A heroine for Scotland
Published on 19 April, 2017
Presbyterian missionary Mary Slessor is to be celebrated at a major landmark museum in an historic move to recognise the deeds of famous women.
The Dundee mill worker, who transformed lives in Calabar, Nigeria, was chosen by public vote to be immortalised in the Hall of Heroes at the National Wallace Monument near Stirling.
A memorial to Ms Slessor, who exhibited selflessness and personal commitment to social improvement, will soon join the existing 16 busts of famous men from Scotland’s history.
The announcement last night marks the start of the most significant development in The Hall of Heroes since the first busts of Robert Burns and King Robert the Bruce were installed in 1886.
Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said he and his colleagues were “thrilled and delighted” that the missionary had been chosen as one of the first women to be immortalised.
Dona Robertson, a member of The Steeple Church in Dundee which bears a bronze plaque to commemorate Mary Slessor’s work, said it was a “very fitting tribute to a truly remarkable woman”.
Born in Aberdeen in 1848, she was inspired by the legendary explorer, Dr David Livingstone, to work as a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria in Western Africa in 1876.
Determined to overcome the challenges of her early years and largely self-taught, she combined her missionary zeal with a practical approach to helping those in need.
Ms Slessor, who died in 1915 at the age of 67, worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life of people against a background of prejudice and opposition.
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 practices, such as the killing of twins.
She adopted some of the twins she saved.
When Southern Nigeria became a British Protectorate, Ms Slessor became the first ever female Magistrate in the British Empire and a skilful diplomatic emissary.
She is remembered as a great Christian woman and someone who became “The Mother of All The Peoples” and lovingly known as “Ma”.
Ms Slessor's image adorns the Clydesdale Bank £10 note.
Maggie Keswick Jencks, who co-founded the Maggie’s Centres which offer practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer, was also chosen from a shortlist of 14 women to be honoured in the Hall of Heroes.
It is a last minute surprise twist because only one woman was originally supposed to be chosen.
But the two women were front runners in the competition and many people have taken to social media to say that all 14 nominees deserved to be celebrated in the Hall of Heroes.
Church of Scotland missionary Jane Haining, who sacrificed her life to protect Jewish school girls in her care during the Holocaust, was one of them.
Mr Alexander said: “We are thrilled and delighted that Mary Slessor has been chosen as one of the first women to be immortalised in the Hall of Heroes.
“She is an iconic figure in Scotland and her pioneering work in Calabar, Nigeria, remains an inspiration to this day.
“Today, the Church of Scotland, internationally, nationally and locally, continues her legacy in its commitment to work with partners around the world in addressing justice, health issues, and opportunities for all people to live full and productive lives.”
Mrs Robertson added: “After her death, it was said of Mary Slessor by a colleague that in her life time, ‘she was a whirlwind, an earthquake, a fire and a still small voice all in one’.
“For me, that sums up Mary.
“She was a unique woman and missionary in her time and she was a missionary for the people.
“Mary Slessor did not conform to the colonial attitudes of the day and became one of the people in the way she lived her life.
“This was brought home to me when I visited Calabar in 2015, by just how much she is still loved, respected and honoured there.
“I was told many times that in Scotland we must not forget Ma Slessor and that Mary Slessor is not dead because she is in our heart.”
Zillah Jamieson, chairwoman of Stirling District Tourism, said the campaign had “ignited passions and has stimulated an amazing response”.
“The level of enthusiasm for women to be given recognition has been truly inspirational,” she added.
“The challenge for us as a self-funding charity has been to raise the funds required to embark on this project, and to now introduce these women into The Hall of Heroes.
“We are proud that we have been able to do this, with the help and the support of the visitors who come to the Monument”.