The Diary and Notebook of Dan Crawford, Brethren Missionary in Africa

Dr Graham Johnson, Christian Brethren Archivist, writes:

The Library has recently acquired a handwritten notebook of Dan Crawford, the Brethren missionary pioneer to Africa, as a part of the expanding collection from the missionary service organisation Echoes of Service.


Dan Crawford 1889
Photograph of Dan Crawford, by G. A. Brown of Greenock. From G. E. Tilsley, Dan Crawford of Central Africa (London: Oliphants, 1889).

The rather nondescript exercise book contains a diary and notes produced by Dan Crawford between 1888 and 1890 (according to the entries). The contents were possibly drafts produced for letters home or for publication in the Echoes of Service magazine where reports of missionary activity were regularly published. A trawl through the magazine for these years suggests that they were not in fact published there, although his activities were reported upon and the dates of the diary shown to be incorrect.


His journey from Portugal to Africa took place in 1889, not 1888, a fact confirmed by his biographer G.E. Tilsley. A lengthy chunk from near the end of the notebook was reproduced by his fellow missionary Frederick Stanley Arnot in his Bihe and Garenganze (London: J.E. Hawkins, 1893). The notebook contains notes of his journey from Lisbon to Africa up to May 1889. It recommences in July 1889, ‘200 miles on the interior journey’ recounting his journey to visit Fred Arnot at Garenganze. A later section recounts his journey from Bailunda to Bihé.

Crawford diary1
Map of Dan Crawford’s voyage to Africa, from his diary and notebook. Christian Brethren Archive, EOS/4/3/28.

A section from April 1890 gives an account of the events leading up to the melodramatic death of the Portuguese trader António da Silva Porto, the declaration of war by a local chief on a group of Portuguese soldiers and the aftermath. He produces an account of village life in Ocenda where the women did all the work and the men sat around smoking and talking. Included are reflections on attitudes towards ‘the white man’, relations with local chiefs, further travels and an account of the missionaries’ first public baptism.
Dan Crawford was born on 7 December 1870 at Gourock in Scotland. He left school at 14 to work as a clerk in a solicitor’s office, soon afterwards becoming a bookkeeper for a painter and decorator. Initially a Sunday school teacher at the local kirk in Gourock, he began to attend a Brethren meeting and was converted and baptised at the age of 17. Soon afterwards he decided that he would become a missionary, following the path forged by David Livingstone and the Brethren missionary Frederic Arnot in Africa. He set off in March 1889, arriving at Bunkeya in Garenganza (now Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo) in November 1890.


Crawford diary 2
Page from Dan Crawford’s diary and notebook. Christian Brethren Archive, EOS/4/3/28.

At the time the British were trying to convince the chief Msidi to make the land a British Protectorate, something he refused to do, apparently following advice from Crawford’s fellow Brethren missionaries. Soon afterwards the Belgians arrived and annexed the land to the Congo Free State overthrowing Msidi. Crawford and his colleagues were forced to move on. He eventually found his way to Lake Mweru, where he established a mission at Chipungu in 1893, moving to a plot on the River Luanza when the numbers of people necessitated a move to a more fertile plot. The village established here became a large settlement, over a mile wide in places. Although based in Luanza for the rest of his life, he travelled widely in the area evangelising.

He immersed himself in the local languages and cultures, and his absorption (and his success) is well expressed in the title of his first volume of memoirs, Thinking Black, and the fact that he embraced his African name Konga Vantu, ‘the gatherer of the people’. Despite the absence of formal education, he was able to master Greek, Hebrew and various African languages, translating the Bible into the Lunda language. He died in Luanza on 3 June 1926 of an infection to a minor wound.

The Diary and Notebook has been fully digitised, and is now available to view online via Luna.

1 comment on “The Diary and Notebook of Dan Crawford, Brethren Missionary in Africa

  1. Pingback: Missionary Dan Crawford (1870-1926) – photo | Chips Off the Old Block

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