Graham Wilmot Brooke was an Anglican lay missionary in West Africa. He was born at Aldershot, England, into a military family. After study at Haileybury College, a period of medical study at St. Thomas’s Hospital, and then travel in Africa, he went to West Africa in 1889, initially as an independent missionary but then joining the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1890. He took with him an intense and intolerant spiritual enthusiasm nurtured by the Keswick Convention and tending toward the perfectionism of Charles Finney. Influenced by Brooke’s magnetic personal qualities, the CMS entrusted him with the leadership of a missionary party to the Niger while he was still only 25 years old. The party was composed of young, headstrong, very middle-class missionaries, mainly from Cambridge, who looked to the radical missionary methods of Hudson Taylor as their inspiration and guide. They were stern critics of traditional missionary methods. Niger had been evangelized under the leadership of Samuel Crowther, the first black African of the nineteenth century. Almost immediately, confrontation developed as Crowther’s policy, methods and agents were critically scrutinized. Brooke’s missionaries sought to purge the local church of “sin,” with a total insensitivity to differences of culture and age. This produced a full-scale confrontation at Onitsha with the aged, distinguished, saintly, but undeniably over-gentle Crowther which was inevitably perceived in racialist terms (though arguably Brooke would have acted in much the same way had Crowther been white). Brooke and his fellow missionaries were enraged when they felt that the CMS did not support them sufficiently. They threatened to make public some damaging information about the church on the Niger. The CMS therefore retreated to a position where it, in effect, substantially modified its traditional, Venn-like support for African missionaries and leadership. Shortly afterward Brooke died of blackwater fever. If his missionary career was a failure, much of the blame must lie with the CMS for giving him responsibilities that were far beyond his experience and wisdom.
Frieder Ludwig, “The Making of a Late Victorian Missionary,” NZM 47 (1991): 269-290; Andrew Porter, “Evangelical Enthusiasm, Missionary Motivation, and West Africa in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Career of G. W. Brooke,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 6 (1977): 23-46.
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.