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A Tribute to

Mary Moffat


Picture of Mary MoffatA Blue Plaque at Plantation Farm, Dukinfield celebrates the life of Mary Moffat. It was unveiled in July 1998 by Councillor George Hatton JP.

A second plaque is situated at Fairfield High School for Girls where Mary attended and where she received great encouragement from her teachers.

Plantation Farm

Nestling in the valley of the Tame at Dukinfield is a house still enshrined in the hearts of many people, as it was at Plantation Farm where the love story of the missionary, Dr Robert Moffat, and his devoted wife, Mary, a Dukinfield girl, began.

In the early part of the 19th century, Plantation Farm, or the Dukinfield Nurseries as it was called, was a large establishment with part of its grounds extending almost to Guide Bridge.

The house, around 200 years old, still retains its original structural appearance, although its position in relation to old landmarks has considerably changed. With the exception of the front windows which have been enlarged, the house is essentially the same as when tenanted by its original occupants.

Early Life

Mary Moffat was born at Plantation Farm, Dukinfield on 24th May 1795, the only daughter of John Smith, a prosperous nursery gardener. The household was devoutly Christian.

From an early age Mary showed a precocious interest in missionary work overseas, an interest which was encouraged by teachers at the school she attended, Fairfield Moravian.

Picture of Robert MoffatRobert Moffat

In 1816 Robert Moffat, a young Scotsman, came to work at Plantation Farm. He was a good looking and charming man who caught Mary's eye, especially as Robert had a burning ambition to be a missionary in Africa.

To South Africa

Mary was by this time a pretty, well-educated and rather serious-minded girl. Nearing the end of 1816, when Robert Moffat sailed for South Africa to begin his new life as a missionary, it was understood between them that Mary would follow on as soon as she had overcome strong objections from her parents. Finally, after a great deal of pleading with her parents, Mary travelled to Cape Town in 1819.


The marriage took place almost immediately, with both bride and bridegroom being then 24 years of age. Following the ceremony Mary cut off her dark curls, tucked her hair under a matron's cap and became the wife of a minister. Then began a seven week journey by ox-wagon, beyond the Orange River to Lattakoo, a mission station 600 miles north of Cape Town.

Early Married Life

During the early years, the harsh reality of life on a mission station stretched the couple's courage and faith to the limit. They attempted to grow their own food, build a shelter and communicate with the Bechuana tribe amongst whom they were living. Relations with other missionaries were poor. In a whole year not a single convert was acquired. The Bechuanas regarded the Moffat's stubborn attempts to create an English lifestyle in the middle of an African desert with contempt and amazement.

The 1820's

The 1820's were years of frustration, danger and hardship. Ravaging tribes, driven from their homelands by the Boers, caused terror and uproar throughout Southern Africa and, on several occasions, threatened Lattakoo itself. Eventually the physical courage and determination shown by the Moffats won them the esteem of many of the local tribesmen, in the face of many dangers and frustrations. By this time, the couple had conquered enough of the Sechuana language to make themselves understood and, slowly, the tide began to turn in their favour. In 1828 they built a new mission station with school, church and dwelling houses at Kuruman, and Robert Moffat at last was able to begin translating the New Testament into Sechuana. The Moffats remained at Kuruman for over 40 years.

Dr Livingstone I Presume?

During their only visit to England, from 1839 to 1843, Robert addressed enthusiastic meetings all over the country and amongst one audience was the young David Livingstone. Livingstone had originally intended to work in China but changed his mind under Moffat's influence and stayed for a while at Kuruman and, in 1845, at the disapproval of his mother-in-law, married the Moffat's eldest daughter, Mary, as she believed that Livingstone's motives were not as pure as they might be and suspected that he was more interested in self-glorification.

Final Years

The Moffats spent over 50 years in Africa. Throughout this time Mary was an extremely loyal wife and devoted mother to her nine children. She was housekeeper, teacher, nurse and administrator. In 1870, when they finally returned to England, Mary found it hard to adjust.

Blue Plaque for Mary MoffattDr Moffat was presented on his return with a testimonial of £5,800. He paid a visit to the District and renewed his acquaintance with Plantation Farm. On 10th January 1871, only five months after arriving back from Africa, Mary died at Brixton. Dr Moffat's final days were spent at Leigh, near Tunbridge Wells, where he died on 9th August 1883.


The assistance of the following are gratefully acknowledged:

  • "Fairfield Remembered (1716-1919)" - Mildred Knowlson
  • "Dukinfield Past and Present" - Mr J.E. Hickey
  • Mrs J Tucker, Mr S Larkin, and pupils at Fairfield High School for Girls
  • British Waterways Board