Object of the week: Sketchbook of Augustus Law SJ

POST BY JGraffius

Warriors, Sketch of Augustus Law SJ c1880
Warriors, Sketch of Augustus Law SJ c1880

There is a small sketchbook in the Stonyhurst College collections, with a number of curious and moving drawings and paintings by a Jesuit priest who is popularly known as the Martyr of the Zambezi.

Augustus Law was converted to Catholicism when serving as a junior officer in the Navy. He joined the Jesuits in 1854, and twenty-one years later set sail for South Africa, feeling a strong call to be a missionary. He founded St Aidan’s College for boys in Grahamstown and learnt the Zulu language while waiting for the chance to travel further afield.

In 1879 he was chosen to be one of a small group of Jesuit missionaries to the uncharted territory of the Zambezi River. Law and his few companions travelled with ox carts for over a thousand miles, reaching Gubulawayo in March 1880. Law’s journey onwards was recorded in his diary, now in the Jesuit Archives in Mount St, and in the little sketch book kept at Stonyhurst. He records hostile people, as we can see from this watercolour, swollen rivers, impassable tracks, crocodiles, fever and a desperate scarcity of food.

In August 1880, having lost touch with some of his Jesuit companions, he and a lay Brother arrived at a small village where he collapsed, suffering from starvation and malaria. He survived a further four months, preaching and celebrating mass, held up by ropes when he no longer had the strength to stand. He died in November 1880 and it took six months for the news to reach his Jesuit companions who had got lost along the way. They travelled to recover his body and his few possessions, among them this sketchbook. One of Fr Law’s last diary entries reads – ‘Bad all today. Delirious in the evening. Br Hedley so kind. God bless him and take care of him when I die.’

This sketchbook featured in a talk by the Curator at SMH on explorers illuminated through the Stonyhurst Collections, entitled ‘From the Arctic Floes to the Headhunters of Borneo’, which examines the extraordinary legacy of explorers, scientists and naturalists associated with the College over the last two hundred years.