Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Friends Industrial Mission Zanzibar

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the ‘Scramble for Africa’ by European countries was in full swing. It revealed many examples of slavery in Africa, long after people thought it had been abolished.   The British Anti-Slavery Society became active again, with much Quaker involvement. Quaker Edmund Sturge served as its secretary and then its chair, for more than twenty years, from 1870 to 1891.

Quaker work came to focus on Zanzibar. It became a British protectorate in 1890: though it continued to be ruled by its Sultan, it was now monitored by a British representative.  Conditions there were extremely challenging. The two main islands – Zanzibar and Pemba - were fertile and lush, but the climate was hot and humid, and tropical fevers were a constant hazard. The main cash crop was cloves, which grows as berries on trees. Harvesting was very labour-intensive, and the plantations were totally dependent on imported slave labour.  The slaves lived in appalling conditions, without any family support, as there was no settled slave population. Many died each year, but were readily replaced by new cohorts of imported slaves.

In 1893, a fact-finding mission began to reveal some of this. Quaker Henry Stanley Newman then wrote a pamphlet  ‘The African Slave Trade and the Way out of It’ and Quaker MP Joseph Pease raised the issue in Parliament. Britain had promised freedom for Zanzibar’s slaves by the end of 1896, so attention focussed on assistance for freed slaves. Quakers knew how important this was from their experience in the Caribbean. They developed plans for an ‘industrial mission’, to provide training and create employment opportunities.

Newman and Theodore Burtt went to Zanzibar early in 1897, to explore what might be possible. The British representative gave them transport, an interpreter and a house in Chaki-Chaki, the main town on Pemba Island. They travelled around the island for a few weeks, seeing something of conditions first hand, and looking for a suitable location for the mission.

Newman took their report back to Britain, where he convinced British Quakers that a mission should be established, and began raising funds. Burtt stayed on, continuing to look for a suitable site, and started a small school. Herbert Armitage soon joined him, and in July the two of them purchased a shamba (a plot of land) at Banani. Later that year a mission boat, the ‘Friend of Pemba’ arrived, with a prefabricated house and other supplies. Burtt’s wife Jessie and Armitage’s sister joined them, and others came over the next few years. Health problems were enormous, several people were taken ill and died, or had to go home, but the mission was established.

Over the next few years, much was achieved. The land was drained and cleared, and farming methods were much improved. A school, a village, and a Meeting House were built. A dispensary was established, teachers were trained, and carpentry training began. Links were made with the new mission at Kaimosi, in Kenya, founded in 1902.  Careful records were kept, and show that Friends had freed over a thousand slaves. A census shows that the village had over 250 residents in 1900. The mission had undoubtedly made a difference.

It took until 1909 to eradicate slavery completely, whereupon a cathedral was built on the site of the old slave market. At that point, some Friends began to question the need for the mission to continue, and funding was difficult: many felt that the original purpose had been fulfilled, and that the mission and its facilities should be taken over by Africans. Others saw much work to be done, and their view prevailed. The mission continued until 1963, with strong support from a number of committed Friends, through two world wars and many political changes. Burtt himself stayed until 1931. Africans did gradually take over the work – the school became a government school, the carpentry training became part of a government technical school, and several Africans worked in the dispensaries, which were still the only real health facility on Pemba.  At independence in 1961, Zanzibar and Tanganyika combined to become Tanzania, and a new era began. The last missionaries left in 1963.

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Further Reading and Credits

Quaker encounters, Vol 3, Whispers of Truth, John Ormerod Greenwood, chapter 5, Sessions of York, 1978.

Image of  Friends Industrial Mission, Pemba from © The National Archive UK CO1069-181-7.  May not be used for commercial purposes.