Sunday, 11 September 2016

Chuma and Susi in Northamptonshire

Most people will have heard of David Livingstone's companions James Chuma and Abdullah Susi, who in 1873 along with Matthew Wellington found Livingstone dead and helped to carry his preserved body from Chitambo's village in North Western Zambia, wrapped in bark, 1500 kilometres to Bagamoyo in Tanzania. Chuma and Susi are rightly remembered for this loyalty and effort, but little is known or said of their time before or after Livingstone. I was surprised to discover then that both of them had traveled to England. Apparently neither was with Livingstone when he was buried at Westminster Abbey, although Jacob Wainwright, who carved the famous memorial in a tree at Chitambo's was.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - the original memorial
Wainwright, who had been part of Stanley's famous expedition to find Livingstone, was one of the pall bearers at the funeral, along with the Revd Horace Waller, who edited Livingstone's last diaries.

Chuma and Susi must have traveled around England quite a lot, having apparently spent time in Leytonstone (north London) and also in Twywell, Northamptonshire, where they are remembered in the local church of St Nicholas. They helped Waller to decipher Livingstone's notes and fill in gaps in his story. I am not sure where they spent the greater amount of their time, but they were in Leytonstone long enough to build a replica of the hut in which Livingstone died, which must have been viewed by many visitors. Since I live nearby, I like to think that Chuma and Susi must have visited Northampton, and to imagine them walking about. Anita McCullough [2] reports that Susi and Chuma probably returned to Africa before the year was out and it is reported elsewhere that they were not treated very well, and although feted were housed and fed with servants [3]. Both received bronze medals from the Royal Geographical Society.

Stranger still, in Twywell rumour has it that one of the two remained in England and married a French girl, with whom he had two sons, one of whom married a Twywell girl [4]. This seemed very unlikely to me in light of other evidence that both Chuma and Susi returned to Africa and died quite young. Chuma and Susi both returned to work with the UMCA [5, 6, 7]. Chuma died in Zanzibar aged about 32 in 1882, and Susi also in Zanzibar in 1891 [7]. So where did this story come from? It seems that one day a 'dark stranger' was seen crossing a field, who later claimed to be a son of either Chuma or Susi and eloped with a local girl, named Polly Abbot [8]. According to Jeffrey Green the man was actually George Henry Watteau, son of a well-known gardener in Chislehurst, Kent, also called George. The elder George claimed to have been part of Livingstone's party and to have helped bring his body from Africa, but this does not seem possible. According to another source [9] his name may have been derived from his habitual greeting of 'What ho!', but his original name may have been Makepo (Makipo?) and it is possible he was born in South Africa.

It seems clear that George Watteau senior cultivated the idea that he had worked with David Livingstone, which must have given him a celebrity status and possibly an income (his portrait appears to have been taken on many occasions). Did George say that he worked at Livingstone House in Kent, and go along with the idea that it was David Livingstone's house? Did the villagers of Twywell transfer George's parentage to Chuma and Susi, or was that George junior's ruse?

St Nicholas Church is worth a visit if you are interested in David Livingstone and this history. They have a few interesting artefacts as well as two beautifully carved pews depicting the work of the UMCA and African animals. On examining the photos carefully I see that one is actually of George Watteau. At first I thought this was a Rhodesian newspaper, but now I'm wondering if it is a UK paper with the headline 'Livingstone Echo'. There is again the claim that Watteau was involved with Livingstone's expeditions and was a servant to Livingstone - but I've not seen any evidence of this elsewhere. I suspect that the newspaper fell for this story, as apparently did many other people.

Artefacts at Twywell, including pincers for removing slave shackles, and bark in which Livingstone's body was wrapped.
Mr Watteau, I presume?

St Nicholas Church, Twywell, Northamptonshire

A watercolour of the spot where Bishop Mackenzie was buried, present day Malawi
Slaves - on the right of the panel
Chuma and Susi working for the UMCA. The UMCA leads the slaves out from slavery, to the cross on the left of the panel
O all ye beasts and cattle bless ye the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever. O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever. (Inscription on the carved panels in the choir pews.)

The Old Rectory, Twywell in 2015 - Livingstone's last journals were at least in part edited here
A letter to Horace Waller from General Gordon


[1] Bombay Africans, Royal Geographical Society

[2] "Rev Horace Waller: Dr David Livingstone's friend in Leytonstone", Anita McCullough, Leyton History Society

[3] Heroes of Livingstone's last trek revealed, The Scotsman, 20 May 2007

[4] Tales of Old Northamptonshire, Marian Pipe, Countryside books, 1990; also personal communication with the church-warden at St Nicholas, Twywell in 2015.

[5] Chuma+Susi fact file, Royal Geographical Society resources

[6] James Chuma, Royal Geographical Society

[7] Abdullah Susi, Royal Geographical Society

[8] George Watteau, the African gardener of Chislehurst, Jeffrey Green,

[9] David Stuart-Mogg, Letters to the Daily Telegraph, 2nd December 2006

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