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.