Mackay, Alexander Murdoch (1849-1890). Pioneer Engineer-missionary to Uganda.

Son of a Free Church of Scotland minister, Mackay resisted the pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps and trained as an engineer in Edinburgh and Berlin. In 1876 he left for East Africa as part of a CMS group sent in response to information that King Mutesa of Buganda was willing to receive missionaries.

After 3 years he was the only survivor in an area where tribal differences were being reinforced by Protestant and Catholic missions and Arab and Western politics. He developed good relationships at court, translated Matthew’s Gospel into Luganda, and worked with Africans to build roads, houses, machinery, and boats. He opposed Catholic missions, and encouraged British intervention. After the death of Mutesa in 1884 and the martyrdom of Catholic and Protestant Christians in 1886, he was forced to move to the south of Lake Victoria where he died at Usambiro.

Mackay’s spiritual depth and practical skills were popularised by his sister’s biography and admired for generations. Another age would ask different questions, but the options available, then and now, were limited.

John Roxborogh


Baur, (German) A M Mackay. Pioneer missionary of the Church Missionary Society to Uganda.

de S. Cameron, Nigel M. ed. Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993. 

Ellis, James J. Pathclearers in Central Africa: the life stories of Alexander Mackay and Fred. Stanley Arnot, London, Pickering and Inglis [ca.1930]

Fahs, Sophia Lyon. Uganda’s white man of work: a story of Alexander Mackay, Dayton, Ohio: Foreign Missionary Socieyt, United Brethren in Christ, 1907.

Faure, F Alexander Mackay, Missionaire au Ouganda: 1849-1890, Paris, Société des Missions Evangelique, 1928, 74pp. [IRM Bibliography]

Garlick, Phyllis L, Six great missionaries ... London, Hamish Hamilton, 1955.

Hanse, Missions, Church and State, Uganda 1890 ..

Harrison, J W A M Mackay, Church Missionary Society Uganda, London, 1970, 488pp. [IRM bibliography]

Harrison, J W The story of the life of Mackay of Uganda. By his sister, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 7th edition, 1898 (26th thousand); 10th edition, 1900 (40th thousand).

Hayes, Ernest H. Mackay the road maker, London, Livingstone Press, 1926.

Kisitu, Thomas Moore. Towards a holistic mission enterprise: the case of the life and ministry of Alexander M Mackay, 1995, 65p., ill. Thesis (MTh), University of Edinburgh. [CSCNWW, TH 08.11.52 KIS]

Matthews, Basil. Great wizard, London, Edinburgh House, 1941.

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Northcott, Cecil [1902-1987] and Joyce Reason, Six missionaries in Africa, London, OUP, 1947.

Padwick, Constance Evelyn [1886-1968] Mackay of the Great Lake, London, Humphrey Milford, 1920.

Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy from 1804 to 1904, Church Missionary Society.

Stock, Eugene. History of the CMS