Above: James Hannington
Image in the Public Domain
JAMES HANNINGTON (SEPTEMBER 3, 1847-OCTOBER 29, 1885)
Anglican Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Guinea, 1884-1885, and Martyr
The purpose of this post is to provide a brief summary of the life of Bishop James Hannington. For longer and more detailed accounts of his life and parts thereof I refer you, O reader, to the following sources:
- James Hannington, First Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa: A History of His Life and Work (1885), by Edwin Collas Dawson;
- Peril and Adventure in Central Africa; Being Illustrated Letters to the Youngsters at Home, by the Late Bishop Hannington (1886);
- 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 (1888), edited by Edwin Collas Dawson;
- Bishop Hannington and the Story of the Uganda Mission (1908), by William Grinton Berry;
- Bishop Hannington: The Life and Adventures of a Missionary Hero (1910), by William Grinton Berry;
- James Hannington, Bishop and Martyr: The Story of a Noble Life (1910), by Charles D. Michael; and
- James Hannington, the Merchant’s Son Who Was Martyred for Africa (1920), by Charles D. Michael.
James Hannington seemed at first unlikely to become an Anglican missionary bishop. He grew up an Independent, not a member of The Church of England. Our saint, born in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, on September 3, 1847, was a son of Charles Smith Harrington, who operated a warehouse. The young saint, who attended the Temple School at Brighton, was a bad student. He dropped out of school at age 15 to help his father at the warehouse.
Hannington’s life turned toward his destiny in 1867, when the family joined The Church of England. He decided to pursue Holy Orders and studied at St. Mary Hall, Oxford (B.A., 1874, then M.A.) At first our saint continued to be a bad student, but the death of his mother changed him and altered his academic habits. Hannington, ordained to the diaconate in 1874, served as the Curate of St. Peter’s, Treentishoe, Devon, in 1874 and 1875. Then he, as a priest, was the Curate of St. George’s, Hurstpierpoint, from 1875 to 1882.
Hannington’s life turned toward his destiny again in 1882, when he learned of the murders of missionaries in the vicinity of Lake Victoria. He volunteered to join the Church Missionary Society’s mission to the area. Our saint went to Africa, but bad health forced his return to England in 1883. Upon recovering he became the first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in June 1884. By the end of the year he left for Africa again. Hannington reached Lake Victoria in 1885.
Our saint did have a family. On February 10, 1877, at St. George’s Church, he had married Blanche Hankin-Turvin. The couple had three children. Hannington was a loving husband and father, but his call from God took into the path of danger.
Hannington had a brief episcopate. Shortly after he and his party of about 50 people arrived in the vicinity of Lake Victoria King Mwanga II of Buganda (reigned 1884-1888 and 1890-1897) had them arrested and incarcerated. During the course of about a week most of them suffered violence, humiliation, and martyrdom. Mwanga feared not only the increasing rate of conversions to Christianity among this subjects but foreign encroachments upon his realm. He also linked those two issues. The monarch failed in his attempts to stop both, despite the executions he ordered. Our saint died on October 29, 1885. He was 38 years old. Hannington’s last words were:
Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.
Four members of Hannington’s party escaped to safety.
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing;
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?
–Doris Plemm, circa 1950, in reference to victims of McCarthyism
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 29, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARY AND MARTHA OF BETHANY, FRIENDS OF JESUS
Precious in your sight, O Lord, is the death of your saints,
whose faithful witness, by your providence, has its great reward:
We give you thanks for your martyrs James Hannington and his companions,
who purchased with their blood a road into Uganda for the proclamation of the Gospel;
and we pray that with them we may obtain the crown of righteousness
which is laid up for all who love the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 3:14-18, 22
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 657