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Dr John Philip was a figure who towered over nineteenth-century South African history, and was perhaps the most influential South African in the larger world of empire before Cecil Rhodes.
But he is largely forgotten or misremembered today. From the time he arrived in South Africa as superintendent of the London Missionary Society in 1819, Philip played a major role in the idealist and humanitarian campaigns of the day, working with English philanthropists such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Fowell Buxton and African leaders such as Waterboer, Moshoeshoe and Maqoma. He was a creature of an age of extraordinary optimism, who held out a vision of non-racialism and progress that needs to be rediscovered and remembered. Dr Philip's Empire takes the reader from rural Scotland and industrial London to the thriving colonial outpost of Cape Town and the wilds of the Eastern Cape.
It documents his encounters with Dutch colonists, English settlers and indigenous South Africans, his never-ending battles with fellow missionaries and colonial authorities, and his lobbying among the powerful for indigenous people's civil rights. Philip has since been viewed as an interfering radical subversive by believers in white supremacy, and as a condescending, hypocritical 'white liberal' by African nationalists. This book seeks to revive him from the judgments of his enemies and to recover the real man and his noble but doomed struggles for justice in the context of his times.