Saker, Alfred

Baptist Missionary Society

Alfred Saker Alfred Saker was a Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) missionary in the Cameroons. Saker was born in Kent, England, and married Helen Jessup in 1840. While employed in the Devonport naval dockyard in 1842, he heard John Clarke and G. K. Prince speak about the new BMS mission being established at Fernando Póo, an island off the coast of West Africa. Saker and his wife volunteered to the BMS and in 1843 sailed with Clarke for Jamaica and West Africa. Saker and his colleagues found the freed slave community at Clarence, Fernando Póo, responsive to Christianity, but their chief concern was with the Cameroonian mainland. When Saker and his first convert from Clarence, T. H. Johnston, took up residence at Cameroons Town (modern Douala) in 1845, they found the task much harder. They had to wait until 1849 for the baptism of the first convert. After 1858, difficulties multiplied. In that year, the Spanish authorities prohibited all Protestant worship on Fernando Póo. An admirer of David Livingstone, Saker established a new settlement for the freed slaves on the mainland in hopes that it would become a base for the advance of Christianity, commerce, and civilization into the interior. From 1859 he had to endure a sustained campaign of criticism from a missionary colleague, Alexander Innes, who accused him of exercising dictatorial powers over the community at Cameroons Town. Saker also found other colleagues increasingly critical of his emphasis on civilizing the Douala by industry and commerce. He was twice recalled to London for consultations with the BMS committee, and in 1869 the BMS sent out their senior secretary, E. B. Underhill, to investigate the charges. Although Saker was substantially exonerated, there is no doubt that he was an authoritarian figure. In 1872 he completed a translation of the Bible into the Douala language, building on foundations laid by Joseph Merrick, one of the pioneering settlers from Jamaica. In 1876 he retired to England in failing health.

Brian Stanley


E. M. Saker, Alfred Saker: Pioneer of the Cameroons (1929)

J. van Slageren, Les Origines de L’Église Evangélique du Cameroun (1972)

Brian Stanley, The History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1992 (1992)

E. B. Underhill, Alfred Saker: Missionary to Africa (1884).

Innes published a vitriolic “biography” of Saker, More Light… The Only True Biography of Alfred Saker and his Cruelties (1895). Some relevant primary sources are preserved in the BMS archives at Regent’s Park College, Oxford.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.