Charles Gollmer was a missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Yorubaland. Gollmer was born in Kircheim-unter-Teck, Germany, a Württemberg pietist stronghold that produced a succession of missionaries. In 1835 he entered the Basel Mission seminary and in 1840 the CMS college in Islington, London. The following year, after Anglican ordination, he went with CMS to Sierra Leone. In 1845 he was appointed with Henry Townsend and Samuel Ajayi Crowther to open the Yoruba mission in what is now Nigeria. The intended focus was the Egba state of Abeokuta (present-day Ogun State), but war confined them at first to the port of Badagri. When Townsend and Crowther were able to move inland in 1846, Gollmer stayed on. Badagri was a discouraging post: impoverished, unresponsive, politically volatile, and embroiled in the succession disputes of its more powerful neighbor, Lagos. Like other CMS missionaries, and in spite of frequent physical danger, Gollmer supported the cause of Akitoye against Kosoko in the Lagos succession, believing that with Akitoye in ascendancy Lagos would be kept out of the slave trade. On leave in 1849, he addressed (through the agency of Henry Venn) a House of Commons committee in favor of retaining a British naval presence in the area and on his return he was instrumental in securing the British intervention that restored Akitoye to his throne in 1851. In 1852 he himself moved to Lagos, building up evangelistic and educational work there. His acquisition of property for these operations and his support of Abeokuta as the best means of promoting Christianity and of undermining the slave trade created hostility with European merchants, who had other interests, and complicated relations with the local representatives of the British government. In 1857 he was transferred to Abeokuta, where he extended the work westward into Ketu. In 1862, shattered in health, he retired to Margate, England, and engaged in translation and deputation work. Among African houseguests was a son of Kosoko, who grew up to work for the mission.
Gollmer’s Yoruba name, Alapako (“owner of the board [house])”), indicates his reputation as a builder. He was also a prolific translator of tracts and schoolbooks and a reviser of the Yoruba Scriptures. As an educationist, he was remembered for his readiness (as against, e.g., Townsend) to open the whole range of Western learning to Africans. Grammar school scholarships were endowed in his memory.
Gollmer married three times. His first wife, Catherine Schmidt, died in Sierra Leone in 1842; the second, Eliza Phillips, died soon after arriving in Badagri in 1845; Sarah Hoar died in Margate in 1883. One of their sons, Charles Henry Vidal, became a CMS missionary in Lagos and Palestine.
Andrew F. Walls
[C. H. V. Gollmer], Charles Andrew Gollmer: His Life and Missionary Labours in West Africa (1889; by his eldest son, includes essay by Gollmer on Yoruba symbolic messages); J. F. A. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: The Making of a New Elite (1965); Church Missionary Society, Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy, no. 320 (cf. no. 875).
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.