Hogg, Walter (1855-1905)

Pioneer Artisan Missionary

Aldersgate Magazine 1903
Walter Hogg in the carpenters' shop
This is of Sajobas village. My grandmother is holding my mother as a baby. I think the teenager at the right of the picture could be one Walter's other daughters from his first marriage, and the woman standing behind my grandmother another daughter,
Here are Walter, Nellie and baby Margaret on the Zambesi. My mother was baptised at the river. Is this her christening day?
Walter and Nellie Hogg with daughter Margaret outside their Sajobas home
A lesson in agriculture
Walter Hogg Memorial

Early life

Walter Hogg was born on July 18th 1855 in Selkirk, the sixth of seven children.  His family, like most in the town at that time, was involved in weaving and associated trades.  A fine rug he himself wove as a young man endured for almost century.  But when he left school he became baker.  Some time in those early years he felt called to be a missionary, possibly influenced by the life of David Livingstone whom he much admired.  He was accepted for training by The Pastors’ College (later Spurgeons) and even paid over his savings of £36 but for some reason changed his mind and returned to business.

Move to South Africa

When he was twenty-five ill health caused him to leave Scotland for the better climate of South Africa.  His father, Thomas, by then a tweed designer in his sixties, decided to go along with him, as did two of his brothers.  Thomas and one of the brothers eventually returned to Scotland.  Walter stayed, married and had three daughters, Janet, Jeanie, and Elizabeth.

At Burgersdorp, Cape Colony, he started preaching and when he came to Wepener to return to his old trade and start a bakery business, he became involved in the life of the Aliwal North Circuit, as a steward and a Local Preacher.

A change of direction

At home, the Primitive Methodist Missionary Committee had already decided that the time had come to push northwards into the largely uncharted Central Africa north of the Zambesi. In 1889 a party consisting of Henry Buckingham and his wife, Rev Arthur Baldwin and a lay worker, F, Ward set out. Travelling conditions, mainly by ox wagon were exceedingly hard. Tribal chiefs had to be met and negotiations made and it took four years before a mission station was founded at Nkala. A later station was established at Nanzela and further advances were planned on the northern banks of the Zambesi. Based at Aliwal North, Rev Edwin Smith was appointed to undertake this work.

Walter first met Edwin Smith when the latter had occasion to visit Wepener in November 1898 and subsequently spent some time with him. Edwin describes how Walter always had the interest of the African at heart. He had rendered good service to them when Cecil Rhodes passed the Glen Gray Act in 1894 granting individual land tenure and establishing a measure of self-government by councils. Walter had toured the district and did his best to explain the Act.

As Edwin talked, Walter became increasingly interested in the proposed Zambesi mission. By this time he was widowed, and although now in his mid forties, he felt he still had much to offer. He determined to give up his business and join the venture. Edwin Smith was pleased. He was confident that Walter’s business capacity, his long experience with Africans, his robust Christian faith, and his ability to turn his hand to anything, would stand him in good stead. Added to that, he described him as a man of great heart, who inspired affection. He had a ‘pawky’ sense of humour and always enjoyed a laugh at his own expense!

In 1900 The Missionary Committee resolved ‘that we engage Mr Walter Hogg as a Lay Missionary for work in the locality of the Zambesi, that we pay him £250 per year, the sum to be inclusive of all claims for his family and their requirements.’

The Anglo-Boer war which was fought in the region prevented the missionaries from starting on their new venture for a while. In the meantime, Walter returned to Britain and during a visit to Edinburgh met his future wife, Agnes Helen (Nellie) Weir McHendrie, who was later involved with the Livingstone PM Mission in the city.

At the Zambesi

Walter returned to Aliwal North in 1901 and prepared to go with Edwin Smith and Rev and Mrs Reybould as far as Bulawayo; the latter would then proceed to the established station at Nanzela, whilst Walter and Edwin would proceed to Walkers Drift, a crossing point of the Zambesi. Walter was sent ahead to organise the wagons and oxen they would need for their trek. But Reybould fell ill and Smith had to take him back to Cape Town. Walter proceeded northwards with Daniel Mokuena and his wife.

In October 1901, the party arrived on the northern banks of the Zambesi, about a hundred miles from the Victoria Falls. Negotiations were completed with Chief Sajobas to open a mission.

The rainy season was upon them so they had to set to work to complete essential construction. Walter would not attempt to build school without the cooperation of the local population and a guarantee that the school would be regularly attended. The villagers set to work with such zest that within six weeks they had erected the school, which also doubled as the church; huts for the teacher, store rooms, and a comfortable cottage for Walter himself. He believed a well-appointed home was important. He deplored those who came to Africa, believing that they had to rough it, pointing out that in fact the opposite was true–that to preserve health and energy in that semi tropical and fever infested country, greater care of yourself must be taken.

He had no books for the school at first. He had to make do with strips of calico and stencil plates. Later, he was able to make desks, so that the older scholars could learn to write using copy books, though the younger ones had to manage with slates until he was able to make more desks, along with a couple of blackboards.

The first service at the school attracted eighty people, but Walter admitted many might have come through sheer curiosity. Yet soon the premises had to be enlarged to accommodate more.

The work progresses

In the spring of 1902, he travelled to Cape Town to meet his bride off the boat, ‘Walmer Castle’, and he and Nellie were married on April 4th 1902 at Caledon Square Congregational Church by Rev J Moffat, before making the long journey back to Sajobas.

Now girls could be educated, too, as Nellie set to work teaching reading, simple arithmetic and plain sewing.

These were busy times for Walter.  The enlargement of the mission went on, including the building of a new, European styled church.  He travelled much on foot, claiming to walk as much as 700 miles a year, anxious to spread the ‘glad news of the Gospel of Peace to those who had never before heard of a Saviour’s love.’  But he also travelled by canoe on the crocodile and hippo inhabited Zambesi.  Hippos when aggressive were dangerous, not only to life, but also because they so easily upset the canoes and supplies were lost.  But Walter’s gun came to the rescue on at least one occasion, and the hippo provided food at a time when locusts had destroyed nearly all the crops in the area.

Walter was always ready to embark on a journey at a moment’s notice. The day after his return from a trip, he overhauled his equipment – tents, ropes, pegs, cooking utensils, and stored them carefully away.  ‘In leaving on a journey which is likely to extend into weeks, we have to take with us a miniature home, with everything which will lead to health and comfort.’

He had a good relationship with the villagers – he trusted them and in return they showed him loyalty and friendship.  He claimed he never missed an article, his doors were never locked, and when he had to leave the Mission for several days, he knew on his return that all would be just as he left them.  Writing to Rev. Pickett of the PMMC in October 1904 he says, ‘You understand my whole soul is wrapt up in the people here.  God has given them to me, with them I shall live and die.  I could only be happy if all the time I was pleading the cause of those who have endeared themselves to me by fidelity and love and kindness I have never seen surpassed.’

Though busy, life sometimes felt lonely, letters took an age, and it seemed at times as if the folk at home had forgotten them.  Walter wrote to Mr Pickett after not receiving a single letter from anyone in the Connexion except from him.  ‘If the friends at home only knew the pleasure, and the stimulus, there is to us in a letter (a private letter) from one who is interested in our work, they would write oftener.’       Even an old copy of the Daily Telegraph sent to him by a returning missionary, who understood the value of such things, was hailed as ‘looking in the face of an old friend.’


Wherever he travelled, Walter always carried his gun and his unwieldy camera. The latter was important, for to provide photos, along with regular reports of his activities, kept interest alive for the supporters back home whose contributions were so vital to the work of the missionaries.
The gun helped to provide food. Sometimes the calico and other goods sent from Britain by the Primitive Methodist Missionary Committee to trade for food were delayed. But the gun was also needed for protection. Lions and other predators were a constant threat. At one time, the situation was so bad round Sajobas that he had a strong stockade built round the mission involving 3000 stout poles and 350 yards of fencing. This was after a hungry lioness entered the village and threatened the life of baby Margaret. Fortunately Walter and his gun were at hand.

Despite being prudent, ill health came to the missionary family. Baby Margaret Mianda suffered from malaria, and Nellie, pregnant with her second child was forced to return to Edinburgh early in 1904. Later that year, Walter and two of his older daughters travelled to Livingstone, at the Victoria Falls, where Rev T Stones was stationed, for a Missionary Conference. Walter was not at all convinced of the need for a mission there if it was only to meet the needs of the ‘sight seer, the Globe trotter.’ He was aware of the high cost to the supporters back home of missionary work in this part of Africa, and believed that every penny should be spent on the local people.

A beginning and an end

The opening of the new church at Sajobas was delayed by bad weather but it was eventually opened on New Years Day 1905 by Rev Stones. The church was built of hand made bricks, twenty-five thousand of them, together with roof, doors and windows crafted from wood gathered in the forest. It was completely unlike anything that the villagers had seen before, and from dawn people streamed in from all the area around, clapping hands and beating tom-toms.

Walter conducted the service in his usual enthusiastic style, complete with whole-hearted singing, and after the more formal proceedings were over, the day was given over to joyous celebrations, dancing, the playing of traditional instruments, and on the following day, sports, prizes and a great feast.

Shortly afterwards, he and Mr Stones went up the Zongwe River to look at land which had been gifted by the government and where it was proposed to start a Mission Farm. It was estimated it would cost £1000 to purchase the necessary stock and equipment, but the expense was considered a good investment, as once brought under cultivation, it would be a valuable asset. It was thought that such a venture would also win the approval of those who did not as a rule have much sympathy for missionary effort. With several years Colonial farming behind him, Walter was thought just the man to take over the management of this venture.

But it was not to be. On the way back to Sajobas the group had to travel in heavy rain. Weakened by years of relentless activity, Walter succumbed to black water fever. He died on February 5th 1905, having never met his fifth daughter, Ethel, who had been born in Edinburgh the previous summer.

He was buried, as was his wish under a large tree at the Mission. His grave was ultimately covered by the waters of Lake Kariba when the Dam was constructed in the 1950s. Later his memorial stone was placed in a church at Kachindu, Zambia.

His passion to reach others with the Gospel of Christ drove him to achieve much in a relatively short time. Not least was his desire to educate and train young men in skills which would save them from being forced to work in mines, which he believed was a kind of slave labour.

He was not an ordained man, nor was he recruited for the mission field in his native land, and his years of service under the PMMC were few so the life and work of Walter Hogg of Selkirk is relatively unknown. But he was well-respected by his colleagues.

Rev T Stones wrote, ‘Mr Hogg was the first to plant the Gospel standard on the banks of the Zambesi for Primitive Methodism. He was a brave warrior and died fighting. He could wield a sledgehammer or pen to advantage. He could build himself a house of the primitive materials growing around him, and produce from the clay a first rate brick. He had the knowledge and nerve to amputate limb. He was skilled enough to prescribe for any tropical disease. He was a minister of comfort to the people. A man with a striking personality, he had the patience of Job and the moral courage of the strongest saint. Above all he had a love for his work amounting to a passion, the spirit of his Master possessed him through and through.’


‘A Pathfinder in South Central Africa’ 1910 William Chapman
‘Striking Stories of African Missions’ T. Stones
‘The Quiet Wise Spirit–Edwin W Smith 1876-1957’ W John Young
W John Young ‘African Missionaries in Zambia Paper No 7’
Edwin Smith’s Journal 1898
‘The Record’ 1899
‘Aldersgate Magazine April 1903’
Information from Institute of African and Oriental Studies, London.
Information from W John Young
Personal photographs and papers


Comments about this page

  • According to Janet Isabella Russell Hogg’s death notice, she and Walter had 5 children, all of which were minors when she died: Isabella, Jane, Elizabeth, Jeanet and William Warwick Hogg. 

    By Gail (09/02/2018)
  • Hello Colin.  I was directed to your comment by second cousin Tom, whom I discovered existed and met for the first time last year!

    Now your comments following my article about Walter Hogg really interest me.  Thanks to Tom, I have copy of his marriage certificate when he married Janet Isabella Russell Warwick.(that newspaper cutting would be interesting}   My mother seemed to know little of Walter’s first marriage so I was pleased to get this information.    Do you have any idea of why he and his brothers left Selkirk to farm in South Africa?  A couple of years ago I spent some hours in Selkirk reading old newspapers of the time but didn’t find an answer.

    Another surprise for me was discovering the eldest daughter Isabella. In all the correspondence and articles published about Walter by the Primitive Methodist Missionary Committee of the time, only three daughters are mentioned, Jane, Elizabeth and Janet. These three only are mentioned in Walter’s will (I can let you have copy of that).  Did Isabella stay on in Edinburgh when her sisters returned to Africa?  Lizzie was a witness at Walter and Agnes’s wedding in CapeTown in April 1902 and I think the younger girls must have returned to their father with their future step-mother.  A letter from ‘Jeanie’ (Janet?) telling the Missionary Committee that her father had died was sent Feb 9th 1905

    My mother, Margaret, fourth daughter, was born on February 18th 1903 in Sajobas, and her sister Ethel was born in Edinburgh on June 4th 1904.  Walter never met his youngest daughter before he died.

    Any information about Walter’s four daughters from his first marriage would be very interesting to me, their half-niece (if there is such a thing!) 

    By Jean Murrie (30/01/2015)
  • Hello, Colin W….an interesting post from you, in that Walter Hogg who married your cousin Janet so long ago, was my grandfather, William Hogg’s brother. I’m busy trying to gather together as much detail about my great grandfather as I can find and it appears that the marriage took place just before four Hoggs (including my grandfather), plus the newly married Janet, left for South Africa in that same year. I’d really appreciate any “light” which your records could throw on the subject if that were possible!….Regards,

    Tom Hogg.

    By Tom Hogg (14/12/2014)
  • Walter Hogg was born in Selkirk on 18 Jul 1855 and his father was Thomas Hogg and his mother Jane Scott. He married my 1st cousin 2 times removed – Janet Isabella Russell Warwick on 27 Jan 1882 here in Edinburgh (I can supply their marriage cert). They then sold their household belongings (I can supply a newspaper cutting) and moved to South Africa where their four daughters were born; Isabella 1883, Jane 1886, Elizabeth 1888 and Janet 1893. Walter’s wife Janet died in 1899 and the daughters sailed on the 27 October 1900 from Natal to Southampton. They are seen living here in Edinburgh in the 1901 census with their grandmother.

    According to your excellent article Walter remarried – “he and Nellie were married on April 4th 1902 at Caledon Square Congregational Church” and he had at least one more daughter “fifth daughter, Ethel, who had been born in Edinburgh the previous summer”. [1904]

    By Colin W (03/11/2014)

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