James Hannington was born at Hurstpierpoint, near Brighton, in 1847. His father was a fabric merchant, and part of the family that ran a department store of the same name in Brighton. James left school young to join his father’s counting house, but was often abroad on family holidays. In his spare time, he obtained a commission in the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers, and rose to the rank of major. Aged 21, he decided to enter the clergy, and went to study at St Mary Hall, Oxford, but was not ordained deacon until 1874. After a short period in Devon, he became curate for St George’s, a chapel his father had built on his own land in Hurstpierpont, and was ordained priest soon after. He married Blanche Hankin-Turvin in 1877, and they had three children.
In 1882, Hannington offered his services to the Christian Missionary Society (CMS). He set out for Buganda, part of Uganda, heading a team of six missionaries, but he had to return early due to illness. Subsequently, in 1884, having been ordained Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, he again set off for the CMS missions in Buganda, visiting Palestine on the way. Once on the coast of Africa, he decided to pioneer a shorter route inland from the coast near Mombasa. The Bugandan king, however, had become suspicious of European missionaries by this time. He imprisoned Hannington and some 50 porters, killing most of them eight days later - Hannington was shot with his own gun on 29 October 1885. Widespread persecution of Christians followed. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Bishop Hannington Memorial Church, Anglican History or the Church Society.
Hannington appears to have kept a journal, and, remarkably, his last pocket diary was saved by a native Ugandan, and sold to a later expedition. It found its way back to Britain where it was edited by Rev E. C. Dawson and published by the CMS in 1886 as The Last Journals of Bishop Hannington being narratives of A Journey through Palestine in 1884 and A Journey through Masai-Land and U-Soga in 1885. This is freely available online at Internet Archive. The Last Journals, and another book written by Dawson about Hannington, were very popular, and must have helped establish Hannington’s reputation as a missionary hero. Incidentally, without Hannington’s journal there would have been no record of what happened to him and his expedition. Here are several extracts from the journal, including the very last entry.
21 June 1883
‘Went to town with Sam. Visited Kew; poor reception. Went to British Museum; warm reception. Slept at C.M. College. Gave address to the students.’
22 June 1883
‘Gave another address at morning prayers. Brighton 11 a.m. Gave address at the C.M.S. meeting in the Pavilion.’
23 June 1883
‘Rather tired with the week.’
1 October 1884
‘During the past nine months I have travelled 9,292 miles, or thereabouts. I have preached during the same time one hundred and eleven times, and spoken at one hundred and eighty-seven meetings, besides being present at thirty-four others.’
5 November 1884
‘What a bustle there is at the Liverpool Street Station! What an unusual amount of leave-taking! Even as the train moves out of the station many run alongside well-nigh the length of the platform to give one last look, one more parting blessing.
What does it all mean? Why that we are in the special train that is conveying P. and O. passengers to Tilbury, thence to embark for their several destinations.
It was but eighteen months ago that I was hurried along that same line in exactly the opposite direction. And with what different feelings! Each beat of the engine was then conveying me nearer home, and now it is tearing me away - but I must not soliloquise, for I have many things yet to say to those who have so kindly determined to see the last of us; nor can we refrain from enquiring who that queer old gentleman is in the corner. We learn that he is uncle to a noble earl, and is to occupy a berth in the same cabin as ourselves, so more of him by-and-by.
Wedged in on the steamer that is running up alongside the P. and O. boat we hear a voice at our elbow, “Hulloa! there is to be a bishop on board, won’t you get dosed with –!” with what I never heard, for just at that moment the speaker’s eye was raised from the list of passengers to the strings on my hat, thence it wandered to my gaiters, and finally stole a furtive peep at my face - where, to judge from the confusion that followed, it read in my enquiring glance, “Dosed with what, sir?”
What a motley crowd there was on deck! Officers in uniform (we learn with horror that there are three hundred troops on board), Lascars, British tars, Chinese, Indian ayahs, agents, and passengers, and nobody knowing exactly what to do or say next, until at length the bell rings, and relatives who have come to say farewell must do so now as best they can. The final wrench, the most agonising of all, because it breaks the last link with England and home.
There may be but little time for a man to get his cabin shipshape before he finds himself battling with the billows, so I take the initiative and slip below, put a week’s supply close at hand, and arrange a few little mysteries, as O. D. C, toilet vinegar, Eno, matches, and plenty of spare pocket-handkerchiefs. You expect, then, to catch a cold? No, but it might be rough for a few days!
Having completed my arrangements to my own thorough satisfaction, I was not sorry to hear the unmistakable peal of the dinner-bell; we congratulate ourselves that we are still in the Thames.’
21 December 1884
‘I am not going to say very much about Jerusalem, Jerusalem society, or Jerusalem work. The prophets always found that they got stoned when they sojourned there. Had I found that things had been made pleasant and comfortable for me, I might have been led seriously to consider whether I was not one of the false prophets, and whether my mission was not rather for ill than for good; but in the midst of the party distractions, we found shelter in the dear Preparandi School under Wilson’s wing. Perhaps if the baby - but never mind. We found ourselves revelling in a hundred recollections of the past, and had much to say about the present - and future, too, all unknown. I had but a light Sunday, preaching at the Jews’ Church in the morning and the C.M.S. in the afternoon, being present at the Jews’ Church again in the evening. Saddened by the sight of the tombs of the three bishops; - but why should I be sad? Charmed to an intense degree by a stroll down the valley of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat, past the beautiful tombs of Zechariah, James, and Absolom; and I still think, of all spots within and without the city, this is the one that charms me most - viz., to stand opposite these tombs, gazing across the Brook Kedron, on the Mount of Olives. And near the same spot to grub amongst the ash-heaps that fill the valley of Hinnom, and secure little treasures of ancient pottery, was my most delightful employment. My good friends, when we had spare time, would ask me, “Where will you go? What do you want to see?” My answer invariably would be, “The ash-heaps!” They were exceedingly cruel to me, for it was very seldom I was allowed the treat; there was almost always on such occasions some particular sight I must see.’
12 September 1885
‘Flies and mosquitos swarmed, and so did Masai. As soon as ever the sun showed, a fresh and powerful band of warriors came at once and demanded hongo. A very covetous and wicked-looking old medicine-man came with them. After some delay we settled their claims, but, before doing so, a fresh band had arrived, and far more insolent; and then a third; and then a fourth; and now the elders began to be even more troublesome than the rest; at length matters reached a pitch, and the women were ordered from camp, and fighting seemed imminent. Jones and I rushed hither and thither, and got matters straight again somehow, but I was nearly torn to pieces by the warriors pulling my hair and beard, examining my boots, toes, etc.; at last, nearly demented, I went to hide myself from them amid the trees. After three ineffectual attempts I at last succeeded, when Jones, who knew where I was, came rushing to call me. The warriors were attacking the loads. I dashed back and found them in a most dangerous mood, and backed by the elders, who were worse than all. By dint of the keenest policy I amused the warriors while Jones gave presents to the elders. Then a fresh and yet more exacting band of warriors arrived, and had to be satisfied. How often I looked at the sun! It stood still in the heavens, nor would go down. I agonised in prayer, and each time trouble seemed to be averted; and, after all, we came out of it far better than could be expected, and really paid very little - not two loads altogether, and bought six goats to boot. About sunset things grew quiet, so I went out and bagged three geese. All the men, elders, Jones, and myself agree that we must try and escape tomorrow.’
28 October 1885
‘(Seventh day’s prison.) A terrible night, first with noisy, drunken guard, and secondly with vermin, which have found out my tent and swarm. I don’t think I got one hour’s sound sleep, and woke with fever fast developing. O Lord, do have mercy upon me and release me. I am quite broken down and brought low. Comforted by reading Psalm xxvii.
In an hour or two fever developed rapidly. My tent was so stuffy that I was obliged to go inside the filthy hut, and soon was delirious.
Evening: fever passed away. Word came that Mwanga had sent three soldiers, but what news they bring they will not vet let me know.
Much comforted bv Psalm xxviii.’
29 October 1885