Reclaiming the Women of Britain's First Mission to West Africa: Three Lives Lost and Found


Author: Fiona Leach
Reclaiming the Women of Britain’s First Mission to Africa is the compelling story of three long-forgotten women, two white and one black, who lived, worked and died on the Church Missionary Society’s first overseas mission at the dawn of the nineteenth century. It was a time of momentous historical events: the birth of Britain’s missionary movement, the creation of its first African colony as a home for freed slaves, and abolition of the slave trade. Casting its long shadow over much of the women’s story was the protracted war with Napoleon.

Taking as its starting point a cache of fifty letters from the three women, the book counters the prevailing narrative that early missionary endeavour was a uniquely European and male affair, and reveals the presence of a surprising number of women, among them several with very forceful personalities. Those who are interested in women’s life history, black history, the history of the slave trade and British evangelism will find this book immensely enjoyable.

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Fiona Leach, Ph.D. (1991), is Professor Emerita of international education at the University of Sussex, UK. She is a former editor of the journal Compare and has researched and published widely on gender and education in Africa and Asia, including “Resisting Conformity: Missionary Women and the Schooling of Girls in Early 19th Century West Africa”, History of Education, 2011, and “African girls, 19th Century Mission Education and the Patriarchal Imperative”, Gender and Education, 2008.
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
A Note on Terminology and Orthography
Dramatis Personae (1804–1826)

 1 The Beginning
 2 Three Life Stories
 3 Three Sets of Letters
 4 Enriching the Discourse
 5 Setting the Scene
 6 Women Travellers to West Africa

Part 1: Sarah

1 English Pioneer
 1 Clapham Governess
 2 Charmed Circle
 3 The Venn Household
 4 Trophies from Africa
 5 The German Connection
 6 Married in Haste….

2 New Jerusalem
 1 Into the Unknown
 2 A Malevolent Beauty
 3 A New Home
 4 Survival
 5 The Rains
 6 Keeping School

3 The Devil’s Poste Restante
 1 The Social Landscape
 2 The Pot and the Kettle
 3 The Reluctant Governor
 4 Growing Troubles
 5 Widows’ Feast
 6 News from Home

4 The Fall
 1 Sad Partings
 2 Banishment
 3 The Showdown
 4 Crisis
 5 Pariah
 6 Forlorn Hope

5 Divine Providence
 1 The Prodigal Son
 2 Dilemmas
 3 Africa Once More
 4 The Reckoning
 5 Postscript

Part 2: Elizabeth

6 New Dawn
 1 A Historic Year
 2 A Tale of Two Families
 3 Province of Freedom
 4 Romantic Entanglements
 5 Crown’s Agent

7 Black Matriarch
 1 The Wild Frontier
 2 Harmony in Black and White
 3 Crossing the Divide
 4 An Unusual Talent
 5 Arrivals and Departures
 6 Clash of Wills

8 White Man’s Book
 1 Beacon of Light
 2 Privilege and Patronage
 3 A Troubling Reality
 4 ‘A Total Want of Delicacy’
 5 The Fear of God
 6 Crème de la Crème

9 Rio Pongas in Flames
 1 Blind Faith
 2 River of Flames
 3 ‘Mine Eyes Are Weeping’
 4 More Bad News
 5 The Final Struggle

10 Brave New World
 1 Retreat
 2 Decline and Fall
 3 Exile
 4 A Bitter Cup
 5 The Matriarch’s Last Stand
 6 Last Words

Part 3: Susanna

11 Ties that Bind
 1 A Family Affair
 2 Troubling Portend
 3 African Hinterland
 4 Kakara Tales
 5 Brotherly Love
 6 The Art of Contrariness
 7 The Gathering Storm

12 Whistleblower
 1 ‘Tumbling from One Place to Another’
 2 The Bombshell
 3 ‘Sinks of Vice’
 4 Historical Amnesia

13 Choppy Waters
 1 The Visit
 2 Disarray
 3 The Judgement
 4 ‘Those Painful Days Are Past’
 5 Reversals

14 The Great Survivor
 1 Providence Returns
 2 ‘That Beautiful Little Island’
 3 The Showdown
 4 Desperate Measures
 5 Hanging On
Epilogue 388


Appendix 1: List of cms Missionary Women in West Africa 1804–1826

Appendix 2: Governors of Sierra Leone 1792–1827 (in chronological order)

Appendix 3: Selection of Women’s Letters from the CMS Archives

Appendix 4: Two Letters from Liberated African Girls (1823–4)
 Archival Sources
All interested in women’s involvement in early British evangelism and imperialism in Africa, and more generally in women’s life history, black history, and the history of the slave trade.