Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

026: Joseph Jackson Fuller of Jamaica, Africa and England

After leaving Cameroon Fuller was often seen at Baptist meetings in England

After leaving Cameroon Fuller was often seen at Baptist meetings in England

Joseph Jackson Fuller (1825-1908), Jamaican missionary in Cameroon for over thirty years, is documented in Jamaican and Baptist Missionary Society books, archives and sites, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. His second wife, Norfolk-born Charlotte Diboll, was also a missionary. She survived after his death in Stoke Newington: he was buried at nearby Abney Park cemetery.

Their son Joseph Alfred Albert Fuller was born in Cameroon in February 1866 and schooled in England. He married Jessie Hannah Butterfield: their first child Herbert Alexander Fuller was born in June 1889; twin girls in August 1902, Norman Dennis Fuller in October 1905, and another son three years later. Their father worked for the Baptist Missionary Society in the Congo from 1890 to 1896, and then did “valuable service at the Baptist Mission House in London”. The birth registration of his son Norman at 192 Hermitage Road (near Finsbury Park), London states he was an “insurance agent”.

Discussions with Norman Fuller’s daughter included the comment that her oldest uncle (Herbert A. “Bert” Fuller) was the darkest (“suntanned all the year round”), that Stella Grace, one of the twins died aged 14, and survivor Dora lived in suburban south London, worked as a secretary (possibly for the Red Cross), never married, and died by 1990. She lived with her widowed mother Jessie in a dark if not gloomy house (58 Denmark Road, South Norwood), with African weapons and curios, and that was where the boys lived until their marriages. The house was destroyed in the war.

Herbert “Bert” and the younger Morris Fuller had decent educations. Bert had a clerical job, and always wore a white collar. Morris was a carpenter; and Norman was a shoe repairer running his shop at Portland Road, Norwood and raising his family in the 1930s in nearby Davidson Road, Croydon. When the three met “laughs just echoed”, a contrast to their mother, an austere and “very religious lady”. The Africa born father had died when the boys were children.

Photographs of the brothers show an African descent to a careful observer. Norman was called “Snowball” at school because of his colour. The brothers died between 1965 and 1989: they had seven children, six reaching maturity. The six were living in outer London, western England, Australia, and Yorkshire in the early 1990s. One has the surname Fuller.

The family papers, held by Norman Fuller’s daughter Cynthia (born 1937), include a Family Register from a bible. It starts: “My husband Revd J. J. Fuller was born in Spanish Town Jamaica. June 29th 1825”. Without a marked change in script, but written by Fuller it notes that “I was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Johnson of Sierra Leone” on 15 June 1847 at Fernando Po island: where their daughter Mary McLeod Fuller was born, and died seven days later, in March 1848. A son Alexander Merrick Fuller was born at Bimbia (Cameroon) 26 June 1849. Two other children were born at Bimbia (Samuel McCleod 20 December 1852-30 March 1857; Margaret Amelia 11 March 1858-23 June 1859). “My dear wife Elizabeth died at Bimbia at the Mission House February 18th 1859”.

The surviving child Alexander Merrick Fuller was “an apprentice to an engineering firm at Norwich” (Robert Glennie Joseph Jackson Fuller London: Carey Press, 1933 p 43). The Family Register continues after the note of the death of his mother that “Born to my son Alexander Merrick [Fuller] at Norwich” and lists

Florence born 9 March 1875 – Edith born 26 April 1880 – Frank born 31 October 1885 – Courtney [middle name Hilda] born 30 January 1889

and then had “Florence baby boy born 3 August 1899” and “baby girl born 18 September 1904”. On another page “Florence children” has one line “Little boy Sidney Aug 3rd 1899. Sidney Ewart” and another “little girl Sept 18th 1904 Gwendolin Elizabeth” and another name “Frederick Alexander”. The lines are not straight.

Alexander Merrick Fuller had married, in Norwich, in 1874, Sophia Mace. Their daughter married Benjamin Wright in 1910, and that line continues a century later. In early 2016 a descendant in Norwich advised they had four children and that the Norwich-trained engineer Alexander Merrick Fuller returned to Cameroon where he died in 1898.

This side of the Fuller family has been been tracedin 2010, for in March 2010 the grand-daughter of Francis “Frank” Mcleod Fuller made contact, stating that she lived in Norwich. In December 2010 Edith Fuller Wright’s descendant made contact too.

Cynthia told me that after her father Norman Fuller died in 1981 his widow Amy produced the 1933 biography of his grandfather and loaned it to her other daughter Margaret who died a year or so later, having loaned it to Cynthia. For the first time she learned that an ancestor was a Jamaica-born missionary “I felt so proud of my great-grandfather and what he’d done”. She still cannot understand why her mother did not tell her daughters when their father was alive. After all, their oldest uncle Bert had been ten when the patriarch died in 1908 (their father had been three). They would have known J. J. Fuller’s widow. Cynthia believes that her mother was ashamed because “in those days, people looked down on you” if you were black. Her own children and grandchildren are excited by the discovery of the ancestral biography and the new documentation showing Fuller’s major role in the spread of Christianity in Cameroon in the 19th century.

The Family Register contains other notes, which, as several other births, marriages and deaths took place in Africa, may not be easy for family historians to document from other sources.

Charlotte Diboll (the English 2nd wife of J. J. Fuller) wrote that her father Revd Joseph Diboll was born 17 October 1801 at Caistor near Yarmouth, Norfolk. Her mother Susan Bristow was born in Loddon, Suffolk, 19 April 1800. Ten or eleven children were born to them – Martha (24 Oct 1823), Ann (22 Jan 1825), Sarah (9 Feb 1827), Sabina (born 7 Nov 1828 – and died 20 April 1908) who seems to have been one of triplets as there are no dates, just “——” for Maria and Charlotte. Confusingly the next line has Charlotte born 27 Feb 1832, Mary Ann (22 Jan 1835), then John Africani, 22 August 1837, Jemima 24 Jan 1842 (“died at Walthamstow”) and finally Walter Ebeneezer, 12 Dec 1844.

Mrs Fuller then lists her parents’ marriage (Joseph Diboll and Susan Bristow) at Lowestoft church on 9 Dec 1822. She states that they and she arrived at Fernando Po from England on the Forerunner on 25 June 1854; then arrived on the “little yacht” Wanderer from England, at Cameroon 19 Dec 1860 with her father, sister Mary Ann and brother John “and others” having left Cameroon for England 30 March 1860 (no brother named).

Charlotte married the “missionary from Jamaica” at Cameroon 1 Jan 1861. Her father married a Mrs Sturgeon at Cameroon 30 May 1862. Her mother had died “at Victoria, West Africa [Cameroon]” 16 March 1860, and her father at Sierra Leone 8 July 1865.

The first wife of J. J. Fuller has been described as a Jamaican – the Baptist settlements in Victoria, Ambas Bay and Bimbia (Cameroon) had substantial Jamaican elements, including the locally-born Rose Edgerley who became the wife of Baptist missionary George Grenfell who was once famed for mission and exploration work in the Congo. She and three of their four daughters survived his death in 1906, when the daughters were at a school for the children of missionaries, Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, Kent. See the Grenfell page on this site.

The black element in Christian missions to Africa, the activities of English-speaking missionaries in lands not under the British flag (Cameroon became German, Fernando Po became Spanish, the Congo was owned by the king of Belgium as his own property before, in 1908, becoming the Belgian Congo), the role of Jamaican migrants in Africa, and even Fuller telling British audiences of that moment, in Jamaica in 1838, when slavery was ended and the people buried slave shackles and prayed – all these matters are known only to specialists.

The north London insurance agent, his son the shoe repairer, and the widow in her spear-decorated house in south London are aspects of British history which – probably to be expanded in other directions now one of Alexander Merrick Fuller’s four Norwich-born children and his family has been traced – again shows how the black presence in Britain’s history is older than widely thought and that it contained some remarkable individuals.

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