Jamaica and Cameroons Missionary Papers
Name of creator(s):
Administrative/Biographical history: The Caribbean was unique amongst Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) nineteenth century mission fields insofar as it was not unpioneered; rather, BMS missionaries went to the area as teachers and pastors within an established black Christian community. Baptist influence had grown in the Caribbean during the 18th century, chiefly due to the movement of slaves from the Southern states of the USA, and fostered by active liaison between indigenous pastors and Baptists in England. However, in 1806 the Jamaican House of Assembly passed a law prohibiting Christian teaching on slave plantations.
It was into this politically repressive situation that BMS representatives first entered in 1814, when John Rowe, a student of BMS co-founder John Rylands, responded to a request for assistance from Jamaica. By avoiding political interference, Rowe was able to pave the way for increased BMS involvement. Over the next couple of decades, despite additional attempts to legislate against missionary influence, Jamaican Baptist congregations grew; repressive measures fuelled new British nonconformist calls for the speedy abolition, rather than gradual phasing out, of slavery. Such was Baptist sympathy and influence, that British public feeling led to the passing of the Emancipation Act in 1833; slaves in British held parts of the Caribbean were accordingly freed the next year.
Post-emancipation income of Jamaican Baptist churches increased to such an extent that in 1842 the BMS Committee voted that the Jamaica Baptist Association should become fully independent; no more money or missionaries would be received from the UK. It was hoped that this autonomy, along with a growing crusade to stop the root of slavery in West Africa, would encourage Jamaican Baptists in missionary endeavour of their own; thus was formed the Jamaican Baptist Missionary Society.
To this end, the BMS sent an expedition to investigate the possibilities of a mission on the Niger, composed of the Reverend John Clarke, an English Baptist minister, and a doctor, G. K. Prince, who had both been based in Jamaica. In 1841 Clarke and Prince arrived at Fernando Po (now known as Bioko), an island off of the coast of Cameroon. The island was intended merely as a stopping-off point, but the reception from the local freed slaves was so encouraging that they decided to base their mission there instead of the Niger. En route back to England, Clarke and Prince were blown off course and ended up in the Caribbean, thus enabling them to recruit volunteers for their West African mission. Recruits were also raised on returning to the UK, amongst them an Admiralty draughtsman, Alfred Saker. In 1843 Saker and Clarke sailed to the Caribbean in order to gather the Jamaican volunteers, whilst Prince and other British recruits sailed straight to Fernando Po.
Freed slaves at the British naval base of Clarence, on Fernando Po, were receptive to the missionaries, but the people of mainland Cameroon, the chief target of the missionaries, were much less so. Saker's work in Douala met with indifference on the part of intended converts, which was compounded by problems of ill health and quarrels regarding inequalities between the European and Jamaican missionaries. However, a significant success was achieved by the black Jamaican missionary the Reverend Joseph Merrick, who accompanied Prince to Fernando Po in 1843. Merrick succeeded in writing an Isubu dictionary and translating several books of the Bible; his work paved the way for Saker's Bible translation into the related Douala language. Merrick was to die sailing to England in 1849. In the meantime, the mission's failure to progress led to John Clarke leading the majority of the Jamaicans home in 1848, where he was to spend the rest of his life as a Baptist minister.
However, the West African work was not entirely given up by the BMS, due to the continued efforts of Saker, and of Joseph Jackson Fuller, who had been born a slave in Jamaica, and who was accepted as a full missionary by the BMS in 1850. As well as successfully pleading the West African case with the Baptist public in the UK, Fuller supported Saker in later controversies arising from accusations made against the latter of authoritarianism and mistreatment of black Christians (Saker having set up a new Baptist colony at Victoria on the mainland, in the wake of the 1858 Spanish outlawing of non-Catholic worship on Fernando Po, following the British abandonment of their naval base there in 1845). Saker was eventually to retire to England in 1876, due to ill health; despite its difficult beginnings the Cameroons mission survived to become, during the 1880s, a springboard for the BMS Congo mission.
Immediate source of acquisition: Purchased in 2001 by Regent's Park College, with grant aid from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Baptist Missionary Society World Mission.
CONTENT AND STRUCTURE
Scope and content/abstract: The collection includes letters, journals and associated papers relating to Baptist missionaries and ministers both in the UK and abroad.
Material relating to Baptist activity within the UK includes: correspondence and family papers of Clarke, his brother-in-law the Reverend James Hume, and their father-in-law the Reverend Alexander Kirkwood of Berwick-on-Tweed. These papers include sermons of Kirkwood from 1804, and illustrated journals by Hume's children describing life in a Surrey Baptist household (1869-72).
Material relating to Baptist activity overseas includes: the journals (1847-55) of Hume describing his voyage to Jamaica and his commencement of work there as a Baptist missionary; a transcript of Merrick's journal recounting his voyage to Cameroon with Clarke (1842-44); papers and journals of Clarke, including letters written from Jamaica (1851-77), relating to local life, climate, church matters and education, and his history of Jamaica including the establishment of Baptist missions; miscellaneous correspondence between Clarke, Hume and the Reverend Samuel Oughton relating to Baptist missions in Jamaica during the 1850s, as well as letters from Joseph Angus (Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society) and notable Baptist missionaries such as Saker; a map (1848; and copies) by Saker showing the routes of voyages of Clarke and other Baptist missionaries to the Caribbean and Africa.
System of arrangement: The collection is divided between the following files:
ACCESS AND USE
Conditions governing access: As the collection is not yet catalogued, access may necessarily be restricted according to the discretion of the Archivist.
Conditions governing reproduction:
Finding aids: Summary handlist.
Related material: The collection supplements existing holdings of Baptist and Baptist Missionary Society material in the Angus Library, such as the Baptist Missionary Society archive. The Angus Library also holds the John Clarke Papers (Acc 148) which consists of a file of correspondence (1841-1847) relating to the London Baptist Mission in Bioko and Cameroon, and the Fenn Papers (D/FEN) which consists of correspondence relating to the abolition of slavery in Jamaica.
The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland holds three volumes of linguistic notes (1841-47, MSS 4-5) made by John Clarke.
Note: Compiled using:
Date(s) of descriptions: September 2002.