Water Angus Elmslie was a Scottish missionary of the Livingstonia Mission in Malawi. Born in Aberdeen and educated at the University of Aberdeen, he began his service in Malawi as a doctor at Njuyu. In 1889 he opened a new station at Ekwendeni among the Ngoni people, where he spent most of the rest of his missionary career. He was ordained by the Free Church of Scotland in 1897. He is chiefly remembered for his patient and pioneering work among Chief M’mbelwa’s Ngoni people, building on the foundation work already laid by William Mtusane Koyi, Xhosa evangelist to the Ngoni. Elmslie is also important for his early linguistic and historical studies. In 1886 he published Izongoma zo ‘Mlungu, a collection of hymns and Scripture selections, which was the first printed book in the Ngoni language. This was followed in 1891 by a translation of Mark’s Gospel and two books on ChiNgoni grammar and history. A close ally of Robert Laws, Elmslie is representative of the more conservative stream in the Livingstonia tradition, which was fairly negative about African culture and cautious about the pace of African leadership. Remembered by local Christians with respect rather than affection, he was important for his steadfastness and courage in the period before the Ngoni began to respond to the gospel. He died in Scotland.
T. Jack Thompson
Walter Angus Elmslie, Introductory Grammar of the Ngoni (Zulu) Language (1891) and Among the Wild Ngoni (1899, 1970). K. J. McCracken, Politics and Christianity in Malawi, 1875-1940 (1977); T. Jack Thompson, Christianity in Northern Malawi (1995).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.