The Reverend James Laing was one of the earliest missionaries of the Glasgow Missionary Society to arrive on the eastern frontier of South Africa in 1831. Like many other missionaries, he kept a daily journal until his death in 1872. This volume consists of the first six years of his journal, a tumultuous period on the Eastern Cape frontier. Laing was a private man who wrote considerably less about himself than about the amaXhosa whom he served, showing an insatiable interest in their language, genealogy, history, customs and societal structure. Together with his eventual mastery of isiXhosa, this gave him unparalleled insights into amaXhosa society. His close association with its leaders in the Amathole area allowed him to witness, during the years leading up to the Sixth Frontier War of Dispossession of 1834-1835, their growing suspicion, anger and hostility towards the colonial authorities’ incursions and their retaliatory raids in return. These insights provide novel perspectives on the growing crisis on the frontier as well as on the brutal conduct of the war itself, including Laing’s enforced move to the garrison town of Grahamstown throughout 1835.
Laing’s interest, gentleness, sincerity and empathy earned him the trust of amaXhosa leaders like Maqoma, Suthu, Sandile and the many amaXhosa he encountered. When he died in 1872, an obituary published in isiXhosa referred to Laing as “Indoda ebisithanda” (the man who loved us).