Mary Slessor

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Mary Slessor

20th Century

Originally from Aberdeen and born into a poor family, this young girl arrived in Dundee aged eleven. As a mill-worker in Baxter’s, Mary attended the Wishart Church, along with her mother and siblings. Mary’s plaque is below the old Wishart Church, which was known locally as “Heaven and Hell” – the church was on the first floor and there was a pub on the ground floor. The latter is now a sign maker’s shop, which hosts the plaque. The old Wishart Church was replaced by the new Wishart Church, built on what is now the Wishart Centre for homeless people up the hill, from which the Centre got its name.

Mary took a great interest in the activities of the United Presbytery Mission in Calabar, Nigeria. In 1875, she volunteered and set off for Calabar as a missionary. There, she defied local conventions, and moved further and further into the jungle, seeing herself as “the feet of God”. Yet not all of her work was missionary and few Christians were baptised because of her. She tended the sick, administered justice and fought against what she thought were cruel customs of the local tribes.

She made friends with chieftains – notably King Edem and his widowed sister, Ma Eme. Mary worked with the British administrators, and she was known as the uncrowned queen whose word was law.

By a strange quirk of fate, Ma Eme’s great-granddaughter is married to a doctor from Dundee!

A beautiful stained glass window, depicting the life and times of Mary Slessor, can be viewed in the cafe area of McManus Galleries.

Image of Mary Slessor with mothers and children. Copyright McManus Galleries and Museum