Guest article in 3 parts by Andrew van Rensburg:
My great ancestor Jacob Ludwig Dohne was one of the first Berlin Missionary Society pioneer missionaries in Kaffraria (and Natal). He arrived in Cape Town 1836 (with Lange, Wuras and Kraut) and was initially allocated a post in Franschoek. This district fell under the jurisdiction of the Dutch minister of Paarl, and Dohne had difficulties with the issue of predestination - in conflict with his Lutheran teachings. Being of an independent spirit, Dohne responded to the call for missionaries in Kaffraria and unilaterally decided to join missionary Kayser in the Ciskei area. The directors of the Berlin Missionary Society however sanctioned the move, having already decided there was a need for missionaries in Kaffraria.
After a short period with Kayser, Dohne set off alone to start missionary work amongst the people of Gasela, in the Gonubie River area. Later Gasela relocated them to the Stutterheim area, where Dohne established his mission station Bethel (the home of El - old Hebrew name for God). It was an arduous period, alone amongst the Xhosa people. He had to build his own house and fend for himself. His first house collapsed due to poor construction (he was not from an artisan background).
Gasela, initially welcoming, soon viewed Dohne as a threat to his leadership and fuelled by superstition and cultural beliefs contrary to the new Christian faith, made life very difficult for the solo missionary. Matters improved marginally with the arrival of superintendents Pehmoller and Schultheiss and his first wife, Berthe Gohler (1838). But tragedy struck when Berthe died during the birth of his son, who also died a few months later.
Challenges aside, Dohne made significant strides with baptisms and educational programs for Xhosa children and adults. Bethel also became a refuge for vulnerable women and Dohne taught (hands on) the local people methods of improved crop production. Missionaries Posselt, Leifeldt and Schmidt joined Dohne at Bethel in 1842, the year of the measles pandemic. Xhosa children approached Dohne to pray that they be spared from the epidemic. Christianity in Kaffraria was taking hold.
The seventh Frontier war intervened (1846) and the missionaries had to flee, first to the Moravian mission station Silo in Queensown and then to Bethanie in the Free State. Theophilus Shepstone invited them to come to Natal and establish mission stations and The Berlin Mission Society General Gerlach, agreed that inroads into Natal were necessary. Months passed while placement decisions relating the recent displacement of Zulus (due to conflict) were being debated. Dohne, again displaying his independent spirit, responded to the call for religious leadership amongst the Boer farming community of the Pietermaritzburg district. He filled the shoes of the Dutch minister rev. Daniel Lindley, creating conflict with the Berlin Missionary Society which resulted in his resignation. Director Wangemann wrote at the time “Our mission loses one of the most qualified and pleasant missionaries, and our Zulu mission suffered from the loss from the outset of an exceptional missionary”.
His intentions were to focus on the farmers’ Zulu workers but instead he spent much of his time preaching to the Dutch Reformed congregation and travelling to various centres around South Africa. Dohne declined the offer to become the Dutch minister and instead accepted the offer by the American Board of African Missionaries to set up a mission station at Tafelberg, near Pietermaritzburg. He completed his Zulu dictionary (by 1857), detailed and accompanied by copious illustrations.
Dohne once again accepted an offer to rejoin the Berlin Missionary Society (the American Board did not have an alternative mission station location for him) and relocated to the Berea area north of Durban. Bible translation work continued sporadically in conjunction with missionaries such as Posselt. Dohne was used to working alone and differences of opinion soon surfaced, slowing the translation work down.
Dohne and his wife Caroline (Watermeyer) bought a farm which he named Wartburg. From here he went to Utrecht near Vryheid where he did mission work. From Utrecht he moved to Vermaakskraal, Biggarsberg (Dundee district) where he once again ministered to the Boer farming community.
Wangermann closed the chapter of this Berlin Missionary Society endeavour with “Dohne’s relationship with the Berlin Mission Society once again became more cordial. The oft proven brother in his commitment to both black and white, developed a flood of blessed co-operation., as a result of which we can only wish him the Lord’s mercy from the bottom of our hearts”.
Dohne died on his farm in the turbulent year 1879.
|Fort where Dohne is said to have taken refuge during the Frontier War|
To be continued ...