NORWEGIAN EMIGRATION - THE DEBORA EXPEDITION
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 - Heidalewig), 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.
Misjonæren is the name of the publication. Evangelisk kristeligt
To-day we're introducing to our readers a family which is known and respected in wide circles both in the homelands and down here in South Africa, and they are the old veterans Daniel Nielson (sic) and his wife, who in these last days have celebrated their Golden Wedding in their dear old home in Natal, surrounded by a large crowd of children and grandchildren, missionaries and friends, of whom many have come from afar.
Now the festivities are over and one by one they are leaving; but before I say Good-bye and depart, I'm taking a few hours' quiet to write down briefly a bit about the life of these veterans.
I call them veterans, and rightly so; for they have gone through struggles, toil and difficulties out here, like few persons, and what is more, - come through them well.-
"Praise God, the Lord be praised," they always add, when they tell of their earlier toil. They're both good at telling and willing to relate, and for my part I have often listened with interest to them. But now the point is to make a suitable summary for our readers.
Daniel Nielson and wife Caroline, born Paulsen, spent their first married years in Bergen. At that time the late Bishop Schröder (sic) was the leader of the Zulu Mission and had already three or four stations in Zululand.
In those days Zululand wasn't open to Europeans, it was only the missionaries who had permission from the Zulu kings Umpande (sic) and later Cetewaya (sic) to stay in the country.
Bishop Schröder had much to take care of, and he needed help from home. Daniel Nielson and wife applied, they were accepted and left Bergen in the year 1960. The journey went by steamer to England first, thereafter by sailing-ship to Natal. Steamers didn't cross the great oceans like now, and the journey from England took 92 days.
They suffered much hardship both through seasickness and hunger and many kinds of inconveniences.
Nielson was a young and strong man with exceptional willpower, when he had decided on a course of action, it had to proceed, and not merely proceed, but proceed fast. He couldn't bear waiting or doing anything protractedly. His wife Caroline was very different from him. She was a frail and slender person, but tough and persevering, and as far as willpower was concerned she yielded nothing to her husband, but merely in another way. He would set off forcibly, she followed surely but slowly.
A lady fellow-passenger said to her one day: "I can't conceive what you intend doing in Africa, you who are so weak through and through and besides have two small children to bring up."
"True enough," she replied; "but nor am I going out to do great things. My husband is going out to help Bishop Schröder, my place is at my husband's side, I shall cook and care for him and my children."
That lady who spoke like that, lived just a few years, while Caroline Nielson still stands at her husband's side.
Arrived in Durban they were shown to a half-finished shed or packhouse with two and a half walls. Here they were supposed to find shelter and rest after the long and strenuous voyage. They had to look after themselves, buy food and cook it. Durban at that time was at its beginning, there were no proper streets, one had to tramp one's way through sand.
At long last the ox-wagon was ready, which was to take our friends further. If the voyage was difficult, the overland journey was no less so, except for this difference, that they were spared sea-sickness. Here were ten people packed together on one ox-wagon for about fourteen days. We who know ox-wagon travel know what that means. One has to cook and bake, wash clothes, repair, unpack and pack again every time one stops, and every evening it's a mammoth task to find a sleeping-place for the night. In any view, it's not a pleasure trip, that we know from experience.
The destination was Entumeni mission station. Here our friends were lodged in a little mud hut under thatch, with occasion to eat and stay in the school-house for the blacks by day. They were glad and thankful to God at having arrived safely and at having a roof over their heads.
But now they faced another hard struggle. There was a famine in the land, and they had little food. The bishop asked if they hadn't bought provisions in Durban but they didn't know local conditions, and no one had said anything to them about it, besides they were short of money, and the imported victuals were expensive. They thought there'd be food to be had inland, and most of the food they carried with them was eaten on the long ox-wagon journey. Such a famine they've never experienced again, they only just survived it.
Nielson had plenty to do building houses for the mission, together with schools and churches. He had to procure the materials himself from the forests and grass for roofs from the fields, the only things that were bought were nails, as well as glass for windows. Here Nielson often faced great trials. We who know the natives, know what it means to work with such help. For a person who wants to make quick progress and can't accept taking it easy, it's very real suffering. The natives didn't know how to use any tools, and when they had to use a saw, as like as not they broke it. Neither have they any drive. Besides, the bishop often came and interfered in the work, and he didn't know much about such things, nor did he have the strength to do it. But Nielson knew how to speak up. "The Bishop can work with the Word, then I'll work with the table," was his reply. (Word and table rhyme in Norwegian. I.G.) There were many "bauter" between these two, before they learned to understand each other, but the bishop respected his brave assistant, and they worked together for eight years, part of the time at Entumeni, part of it on other stations.
During these years his wife had to pass through a difficult school. They had little money, often food shortages, the number of children grew, and death made inroads in the family. Three of the little ones died, and often she herself was very ill and without help. Finally she herself became so run down and overworked that it looked as though she would die, and indeed Nielson verily thought that death had arrived. She lay cold and stiff without moving. He tested with a mirror in front of her mouth, but could find no sign of breath, no pulse, and there were all the signs of death. -
In his need Nielson sent word to the bishop for help; for there was not a chance of getting help from the blacks in such circumstances. They feared death so much that they dared not come anywhere near his dwelling. While Nielson waited for help and made preparations for the funeral, which out here usually takes place the same day, he went continually back and forth to his beloved spouse, he couldn't accept the thought that she was truly dead. He examined her again and again and at last discovered a warm spot on the right side of the chest. He took courage and tried various things, among others he laid a large Spanish fly (mustard plaster) on the chest, and on the neck and on each leg. When the one on the chest had drawn a big blister, he cut it off, saw there was only red flesh, and thereafter laid a strong soap plaster on the sore. When this had drawn and burnt for a time, she began to breath and move, and finally she opened her mouth and said: "The house is burning, quench the fire."
Yes, it could certainly feel like a fire to have such treatment with Spanish fly and soap plaster. When the help from the bishop arrived for her funeral, she had regained consciousness, but was extremely weak and in great pain from the Spanish fly and the soap plaster on the open sore. Her life hung as from a thread, but by God's power she came through it.
Many an interesting story could be told from the life of these our friends, they were very extraordinary each in his own way, neither of them followed the beaten track, but space precludes.
In due course most of the buildings on the mission stations were completed with dwellings, churches, schools and furniture, and then it was time that our friends looked around for something else. They remained still in Zululand and tried various things, especially cattle and agriculture. He strove and worked in his way and she filled her place with great diligence, patience, contentment and rare perseverance, while the family of children grew, one daughter coming after the other.
After about 15 years' struggle in Zululand, they moved down to Natal, where Nielson bought a farm near the sea, and there they built a little cosy home, where they have lived ever since. (This would mean that Entembeni was purchased in l875 or '76. I.G.) There they did like the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings chapter 4, who fitted up a room with bed chair and table for the prophet. Our friends prepared two small rooms so that they could have the missionaries, when they came past on their laborious travels by ox-wagon, as well as other travellers. During the Zulu War they entertained several of the missionaries, who at that time had to flee from Zululand to Natal. The hard life with its many inconveniences had taught them a lesson, which they didn't easily forget.
I for my part have several times had occasion to derive good from the hospitality of these friends, as well as rest in one of these little pilgrim rooms. When we 18 years ago arrived in Africa, they helped us with one thing and another, and several times they sent us help in the form of provisions. And as they have done for us, they have done for many other missionaries.
Of the family of 10 children (all girls) there were at that time only three left in the home, three had died and four were married. Daniel Nielson did as we read in the Bible, he feared God with his whole house. Early in the morning at sunrise the whole family gathered for morning devotions with prayer, a hymn and a reading, and in the evening they closed the day in the same way, and the daughters contributed songs and instrumental music. They were fine young girls who were brought up to diligence and contentment and had, like their parents - the urge to do something for the Lord. When I first got to know them, I thought immediately: They must become missionaries. They loved God and their Saviour and from their youth they were used to having intercourse with the natives, understood their customs and morals and could speak their language.
All three are now working in the Lord's vineyard out here. One is married to the missionary Bang on Glendale mission station. The second is married to the missionary Johanson (in the Swedish Holiness Union), and they have for the present their mission station on Daniel Nielson's farm. The youngest is married to the missionary Wilson (English mission), and they are in British East Africa. These daughters are clever, straightforward and diligent missionaries. The other daughters out here are also believers and have god-fearing husbands, and all are intereted in the mission and God's cause. Their eldest daughter is married and living in America. How dearly she would have loved to be with her dear ones on such a high holy occasion!
Daniel Nielson and his wife are now old and full of days, they long to depart from here and be with the Lord, when His time comes.
As reported above they have recently celebrated their Golden Wedding surrounded by a large crowd of children and grandchildren, besides a whole lot of friends and missionaries. The missionary Wilson from British east Africa had painted and sent them a lovely wall plaque with the inscription: "At eventime it will be light." Yes, light from on high shines on their path and leads them right into the kingdom of light!
The Nielsons have left the whole fine farm with buildings to the mission (the Swedish Holiness Union) in their will. A decent and practically arranged chapel has been erected for the use of the natives, and the mission is going well. After the service yesterday, Sunday, a large crowd of natives came up to the old people to wish them well on the occasion, and one of them stepped forward and expressed his and his people's thanks for what they had done for them. Had they not come to this place, the people could still have sat in the darkness of heathendom.
This family which 46 years ago set out from Norway as the assistants
of the Zulu missionaries, have remained true to their task. Inspite
of the struggles and toil they have endured, and not only that, but shown
a strong growth both on the temporal and the spititual levels.
A letter from Hilda Munks
A day or two later Ing took out a letter which Hilda Munks, daughter of Lina Theunissen, daughter of Daniel Nielsen, wrote to Ester (Jo) Munro. The first page is missing, so there's no date, but it was presumably written when Ester was compiling the Daniel Nielsen book which appeared in 1960, the centenary of the Nielsens' arrival in Durban. I quote it verbatim from the first page I have:
(The beginning of the sentence is missing. I.G.)
.......87 plus Lina herself 88 of which only 5 have died and of which 4 are
her original children.
But I think Bestefar was wonderful for just one noble thing he did. He had to be midwife, and always - ALWAYS- when he said "It's a daughter" she would murmur penitently "I'm sorry" and he never failed to reply cheerfully "Let us give thanks to God for a beautiful perfect daughter - when some have been afflicted with crippled sons."
Bestefar was a bit hard - a bit impatient - and sometimes I got into
trouble with him. He had a silver spoon - real silver, which he always
used. It never came out to the kitchen and he used to wipe it clean
and put it in a little box just under the top of the table against the
But Bestemor, bless her loving and forgiving heart, talked to me whenever she had the chance - told me stories of the past - and I don't think it was punishment after all.
Sign of the times Ester! When one remembers so very much of the past and goes back to prehistoric (almost) days - it's certain one is growing old.
And I have felt much older this year. I am so inclined to sit
quietly in the sun and not even twiddle my thumbs or read - just be.