Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

046: Four West Africans in Keston, Kent, 1873

Bishop Samuel Adjai Crowther (rear). Memoral to left behind the oak

Bishop Samuel Adjai Crowther (rear). Memoral to left behind the oak

Keston is east of Croydon and south of Orpington
Keston is east of Croydon and south of Orpington

Anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce met with prime minister William Pitt at the latter’s home, Holwood Park, in Keston, Kent in the 1790s. Wilberforce decided to campaign against slavery and the slave trade at that time. The oak tree where the two men discussed this became known as the Wilberforce Oak. In the 1860s a circular memorial was erected near it.

In 1873 seven men made a pilgrimage to the oak tree. All were associated with the Church Missionary Society, they included CMS lay secretary Edward Hutchinson, the Revd David Hinderer and the Revd Henry Townsend. (Above, 1st and 2nd left, and far right). The four West Africans were Revd Henry Johnson (3rd from left), Bishop Samuel Crowther (rear), a medical student in London Nathaniel King (already a graduate of Aberdeen) who is in front, and between Bishop Crowther and Revd Townsend is the Revd. James “Holy” Johnson.

Two photographs  are known to have survived: Hutchinson removed his hat in the other pose. Bromley’s central library has one, so does the Lambeth Palace Library, and the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull (ill. 30 in Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Curse: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins London: Allen Lane, 2009). Hauling the heavy camera and the glass plate negatives to Keston Common was not easy in 1873, and there might be other prints and perhaps other views.

This image was printed on a postcard by F. Medhurst Ltd of nearby Bromley, in the 1900s. A London postcard publisher printed one, partly coloured, at that time. That suggests tourists including other Africans continued to pay their respects at the oak. When the Church Missionary Gleaner printed the image (1 June 1907) Edward Hutchinson, the man with the hat, had been removed (see David Killingray’s article in The International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol 21, No 3 [1997]).

The tree blew down in the early 1990s.

My thanks to David Killingray.

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