Missionaries shortlisted for Hall of Heroes
Published on 15 February, 2017
Two Presbyterian missionaries are in the running to become the first woman to be celebrated at a major landmark museum.
Jane Haining or Mary Slessor - two of the most inspirational, compassionate and determined Scots who ever lived - could soon be immortalised as a figurehead in the Hall of Heroes at the National Wallace Monument near Stirling.
They are among a shortlist of 14 “remarkable” women who have shaped and made a difference to Scotland's story through art, culture, sport, medicine, science and public life.
The candidates span across the centuries but only one will be chosen via an online public vote to take pride of place in the museum, which was established in 1886 with the unveiling of marble busts of Robert Burns and King Robert the Bruce.
Miss Haining was the matron at the Scottish Mission boarding school – which had Christian and Jewish pupils - in Budapest, Hungary between 1932-44.
After the Second World War broke out, she repeatedly refused to give up her post and return to Scotland, writing “'if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness.”
Solidarity with the afflictions of others,
Miss Haining was arrested by the Gestapo on eight trumped up espionage charges against Germany after she was discovered looking after Jewish girls.
She was sent to prison and eventually taken to the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland, where she died a slave labourer in July 1944 at the age of 47.
Miss Haining was born on a farm near the village of Dunscore in Dumfriesshire in 1897 and plans are afoot to honour her in a new heritage centre inside the parish church.
Setting out the case for the matron’s inclusion in the Hall of Heroes, Kay Keith, a member of Dunscore Parish Church, said: “She was a quiet heroine, an ordinary Scottish girl who showed such extraordinary commitment to justice and compassion.
“Her strong faith and sense of protection of the vulnerable took her back into a dangerous and unpredictable future despite contrary advice as war broke out.
“She shows that strong Scottish 'thrawness' in refusing to be put off by adversity.
“Her drive to continue to show solidarity with the afflictions of others, the children in particular, lay behind her disregard for personal safety in the face of their needs.”
Mrs Keith said the invasion of Hungary in 1944 by the Nazis marked the “ticking of the clock towards the time that her empathy with Jewish children would be denounced”.
“Jane Haining’s acceptance of the consequences of her own choices are tribute to the heroine she was,” she added.
“She is worthy to be proclaimed as a figure of fame in Scotland's heritage.”
Mother of all the peoples
Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was a Dundee mill worker and was inspired by the legendary explorer, Dr David Livingstone, to work as a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria in Western Africa in 1876.
Despite several bouts of illness and constant danger, she lived with the tribes, learned their language, and traditions, earning their respect and putting an end to some barbaric practises, such as the killing of twins.
Ms Slessor, the first woman honoured on a Scottish banknote (Clydesdale Bank £10 note), adopted many Nigerian children, particularly twins, who had been left to die.
When Southern Nigeria became a British Protectorate, she became the first ever female Magistrate in the British Empire and a skilful diplomatic emissary.
Ms Slessor has historical links to The Steeple Church in Dundee where a bronze plaque to commemorate her work was installed in 2015.
She is remembered as a great Christian woman and someone who became “The Mother of All The Peoples” and lovingly known as “Ma”.
Dona Robertson, a member of The Steeple Church in Dundee, said the missionary was a very worthy contender for induction to the Hall of Heroes.
“From Dundee weaver to magistrate in Calabar, Nigeria, Mary Slessor served the tribes of that region for 43 years,” she added.
“Fearless, she stood up against chiefs, witch doctors and drunk men.
“As a Christian missionary, she challenged superstition, especially that which condemned newborn twins and their mother to a cruel death.
“She raised the status of women.
“Although Victorian, she was not colonial, learning the local languages, customs and living in the same conditions as the tribespeople.
“Mary Slessor judged in disputes, and her judgements were accepted.
“Because of this, she was the first woman to be awarded an honorary associate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1913.
“The local tribes gave her the title, ‘Mother of All the Peoples’, and today, in Nigeria she is still remembered and highly respected.
“Mary Slessor is a true, selfless heroine.”
Ordinary yet extraordinary
The two missionaries, who are celebrated and revered in various locations across Scotland, Calabar and Budapest, have been nominated in the public life category.
Carol Finlay, Twinning and Local Development Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said: “We are extremely proud of Jane Haining and Mary Slessor.
"They were inspirational, brave women who were ahead of their time and put others before themselves.
"Guided by their Christian faith, the contributions of both women to our world are significant and lasting.
"They were both ordinary women who did extraordinary things."
Alison McCall, convener of Women’s History Scotland, said it was wonderful to see female recognition in the Hall of Heroes.
"For centuries women have been the unsung heroes," she added.
"This project will acknowledge the role which women have played in Scottish society and select a heroine who is worthy of recognition in such an important landmark.”
The Hall of Heroes currently has 16 busts depicting legends such as King Robert the Bruce, Sir Walter Scott and Church of Scotland founder John Knox.
They were men who have shaped Scotland’s history, exhibited selflessness or personal commitment to social improvement, and were leaders in their fields, achieving worldwide recognition.
The last addition to the gallery was Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster, whose bust was installed in 1907.