Mary Slessor (1848-1915)

I suspect Mary Slessor would be rather surprised to find herself in the Church of England Calendar. She was an Aberdonian by birth, a member of the Church of Scotland, and began her working life as a child, in a mill.

She was soon to be catapulted from relative obscurity to a position of unexpected influence, in joining the United Presbyterian mission in Calabar, in the Eastern Niger Delta, set up in 1846 by Hope Waddell. Mary arrived at the mission in 1876, and worked there until her death in 1915.

Her own background gave her a natural empathy with the poverty she experienced among the Okoyong people. She exerted great influence for good, and, eccentric as she undoubtedly was, gained a great deal of respect both among those whom she worked and within the colonial government. In 1903 she was invited to become an honorary Vice-Consul, and the people themselves called her their ‘White Queen’.

She was never content with the missionary methods adopted in the area, which appeared neither to gain many converts, nor to improve the health or general standards of living of the people, and tried, not very successfully, to employ different methods which were already being used in other parts of the same region - travelling teams of two or three church members spending a week at a time in a village; church members pursuing trading activities also giving time for acts of service to the community, and so on.

Nonetheless, she was an excellent example of the extraordinary self-sacrifice and commitment of missionaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, going into a very difficult area and staying there. It is good to be able to celebrate her memory.

Andrew Deuchar
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th December 2000