Robert Moffat (missionary) bigraphy, stories - Scottish missionary

Robert Moffat (missionary) : biography

21 December 1795 - 9 August 1883

Robert Moffat (21 December 1795 – 9 August 1883) was a Scottish Congregationalist missionary to Africa, and father in law of David Livingstone.

Moffat was born of humble parentage in Ormiston, East Lothian. To find employment, he moved south to Cheshire in England as a gardener. In 1814, whilst employed at West Hall High Legh in Cheshire he experienced difficulties with his employer due to his Methodist sympathies. For a short period, after having applied successfully to the London Missionary Society (LMS) to become an overseas missionary, he took an interim post as a farmer, at Plantation Farm in Dukinfield (where he first met his future wife). In September 1816, he was formally commissioned at Surrey Chapel in London as a missionary of LMS (on the same day as John Williams), and was sent out to South Africa. His fiancée Mary Smith (1795–1870) was able to join him three years later, after he returned to Cape Town from Namaqualand (where he converted the chief Afrikaner to Christianity) and she actively assisted further missionary work.

In 1820 Moffat and his wife left the Cape and proceeded to Griquatown, where their daughter Mary (who was later to marry David Livingstone) was born. The family later settled at Kuruman, to the north of the Vaal River, among the Batswana people. Here they lived and worked passionately for the missionary cause, until in 1870 they returned to Britain. During this period, Robert Moffat made frequent journeys into the neighbouring regions as far north as the Matabele country. The results of these journeys he communicated to the Royal Geographical Society (Journal 25-38 and Proceedings ii), and whilst in Britain on leave (1839–1843) an account of the family's experience, Missionary Labours and Scenes in South Africa (1842) was published. He also translated the whole of the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress into Setswana.

Besides his early training as a gardener and farmer, and later as a writer, Moffat developed skills in building, carpentry, printing and as a blacksmith. On his return to England he received a testimonial of £5000.

Robert and Mary Moffat had ten children: Mary (who married David Livingstone), Ann, Robert (who died as an infant), Robert, Helen, Elizabeth (who also died as an infant), James, John, Elizabeth and Jean. Their son John Smith Moffat also became an LMS missionary and took over running of the mission at Kuruman before entering colonial service. Their grandson Howard Unwin Moffat became a Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia.

Robert Moffat died at Leigh near Tunbridge Wells, on 9 August 1883, and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.

Residents of High Legh organise a Robert Moffat Memorial 10 km run beginning and ending at the location of his cottage.

His printing work in Kuruman was supported by an iron hand press that was brought to Cape Town in 1825 and taken to Kuruman in 1831. Rev. Moffat made use of it until 1870 when he retired after which it was taken over by William Aston and A J Gould and was in use until about 1882. In 1918 it was taken to the Kimberly Public Library where it remained until it was returned to the Moffat Mission in Kuruman in 1996 where it is back in occasional use printing commemorative documents.

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