Frederick Stanley Arnot

Everyone who has a book written about himself is not of towering proportions. But there are others whose lives and works have been so useful for Christ’s kingdom that words such as “mighty,” “great,” “monumental,” and “profound” do not sound at all out of place. Words such as “giant” must be used sparingly. Yet Frederick Stanley Arnot (1858-1914), though shy and unassuming, was truly a giant. But giants of the human variety were all once little children.

The training Arnot received from his Christian parents, and the companions and the decisions he made largely determined what he became. The Arnots did not treat Fred like a plaything, but understood that little people become big people. When young Fred was four the family moved to Hamilton, Scotland where David Livingstone’s family lived. One of Fred’s earliest recollections was the presentation of prizes by David Livingstone at the local school. His sister was in the same class at school as Livingstone’s daughter, and Fred and his sister were frequently invited to the Livingstones’ home on Saturdays. The explorer’s curios, books and letters were stored in the attic.

One Saturday Annie Mary Livingstone read to the Arnots one of her father’s letters, describing the horrors of the slave trade in Africa. As Fred buttoned his coat he said, “If God spares me, I will go and help to right this wrong” — a resolve which only became stronger as he grew. When the boy was asked how he expected to reach Africa if no one sent him, he firmly answered that in that case he would swim there.

At eleven years of age, he was converted. John 3:16 was the verse that gave him assurance of salvation. It thereafter became his lifelong creed. God loved the world, including Africa. He prepared himself, not only by working with the Christians going out, witnessing and speaking in open-air meetings, but also learning useful skills.

“I scarcely ever, as far back as my memory takes me, opened a book, or watched a tradesman at his work, without the thought ever being in my mind, ‘Will this be of use for Africa? I must remember this for Africa.'” In the shipyard and at a clerk’s desk he taught himself to be studious in business as well as in the use of tools. He could make shoes from leather, cut out cloth and sew it into garments, take a watch apart and put it into working order, and handle iron at the blacksmith’s forge.

In 1881, at age twenty-three, Fred Arnot set sail from London. On their way to Durban, Arnot’s only co-laborer, Donald Graham, had a physical breakdown and could not travel further. Arnot continued the journey without Graham. Shortly before his death years later, Arnot would write, “The missionary, conscious of his call, can only ‘go forward,’ irrespective of men and women, come life, come death.”

It is estimated that, in his advance across Africa by ox cart, on foot, canoe, and sometimes carried in a hammock when too weak to stand, Arnot traveled twenty-seven thousand miles into an uncharted Africa. This homely young man did more than any in his generation to open Central Africa (in Angola, Katanga and Zambia which the missionaries call “the beloved strip” because of the vast response they have seen) to the Gospel.

On that first journey begun in 1881 Arnot went into Barotseland where he would stay for eighteen months. Enroute he was robbed, often fell sick and almost died of thirst. Yet at that time he wrote: “After reading Ephesians 5:25-29, an overpowering sense of the sufficiency of Jesus’ love so steeled every muscle and nerve of my body, that I felt I could go anywhere and do anything that I believed He had called me to do — supplies or no supplies.” Beside being a pioneer Arnot must also have been a prophet, for in the years to follow he was often with “no supplies.”

Sir Ralph Williams met Arnot at Victoria Falls in 1884. He later wrote: “Mr. Arnot, the missionary, was a remarkable man. I had many talks with him. He was the simplest and most earnest of men. He lived a life of great hardship under the care of the king of the Barotse. I have seen many missionaries under varied circumstances, but such an absolutely forlorn man, existing on from day to day, almost hopeless, without any appliances which make life bearable, I have never seen. He was imbued with one desire, and that was to do God service. Whether it could be best done that way I will not here question, but he looked neither to right nor left, caring nothing for himself if he could get one to believe; at least so he struck me. And I have honored him ever since as being as near his Master as anyone I ever saw.”

Arnot determined to reach the Zambesi river and pass to the highlands beyond, where chief Liwanika of the Barotse Valley reigned. Word had come to Arnot that Liwanika had asked for Christian teachers. Why Liwanika wanted Christian teachers remains a question. Among this people, human sacrifice was common. Arnot said, “A few yards from my hut there lies a perfect Golgotha of skulls and human bones fearful to look upon.” In front of his hut there were frequent trials for witchcraft. The accused dipped his hands in boiling water, pulling out five stones that bubbled in the scalding pot, also pouring water over the wrist. After twenty-four hours if the skin peeled off (which it normally would) the accused was supposed guilty and then burned alive.

Arnot was living in a hut supplied by the chief. The damp, dirty shed kept Arnot in poor health. He was scarcely able to stretch at full length. His goods rotted in the wet; and fierce armies of rats devoured everything they could reach; they even crawled over his body at night. Amid fever and dysentery, he sweetly wrote, “Yet I cannot but recognize the hand of the Lord in preserving my life in such trying circumstances.”

In his journeys Arnot had heard the name of Mushidi, an African king who ruled over a wide area called Garenganze. Mushidi had carved out a kingdom by butchery and pillage. He was also a party to the infamous slave trade.

Long slave caravans were met on the journey toward the coast. Dying men and women and little children were cast into the bush, their hands hacked off to remove their shackles. The shackle was simply a block of heavy wood with a slot cut in the middle, just large enough for the hands or feet to be slipped through, and a wooden peg driven between them so they could not withdraw. It is estimated that one out of five slaves, captured in the interior, reached the coast alive.

At this time Mushidi had been ruling for thirty-six years and had amassed a harem of some five hundred wives, many of whom were officers of state. He conducted regular trade with the west coast in copper, salt, ivory, and slaves. Human skulls adorned every stake of his garden fence, and in the middle of his courtyard was a long, well sharpened stake upon which, he declared, he intended to place the skull of the first white man who dared to enter his country!

In early February of 1886 Mushidi called together his diviners and wise men to decide by their divination whether the missionary’s heart was as white as his skin. Eventually they were satisfied regarding Arnot’s sincerity and integrity, and the king officially welcomed him to the country ten days later, astride an ox which he termed “a worn-out bag of bones.” Arnot reached Mushidi’s capital city of Mukurru.

In December of 1887 Charles A. Swan and W. L. Faulknor arrived at Mushidi’s capital in Katanga. They had walked 1,200 miles in three months. When word came that they were about to arrive, Arnot put on his best clothes. With a crowd of savages looking on, the three men met under the shadow of the stockade that was topped with human skulls. Joining hands the three sang:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Of that day Arnot modestly wrote, “We may say then that December, 1887 marked the real beginning of missionary work in the Garenganze.”

Three months after Swan and Faulknor arrived, in March 1888, Arnot left Katanga for England. There the Royal Geographic Society made him a “Fellow” and praised his explorations. Arnot was the first white man to locate the source of the Zambezi River. His accounts, told in his unassuming way, created deep sympathy with the work. He returned to Africa in 1889. A group of nineteen recruits for the mission field would come between 1889 and 1891. At a conference at Leominster prior to their leaving, a brother prayed three times, “Lord, if they are too many for Thee to work with, thin them.” When the matter was mentioned to him later, he did not recall uttering the words and was distressed about it. But his prayer was prophetic. As the ship was dropping anchor in the harbour at Benguela in Angola, Robert J. Johnstone died of yellow fever. Then two of the party, Thomas H. Morris and R. B. Gall, died in the same night of malaria at Bailundu, just twelve days’ march from the coast. Many weeks elapsed before the survivors reached their first halting place at Kwanjululu, 250 miles from the coast. Here Joseph Lynn was bitten by a mad dog and died of rabies. Three of the missionaries returned to England. A Divine hand had evidently thinned their ranks. One happy note in that sad time was that Harriet Jane Fisher not only survived the trip and stayed, but she also received a proposal of marriage — from Fred Arnot.

Arnot was the first white man to see the surpassing wealth of the Katanga mineral belt. The determination, diplomacy and vision Arnot used for the Gospel might have been diverted by his knowledge and access to this fortune. Sir Robert Williams was Cecil Rhodes’ right-hand man. He was largely responsible for developing the copper mines in Katanga and Zambia. Williams stated that he owed his knowledge of the mineral resources of Katanga to Arnot, who could have made millions had he chosen to stake out mineral claims in that country. Political influence, and material wealth were set aside so that Fred Arnot might stake his claim on the resources of heaven and thus obtain a better resurrection.

Further Reading:
Garenganze or Mission Work in Central Africa, by F. S. Arnot
F. S. Arnot, The African Missionary Explorer, by J. J. Ellis, Pickering & Inglis
That the World May Know, Vol. 6, Light Over a Dark Continent, by Dr. Frederick A. Tatford
Angola Beloved, by T. Ernest Wilson, Gospel Folio Press
Thinking Black — 22 years Without a Break in the Long Grass of Central Africa, by D. Crawford, published by Morgan & Scott