Frederick Stanley Arnot: 1858-1914

John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Precious Seed

‘I have seen many missionaries under varied circumstances, but such an absolutely forlorn man, existing on from day to day, almost homeless, without any of the modern appliances which make life bearable, I have never seen. He was imbued with one desire, and that was to do God service. Whether it could be best done in that way I will not here question, but he looked neither right nor left, caring nothing for himself if he could get one to believe; at least so he struck me. And I have honoured the recollections of him ever since as being as near his Master as anyone I ever saw’.1 These words, recorded by Sir Ralph Williams, are an unbiased testimony to the life of a man who devoted himself to the evangelization of Africa. Another said, ‘I do not think I exaggerate when I say that, next to Dr Livingstone, Central Africa owes more to Mr Arnot than anyone else’.2


Frederick Stanley Arnot was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in Septem-ber 1858. Having godly parents, he was taught the scriptures from an early age. He was saved in his childhood and from that time had the desire to carry the gospel to Central Africa.3 When the family moved to Hamilton they became friendly with the family of Dr. Livingstone and the children spent many Saturdays in the Livingstone home. Thus, ‘All through his youthful days he had the firm purpose of going to Africa, even in spite of difficulties which friends put in his way’.4 However, it wasn’t until July 1881 that Arnot finally travelled to South Africa, en route to the Upper Zambezi.


After an initial stay in Shoshong, in what was to become the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now Botswana, Arnot travelled on to the Zambezi. He recorded, ‘One suit of clothes, one knife, fork and spoon, one plate, cup, some soap, beads, calico, wheat-meal, tea, sugar, coffee, a little powder and lead . . . But above all, after reading Ephesians 5. 25-29, an overpowering sense of the sufficiency of Jesus’ love . . . I felt I could go anywhere and do anything that I believed He had called me to do’.5 Encouraged by the native Christians in the town of Shoshong, he set off with a guide to cross the Kalahari Desert. In whatever village he stopped he sought to present the gospel to the locals. 


On arrival in the Zambezi valley, Arnot set out to meet Liwanika, a tribal king, but, in travelling to collect his belongings for the arduous river journey, he contracted fever and, fatigued by its onset, lost contact with his guides. As he stated, ‘For two nights and a day I tossed about, suffering agonies from thirst and the blazing sun. Vultures hovered overhead by day . . . and at night the hyena whooped at a distance’. When help eventually came, he had to spend five weeks recuperating but, even then, after trying to journey on, the fever had not left him and he was very weak. Indeed, he was so weak that there was an occasion when his bearers thought he was dead, covered him with a blanket, and went off to find a place to bury him!


The time that Arnot spent with Liwanika was not very productive. There were occasions when he spoke to him about the gospel, using the biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar, but the king was not particularly receptive. However, Arnot records the conversion of Mamwia, an elderly Makololo woman. Even after thirty years in the captivity of the Barotse tribe she remembered the Bible stories she heard as a child and asked the missionary to ‘tell her of “Jesus the King of Galilee”’.6 This he did and as a result he had the joy of seeing her trust the Saviour.


One of the most difficult situations that Arnot had to overcome was the power of the diviners. He found the evil influence of these men to be everywhere. ‘The secret of their art’, he wrote, ‘lies in their constant repetition of every possibility in connection with the disaster they are called upon to explain, until they finally hit upon that which is in the minds of their clients’.7 This divining was rampant amongst the Barotse, Ovimbundu, and other tribes that he met.


But there were numerous other difficulties that Arnot had to overcome in his travels. He had suffered many bouts of fever, and dysentery, as well as hunger and fatigue, but had pressed on. He had met inhospitable and, at times, antagonistic tribesmen and their chiefs. He had encountered the blights of western civilization visited upon the natives, in the form of slavery and alcohol abuse. He had suffered the prejudice created by infamous stories promulgated by Arab traders from the north. He had been at risk from desert, flood, and wild animals but nothing had proved too great a barrier to overcome. Ellis wrote, ‘All this appears commonplace but think of the resolute and patient man who tumbled from one difficulty into another, never complaining, never resting, but always alert to glorify the Saviour and win souls for Him’.8 However, it was upon his arrival at Garenganze, near where Livingstone died, that Arnot found his work.


Most of the pioneer work at Garanganze was done by Arnot. He negotiated with the chief Msidi to obtain a plot of land on which to build a dwelling. Later he sought opportunity to present to that chief something of the message of God and salvation. It would seem that the message had little effect upon the chief who was involved in human sacrifice, war mongering amongst his neighbours, and the trading of slaves who were the spoil of so many of Msidi’s murderous expeditions. However, as Arnot wrote, ‘The more I became occupied heart and hand with “the building up of the broken-hearted, the delivering of the captive, and the preaching of the gospel to the poor,” the more scope there seemed to be for such service’.9 


After two years work in Garenganze, in December 1887 Arnot was joined by two others, C. A. Swan of Sunderland, and W. Faulknor of Canada. In his diary Arnot described their arrival as ‘a day . . . of real Gospel triumph! There in the heart of the continent, standing holding each other by the hand, we sang, “Jesus shall reign”’.10 The labours of these three men enabled a mission station to be established before Arnot returned on furlough to England. Faulknor took charge of the little orphanage and Swan set to work to build up the station. On that basis, after spending two months with his brethren, he set off for home. As he wrote, ‘If the foothold now secured was to be maintained, more helpers would be required’.11


When Arnot reached England in September 1888 he received a tremendous welcome. As Baker indicates, ‘The Royal Geographical Society honoured him by making him a Fellow. It presented him with a medal for his discoveries in connection with the Zambezi, and awarded him the Cuthbert Peak grant in recognition of his seven years’ travel’.12 As Ellis also records, ‘His labours and travel . . . were classed with those of Dr Livingstone and other famous travellers and missionaries. He was given a public reception and presented to Princess May . . . and other leaders in public life’.13 What is interesting is that there is no record of this in Arnot’s own book chronicling his travels. Far more important to Arnot was that as a result of his furlough, twelve were willing to join him and sail for Africa, among them Dan Crawford and Fred Lane.


In all, Arnot made five journeys into the interior of Africa, the later expeditions being made when he was in declining health. It is estimated that he travelled over 30,000 miles, much of it through unexplored and previously unknown land facing perils from Arab raiding parties, hostile villagers, and hippos threatening his frail craft. Though his health had failed him on a number of occasions, Arnot was not easily diverted from his mission.14 What meant most to this illustrious traveller and missionary was that, over a period of thirty-three years, he helped set up sixteen stations over five different mission fields, manned by over sixty workers. Also, from those early pioneer days and the sowing of the seed of the gospel scores of saved natives were beginning to carry the gospel to their fellows. As Ellis concludes, ‘His life is a proof of what God can do with and for one over whom He has supreme control’.15



  1. Williams, Sir Ralph, How I became a Governor, John Murray, 1913.
  2. Comments of Ernest Baker, quoted in the Foreword to Arnot’s book written by William Bennet.
  3. ‘It was only when he had reached the critical age of eleven that he came to know the way of Salvation – came to know it by being saved’, Ellis, James J., Frederick Stanley Arnot, Pickering and Inglis, pg. 7.
  4. Arnot, F. S., Missionary Travels in Central Africa, Alfred Holness, 1914, pg. xii.
  5. Ibid, pg. 5.
  6. Ellis, James J., Frederick Stanley Arnot, Pickering and Inglis, pg. 25.
  7. Arnot, F. S., Missionary Travels in Central Africa, Alfred Holness, 1914, pg. 37.
  8. Ellis, James J., Frederick Stanley Arnot, Pickering and Inglis, pg. 39.
  9. Arnot, F. S., Missionary Travels in Central Africa, Alfred Holness, 1914, pg. 98.
  10. Ibid., pg. 102.
  11. Ibid., pg. 102.
  12. Baker, Ernest, Arnot, a Knight of Africa, (abridged), John Ritchie, pg. 43.
  13. Ellis, James J., Frederick Stanley Arnot, Pickering and Inglis, pg. 55.
  14. Ultimately, it was the on-going problems with Arnot’s spleen that resulted in its rupture. In great agony he had to be carried from the interior of Africa through to the south before surgery could be attempted. Although the operation was successful, Arnot died soon afterwards on the 11th May 1914.
  15. Ibid., pg. 62.

AUTHOR PROFILE: JOHN BENNETT is a member of the Precious Seed committee.

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