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Robert Laws


1851 - 1934

Missionary. Born in Mannofield, Aberdeen, the son of a cabinetmaker, Laws was educated in the city, studying arts and medicine at the University (1871-3). He went on to read divinity in Edinburgh, while simultaneously pursuing medical studies at the University of Glasgow and Anderson's College.

In 1875, he was ordained in Aberdeen and, inspired by the exploits of David Livingstone (1813-73), travelled to Nyasaland (now Malawi). This involved an epic navigation along African rivers, including the dismantling of the ship and its overland transportation. As medical officer, Laws took part in setting up the mission station of Livingstonia on the shores of Lake Nyasa. He took over running the mission in 1878 and, during the succeeding 50 years, established a network of over 700 schools which, on his death, were educating 44,000 pupils. He also initiated a range of social projects, converted some 60,000 individuals to Christianity and translated a number of works into local languages.

Laws was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Free Church (1908) and joined the Nyasaland Legislative Council (1913). He encouraged Africans to take charge of their own affairs, including David Kaunda, whose son Kenneth became the first President of Zambia. Laws promoted the formation of native associations which combined to form the Nyasaland African National Congress.

Laws married Margaret Gray in Blantyre (1879) and their daughter, Amelia Nyasa Laws (1886 - 1978), was a noted medical practitioner and osteopath in London and Edinburgh.

Laws retired in 1927. He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Aberdeen in 1891 and again in 1925. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (1884) and of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1900). Laws was created a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in 1923 and received the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen (1928).

Laws died in London but was buried in St. Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen.


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