John and Fred Moir

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Within the grounds of the Livingstone Centre is this plaque. A decent stone tribute to John and Fred Moir, original governors of the David Livingstone Trust. The plaque reads “Pioneers in Nyassaland (Malawi) who fought and were wounded in ending the Slave Trade. First managers of the African Lakes Corporation which was founded to promote Christianity and Commerce. Livingstone’s Hope for Africa.”

The African Lakes Corporation plc was established in  Glasgow, Scotland in  1878  as  The Livingstonia Central Africa Company. It was established by a number of philanthropic gentlemen who had been impressed by  Dr. David Livingstone‘s plea for the establishment of regular trade routes and the introduction of lawful commerce whereby the slave trade might be exterminated and security obtained for the life and property of the inhabitants of  Central Africa.

The first directors of the company were  James Stevenson, chemical manufacturer;  John Stephen, shipbuilder;  James White;  James “Paraffin” Young, and  James S Napier, merchant. Other distinguished men later on directed the destinies of the company and among these were  Sir John N Cuthbertson,  Professor Henry Drummond,  Mr. Alexander Mitchell,  Mr A Low Bruce,  Mr. William Ewing,  Mr. Robert S Allan and  Mr. John G Stephen.

The brothers  John Moir and  Fred Moir, who had contemplated starting a similar company, were appointed joint managers and sent out to Africa in  1878  to start the work in  Nyasaland (Malawi) by founding stations, initiating steamboat and other transport facilities, and also trading arrangements. The company faced strong opposition from Swahili slavers, who resented their interference, and also from the Portuguese, who regarded the operations of the new company with territorial jealousy. The result was a war with the Swahili traders, the expense of which made a serious inroad upon the finances of the company, and the two Moirs were wounded in the fighting. Ultimately, however, it led to the suppression of the slave trade and the pacification of the country.

For a period the company acted as administrators of the country and in  1891  the country, forming the principal arena of the activities of the company, was brought under the British Government. A notable feature of the company was that it was probably the only trading or transport business ever formed not for the express purpose of making money, but rather to fulfil the humanitarian objectives of its initiators– namely, the abolition of the slave trade and the bestowal of freedom and safety on the people of  Nyasaland. Although the subscribed capital with which the company started in  1878  was the modest one of £120 000, nevertheless the company had been successful in earning dividends for its shareholders and its share capital remained intact.

By  1938 , the company had a chain of branches throughout  Nyasaland and  Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), with a salaried staff of well over 100 and a record of achievement of which the company felt justly proud. In  1881  the company changed its name to  The African Lakes Company Ltd , then became  The African Lakes Trading Corporation Ltd in  1893 , and changing again to  The African Lakes Corporation Ltd in  1894 . The company’s shares were acquired by the  British South Africa Company in the  1930s , which later absorbed its businesses.


John William Moir studied at Edinburgh University and in Switzerland and Germany. In the late-1870s, he went with his brother Fred L. M. Moir to East Africa – to the then Zanzibar coast, now Tanzania – to begin a road towards the north end of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi). Earlier difficulties that had been met with the Portuguese in the area had diminished by 1878 and so they were able to start the African Lakes Co. Ltd., of which they were joint managers. Their company steamers plied Lake Nyasa and the Zambezi and Shire Rivers trading with the people and with Arab merchants and slavers, and supplied the missionaries in the region. Disruption came to the area when some of the larger slaving interests tried to drive the colonists away. This was stemmed by recruited forces from Natal in southern Africa and after the Admiralty invested heavily on the Zanzibar coast, ending the slave trade through its presence on the Lake. In addition to his career in East Africa, Moir was a bee-keeper and he built up a large and renowned collection of books on bee-keeping including American works on the subject. John William Moir died on 13 March 1940.

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