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Robert Moffat

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Robert Moffat

by George Baxter
watercolour, circa 1842
11 in. x 9 1/4 in. (279 mm x 235 mm)
Purchased, 1994
Primary Collection
NPG 6312

Sitterback to top

  • Robert Moffat (1795-1883), Missionary in South Africa and linguist. Sitter in 11 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • George Baxter (1804-1867), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 18 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Jeal, Tim; Calder, Angus; Driver, Felix; Cannizzo, Jeanne; Barringer, Tim; MacKenzie, John M., Livingstone: David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter in Africa, 1996 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 22 March - 7 July 1996), p. 174
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 434

Events of 1842back to top

Current affairs

Edwin Chadwick publishes his damning report, Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Poor, which details the shocking living conditions of the urban poor and prompts government to take a new interest in public health issues.
A year-long depression and the rejection of the Chartist petition leads to riots, with workers striking in the Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and parts of Scotland.

Art and science

Mudie's Lending Library opens, becoming one of the largest circulating libraries in the period. Made popular by the otherwise high cost of books, it exerts a great influence over literature; both by maintaining the more costly 'three decker' novel structure, and acting as moral censor.
Richard Owen, the English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist, coins the term 'dinosaur', combining the Greek words for 'formidable' and 'reptile'.

International

Treaty of Nanjing, which allows China to trade with Britain and lends Hong Kong to the British crown for 150 years. In Afghanistan, the Anglo-Afghan war ends as the British abandon Kabul, withdrawing to India and losing most of their garrison force in the operation with only one member, Dr William Brydon, surviving.

Tell us more back to top

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Dr Richard Cleaves

04 January 2022, 11:16

This portrait is a very significant record of the presence of democracy in Africa prior to the arrrival of the colonial powers.

Tim Barringer points out that this portrait includes in the background a 'depiction of a 'Bechuanaland Parliament''.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (Abacus, London, 1994), pp. 24-26 Nelson Mandela describes his understanding of leadership, modelled on the experience he had of just such a 'parliament' among the Thembu people as he was growing up.

When faced with issues of major concern tribal meetings were held at the Great Place, to which all Thembus could come. 'On these occasions, the regent was surrounded by his amaphakathi, a group of councillors of high rank who functioned as the regent's parliament and judiciary. They were wise men who retained the knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinions carried great weight.

'Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard: chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and labourer. People spoke without interruption and the meetings lasted for many hours. The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and were equal in their value as citizens.'

And Mandela puts in brackets, ‘(Women I'm afraid were deemed second-class citizens)’. He goes on:
'The meetings would continue until some kind of consensus was reached. They ended in unanimity or not at all. Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard and the decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.

'Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the regent speak. His purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on people who disagreed.

‘As a leader’, says Nelson Mandela, ‘I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regents at the Great Place. I have always endeavoured to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the regent's axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising all along they are being directed from behind.'

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