The Thomas Pages homepage
The Rev. John Philip
:: A  SOUTH  AFRICAN  SOCIAL-ACTIVIST  MISSIONARY ::
line
Introduction  
On February 26, 1819, John Philp (later Philip), a stocky forty-four-year-old and highly successful Congregational Church minister from Scotland, arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on behalf of the London Missionary Society (LMS), with his wife and four children. This "tough, self-assured man" (Murray-Brown 1977:51) proceeded to set new standards of industriousness and social concern in the expansion of Christian missions throughout southern Africa.
 
 
Although accused of being autocratic and inconsiderate, he increased the number of LMS mission stations from five to eighteen. His methods linked missionary work with the expansion of the British Empire to a new degree, and represented the social conscience of British Liberalism in the field of Christian missions.
 
Historian
Scott Latourette describes John Philip as a "leading pioneer in British missions to non-Europeans", "vigorous, courageous, and characterized by marked initiative", and as one who "championed the cause of [indigenous] Africans, fought slavery, furthered treaties with native chiefs to end wars on the frontier of white settlement" and "worked to have native states set up from which all whites except missionaries and those approved by missionaries would be excluded" (Latourette 1975:1307).
 
 
His activities were not always welcomed. especially among farmers, government officials, and even by some fellow missionaries. Thus the statement that "Philip is to be feared, more a politician than a missionary" reflects the controversial reputation that came to surround this notable superintendent of the London Missionary Society's southern Africa field.
 
A summary
chronology of his activities may help give a fuller picture –
1820  July:
John Philip accepts the pastorate of the Congregational Church in Cape Town, South Africa, on condition that his work as superintendent of the LMS should come first, and that the church function fully on congregational principles.
1821,  September 21:
On a visit to Bethelsdorp, Philip finds letters that he believed proved the case that local officials did not implement the freedom accorded to the Khoikhoi people by law, under the Cape governorship of Sir Rufane Donkin.
1821,  November 6:
Philip's friend and commandant of Simonstown, Sir Brenton, sailed for Britain with the understanding that he would use Philip's findings to enlist support for a commission of enquiry into conditions in the colony.
1822,  July 25:
The British government appoints the commission of enquiry for which Philip's had lobbied.
1824
Philip establishes a school for slaves and encourages education at every level, participated in founding the South African college, the Cape's Library and Scientific society, and the launch of the bilingual 'The South African Journal, and served on the committee of the Cape Town Libraries.
1825
Philip takes his fourth trip into the interior to try and end the feuding which had broken out among the Griqua Khoikhoi, and after arranging reconciliation officiates to appoint chief Andries Waterboer as their paramount chief.
1826
Philip leaves for Britain with his family for three years and uses every means available to swing political influence to legislate for the equality of the Khoikhoi people, including the composing of his controversial two volume 'Researches in South Africa' (published April 1828).
1829 October:
Philip returns to the Cape colony with his family, brining with him three Rhenish missionaries and a young schoolmistress to start an 'infant-school' system at the LMS mission stations.
1830
Three judges convict Philip of libel in his 'Researches in South Africa, and friends in London and Manchester set up a relief fund to pay the libel damages.
1834 August:
Philip travels to the eastern frontier of the Cape to prepare the way for Cape governor D'Urban to meet the Xhosa chiefs concerning their land claims.
1835
Philip opposes D'Urban's plan to alienate Xhosa territory, and writes strongly worded letters on D'Urban's policy for his friend Buxton to lay before Britain's Colonial Secretary Lord Glenelg.
1837
Having travelled to Britain with four witnesses (including a Kat River Khoikhoi and a Xhosa chief) to give evidence before a parliamentary committee chaired by his friend Buxton, Philip gives extensive verbal and written evidence to the committee, and then conducts a lecture tour of Britain with his witnesses on behalf of the LMS.
1838 February:
Philip returns to Cape Town to become the native affairs advisor to the new governor, Sir George Napier.
1843 January 26:
Because of its financial difficulties, Philip resigns as South African superintendent of the LMS, but he is persuaded to continue because of the treaty states and also the apparent threat of the Afrikaner trekkers to the Griqua tribes.
1849
Philip's superintendency of the LMS in southern Africa ends.
 
1.
His Political Views
 
During
his leadership of the London Missionary Society missions in southern Africa, Philip became a highly controversial figure for virtually every sector of the British Colony and eventually even among missions supporters in Britain. This direction became noticeable with the first two years of his arrival in the Colony. His growing acquaintance with the local situation produced a significant shift in his attitude.
 
 
Missionary James Read of Bethelsdorp, who had married a Khoi woman and whose complaints on the treatment of the Khoi had become a thorn in the side of the Cape Government, had been suspended by an irregular missionary synod under George Thom, the acting London Missionary Society Superintendent. Philip, who had initially supported Thom and opposed Read's actions, came to support Read and even to regard him as one of the hopes of the Mission; that his station would prove the civil viability of Khoi communities in the Colony (Ross 1986:97).
The Khoi were traditionally nomadic pastoralists.
From
his arrival in the British Colony he regarded those in positions of political influence as necessary tools for his missionary purpose. This purpose was more than simply propagating the message of spiritual salvation in Jesus Christ. He, in common with certain more radical elements of the evangelical movement in Britain, believed that the Christian gospel involved a civilising process that was a necessary adjunct to the full task Christian missions.
 
 
In keeping with this view, Philip maintained that Proclamations of 1809 and 1814, declaring Hottentots (Khoi) "free persons" was in order to subject them to Poll Tax (Opgaaf). He described the Proclamation of 22 March 1823 to improve the treatment of slaves as meaningless because its purpose was simply to look good to the British people while being easily evaded (source: 1824 report, Philip Papers, Box 2, Folder 1, File A).
 
 
By 1825 he had concluded that the Cape government's opposition originated from Downing Street in London. He urged the directors of the London Missionary Society (LMS) on 1 June 1825 to appeal to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, with details of how it must be done and what he will do if the Secretary of State did not act promptly (Philip Papers, Box 2, Folder 2, Jacket A).
 
Philip's
first political clash with the authorities at the Colony concerned treatment of the 1820 Settlers (Ross 1986:79). This unfortunate hostility was to cost Philip much in his reputation until the Governor of the Colony fell out of favour. Against accusations of political meddling, Philip wrote to the governor, Lord Charles Somerset, regarding the 1620 Settlers –
"I uniformly declared, that as far as their sufferings were connected with political causes, I had never in any shape interfered with them, so scrupulous was I on that subject, that in my last tour over the locations, hearing of the political fermentation which then existed at Graham's Town, though within a few miles of me, I abstained from visiting it, for no other reason, but that I might neither be infected with the spirit of the parties, nor from any connexions I might have with them, involve the object of my journey, with any thing of a political character."
(Extract from letter of reply to Lord Charles Somerset, 24 August 1824, quoted in pamphlet entitled 'Authentic copies of...', page 7).
 
Yet
what to many in the Colony were "political" issues, and therefore outside the field of mission responsibility, were to John Philip the proper and necessary adjunct of the gospel applied in the practical life of the community. Philip's denial of political involvement must be seen in the light of the contemporary use of the term. Political activity was understood as involvement in the factional disputes over patronage of an unreformed parliament. Philip saw his actions as being the pursuit of equal civil rights for all; the civil outflow of the Gospel ethic, as he understood it (Ross 1986:79).
 
 
Hankey, the then Treasurer of the LMS wrote to Philip (17 June 1825) –
"That which seems most to mingle with politics – the state of the native Hottentots, while it may doubtless be handled by political leaders as in their province, it may be pursued by us, distinctly as a great moral and religious topic and be advocated on its proper grounds." (Ross 1986:101).
 
2.
Some of His Controversies
 
The
climate of thought in which Philip's activities were perceived among the upper echelons of society is expressed by the attitude of the Principal of St Andrews University, and distinguished churchman, in his address at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Speaking against a motion in support of missions he described missionary societies as dangerous and subversive organisations acting as a holy cover for the ideas of Jacobism and Tom Paine (Ross 1986:35). Small wonder then that the growing knowledge in the Cape Government of Philip's ideological position should generate hostility.
 
2.1
Lord Charles Somerset
 
While
initially positive, while each considered the other useful, this relationship quickly deteriorated until Lord Charles regarded with profound suspicion every activity of John Philip. Somerset's clash with printer Greig over press criticism was also turned against Philip when it was discovered that the printing press was loaned to the printer by the Mission Superintendent of the LMS.

*Barry was in fact a woman in disguise, practicing as a military medical doctor, which was not permissible to women at that time. His real name appears to have been Margaret Ann Bulkley.
 
Subsequently a libellous poster appeared accusing Somerset of a homosexual relationship with Dr James Barry*. Suspicious of Philip, Somerset called him a "hypocrite!" essentially unable to reconcile the nature of his civil rights activities with his own understanding of Christian church missions (a problem common to the Christian church at that time).
In
1824 the Cape Government secretly printed and attempted to distribute a pamphlet entitled –
Extracts from 'A Statement of the Facts connected with the late Divisions in the Scottish Church, London Wall.
By the Rev. Archibald Barclay, D.D. 1815'
to discredit Philip (Philip Papers: Box 1, Folder 5). The attack undoubtedly came from Lord Somerset.
A
letter from the Cape in the Calcutta Journal (Vol.1, No.48) detailed the misrule of Lord Charles Somerset, his attitude to the Fund for Distressed Settlers, praises missionaries, presents Philip as the strong man, and attributes much of the evils to the shackled state of the press (Philip Papers: Box 2, Folder 1, Jacket A). This no doubt angered Somerset all the more as it was seen as issuing from Philip's circle of friends. Yet, given the opportunity, Philip "pointedly refused to join in the hue and cry then being raised against Somerset by his enemies" when the latter fell out of favour (Ross 1986:79).
 
2.2 The Libel Trial  
Philip
was sued for his comments in his 'Researches in South Africa' concerning a particular anecdote. He believed it was part of the attack on his credibility caused by his stand on the moral issues involved in the treatment of the Khoi (Khoikhoi) people. On the 22 July 1830, Philip wrote to Hankey expressing his personal reaction to the libel trial, his attitude to government, and that he wanted Pringle to publish a pamphlet on the trial with the Anti-Slavery Society's backing (Philip Papers: Box 30, Folder 4, Jacket A).
 
 
A fund was started among Philip's supporters in Britain to help cover his cost of the fine imposed and the legal costs of the case.
 
2.3 Donald Moodie  
As
government printer of the official legislation and proclamations of the government, Moodie took umbrage at the implication arising from Philip's statement in his 'Researches in South Africa' that in 1774 a proclamation had been made that the race of the Khoi were to be exterminated.
 
 
The 'missing' proclamation became a major point of contention. Moodie held Philip accountable from his statement "documents in my possession" in the preface to the Researches (Pamphlet, 1841: Moodie letter to Philip July 6) for access to these "documents". Philip responded that the documents had "disappeared". Moodie answered that –
"It is physically, as well as morally impossible that any such orders as you have described could have disappeared ...[they are to be found] in ponderous bound volumes, written consecutively from page to page, and not in one copy, or one volume only for the same period, but in three different volumes ...all of which Records for the years 1770-1774 still exist in a state of perfect preservation, and now lie for public inspection, on the counter of the Government Bank". (Pamphlet 1841).
 
 
Moodie's exhaustive enquiries and determined investigation eventually brought to light that the idea of an official policy arose from recollections of the Rev. A, Faure and copies of court minutes from the Landdrost (magistrate) of Stellenbosch. Donald Moodie interpreted Philip's statements in his researches as attempting "to make the Colonial Government party in assisting to enslave or exterminate all that remained of the original inhabitants" of the Cape (1841 Pamphlet). He regarded Philip's conduct as misleading and mischievous.
 
2.4 Rev. Shaw  
Philip's
preoccupation with the process of politically effected social restructuring seems to have governed even his view of other missionaries. In a report 13 Sept. 1824 he described the Rev. William Shaw, Superintendent of the Wesleyan Mission, as a government tool (Philip Papers: Box 1, Folder 3, Jacket A).
 
 
The Wesleyan missionaries however, regarded Philip's political opinions on several points as "fallacious" (Shaw 1839:17), and believed that he was ignorant of the working of border policy of the Colony and that his "known bias" and "preconceived opinions" were often exploited by the various individuals who fed him false information (Shaw 1839:18). But there was more. Philip's very integrity became suspect. The Rev. Shaw described Philip as having a "talent for vituperation" or abuse (1839:xiii), acting "Jesuitically" and even "tampering with documents" (1839:x).
 
 
Philip wrote that he regarded Shaw's opinion as formed in ignorance of circumstances and the character of people, but when convenient he asked for Shaw's help to "save time and prevent mischief" (Philip Papers: Box 3, Folder 1, Jacket C).
 
2.5 LMS Directors  
Philip
had originally come to the Colony as a Director of the LMS resident in South Africa, although he described himself as Superintendent. In these early years the Directors were very loyal and used whatever influence they had to support Philip's campaign for civil rights.
 
 
However, after he had travelled to Britain and given evidence before the Aborigines Committee of the parliament "he never again enjoyed either their confidence or their support in any controversial matter" (Ross 1986:8).
 
 
The change that took place in the attitude of the Directors toward him was interpreted by his loyal daughters as the undermining influence of Mr Hankey. His daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, believed that Mr Hankey, "one of the outstanding organisers of the Society, was deliberately attempting to isolate Philip and cut off his support, and, they also believed, that he was using Ellis, the Treasurer, and Freeman as his [unwitting] pawns." (Ross 1986:8).
 
3. Conclusion  
Philip
campaigned to –
"change the structure of British rule for the benefit of the colony's indigenous and slave populations and attempted to affect British policy towards the peoples beyond the colonial frontier" (Ross 1986:78).
 
 
Of his industriousness and his dedication to ideals there can be no doubt, but of his wisdom in the tactics he sometimes employed there remains much more to be understood. He undoubtedly at times left himself open to suspicion of hostile intent from those whose area of interest was affected by his statements or actions.
 
It
is most unfortunate that some of the best and noblest minds of this period in the Cape Colony, such as Moffat and Shaw, should have come to regard him as a controversialist who did more harm than good. This is particularly sad concerning church missions in a civilisation which considered itself 'Christian' and yet understood Christian mission as a purely spiritual/religious function.
A lesson for today.
Philip's
efforts need to be understood in terms of this generally shallow understanding at that time of the essential nature of the Christian Church, and its consequent failure of the Christian Church's responsibility to represent the whole character of God in all things human.
 

5. Bibliography  
1. Gailey, Harry A. (Jr) 1981  History of Africa, Vol.II. From 1800 to present. New York, USA: Robert E Krieger Publishing
2. Hofmeyr, JW & Pillay, GI 1994  A History of Christianity in South Africa. Pretoria, South Africa: HAUM Tertiary.
3. Kendall, Elliott 1978  The End of an Era, Africa and the Missionary. London: SPCK.
4. Latourette, KS 1975  A History of Christianity, Vol.2. New York, USA: Harper & Row, Publishers.
5. Murray-Brown, Jeremy 1977  Faith and the Flag London, UK: George Allen & Unwin.
6. Philip, John 1828  Researches in South Africa: illustrating the civil moral and religious condition of the Native tribes. New York, USA: Negro University Press.
7. Preller, Gustav 1963  Lobengula Johannesburg, South Africa: Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel.
8. Ross, Andrew 1986  John Philip (1775-1851) Mission Race and Politics in South Africa. Aberdeen, UK: University Press
9. Shaw, Rev. William 1839  A Defence of The Wesleyan Missionaries in Southern Africa comprising copies of correspondence with the Reverend John Philip, DD. London, UK: Original in Van Schaik Collection of Unisa Library (Reprint 1976, The State Library, Pretoria).
•  The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1977 Micropaedia "Congregationalists" Chicago, USA: Britannica.
•  GJ Potgieter (ed. in chief) 1970-1976 Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Vol. 7 & 8 Pretoria, South Africa: Nasou Ltd.
•  Cameron, Trewhella (Gen.Ed) 1991 A New Illustrated History of South Africa Johannesburg, South Africa: Southern Book Publishers.
•  De Kock, WJ (ed. in chief) 1976 Dictionary of South African Biography, Vol.1, "Philip, John" Cape Town, South Africa: Human Sciences Research Council.
•  Philip Papers of the London Missionary Society in the MSS Collection, MSE 14, 17 (Fiche 595-627) South African Library, Cape Town.
•  Pamphlet dated 1841 entitled 'Correspondence between Donald Moodie, Esq., Compiler and Editor of the Cape Record, and the Rev. John Philip, D.D. Author of Researches in South Africa, relative to the production of alleged 'official authority' for the statement that 'in the year 1774 the whole race of Bushmen or Hottentots who had not submitted to servitude was ordered to be seized or extirpated.' Published Cape Town: A.S. Robertson; London: J.M. Richardson, in the South African Library, Cape Town.
•  Pamphlet undated entitled 'Authentic copies of a correspondence which took place in consequence of a statement made at the General Annual Meeting of the "Society for the Relief of Distressed Settlers", in Cape Town, August 18, 1824, reflecting on the Conduct and Character of the Landdrost of Albany.' Cape Town: W. Bridekirk, Junior. In the South African Library, Cape Town (Reference No. G.16c76).

Church Meeting Dynamics Gifts of the Spirit Structure of Church Ministry Church Leadership


Return to Church Life Issues menu
Copyright © Lloyd Thomas 2010-2016. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
Feel free to copy, as long as this full copyright notice is included.

FOR A ROUGH TRANSLATION SIMPLY SELECT A LANGUAGE