Mary Slessor (1848-1915)
Mary Slessor had flaws but most were damaging only to herself, like the deep shame she carried over a father who drank himself to death. But one part of her character certainly inflicted pain on others - her administration of justice. In 1891 Sir Claude MacDonald was appointed Consul of the Niger Coast Protectorate. Excellent advisors told him the British had no man who could administer justice in an area inhabited by the treacherous Okoyong, violent people feared by British and Africans alike. But there was a small redheaded Scottish missionary the Okoyong feared. Imminently practical, MacDonald persuaded Mary in 1892 to be his vice-consul in the Okoyong area. She would be in effect the judge who presided over all native disputes.
Sometimes Mary handed out more justice than a litigant petitioned. One day a man named Okpono came to court to sue his brother-in-law for a small debt. To Mary this case was legalism at its worst. She knew for a fact Okpono neglected his children and beat his wives with relish, especially the wife who was the sister of the defendant. The defendant, on the other hand, was a decent man who worked hard but was plagued with bad luck.
"Do you owe Okpono money or not?" she asked the defendant.
"Yes," he muttered reluctantly.
"This court orders you to pay Okpono the money you owe him," said Mary. Then noting the smug look of victory on Okpono's face she added, "I also order you to give Okpono a good whipping, here and now! Do it thoroughly too - or I'll fine you."
Mary used her own fists too. T. D. Maxwell, a British official, arrived one day just in time to witness such a scene. Mary was holding court, while coddling one of her orphan babies. Suddenly she recognized a face in the crowd. She handed the infant to a person nearby. She calmly rose from her rocking chair and removed her lace shawl.
"Didn't I tell you not to enter my court again?" she asked a chief in the crowd.
Maxwell had heard that if a litigant - even a chief - became too obnoxious or repetitive Mary simply banished him from her court!
The chief spotted Maxwell. "I came to visit the British official," he snorted.
"Nonsense!" she countered. "I didn't even know he was coming myself."
With that she rushed into the crowd and grabbed him by the back of his neck. She slapped the side of his head and shoved him away. 'Soi, wara do!' she barked, shooing him off. Mary stood hands on hips, glaring at the chief and his minions until they had slouched off into the jungle. Then she returned to her chair, donned her lace shawl and politely asked for the baby. After she had finished the proceedings for the day she chatted with Mr. Maxwell. Then he had to leave.
He was startled to hear Mary warn, "Now you be a good laddie too."
[source: Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary by W. P. Livingstone, 1916]
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Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1912-alive)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn 's anecdote is available HERE.
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