that shall lighten the darkness of this benighted region," he wrote home. "With his aid the civilisation of equatorial Africa becomes possible."

He translated parts of the Bible into a language that the king could read, and so earnestly did he relate the story of Christ, that the king ordered the Christian Sabbath to be observed throughout his realm.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." These words he wrote on a board in Arabic, and hung it in the palace, that all his court might read it daily. The explorer now wrote home a glowing account of Uganda, and begged that missionaries might be sent without delay. They must belong to no particular nation, no sect or Church; but in the midst of these pagan peoples, they must lead the blameless lives of Christians. The appeal arrived at a time when Europe was keenly interested in Africa, and at once a party of Protestants made their way to Uganda, together with a party of Roman Catholics from France.

In 1884 Mtesa died, and was succeeded by his son Mwanga. He hated all Europeans, and resolved to rid the country of them. The English bishop, Hannington, was murdered, together with forty of his followers, while the native converts were burned. It seemed as if this fair country must relapse, when an Englishman, now Sir Frederick Lugard, saved the situation. He had just returned from the Burmese wars, when he volunteered for service under the British East Africa Company, which was establishing a protectorate over the country south of the Egyptian Sudan, and east of the great lakes towards the coast. It seems strange to hear of an Englishman freeing slaves at Mombasa and Melinda, ports of Vasco da Gama fame; but the slave trade at this time was cruelly carried on by natives in these parts. Lugard's work on the coast was suddenly interrupted by orders to go in hot haste to Uganda, over which country a British protectorate was being formed. Lugard reached the capital a few days before Christmas 1890. Matters were in a critical state. Arms and ammunition were on the way to the king, Mwanga, whose intention was to murder all Europeans. Meanwhile English and French, or Protestants and Roman Catholics, strove for the mastery. Lugard saw the king. He made it clear that the whole country was now British, and that, under the British flag, all religion was free, and a treaty to this effect must be signed at once by the king. On Christmas eve he presented the treaty at the king's court. Mwanga was trembling with terror. Lugard was persuading him to sign, when suddenly a clamour arose from a crowd at the door, and angry voices murmured that every man who signed the treaty would be shot. There was the clicking of rifles and the cocking of guns.

It was a critical moment in the history of Uganda. Another moment would have seen bloodshed. Lugard pressed the matter no further that day. Amid shouts and angry voices from the French Roman Catholics, he quietly withdrew. Next day was Christmas. Lugard, after an anxious night, again sought an interview with the king. But as he neared the royal residence, drums rattled, and armed men with rifles stole about the grounds. Once more he turned back, amid the jeers of the rabble. But Lugard was a resolute man, and next morning he succeeded in getting the treaty signed without bloodshed.

It was some time before the country was sufficiently restored to peace, but on April 1, 1893, the British flag was hoisted by Sir Gerald Portal, and from this time matters have progressed rapidly, and a new era of peace and progress dawned on Uganda.

In 1902 a railway was completed from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza, which to-day is being carried farther and farther into the heart of Eastern Africa. So the dream of General Gordon has been fulfilled, and the Sudan is connected by rail and telegraph with Uganda and the coast, while men are still scheming to accomplish the grander dream of Cecil Rhodes—the connection of the Cape and Cairo by rail and telegraph—

"Ay, one land

From Lion's Head to Line."

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