Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Crawford, Daniel (A)

Open Brethren (Christian Missions in Many Lands)
Democratic Republic of Congo

Daniel (Dan) Crawford was one of that group of enthusiastic young men and women who accompanied F. S. Arnot to Central Africa on his return to the continent in 1889, after his first missionary journey. At that time, Crawford was little more than a young lad, being only eighteen years of age. He had been born and brought up in the town of Greenock, near Glasgow in Scotland, where his father was the master of a Clyde schooner involved in coastal trade. His father died from tuberculosis while Daniel was a child and he himself suffered from the same disease not long after he had started work as a bookkeeper. Although given but a year to live, he made a full recovery and was fit enough to undertake the hardships of missionary work in Central Africa. He had received little formal education, leaving school at fourteen, but nonetheless, he was to prove himself a gifted linguist, mastering the local African languages, teaching himself both Greek and Hebrew and translating the Bible into the Lunda language. He was however, an individualist with a highly independent bent. He did not take kindly to anyone attempting to direct what he should do and his relationships with other missionaries were often difficult. He had strong opinions, among which was his early belief that a missionary should not marry. He is on record as remarking that “a missionary married is a missionary marred,” but he was to moderate that opinion in later years and he himself married in 1896.

Crawford experienced an evangelical conversion at the age of sixteen and his mind turned initially to missionary service in China. However, not long after his conversion, he heard F. S. Arnot speak of the challenge to bring the Christian gospel to the African tribes living beyond the Lualaba River, the tribes that Livingstone himself had dreamed of reaching even when near death on his final journey. The young Crawford was fired by Arnot’s words and responded to what was his “call” to Africa. He joined Arnot’s party and sailed for Angola in March 1889, eventually arriving at Bunkeya, the capital of Msidi’s kingdom of Garenganze, the modern Katanga, in November 1890 after many difficulties on the way. By an unfortunate twist of circumstances, he arrived at Bunkeya at the same time as the first of the rival expeditions from Britain and Belgium arrived on the scene. The first expedition to reach Bunkeya was British, essentially directed by the empire builder, Cecil Rhodes, who wished to annex the Katanga region with its rich mineral deposits for his Chartered Company. It was led by a professional big game hunter named Alfred Sharpe. He was received with scant respect by Msidi and was ultimately sent away empty handed. It has been argued that had Crawford been the go-between, the results might have been different as he had a more realistic understanding of Msidi’s character than the senior missionary, Charles Swan [1], who was one of the two men that Arnot had left behind in Bunkeya when he had returned to Britain in 1888. Crawford was very much the junior, having only just arrived. There will always be some doubt about the exact circumstances, but most seem to be agreed that Swan had persuaded Msidi not to sign any documents without first having them read and interpreted to him. When the contents of the “treaty” were revealed, Msidi flew into a rage and thus the document that would have ceded power and made Katanga a British Protectorate was never signed and Sharpe left, both angry and empty-handed [2].

The political crisis deepened as the Belgians, under the flag of the Congo Free State, moved into the area and as local tribes took the opportunity of rebelling against Msidi’s despotic rule. Crawford and the other missionaries moved out of Bunkeya around this time and stayed at or near the Free State post at Lofoi on the River Lufira, some miles to the east and took no part in the events that led to Msidi’s assassination and the final collapse of his empire at the hands of the Belgian expedition, led by an Englishman named W. E. Stairs [3]. In fact, it may be stated that the Brethren missionaries in general refused to become embroiled in any way in local political affairs and maintained a position of strict neutrality. This attitude would remain true of most Brethren missionaries to the present day.

The death of Msidi at the end of 1891 and the subsequent instability and disintegration in the area he had controlled, played into the hands of the new colonial power, but it also had a distinct effect on Crawford and the other missionaries, often putting them in considerable danger of their lives. Crawford branched out by himself, having effectively fallen out with his remaining colleagues because of his strong individualism and difficult character, and he moved to the shores of Lake Mweru. The Luapula River drains into this lake at its southern end and it gives rise to the Luvua River at its northern end. It thus forms part of the boundary between the modern Congo Republic and Zambia and it also demarcated the territories of the Luba-Sanga and the Bemba tribes. Crawford established a mission by the lake at Chipungu in 1893 which became a refuge for increasing numbers of local people in this time of disturbance and uncertainty. Eventually, the numbers of people coming to join Crawford outgrew the capability of the land to support them and Crawford decided to move. He chose a site on a fertile area by the River Luanza, just above the point where it drains into Lake Mweru.

Crawford was to remain at Luanza for the rest of his life, although he spent a considerable amount of time undertaking extensive treks into the surrounding area to evangelize. In spite of his difficult character, he was joined by several other missionaries over the years, including Grace Tilsley, a young woman from Bath in England, whom he was to marry. He went to meet her as she and others journeyed inland from the east coast and they were married at Blantyre (in modern Malawi) on September 14, 1896, by the local consul. Crawford continued his extensive itinerating after his marriage, as well as being involved in translation work with several of the local tribal languages. He was an original thinker and was exceptionally well-read. In many ways he was far ahead of his time, as his books (Thinking Black and Back to the Long Grass) show very clearly. His approach to others was summed up in his words, “I am de-nationalized - a brother to all men; Arab, African, Mongol, Aryan, Jew; seeing in the Incarnation a link that binds us up with all men” [4]. This attitude led him to an identification with the Africans and their culture that was not generally welcomed by his European associates at the time and when this is linked with the difficulties caused by his own character, it is perhaps not surprising that few found him an easy person with whom to work and few workers remained for long at the mission at Luanza in his lifetime. Nonetheless, it was to become an important Christian centre with a large hospital in later years and remained so until the civil conflicts in Congo forced its closure. Crawford died on June 3, 1926, at the age of only fifty-five years, as the result of an infection caused by a trivial wound. In the thirty-seven years that he was in Africa, Crawford returned to Britain on only one occasion, between the years 1911 and 1915, also visiting the United Sates and Australia, in an effort to encourage more recruits for the missionary enterprise in Central Africa.

J. Keir Howard


  1. Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991), pp. 404-405.

  2. The original “treaty” document was donated by the Swan family, after Charles Swan’s death in 1934, to the Royal Geographical Society and is held in its archives in London.

  3. The rather sordid series of events that gave rise to Katanga being part of the Congo Free State have been detailed elsewhere and do not need repetition here (see for example, Pakenham, pp. 404-411, Tony Lawman, From the Hands of the Wicked *(London: Robert Hale, 1960), pp. 125-149 and Robert Rotberg, “Plymouth Brethren and the occupation of Katanga” in *Journal of African History, Vol. 2 (1964), pp. 285-297).

  4. Quoted in G. E. Tilsley, Dan Crawford: Missionary and Pioneer in Central Africa (London: Oliphants, 1929), p. 431.


D. Crawford,* Thinking Black: 22 Years without a Break in the Long Grass of Central Africa * (London: Morgan and Scott, 1914).

——–, Back to the Long Grass: My Link with Livingstone (London: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d. [about 1918-1922]).

G. E. Tilsley, Dan Crawford: Missionary and Pioneer in Central Africa (London: Oliphants, 1929).

Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991), pp. 404-406, 408-409.

R. I. Rotberg, “Plymouth Brethren and the occupation of Katanga” in Journal of African History, vol. 2 (1964), pp. 285-297.

W. T. Stunt, G. P. Simmons, A. Pulleng, D. K. Boak, A. Pickering, and S. F. Warren, Turning the World Upside Down: A Century of Missionary Endeavour (Eastbourne: Upperton Press and Bath: Echoes of Service, 1972), pp. 389-392, 404, 566.

F. A. Tatford, That the World Might Know. Vol 6: The Dark Continent (Bath: Echoes of Service, 1984), pp. 340-342, 363-364, 444-445.

This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. J. Keir Howard, a retired consultant physician and Anglican priest who holds doctorates in both medicine and theology. From 1961 to 1966, he served as a medical missionary in Zambia.