Foot Prints of the White Queen

2nd Jun, 1879
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On April 10, 1846, the first group of Christian missionaries led by the Rev. Hope Waddell arrived Calabar. They were sent by the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland Mission in response to the request of Calabar chiefs. When ill-health forced Hope Waddell to leave the field for good, the most distinguished worker to join the field was Mary Slessor, a Scottish lady who arrived in Calabar on September 11, 1876. Starting as a mill girl in Dundee, she ended up as a magistrate in Calabar. Her work and activities in the Lower Cross River Region arguably opened a significant part of the Lower Cross River Region to Europeans. When Southern Nigeria became a British Protectorate on January 1, 1900, Mary was the first female magistrate in the British Empire and a tactful diplomatic emissary. Also acting in the capacity of Vice-Consul for Calabar Rivers, Mary Slessor’s activities were responsible for the extension of trade in the region as she was also saddled with the responsibility of working out customs arrangements as well as the establishment of postal and treasury departments in the area under her jurisdiction. Although she was of the Church of Scotland Mission, she enjoyed a degree of celebrity status that extended beyond the Church of Scotland. Geographically, Mary operated around three contiguous regions and peoples - the Ibibio, Efik and Igbo. From Creek Town (in present day Cross River State) through Itu (in present day Akwa Ibom State) to Arochukwu (in present day Abia State), Mary Slessor left the imprint of an industrialist, teacher, missionary and magistrate. Indeed, for every community in the Lower Cross River Region that Mary Slessor passed through or settled, she left a bold imprint of social, economic, religious and humanitarian changes. Her humanitarian showmanship engraves her on the same epitaph of charity as Mother Theresa and Florence Nightingale. Arguably, one of Mary’s most remarkable achievements is in relation to the protection, accommodation, adoption of twins and the subsequent prohibition of their killing. By her colossal and myth-breaking contributions to evangelism, charity work, educational and health services, she registered her foot-prints indelibly in the annals of Nigerian history and also publicized Nigeria in the map of the world. In the field of education, it was her appeal to the United Presbyterian Mission in Scotland that resulted in the establishment of the famous Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar, the first post–primary institution in Eastern Nigeria and the first Comprehensive School in Nigeria in 1895. She also facilitated the establishment of several primary schools in places such as: Okoyong, Itu, Ibiono and other parts of the Lower Cross River Region. In all, her services traversed the Executive, Judicial and Legislative arms of government in the Lower Cross River Region. As part of the domestic and international responses to her activities and legacies, her effigy adorns Mary Slessor Road in Calabar and her image adorns the Scottish Ten Pounds. There also exist some domestic and international philanthropic foundations dedicated to her humanitarian role.

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