Musings on Mary Slessor

So this weekend in the Press & Journal we read the headline that “Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered to Aberdeen – should the City Garden Project be rejected” and whenever Aberdeen and Africa are mentioned, thoughts inevitably turn to arguably the greatest Aberdonian of them all, Mary Slessor.

The history books tell us that Mary was a Gilcomston quine and though her family flitted to Dundee when she was aged 11, we can easily imagine that the young Mary would be familiar with the Denburn and the wooded slopes of the Corby Haugh – perhaps Mary had occassion to take a drink of water from the Corby Well or even witness some of the legendary encounters between the Corbies and the Green Linties?  One thing that is certain is that while Union Terrace Gardens were not formally laid out when Mary left her native city in 1859, some of the mighty elms that grace the slopes of the Denburn to this day would have already been there when she was a girl.

When she left the town of her birth for the last time, could the young Mary ever have imagined where her journey would lead or that one day she would be cited among the most famous Scots and featured on a £10 note or that almost one hundred years after her death, close to the now culverted Denburn, a memorial would be erected to commemorate her achievements?

Mary’s story is one of amazing courage, devotion, self sacrifice and absolute dedication to improving the conditions in which her fellow humans lived their lives.

The Mary Slessor Memorial : It's not an apple, it's an urn 🙂

The following quotes taken from the sign near the memorial give some background to Mary’s story :

This memorial to Mary, situated within sight of the place of her birth in the Gilcomston area of Aberdeen, is carved in local Kemnay granite, as unyielding and durable as Mary’s own faith and resolve to do what was right.  Designed by sculptor Mary Bourne, it has been carved by hand, echoing the shape of the water pots made by hand by women in Nigeria. The smooth rim of the memorial, attracting touch echoes the creative physical connection and is a reference to Mary’s tender side and her care for numerous outcast women and children

In the very centre of the memorial, a delicate plant shoot is beginning to unfurl its twin leaves. This symbolises the many twin babies saved by Mary from ritual murder, perhaps the most famous of her many humanitarian achievements.”

[ If you are interested in finding out more about the memorial, there is a nice set of pictures taken during its installation here – click on the “View Full Case Study Slideshow” to see them. ]

While granite memorials are nice, one of the most inspiring items we came across is the following article noting the launch of the Mary Slessor Journal of Medicine in 2010 by the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, which gives an idea of Mary’s legacy in present day Nigeria :

The choice of the name, Mary Slessor Journal of Medicine was an easy one. Born in December 2, 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Mary Mitchell Slessor left the comfort of her home on August 5, 1876 and set sail for Calabar. For 38 years, she labored in this southeastern cost of Nigeria, from Calabar extending as far as to the Igbo nation. Her works went beyond introducing Christianity to the people and building churches. She built, organized and taught women and children in schools.

She is even better remembered for her fight against the superstition killing of twins in this part of the world. Hitherto, twins were regarded in southeast Nigeria as products of evil spirits. They were promptly killed and their mothers ostracized. Mary Slessor fought this practice relentlessly, salvaged a large numbers of twins, their mothers and other so called outcasts and maintained their colonies which necessarily moved along with her missionary transfers. She introduces nutritional rehabilitation units in these colonies. She was one of the earliest to recognize and practice the social and economic empowerment of women as a means of checking abuse. During the small-pox epidemic, she worked as a nurse and also motivated the leprosy hospital at Itu a few kilometers from Calabar. Her grave stands today on hill, about 200metres across the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. Perhaps, no other name would command more respect and love in this part of the world than Mary Slessor. Hence immortalizing the name of this pioneer missionary, an advocate of rights of women and children and a primary health care worker with this international journal, did not come with any difficulty.”

We are Moved to Comment that in this age of faux celebrity and routine lionising of the wealthy or violent, isn’t it perhaps time that we started to remember the achievements of the real giants – those who toil selflessly not for celebrity or wealth but merely to improve the conditions under which their fellow humans live?  Hopefully this little verbal rambling has helped bring to your attention some of the achievements of one of Scotland’s greatest daughters and, perhaps should you be fortunate enough to have a £10 note with Mary’s image in your purse or wallet, when you spend it you can say with pride “This is Mary Slessor, she was born in Gilcomston, she helped others“.

[ If you want to find out more about Mary, there are many books and if you dont fancy reading, there is a 2 part documentary by STV available on You Tube – Part 1 and Part 2 . ]

And finally …

Yes as with almost every discussion about Aberdeen in early 2012, the Union Terrace Gardens question comes up – and little would be gained by speculating how Mary would vote in the referendum were she allowed to – she would no doubt find voting a novel concept as in Mary’s lifetime women were not allowed to vote in the UK!  On the other hand, if we were to ask would this remarkable daughter of the Granite City rather see a £50M donation spent on what many regard as a vanity project in Aberdeen or on projects that could help improve lives in Africa?  From what history tells us of the life and work of Mary Slessor and her dedication to  the people of the continent to which she gave 38 years of her life, I think we all know the answer to that one.

So we are Moved to Comment that for a Win-Win result for Aberdeen and Africa, Vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens!

Vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens

This entry was posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Architecture, city gardens project, city square project, history, Scotland, Uncategorized, Union Terrace Gardens and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Musings on Mary Slessor

  1. I wonder what she’d make of the current ‘philanthropy’ being offered as a ‘gift’ to Aberdeen? What would she have been able accomplish with a fraction of what is being proposed (or is that imposed) for the gardens. Someone’s priorities ar out of touch and out of order.

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