HomePage Hauge BoatBuilding Norway DeboraFamilies DeboraStory Archives

NORWEGIAN EMIGRATION - THE DEBORA EXPEDITION

A Norwegian Colonisation Undertaking


SUMMARY

The Debora Expedition sailed from Bergen in 1879 to establish a Norwegian colony on an Indian Ocean atoll called Aldabra. The organisers endeavoured to find practical and Christian people to create a settlement based on the teachings of the Norwegian preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771 -1824). The expedition was aborted in Madagascar - a few of the participants remained in Madagascar and the rest settled in the British colony of Port Natal (Durban). They were the first group of Norwegian emigrants to settle in Port Natal.

The forty-seven persons who took part in the Debora Expedition were:- Captain Tobiassen and wife, mate Berentsen and wife, mate Oftedal, A Olsen and wife, I Iversen and wife, O Heidalsvig and wife (Høidalsvig), J Finsen and wife, K Bang and wife with three children (Amanda, Severin and Knut), F Larsen and wife with six children (Angel, Emil, Sigvart, the three sons of the late Sivert Andersen Hordnes, and Petra, Ludvig and Karl), H Johnsen and wife with three children (Sina, Josefine and Karl), A Andreassen and wife with three children (I don't remember their names), R Andersen, R Rasmussen, K Jensen, Hesselberg, Grang, O Fosdal, E Eriksen, P Bang, E Ellingsen, widow Egelandsdal and Miss Serene Larsen. Two children were born on the voyage: a son to Mr and Mrs F Larsen and a son to Mr and Mrs Andreassen.

Further information is now loading and follows this text - Please wait
PAGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION


Christadelphians - The Scandinavian Connection

(Extracted from paper by Robin Lamplough - Kearsney College (031-765-2433)

GROWTH OF THE DURBAN ECCLESIA. What, meanwhile, of the Truth in the rest of Natal? By 1891, Robert Elliott had left Durban for Pietermaritzburg, where the ecclesia continued to meet regularly, although several families had moved to other parts. Greytown especially had been hard hit by the migrations, and eventually Sis. Aslett had been left there alone. One can imagine her joy when, in 1892, her daughter, a Mrs MacDonald, was baptized, after a long wait for the visit of one of the brethren.

BACK TO DURBAN. About this time David Jacobson returned to Durban from Barberton. Bro. And Sis. Simms had been there since 1880 and Sis. McIntosh from a more recent date but it seems that they did not meet together and at first Jacobson did not appear to be aware of the existence of other Christadelphians in the town. Soon after his return Jacobson met a Methodist of middle age, James Archibald, who for some time had had reservations about certain Church practices and doctrines. Eagerly Archibald read everything Jacobson could lend him and in October, 1892, he was baptized. Even this, however, did not mean regular fellowship for either man, because Archibald lived on a farm at Claremont, to the south of Durban.

GOSPEL PR0CLAMATION. Then, in 1893, Bro. Jacobson came in touch with Bro. And Sis. Simms and not long after that, as a result of overhearing her conversation on a tramcar, with Sis. McIntosh. The small ecclesia met regularly for the breaking of bread and Jaconson began to feel the need for a preaching effort. He bemoaned the fact that their opportunities were so limited, but recognized that God would open a door for them at the right time. About the middle of 1893 Jacobson began open-air addresses outside the Town Hall (the present Post Office). On the second of these occasions there was one interested stranger present, as well as Bro. Simms and ''some careless young men''. One has the impression that Bro. Simms viewed this form of proclamation with some misgiving and that it was Jacobson's enthusiasm which was the force behind the campaign. Nevertheless, when Bro. Thos. Rees passed through Durban on his way to Gazaland in Portuguese East Africa, he found the brethren ''in good health in mind and body''. Certainly it was not long before the door for which Jacobson had prayed was opened to great effect.

THE SCANDINAVIAN CONNECTION. Since his baptism in 1888, Jacobson had been anxious to take the gospel to his ''devout but deluded'' countrymen. At last an opportunity was presented. There was in Natal a fairly large Scandinavian community, most of them since the first organized immigration from that country in 1882, of Norwegian stock. Among these people was a group calling themselves ''Free Christians'', who had for various reasons left their respective churches and who met in a small chapel in Durban. Very highly thought of among them was a Norwegian missionary, the Rev. Olaf Wettergreen (Wettergren), who ran a mission station at Ekutandaneni, near Empangeni in Zululand. Whenever Wettergreen had the opportunity he would come to Durban to minister to the needs of the Free Christians. Wettergreen himself had come to understand the significance of baptism and had baptized several of the Free Christians.

It was with members of this community that Bro. Jacobson came into contact, perhaps as early as 1892. To a young man named Thorvald Thorvaldsen he lent several Christadelphian works, including Christendom Astray and Eureka. Thorvaldsen had already, as a result of his own studies, learned what he later called ''some of the great truth of the gospel'' but these books led to what Thorvaldsen described as ''a perfect revolution'' among the Free Christians. When next the Rev. Wettergreen came to town he was appealed to by members of the congregation to arbitrate in the resultant quarrels. Imagine the reaction when he publicly sided with the "heretics". Some of these, according to Thorvaldsen's later account, accepted the Truth but did not wish to be associated with the Christadelphians. These men were baptized by Wettergreen before he returned to Zululand but he had lost his popularity with the Free Christians.

(Note: There were a number of Norwegian ''Free Christians'' amongst the members of the 1879 Debora Expedition - some, including members of the Larsen family, become Christadelphians.)

SEVERAL BAPTISMS. At the beginning of February, 1884, Thorvald Thorvaldsen and another former Free Christian, Emil Larsen, a photographer, were baptized by the brethren, of the Durban Ecclesia, after which the group repaired to Bro. Archibald's farm. Bro. Jacobson was delighted with these developments and full of hope for further baptisms. Unaccountably, however, he departed for Johannesburg a few months later. About the same time the Rev. Olaf Wettergreen found himself in trouble with the missionary society which had sent him to South Africa. Eventually he was given the choice of preaching orthodox doctrine or leaving his mission station. He chose to resign and came to Durban, where in June 1894, he was baptized at a service conducted by Thorvaldsen. At the same time two young Durban men were also immersed: one was a Bro. Brown, the other Ludwig Johnsen, to whom Wettergreen was related.

Wettergreen's baptism by Thorvaldsen provided their former friends with a source of great amusement, because Wettergreen had baptized Thorvandsen as a Free Christian some three years previously. They had insisted on labelling the brethren ''Filidelphians and recounted how: ''the parson first baptized him and then he baptized the parson.''

Two more of the Free Christians, nevertheless, joined the ''Filadephians'' at the time. This influx of Norwegians was to have a profound influence on the subsequent development of the Durban ecclesia, as well as further afield.

PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL IN THE EASTERN CAPE. During the late 1880's the Eastern Cape continued to be the main area in South Africa for the activities of the Truth. In August, 1888, the Tarkastad ecclesia began meeting in the Town Hall. On Sunday evenings they presented lectures, the first being ''The Keys of Hell'', to which several visitors came. Who the speaker was is not clear, but it may have been Bro. Alston, formerly of the Salvation Army. Whoever it was, he did not feel capable of delivering his own address, because the lecture was read. Bro. Alston, reporting this development wrote: ''We intend to keep these meetings on and doing our duty, and leave the rest to God.''

How long the effort continued in fact, we do not know, but the next report from Tarkastad four years later reported two baptisms and it seems that the Sunday lecture was a regular feature of the ecclesia's proclamation. Soon after this, however, Bro. Alston was compelled for business reasons to move to Queenstown.

KING WILLIAM'S TOWN. Meanwhile, Bro. And Sis. Todd, at Keiskammahoek, continued to cast their bread upon the waters with little apparent result. By the beginning 1889, however, a Bro. And Sis. Lowe had emigrated from England to King William's Town and the Todds were able to meet with them from time to time. Sis. Todd writes of the King William's Town ecclesia's numbering four but she does not make it clear whether she and her husband were included in that total.

QUEENSTOWN. At this time the ecclesia at Queenstown was slightly larger than that at King William's Town. In 1888 Bro. Gibson announced the baptism of Ernest Young, whose wife Mary was baptized four years later. But the inspiration division continued to work its mischief and Queenstown was affected, although to what extent did not become immediately clear. Then, in 1895, Bro. Harper, formerly recording brother of the Warrington ecclesia, arrived in Queenstown with his wife. From that time the ecclesia held regular Sunday lectures. Soon afterwards, however, a division occurred over inspiration and the Harpers, the Gibsons, and Bro. Alston withdrew in defence of total inspiration.

CRADOCK & DORDRECHT. By this time there were another two small ecclesias in existence in the Cape Colony. In the middle of 1890, a Bro. Nicholas Russell had left Scotland to take up employment as a railwayman at Cradock. Here he met with Bro. And Sis. Clapham (later members of the Cape Town ecclesia) and early the following year he reported the baptism of a fellow railwayman, by the name of Bedford. About this time also Bro. Alston left Queenstown and settled at Dordrecht. He was accompanied by three friends who had been attending the lectures in Queenstown and for their benefit he continued to hold classes for Bible study. In 1896 all three were baptized and the Dordrecht ecclesia was duly constituted.

RICHMOND. While all these things were going on, Bro. And Sis. Havenga continued at Richmond as they had done since 1881. Bro. Havenga described their situation in these feeling words: ''Alone in the midst of a howling wilderness, with most dreadful storms to contend with from our enemies.''

They felt their isolation keenly greatly looking forward each month to the arrival of the Christadelphian. In 1892 Bro. Havenga appealed through the Editor for a list of the addresses of brethren and sisters in South Africa, so that they might correspond and perhaps share fellowship together, but nothing appears to have come of the suggestion at this stage.

HIGHLIGHTS ONLY. What becomes very clear from trying to piece together the entries in the magazine is that they tell only a small part of the whole story. Only the highlights, after all, the baptisms, the deaths, the divisions, were reported. For the rest, the daily demands of discipleship and the ordinary events of ecclesial life, went unrecorded. Very often, no doubt, important developments took place which never found their way into print, for want of time of a ''ready writer''. But, although the record is incomplete, sufficient is told to enable us to form a general picture of the work of the brethren and sisters of a century ago and to take courage from it.

CONSOLIDATION OF THE DURBAN ECCLESIA. In the middle 1890's the Durban ecclesia entered upon a period of considerable growth. By the end of 1894 the brethren there had obtained ''a suitable room'' in which to meet. It was the supper soom of the Masonic Hall in Smith Street, now demolished. After the first Sunday of its use, Bro. Charles Simms was constrained to write that it had been ''the first Sunday for fourteen years that Sis. Simms and I have had what can be compared to a Sunday in the old country.''

By this time Olaf Wettergreen, the former missionary to the Zulus, who had been unable to find work in Durban, had moved to a small farm outside Pietermaritzburg, but this, in the event, proved unsuccessful also. On November 1, 1894, Thorvald Thorvaldsen's wife was baptized. (Note: Petra Larsen married Thorvald Elling Thorvaldsen on the 31st of December 1882 in the presence of Olaf Wettergreen - Petra was a descendant of the Debora Expedition. Thorvald Elling Thorvaldsen was born on the 21st of August 1864 at Strengereid, Halt. Norway)

PROCLAMATION. Not surprisingly, a permanent venue and a baptism led to renewed efforts in the field of proclamation. After a week of advertising on the these ''Who are the Christadelphians?'', Bro. Simms began a series of what was planned as twenty-five weekly lectures on the first principles of the Truth. The Natal Mercury of 31 October, 1894, and the Natal Advertiser (forerunner of the Daily News) carried notices of ''Opening Services of the Christadelphians''. On Saturday, November 3rd, a long article either written by one of the brethren or based very closely upon a document provided by them, appeared just a few columns away from a church notice entitled ''Meetings for Believers'' in which details of the weekly services were given.

The first lectures, on Sunday, November 4th, were fairly well attended and were reported in both papers later. The Advertiser's reporter concluded that ''neither the texts quoted nor the arguments put forward'' to support the theory advanced by the speaker that the Kingdom of God was ''a literal order of things to be established on this earth'' carried much conviction to those ''accustomed to teaching of a different stamp''. But, according to the reports of the brethren, the minister of a ''fashionable congregation church'', the Rev. Mr Tucker, undertook an address on ''Christadelphianism'', which provided some useful additional publicity. As a result of this campaign, a young man named Frank Staniland was baptized later in the month. He was to prove a useful acquisition to the ecclesia.

SCANDINAVIAN COMMUNITY. From about this time the Durban brethren made a special drive to carry the Truth to the Scandinavian community. The ranks of the Free Christians had been depleted by the defection of a number of their number to the Durban ecclesia and, according to Thorvald Thorvandsen, there was only one man of note left among them. This was another former missionary to the Zulus, Otto Witt (almost certainly the same man who had been in charge of the station at Rorke's Drift at the start of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Thorvaldsen claims that Witt had been expelled from the Lutheran Church because he had been baptized by Olaf Wettergreen.

Witt had apparently been in touch with Wettergreen since the latter had become a Christadelphian and they had discovered that in many respects they were in total agreement. Witt had lectured on Biblical topics in Norway and Sweden and had a small following in each of those countries. This led the Scandinavian brethren in Durban to conceive the notion of capitalizing on this interest by sending a mission to their homelands, but this must be the subject of a later article. In the meantime, they did what they could in Durban. A big meeting aimed at the Scandinavian community was held at the Seaman's Institute late in 1895 and the speaker was Olaf Wettergreen, by this time back from the unsuccessful farming venture near Pietermaritzburg. The lecture provoked a hot response from the Rev. Stavem, incumbent of the Scandinavian Lutheran Church in Winder Street and the brethren had high hopes of arranging a debate with him. This does not appear to have come to fruition but several other talks were held for the Scandinavians.

Apart from this special effort, the ecclesia continued with its weekly lectures, the load being shared by Brethren Simms, Wettergreen and Staniland. Whether the proposed series by Bro. Simms had been completed or abandoned we do not know, but in June, 1895, a young man named Horace Cookson who had been attending the lectures, was baptized. By this time the general public response had long since died and the financial burden of hiring the hall was heavy.

Despite suggestions that they should give up the Masonic venue, however, the brethren persevered and they were encouraged when three more baptisms occurred on November 1st, 1895. Because it was a public holiday, practically the whole ecclesia repaired to Claremont and spent the day on Bro. Archibald's farm. There were addresses by Brethren Staniland and Simms in the morning and the baptisms took place in the afternoon. Not long after this occasion, Mrs Archiblad accepted the Truth.

AND A WEDDING. On December 25th 1895, Ada, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Bro. And Sis. Simms was baptized and in September the following year she was married to Bro. Horace Cookson. As ''Grannie'' Cookson she was to be known to generations of later Christadelphians all over South Africa until her death early in 1981. By 1896 the Durban ecclesia was the largest in the country numbering about twenty. The ecclesia held what was recorded as its ''first social tea meeting'' on the evening of Saturday, July 4th, 1896. Things had come a long way since Solomon Boyley had come to Durban twenty years before.

MORE ABOUT DURBAN. Although there were several small ecclesias in different parts of Natal and of the Cape, the main activity in the later 1890's (as reported to the Christadelphian, at any rate) appears to have been in Durban. For several years the Durban ecclesia continued, with minor fluctuations, about 20 strong. Sometimes the ecclesia was visited by seafaring brethren whose occupation brought them to the port. One such was a Bro. White, of Portsmouth, bound for Zanzibar on H.M.S. Fox. What a brother was doing on a vessel of the Royal Navy is not clear, but may have a perfectly innocent explanation. Another visitor was a Bro. Stonehouse, master of the s.s. Westmeath, who with his wife spent nearly a month in Durban in 1896.

IMPRESSIONS. Sis. Stonehouse, in a letter home, described their impressions in these words: ''We found much pleasure and edification in our visit to the ecclesia of Port Natal, South Africa, as we had not expected to find a meeting so near to our destination… The ecclesia is composed of about 22 members, with its English, Scotch, and Norwegian elements, and its foundation is mainly due to the faithful and long-continued efforts of a brother from England (Bro. Charles Simms) who through many years of isolation are now gladdened by the company of those who have met with the truth through their faithful adherence and labours. Africa is yet to be opened out to a great extent, but there, in the pleasant town of Durban, we met with the hearty servants of Deity, in the midst of much darkness and superstition on the part of the natives, and the polite indifference of the more enlightened human element.''

A little while later, as if to emphasize the true nature of things in the colony, Bro H Cookson reported preparations on the part of the colonists to resist the landing of a party of Indians, and linked this with the general instability in the world which was a notable sign of the times. How different the pleasure of the brethren and sisters of Durban to welcome the members of the Laffnie family at a social on New Year's Day, 1897, when these Afrikaans brethren, and sisters visited Durban from the southern Transvaal. And, a little while later, Bro. Sigward (Sigvart) Larsen married a Sister (Mary Ann) Edwards, who had travelled out to Natal on the SS Trojan, as what the world would call a ‘mail order bride'. Truly the bonds of the Truth are remarkable. ( Sigvart Larsen wrote to Robert Robert asking for a Christadelphian bride and Mary Ann Edwards was introduced to him)

FOR THE SCANDINAVIANS. The Scandinavian brethren meanwhile, were still anxious to carry the gospel to their fellow countrymen. There is a reference in the magazine of August 1895 to ''the Scandinavian proposal'' which had been put forward by Bro. Thorvaldsen but what this was it has not been possible to determine. It may have been linked in some way to a letter which had appeared a few months earlier: ''I presume you will be surprised to receive a letter from this country and from a man you do not know. I know you well through the many books you have written which I have read and am still reading. I find that there is within their pages the only true doctrine of the Bible. I am sorry I have not any books that I can have my friends read, on account of the language. I have thought I would translate some of your works into the Norwegian language, but before I commence I should like to have your advice in this matter.''

The writer was a young man of twenty-five who had emigrated to America and who was at the time of writing the letter on a visit to his homeland. He too was very anxious to carry the Word to his countrymen.

Whether or not there was any connection between these letters, Bro. Ludwig Johnsen, early in 1897, made a visit to Norway with the intention of proclaiming the gospel there. This proved to be the first of several such visits over a period of time and the end result was the establishment of an ecclesia in Bergen. According to material discovered by Bro. Alan Eyre (see The Protesters, p. 187), Bro. Johnsen must have taken with him on some of the later visits Bro. Olaf Wettergreen, who gave a series of addresses in different parts of the country.

DISPERSAL FROM DURBAN. By the end of 1897 several changes had come to the Durban ecclesia. The Fishers had moved down from Zululand but within a short while of this move Bro. Fisher had died. Bro. And Sis. Foot, after some years at the port, had moved to Charlestown on the Transvaal border, and the young Cooksons had made their home in Bellair, then a separate town up the main line to Pietermaritzburg, where they were later joined by Bro. And Sis. Simms. These losses had brought the ecclesia down to half its former strength and the remaining brethren decided to leave the Masonic Hall for smaller premises. They found a room attached to the Philharmonic Hall in West Street but within a very short while the building was sold and they had to return to the original venue in Smith Street. Throughout these vicissitudes, however, their proclamation of the gospel continued. The Weekly Sunday lecture was supplemented by a special weeknight address for the Scandinavians and occasional discussions with members of the Scandinavian Free Mission. In Bellair, meanwhile, Bro. Simms had found a suitable hall and was himself holding lectures from time to time. The result of the dispersal, therefore, was (as it so frequently is) that the gospel was proclaimed in places which otherwise would have been left without light.

While these things were happening, however, political conditions in South Africa were fast deteriorating. Since 1895 relations between Britain and Kruger's South African Republic had grown steadily worst and both sides were preparing for war. It was a conflict which would put some at least of the South African brethren to the test.

WARS AND RUMOURS. By 1900 there were small ecclesias in Natal and in the Eastern Cape, as well as the little ecclesia at Laffnie's Drift on the Border of Paul Kruger's South African Republic. There may even have been one (although there is no direct record of it) in Johannesburg, the new mining town which had grown up since the discovery of the Witwatersrand goldfields in 1886. But Laffnie's Drift had been cut off, in 1897, from the brethren on the Natal side of the frontier, by a fence erected to prevent the spread of rinderpest, the cattle disease which was devastating the Transvaal. It was a portent of things to come.

SOUTH AFRICAN WAR. Relations between the governments of the Transvaal and Britain had been steadily deteriorating since 1895. From that time, both sides had been making preparation for war and, in 1899, war had come. Boer forces from the Transvaal and from the Orange Free State had invaded Natal and the northern Cape, and laid siege to Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. It was the start of a conflict which was to last three years and to put some of the South African brethren in a variety of ways to the test. But it was also to demonstrate the wonderful providence of the God of Elisha, whose angels encamp about those who fear Him.

In January, 1900, Bro. Staniland reported from Durban: War is now the only subject of interest here. Although the town is full of ‘refugees' we do not get any better attendance at our meetings; yet we continue to do our best and hold out the word of life. It appears to us that Natal is so excited over this war that the minds of the peple are not in a fit state to receive the Truth.

OTHER PROBLEMS. But the reluctance of the outsider to heed the gospel message was nothing new. There were other, more pressing, anzieties. Bro. and Sis. Sigward (Sigvart) Larsen, for example, had recently settled in the Transvaal town of Vryheid, where, according to family tradition, he pursued his trade as a photographer. Nothing had been heard of the Larsens since the outbreak of hostilities. The brethren feared that Bro. Larsen had been forced to join the Boer forces. (DVL Note: The indentical twin brothers Sigvart and Emil Larsen (born Sivertsen) were both photographers. Later Sigvart Larsen and family moved to Charelstown and Emil Larsen and family moved to Vryheid. Over the years 'Larsen Brothers' had studios in Durban, Vryheid and Dundee) They feared also for the Boer brother, D R C Laffnie, especially after a report began circulating that he had been wounded in a skirmish with the British. And Bro. Ayson was in Ladysmith, trapped by the Boers in the siege. Probably the worst aspect was the uncertainty, as the conflict progressed and no news came.

At home in Durban there was another difficulty. When the war started, many English-speaking people had left Johannesburg for Natal. Among these was a number of brethren, not identified in the record, but holding, apparently, the doctrine of partial inspiration. This led to conflict with the Durban brethren. Writing early in 1900, Thorvald Thorvaldsen noted that there had been those in Durban who had doubted the wisdom of separating on the inspiration issue. The influx from the north had changed their views. They had come to realise that one departure from the truth led in due course to others and they were glad that the Durban ecclesia had taken so firm a stand in the initial dispute.

Just who these brethren from the Transvaal were is not clear. Frank Staniland, writing in August, 1900, noted that there were about twenty of them in Durban at that time, yet, apart from Laffnie's Drift, there is no record of an ecclesia in the republic until some time later. Staniland observed further that the newcomers did not attend the meetings of the Durban ecclesia. If they had received a frosty reception on account of their position on inspiration, this is not perhaps surprising, but they did not apparently hold meetings of their own either. Staniland's report ends on a dispirited note: ''This was appears to have had a disastrous effect on the brethren in South Africa, spiritually as well as financially.''

YET PROVIDENTIAL CARE. In spite of these unhappy developments, however, the hand of God was clearly at work, protecting those in need. Reports began to reach the brethren of events in the interior: the Larsens were well and unmolested in Vryheid; Bro. Laffnie, as the war began, had been taken violently ill, so that the question of his rendering military service had not even arisen; eventually Ladysmith had been relieved and Bro. Ayson had been enabled to leave, in poor health it is true, but safe at last. At the end of the year the Larsens returned to Durban. Of Bro. Laffnie's daughter and son-in-law, however, living further away in the republic, no word had yet been received.

From this point on, if reports from Durban are to be regarded as representative, the war seems to have made little impression real on the lives of the brethren. In Durban, several families suffered the loss of young children, which suggests that there may have been some kind of epidemic in the town. But otherwise, life apparently went on as before. The traditional ecclesial picnic on May 24th (it was to become Empire Day from 1902) was held in 1900 as usual and in the course of the next twelve months several baptisms were reported. Bro. Charles Simms summed it all up when he wrote, in August, 1901, ''the war now being waged in South Africa has not affected this ecclesia to the extent that might have been expected.''

It is, of course, true that our records are, at best, incomplete, and cannot give us the full picture. Even taking that into account, however, it is remarkable just how little the brethren were affected by the war. Even more remarkable is the way in which even those in the sensitive areas were so marvellously cared for. South Africa appears to be entering another period of violent conflict. We need to ponder the lessons of what has gone before and take courage from them. As the old hymn has it:
''God never yet forsook in need The man that trusted Him indeed.''

A MISSIONARY TO MASHONALAND. Looking back at the spread of the Truth in South Africa during the late 19th century, one is struck by the total absence of news from the Orange Free State. Bro. D J C Laffnie was said to be as well known in that republic as in his own, so that presumably his defection from the Dutch Reformed Church occasioned some comment west of the Drakensberg, but apart from that there is no evidence that the Boers of the Free State were even aware of the existence of Christadelphians. Perhaps the insularity of the Free Staters, proverbial even today, provided no ground for the seed to germinate. Yet in spite of this, some of them were ''called according to His purpose''. Their conversion came about in a truly remarkable way.

CECIL RHODES. About 1890, the attention of many people in Southern Africa was concentrated on the region north of the Limpopo. In that year Cecil Rhodes had sent a column of pioneers to occupy lMashonaland, the first step in creating what was later to become Rhodesia. This move opened up other parts of the territory to white settlement and at the end of 1892 a Scot named Thomas Moodie led a party of some thirty Boer families from Bethlehem in the Free State to the eastern highlands which lay between Mashonaland and Portuguese East Africa. There, with a handful of survivors after an arduous trek, he had established a settlement known as Melsetter, after his ancestral home in the Orkney Islands. Later these original settlers were joined by other Boer families from the Orange Free State.

PREACHING THE GOSPEL. To this area within a couple of years came none other than Bro. James Markham, the one-time Methodist preacher who had encountered the Truth in Greytown and who had introduced it to Bro. D J C Laffnie. Towards the end of 1893, Bro. Markham and Bro. Rees had left Natal to explore the possibilities of Gazaland, as the Portuguese province in that region was called. The next news from Bro. Markham appeared early in 1900. He had by then moved west to the Melsetter district, arriving there probably about 1895. He had travelled about the area, visiting the isolated farms and leaving copies of the Declaration.

In the middle of 1899 he had made another visit to some of his contacts, having ''made it a matter of earnest request that the Lord

Pages 22 to 26 not included in this narrative.

The work of the Truth in Natal in the years before Union seems to have followed a similar pattern to that in other parts of the country, with small congregations and fluctuating fortunes.

DIVIDED PIETERMARITZBURG. In Pietermaritzburg, the first baptism for several years occurred in November, 1905, with the immersion of Mrs Eunice Paton. Sis. Paton was to remain a member of the Pietermaritzburg ecclesia almost until her death sixty years later. Then, only months after the baptism, a couple by the name of Hawkins accepted the Truth also. But this good news is somewhat offset by the realisation that there were still divisions in the capital. A letter from Solomon Boyley, by then living at Prestbury, reveals that he and Bro. Vaubell had separated themselves on the subject of responsibility. He reported a visit to Durban in December, 1905, to see if the brethren there preached true doctrine, and had hard words to say about the ''sleepy meeting'' which he had helped to found a quarter of a century earlier.

This state of affairs continued. By the beginning of 1907, Bro. And Sis. Nathan Boyley also had separated themselves from the Pietermaritzburg ecclesia over responsibility and had joined Solomon at Prestbury. A year later Solomon, still refusing to re-join Pietermaritzburg's meeting, had moved to Quee Victoria Memorial House in Retief Street, which may have been some kind of old-age home and Nathan had gone with his family (not for the first time) to Australia. Soon after this, however, he returned alone, only to die suddenly at the age of fifty-one, leaving his wife and children without the means of returning to Natal.

DEVELOPING DURBAN. Meanwhile in Durban the ecclesia had entered upon a new era, having (in a move to carry the gospel to a more densely populated area) built its own hall at Greyville. Family tradition has it that Brethren Johnsen and Staniland were jointly responsible for the financial burden of this venture. A tea meeting was held on August 1, 1906, to mark the opening of the building and Bro. Staniland gave the first lecture there four days later. Very soon after this Bro. Johnsen left on a trip to Norway and Bro. And Sis. Simms, as noted in a previous article, moved briefly to Johannesburg. In the next few years there were several baptisms, testimony no doubt to the regular weekly lectures delivered in Greyville.

MISSIONARIES IN NORWAY. Ludwig Johnsen was at this time busy with arranging for a translation into Norwegian of Christendom Astray. In the middle of 1908 he was joined by Bro. Olaf Wettergreen for a lecture tour, probably the one described by Bro. Alan Eyre in The Protesters, p.187. Johnsen returned to Durban about a year later.

At this time in South Africa momentous political changes were taking place but, very properly, there is no evidence from the ecclesial reports that the brethren were much concerned about them. In 1908, in the very Town Hall which had been the scene of Bro. Jacobsen's efforts at open-air preaching a quarter of a century before, a meeting of colonial delegates from different parts of South Africa had discussed the possibility of uniting the four states. Eventually the representatives had devised a constitution which came into effect on 31 May, 1910, when the Union of South Africa was officially born. So it was that the brethren resident in the various South African Colonies, long united in their anticipation of a common administration at the return of Christ, came together under one government in the kingdoms of men. At the time its impact was minimal. There were by then at least eight centres throughout South Africa in which, however fitfully, lightstands burned. The time was approaching when the loyalty of their members to the commandments of Christ might be put to the test.


ChristadelphiansCirca1895A.jpg

Christadelphians - Natal : circa 1895





ChristadelphiansCirca1895A.jpg

Christadelphians - Durban, Natal : circa 1895

Back Row : 1-Bro Olaf Wettergreen, 2-Sist N Wilson 3-Bro N Wilson, 4-Bro Emil Larsen, 5-Bro Thorvaldsen, 6-Sist F Foot, 7-Bro F Foot, 8-Bro Archibald, 9-Bro L Johnsen, 10-Bro F Staniland

Steated Second Row : 1-Bro C Simms, 2-Sist C Simms, 3-Sist____, 4-Bro____, 5-Sist Archibald

Front Row : 1-Bro____, 2-Bro____, 3-Sist Petra Thorvaldsen (nee Larsen), 4-Sist____,

Photograph taken at LARSEN BROTHERS studio - West Street Durban
Stamp at the back of the photgraph reads : E JOHNSEN P.O. Box 232, Durban

The names of the "Debora Expedition" descendants are coloured green





ChristadelphiansCirca1895A.jpg

Christadelphians -Lafnie's Drift (De Jager's Drift), Natal : 1895/1896

Back Row : 1 Bro Sigvart Larsen, 2 Bro Milner, 3 Bro E Milner, 4 Bro C Milner, 5 Bro Dogoya Libisi
Front Row : Sis Lafnie, Bro Lafnie, Bro Milner, Sis Milner, Sis van Rooyen
(Note by Angel Sivert Larsen dated 27/3/1963 - eldest son of Sigvart Larsen - gives the source of the above information as "Christadelphian page 140 March 1906".

Christadelphians_1895_1896C

- Back of the above photograph -