Robinson, John Alfred

Anglican Communion (Church Missionary Society)

John Alfred Robinson was an Anglican mission administrator in West Africa. Born at Keynsham, near Bristol, Robinson was the son of an Anglican priest. He went to Liverpool College and the University of Cambridge (Christ College), where he took a first in his theological tripos. After a curacy and a period of teaching in Germany, he became the Church Missionary Society (CMS) secretary for the Niger in 1887. This was a difficult assignment, as dissatisfaction with the African administration of Samuel A. Crowther had been brewing for some time. Nonetheless, Robinson managed the task moderately successfully until he came under the influence of G. W. Brooke in 1889. Apparently accepting Brooke’s ideas almost immediately, he began to argue for European missionaries, a European episcopal replacement for Crowther, and a simpler missionary life-style. He played a leading part in a confrontation with Crowther and the leading African clergy at Onitsha in 1890. The memorandum he wrote for the CMS on the state of the Niger mission was devastatingly critical and distinctly unbalanced. When the CMS failed to support their Niger missionaries in the way Robinson felt was merited, he reacted in extreme anger, threatening to write to the church press. In the midst of the ensuing crisis, he died at Lokoja of meningitis, “partly arising,” judges Eugene Stock, “from the mental strain caused by his dissatisfaction with the Committee’s decision.” He was an able man, driven to extremism by the spiritual intensity of the period. Five of his seven brothers were ordained; one of his brothers was Joseph Armitage Robinson, a noted New Testament scholar and an eccentric dean of Westminster and later dean of Wells; another, Arthur, was the father of J. A. T. Robinson, later bishop of Woolwich and author of Honest to God.

Peter Williams


Frieder Ludwig, “The Making of a Late Victorian Missionary,” NZM 47 (1991): 269-290.

Eugene Stock, The History of the Church Missionary Society: Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work, 4 vols, (1899-1916).

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.