On arriving at the ship on the 2nd July, we found a despatch from Earl Russell, containing instructions for the withdrawal of the Expedition. The devastation caused by slave-hunting and famine lay all around. The labour had been as completely swept away from the Great Shire Valley, as it had been from the Zambesi, wherever Portuguese intrigue or power extended. The continual forays of Mariano had spread ruin and desolation on our south-east as far as Mount Clarendon.
While this was going on in our rear, the Tette slave-hunters from the West had stimulated the Ajawa to sweep all the Manganja off the hills on our East; and slaving parties for this purpose were still passing the Shire above the Cataracts. In addition to the confession of the Governor of Tette, of an intention to go on with this slaving in accordance with the counsel of his elder brother at Mosambique, we had reason to believe that slavery went on under the eye of his Excellency, the Governor-General himself; and this was subsequently corroborated by our recognizing two women at Mosambique who had lived within a hundred yards of the Mission-station at Magomero. They were well known to our attendants, and had formed a part of a gang of several hundreds taken to Mosambique by the Ajawa at the very time when his Excellency was entertaining English officers with anti- slavery palavers. To any one who understands how minute the information is, which Portuguese governors possess by means of their own slaves, and through gossiping traders who seek to curry their favour, it is idle to assert that all this slaving goes on without their approval and connivance.
If more had been wanted to prove the hopelessness of producing any change in the system which has prevailed ever since our allies, the Portuguese, entered the country, we had it in the impunity with which the freebooter, Terera, who had murdered Chibisa, was allowed to carry on his forays. Belchoir, another marauder, had been checked, but was still allowed to make war, as they term slave-hunting.
Mr. Horace Waller was living for some five months on Mount Morambala, a position from which the whole process of the slave-trade, and depopulation of the country around could be well noted. The mountain overlooks the Shire, the beautiful meanderings of which are distinctly seen, on clear days, for thirty miles. This river was for some time supposed to be closed against Mariano, who, as a mere matter of form, was declared a rebel against the Portuguese flag. When, however, it became no longer possible to keep up the sham, the river was thrown open to him; and Mr. Waller has seen in a single day from fifteen to twenty canoes of different sizes going down, laden with slaves, to the Portuguese settlements from the so-called rebel camp. These cargoes were composed entirely of women and children. For three months this traffic was incessant, and at last, so completely was the mask thrown off, that one of the officials came to pay a visit to Bishop Tozer on another part of the same mountain, and, combining business with pleasure, collected payment for some canoe work done for the Missionary party, and with this purchased slaves from the rebels, who had only to be hailed from the bank of the river. When he had concluded the bargain he trotted the slaves out for inspection in Mr. Waller's presence. This official, Senhor Mesquita, was the only officer who could be forced to live at the Kongone. From certain circumstances in his life, he had fallen under the power of the local Government; all the other Custom-house officers refused to go to Kongone, so here poor Mesquita must live on a miserable pittance--must live, and perhaps slave, sorely against his will. His name is not brought forward with a view of throwing any odium on his character. The disinterested kindness which he showed to Dr. Meller, and others, forbids that he should be mentioned by us with anything like unkindness.
Under all these considerations, with the fact that we had not found the Rovuma so favourable for navigation at the time of our visit as we expected, it was impossible not to coincide in the wisdom of our withdrawal; but we deeply regretted that we had ever given credit to the Portuguese Government for any desire to ameliorate the condition of the African race; for, with half the labour and expense anywhere else, we should have made an indelible mark of improvement on a section of the Continent. Viewing Portuguese statesmen in the light of the laws they have passed for the suppression of slavery and the slave-trade, and by the standard of the high character of our own public men, it cannot be considered weakness to have believed in the sincerity of the anxiety to aid our enterprise, professed by the Lisbon Ministry. We hoped to benefit both Portuguese and Africans by introducing free-trade and Christianity. Our allies, unfortunately, cannot see the slightest benefit in any measure that does not imply raising themselves up by thrusting others down. The official paper of the Lisbon Government has since let us know "that their policy was directed to frustrating the grasping designs of the British Government to the dominion of Eastern Africa." We, who were on the spot, and behind the scenes, knew that feelings of private benevolence had the chief share in the operations undertaken for introducing the reign of peace and good will on the Lakes and central regions, which for ages have been the abodes of violence and bloodshed. But that great change was not to be accomplished. The narrow-minded would ascribe all that was attempted to the grasping propensity of the English. But the motives that actuate many in England, both in public and private life, are much more noble than the world gives them credit for.
Seeing, then, that we were not yet arrived at "the good time coming," and that it was quite impossible to take the "Pioneer" down to the sea till the floods of December, we made arrangements to screw the "Lady Nyassa" together; and, in order to improve the time intervening, we resolved to carry a boat past the Cataracts a second time, sail along the eastern shore of the Lake, and round the northern end, and also collect data by which to verify the information collected by Colonel Rigby, that the 19,000 slaves, who go through the Custom-house of Zanzibar annually, are chiefly drawn from Lake Nyassa and the Valley of the Shire.
Our party consisted of twenty natives, some of whom were Johanna men, and were supposed to be capable of managing the six oxen which drew the small wagon with a boat on it. A team of twelve Cape oxen, with a Hottentot driver and leader, would have taken the wagon over the country we had to pass through with the greatest ease; but no sooner did we get beyond the part of the road already made, than our drivers encountered obstructions in the way of trees and gullies, which it would have been a waste of time to have overcome by felling timber and hauling out the wagon by block and tackle purchases. The Ajawa and Manganja settled at Chibisa's were therefore sent for, and they took the boat on their shoulders and carried it briskly, in a few days, past all the Cataracts except one; then coming to a comparatively still reach of the river, they took advantage of it to haul her up a couple of miles. The Makololo had her then entirely in charge; for, being accustomed to rapids in their own country, no better boatmen could be desired. The river here is very narrow, and even in what are called still places, the current is very strong, and often obliged them to haul the boat along by the reeds on the banks, or to hand a tow-rope ashore. The reeds are full of cowitch (Dolichos pruriens), the pods of which are covered with what looks a fine velvety down, but is in reality a multitude of fine prickles, which go in by the million, and caused an itching and stinging in the naked bodies of those who were pulling the tow-rope, that made them wriggle as if stung by a whole bed of nettles. Those on board required to be men of ready resource with oars and punting-poles, and such they were. But, nevertheless, they found, after attempting to pass by a rock, round which the water rushed in whirls, that the wiser plan would be to take the boat ashore, and carry her past the last Cataract. When this was reported, the carriers were called from the various shady trees under which they had taken refuge from the sun. This was midwinter, but the sun is always hot by day here, though the nights are cold. Five Zambesi men, who had been all their lives accustomed to great heavy canoes,--the chief recommendation of which is said to be, that they can be run against a rock with the full force of the current without injury--were very desirous to show how much better they could manage our boat than the Makololo; three jumped into her when our backs were turned, and two hauled her up a little way; the tide caught her bow, we heard a shout of distress, the rope was out of their hands in a moment, and there she was, bottom upwards; a turn or two in an eddy, and away she went, like an arrow, down the Cataracts. One of the men in swimming ashore saved a rifle. The whole party ran with all their might along the bank, but never more did we see our boat.
The five performers in this catastrophe approached with penitential looks. They had nothing to say, nor had we. They bent down slowly, and touched our feet with both hands. "Ku kuata moendo"--"to catch the foot"--is their way of asking forgiveness. It was so like what we have seen a little child do--try to bring a dish unbidden to its papa, and letting it fall, burst into a cry of distress--that they were only sentenced to go back to the ship, get provisions, and, in the ensuing journey on foot, carry as much as they could, and thus make up for the loss of the boat.