Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Johnson, Henry ‘Erugunjinmi’

Anglican Communion (Church Missionary Society)

A Yoruba recaptive and Christian leader in Sierra Leone who returned to Yorubaland to join Rev. Hinderer in planting Christianity among his people, Henry Johnson’s early life is shrouded in obscurity. His story of captivity, rescue, and conversion to Christianity paralleled that of the national history of the Yoruba people in the nineteenth century.

His story began with the implosion of the old kingdom of Oyo in the second decade of the nineteenth century. The event reconfigured the Yoruba country as old settlements were destroyed, people displaced and far-flung; and new settlements emerged in their stead. The regional effect of the collapse of the empire of the Alafin [1] was felt as far away as Sierra Leone, the British colony set up in 1787 as a result of the campaign of the anti-slavery movement in England. [2] For by the 1820s, the colony began to witness the preponderant presence of the victims of the war that decimated the country. [3] One of such persons who providentially found himself in the colony was Henry Johnson from Gbagere compound of Oyo Ile, the defunct metropolis. [4]

Through Changing Times

It is not certain when Johnson arrived in Sierra Leone, but if the process of integrating recaptives into the fledgling colony is something to go by, and in view of the census records of the colony, young Johnson might have arrived in the village of Hastings sometime around 1830, adopting the English name of his Susu apprenticeship master. [5] Henry Johnson later married Sarah, another Yoruba recaptive by whom he had seven children, the first son, Henry, Jr., being born in October 1840. [6] Sarah herself might have earlier been apprenticed to Mary Weeks, the wife of Mr. John Weeks, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) schoolmaster formerly in charge of Hastings but still resident there at the time of the 1833 census. [7]

The first twenty years of Johnson’s domicile in Sierra Leone was quiet, although a lot was happening in the religious life of the colony. The village of Hastings, in particular, was a theatre of contest for the soul of the people. The Yoruba recaptives had recreated in their new home the religious traditions of their forebears and sought to observe them publicly. But the colonial authorities outlawed sacrifices to idols in August 1831 and thereby pushed to the margins of society the practice of indigenous religions. [8] At the same time their missionary benefactors were introducing Christianity to them. Consequently, and although there was a significant accession to Christianity, some of the converts practiced the two faiths in syncretistic relationship. It would seem Johnson was baptized in Hastings during these silent years.

The dearth of missionary personnel to promote the work was a major challenge for the missionary societies working in the colony, and this explains the reason for the flourishing of indigenous religions among the people. From its inception in 1820 when the British government purchased the land from the Temne chiefs, the CMS mission had difficulty stationing a missionary in Hastings for more than a year at a time. But the history of the village took a turn for the better with the arrival in 1837 of Johann Ulrich Graf, a Basel-trained missionary from Grub, Germany. Graf worked the church for sixteen years during which he made a strong impact on Henry Johnson and his children.

Missionaries generally were passive in enforcing the governor’s edict and both John Weeks and Frederick Schön in Hastings were not different. But things took a new turn with the arrival of Graf who spared no effort in driving the cults into the outlying forest of the village and suspended communicants who compromised their faith with indigenous religions. It was under the pietistic and no-nonsense pastorate of Ulrich Graf at St. Thomas Church, Hastings, that Henry Johnson received much of his Christian religious formation and rose to become a prominent leader in the congregation. His rise to leadership position was providential just as his entire life experience of capture, enslavement, deportation and rescue on high sea were.

From the 1840s, the homeward migration of the Yoruba elements in the colony began eastward. Some of those who belonged to the Egba sub-group were reuniting with their kinsmen and women at their new defended fortress at Abeokuta. The Christians were not left out in this homeward reintegration, but in their concern for their children they requested that a mission be sent to their country. In the Sierra Leone mission of the CMS, it was in the village of Hastings that the movement for mission to the war-torn Yoruba country was born under the leadership of Ulrich Graf and Henry Townsend, and Henry Johnson was among those who appended their signatures to the request. [9] However, he remained behind in the colony, apparently contented with the land of his redemption, when his faithful contemporaries like William Goodwill and Andrew Wilhelm were returning to their people in 1843. [10]

The exit of these significant members of St. Thomas parish made the presence of those who remained behind more vital for the life of the church, and people like Johnson were apt to be thrown into the limelight. Yet it would take another ten years for him to come into significant reckoning in the church. But those intervening years were not idle ones with a boisterous missionary like Graf. In fact, they were full of activities in the pursuit of the cultural and economic redemption of the colony and its young people. On this front, Graf advanced argument for the CMS to make deliberate effort towards improving the economic life of the colony in the tradition of Thomas Fowell Buxton. [11] From 1847 onward he organized in Freetown, albeit unsuccessfully, colony-wide programs of agricultural improvement. Johnson, a peasant farmer, no doubt was an active participant in these programs.

On the religious front, moreover, the missionary regularly employed the services of his Christian visitors whom he organized to share pastoral and evangelistic responsibilities with him in the church. And he spared no effort to see them trained for their assignment, including conceiving an eccentric scheme that saw peasant farmers like Johnson marched to the Fourah Bay Institution in 1850 for a course in Old Testament studies! [12]

Widening Horizon

The failure of the agricultural schemes proposed for Sierra Leone by Ulrich Graf and Henry Venn, the honorary secretary of the CMS in London, necessitated Venn’s 1852 suggestion that “one man for training at the Kew Gardens, and two lads for learning some trades” be sent to London. [13] By April 1853 they were ready to make the trip. [14] Graf nominated for the training at Kew Gardens Henry Johnson, who by then had emerged as one of the pillars of St. Thomas Church. By April 1853 they were ready to make the trip. [15] Henry Johnson left behind in the colony Sarah, his wife, and their children and arrived in England in July 1853 having sailed in Hope. [16] To avoid any embarrassment with English nominal Christians he was lodged with a “pious family.”

This “intelligent” man from the colony who “reads well” and “is acquainted with African agriculture” spent three months training at the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew (RBGK), at the expense of the African Native Agency Committee. [17] The hope of the committee was that on returning home he would “introduce improvements in agriculture & also the cultivation of many new & useful plants.” [18] His own farm was to serve as the experimental field for improving species being already cultivated in the colony as well as for propagating new species he would be bringing home from England. Venn indicated to him that “By such means the wealth of the Colony of Sierra Leone will be increased & its trade will become more valuable.” [19]

As Henry Johnson prepared to return to his family in October 1853, Venn reminded him of the purpose for which he was being trained, the importance of the skills he had acquired, and the follow up he was expected to make with the RBGK on his return to the colony by sending to England specimens of various African produce. But as if to remind him that his contribution to the development of the colony and the cause of Christ through his calling begins with his family, Venn wrote,

I direct your attention to these things not merely to make you a richer man, but to enable you to give better advantages to your numerous children in their education, to buy them books, & to place them out in life - but because I am sure that if you have more money at your command, you will give more to the cause of Christ, and help to send the Gospel to Illorin & Osielle and your countrymen in those parts. [20]

If Henry Johnson had drawn from Graf in Hastings a rare privilege of being nominated for the training at the RBGK, the encouragement he received from Venn was an early indication that he and his children have found a warm place in the heart and mind of the missionary statesman. Johnson could not have missed this in Venn’s affective, personal note:

I have now to beg of you to write to me soon after your arrival in Africa, or let your son Henry write what you tell him to say, to inform me that all the plants have been set in your farm and how they grow. Then after a few more months write again, and so each six months send me a report of your farm, and I shall be able to send you such things as you may need. [21]

Johnson’s challenge began at sea. The journey home was difficult as he nearly died from hunger. And although he survived his travail he lost at sea three of the plants he was bringing home. But several others in his collection survived the journey and took roots on his farm, “making nice shoots about.” [22] More tragic, however, the first report he received on arrival was the news of the death of his youngest son, who had died on August 28; that is, six weeks after his arrival in England. [23] But life continued as he tended his plants and continued his leadership role in the church at Hastings.

Less than two years after he returned from London, Johnson fulfilled his side of the arrangement made between him and Mr. Venn. At the end of May 1831 a box of African plants and produce he sent from Sierra Leone arrived in London. Unfortunately the vessel that conveyed it from Sierra Leone had some difficulties on the way and was detained for about three months. The generous sponsor, Mr. Venn, wrote to Mr. Hooker, “I fear the plants must have suffered much if they have not been destroyed. But it will at least be a token that Johnson has not forgotten the kindness he received at Kew.” [24] From all indication this was the last information on Henry Johnson’s experimental farm. Like earlier initiatives of “government, private individuals or bodies of men,” as Graf once observed, it turned out a failure. [25]

Along with the challenge of tending on his farm the new species of plants he brought from Kew Garden, as well as identifying local ones to be forwarded to his benefactors in England, more responsibilities in the church at Hastings devolved on Johnson on his arrival from England. For, about this time, Bishop Vidal appointed Graf as the Archdeacon of Sierra Leone, the Yoruba mission at “Abbeokuta” being at the same time also designated an archdeaconry. [26] The creation of the archdeaconry of Sierra Leone marked the implicit recognition of the fact that the work in the colony was moving from its mission status into a settled church. With years, especially at the exit of some of his Yoruba compatriots, Johnson’s role at St. Thomas Parish commensurately increased as a leader and church warden. [27] This voluntary service he combined with his farming activities until 1857 when the call of providence took him to another sphere of the Society’s work in West Africa.

The Call of Providence

Following its establishment in 1846, the Yoruba mission of the CMS, the starting of which Johnson appended his signature in 1842 and 1843, made swift progress at its base in Abeokuta. But the fledgling town was locked in mutual antagonism with Ghezo the king of Dahomey. In view of the precarious war situation that became evident to the missionaries when the Egbas’ archenemy, Ghezo, made a violent attacked on the town on March 3, 1851, it became necessary to create more mission stations in the country so that if one was overrun others continued. This consideration led to the founding of Ibadan and Ijaye missions, the former under the leadership of Mr. David Hinderer and the latter under Mr. Adolphus Mann. [28]

Hinderer began Ibadan mission in 1853. Four years later, it became necessary to employ more hands for the task of evangelism. The town was very large, in fact the biggest in the country, and it was clear that he alone would not be able to carry on the work. Sierra Leone held the pool of Yoruba converts to Christianity and, with its settled church status, could supply the workforce needed in the Yoruba mission. On his way back from England in 1857, Hinderer stopped over in Sierra Leone where he recruited Henry Johnson for evangelistic work in and around Ibadan.

The recruitment of Johnson is a pointer to the reputation he had built up over the years in his service to the church at Hastings. Hinderer was disappointed with what he saw on his arrival in the colony. In his words, “Freetown Christianity is certainly not what it ought to be… I am afraid not what it is generally believed to be.” But he had been told that “things are much better in the villages.” [29] Yet, no sooner had he arrived than he was deluged with applications for employment as teachers for the Yoruba country, most of which came from Hastings. [30] Apparently, in the face of the dwindling fortunes of the colony, many of the remnants of the people from Yoruba country were desirous of returning home if their prospects there could be guaranteed. For the non-Egba recaptives, in particular, the wars were still raging fiercely in the interior of the country and life remained precarious.

In spite of their availability, Hinderer was ready to recruit only two persons according to the instructions of the Parent Committee. And it may be observed that Hinderer addressed his search to Hastings in particular among the several villages of the colony. This singular concentration on Hastings may indicate an earlier briefing by his senior Basel-trained colleague, Ulrich Graf, with whom he travelled back to West Africa from England in 1852 [31] and had time together again when Graf visited Ibadan mission in the company of Bishop Vidal in November 1854. In giving his report of that trip Graf drew from his experience with the use of Christian visitors in Hastings and reinforced his idea of training pious church people as Scripture readers for missionary purposes. [32] Whatever else informed his choice, Hinderer succeeded in recruiting for his work in Ibadan mission Henry Johnson and William Allen, a younger colony-born Yoruba schoolmaster in the village. [33]

Hinderer and his wife, Anna, arrived in Ibadan in January 1858 with the two newly recruited hands and their families. The missionary purposed to station his two agents in the towns or villages in the interior, but he decided to give them some training before he placed them out to preach among the people. [34] It meant that they and their families would eventually settle outside Ibadan. But the outcome of events made that impossible. Within five months of returning to Ibadan Mrs Hinderer’s health broke down dangerously, giving Mr. Hinderer the concern that it might be necessary for her to return home while he continued the work in Ibadan. [35] While this concern was being addressed, James Berber, Hinderer’s highly valued catechist, died suddenly in the streets of Ibadan on June 21. [36] Soon after, the disagreeable Sierra Leone returnee Scripture reader Puddicombe had to be transferred to Ikorodu. With an infirm wife at hand and the exit of two helpers in quick succession, the duo of Henry Johnson and William Allen had to be retained in Ibadan. Happily Hinderer found comfort in the new spirit of cordiality they brought into the mission as he wrote with delight,

For the two men…I am very thankful…they go on very nicely together with my young school master [Daniel Olubi], & we enjoy peace in the station, they work with me, & have no separate interest from that of the mission. Johnson is excellent in character, Allen more clever, but not so industrious, he is colony born. [37]

With this comparative advantage of character over his younger colleague Henry Johnson proved more serviceable to the missionary couple. Hence on August 2, 1858, Hinderer set out with him on a five-week mission exploratory tour of twenty seven towns and villages tributary to and under Ibadan’s rule. These included, among others, Iwo, Ede, Oshogbo, Ikirun, Iragbeji, Ire, Ipetu, Ilesa, Ife, Modakeke and Apomu. [38] Johnson proved a helpful assistant to Hinderer on this trip and shared in many of his experiences. At Iwo he joined him in addressing the many visitors who streamed in to see the white man in the country. [39] And at Ikirun he was engaged in an argument with some Muslims in the town who told him he was going to hell. [40]

Both missionary and his agent stayed a full week at Ilesa where they had enough time to both observe and interact with the people. At the end of their stay, Johnson observed to Mr. Hinderer that the agent who would occupy the town for the mission must be able to stop a lion’s mouth like Daniel. Hinderer himself agreed with the popular sentiment in the country that “[t]he Ijesa are people of very strong passions, fierce & headstrong.” [41]

Still noteworthy on this trip is Hinderer’s better glimpses into Johnson’s temperament. The difficult terrain and the attack of the wild soldier-ants made the journey from Ilesa to Ife through Itagunmodi particularly difficult. Worse still, the people of Itagunmodi would not carry their loads. Johnson therefore suggested that members of the party carry them by themselves. Hinderer wrote of him,

I did not know he could carry at all, but he often sang under his load, & on the worst part of the road, he seemed to have the greatest fun with the load. Once I asked him, “Johnson what makes you so merry with all this trouble,” he promptly answered [in the Creole pidgin English]: Please sir, we no been read last night in the Preacher before prayers: ‘There is a time for everything.’ So there is a time for master to sleep in his own house in Ibadan, & a time for him to sleep in the road like last night, & there is a time for me to travel like a gentleman, & a time to carry load on one bad road so.” [42]

When Mr. Hinderer felt the two agents had received enough lessons, he assigned them to the newly established mission outposts of the Kudeti Station. Johnson was placed at Ofa section, on the east end of the town where he stayed in a rented house; Allen was located at Aremo. Both agents were engaged in street preaching in their neighborhoods, [43] although they were also assisting at Kudeti in view of Mr. Hinderer’s bad health in 1860. [44]

Johnson proved himself an outstanding agent, and Anna Hinderer soon wrote of him,

Johnson is a sterling man, so straightforward, a rare quality…He is quite his master’s right hand for work among his people, and in trying to get up another station. He is now watching and caring so nicely for the new candidates, and they much respect him. Several of them have chosen him as the witness at their baptism. [45]

The year 1860 was very auspicious for the Yoruba country. That year Ibadan engaged its neighboring town Ijaye in a devastating war in which Egba people at Abeokuta allied with Kunrunmi and his people. The war, which saw Ijaye effectively destroyed, had far-reaching consequences for the CMS mission in Ibadan.

First, in the wake of hostility, the agents in Ibadan were shut in as the road to Abeokuta was closed to traffic and the safety of the one that led through Remo to Lagos could not be ascertained. Hinderer wrote with foreboding, “[t]hings look altogether dark & angry in the Yoruba country, & it may be we are on the eve of another general Yoruba war…” [46] Second, mutual recriminations between the two mission stations, Abeokuta and Ibadan, brought about a breach in communication between them and generated spirited defense of the roles of each town by its resident European missionary, Townsend at Abeokuta and Hinderer at Ibadan.

While the war lasted street preaching became inauspicious, Hinderer’s health failed and confined him indoor. He therefore employed his energy in translating into Yoruba language Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, employing the services of his scripture reader, Henry Johnson. [47]

Johnson had on arrival from Sierra Leone in 1858 thought of finding suitable trades for his grown up boys, Nathaniel and Samuel, to learn. [48] But Hinderer discouraged him from doing so and proposed that they be sent to the Training Institution at Abeokuta. Nathaniel resumed there in August 1858, but Samuel who could have followed in 1860 had to wait until the war ended or, at the least, abated. [49]

Hunger and privation were the immediate consequences of the Ijaye war to Ibadan mission. And even in the missionary household there were “anti-Yoruba” pessimists who were predicting famine for Ibadan, although their predictions never materialized as the farms to the north and to the east of the town were still being well cultivated. Ibadan’s food production continued unimpeded in spite of the war, but the cowries to purchase them grew scarcer with time. As Hinderer’s food store grew empty and the prospects of getting cowries grew dimmer, hunger became a present danger. But the missionary must continue to bear the burden of providing for the seventy persons under his charge, including the agents of the mission like Henry Johnson and the children under their care. [50]

Hinderer’s dangerous trip to Lagos for material supplies ended in futility. The journey through enemy territory, undertaken in the company of two of his school boys, was one risk too many. [51] Ibadan’s enemies at Ijebu Ode, the king in particular, hearing of his venturesome thoroughfare sent his messengers to waylay him on his return. He was providentially spared, but he lost much of what he got. [52]

In 1860, at the outbreak of the war, Hinderer unsuccessfully applied to the Finance Committee at Abeokuta for increment in the salaries of three of his native agents in Ibadan-Johnson, Allen and Olubi. The two Sierra Leone recruited agents, Johnson and Allen, he said, had followed him to the Yoruba country with the expectation that their salary of 6 dollars per month would be increased “in a few years if they [approved] themselves.” Having been satisfied with their performance, and observing that they earned the same amount with their colleagues in the interior who did not come near their performance, he repeated his request in 1861, but to no avail. During his dangerous trip to Lagos for cowries to purchase food in Ibadan, he petitioned the Parent Committee to intervene in the matter. He argued that “they have a just claim for more” and lamented that “it has often gone against my conscience lately when giving out their monthly wages.” And what is more “lately they have not been able to purchase cowries.” The material wellbeing of Henry Johnson’s large family was particularly under threat as Hinderer indicated that if the situation continued they “will have hardly enough for food & respectable clothing.” [53]

The Parent Committee sanctioned the request, but the local politics of the war in the Finance Committee generated another controversy. The Finance Committee’s accountant stood against it. Then, apparently to neutralize Hinderer’s success with the Parent Committee, the committee decided to give a general raise to all the agents in the interior. The decision was not agreeable to Hinderer and could only have further estranged the two missions. [54] Ijaye eventually fell to Ibadan’s onslaught in March 1862, but the war continued in its offshoots, perpetuating old sentiments and disagreeableness. Ibadan mission too continued to trudge on in the midst of social conflicts and privation when Henry Johnson died on February 10, 1865, survived by his wife, Sarah. [55] Hinderer testified of him:

The most faithful acct. that I can give of him is: A sincere Christian; a consistent life; & a happy death…I deeply mourn his loss. He was a faithful fellow labourer & friend to me. Oh how often did he comfort us in our late troubles, & almost one of his last words in reference to them…was: Iya (Mother) hope! hope! But his last night upon earth will not easily be forgotten… [56]

The Legacy of a Life

Henry Johnson may not have succeeded as a great horticulturist in spite of the investment of the CMS mission in him. He may not even be deemed to be a significant contributor to the evangelization of his Yoruba people in the mold of Samuel Crowther or James Johnson. Nonetheless, he contributed modestly to the flowering of Christianity among his West African kinsmen and women. As a leader in St. Thomas Church, Hastings, Sierra Leone, he gave back to the land of his redemption in committed service as mission gradually blossomed into a settled church. His thankfulness to the Providence that guided his life, rough though it was, comes to light in giving himself the name Erugunjimi, that is “redeemed slavery worked for my good.”

In Ibadan, Henry Johnson came into the mission shortly before Hinderer had major problems in quick succession-Barber’s sudden death, Anna Hinderer’s badly deteriorated health and the transfer of disagreeable Puddicombe. [57] The cheerfulness Johnson brought to the mission at the time and subsequently no doubt strengthened the hand of Hinderer. Moreover, his evangelistic activities in the country during the short period he lived there and the assistance he gave the missionary in his translation work deserve to earn him a credit in the rooting of Christianity among his war-wearied Yoruba people.

But although he died untimely, Johnson’s greatest legacy was his children whom he brought up to love the faith he served till death. Three of them-Henry, Jr., Nathaniel and Samuel-embraced the ministerial vocation and made their marks. Henry taught at the Grammar School in Freetown, studied Arabic in Palestine in preparation for service on the Niger where he became the Archdeacon of Upper Niger, at Lokoja, in the 1880s, having been transferred to Lagos in 1876. His early years in Lagos were spent in the pastorate of the Breadfruit Church and in managing the Grammar School.

Nathaniel served in various churches of the Anglicans in Lagos, continuing the line of priesthood till date in his great, great, great grandson-Colenso Babatunde Akinpelu Johnson, the provost of the Anglican Church Cathedral, Lagos. Samuel continued the legacy of service in Ibadan mission from 1865 to 1885, and at Oyo from 1886 to 1901. A major go between the Lagos colonial government and the combatants of the Yoruba war of 1877 to 1893, he was instrumental to the redemption of the country from its fratricidal wars. And, against the odds of history but inadvertently, he made a name for himself as the foremost historian of the Yoruba. [58]

It is therefore to the lasting credit of the man Henry Johnson that in the inimical social environment of mid-nineteenth century colony of Sierra Leone where the fledgling Creole culture was beset by moral contradictions, cultural misunderstanding and spiritual apathy, he was able to bring up his children to later take up the Christian ministry in which they made their own marks. Without discountenancing the place of heredity, the secret of his success can be gleaned from a short window opened by Samuel in his autobiography when he was requesting for ordination in 1885. He wrote then that,

As to my religious impression, being born of Christian parents, and brought up strictly religious, I can say I have my religious impressions from infancy. I was early taught to read and write, and as we [the children] are to reproduce sermons every Lord’s day for our parents (for which I used to collect slips of paper to write in aid of my memory) by one way or the other I receive[d] my religious impression. [59]

How did Erugunjimi achieve this feat? No doubt, his association with the trio of Ulrich Graf, Henry Venn and David Hinderer was contributory to the favors that attended his way and those of his children. But such a man who could hold together his multiple responsibilities in church, farm, and family without sacrificing one for the other was the person Mr. David Hinderer laid hold of when he visited Hastings in December 1857 to recruit additional hands for his young mission. And he never regretted it. In fact, he soon confessed that he wanted at least half a dozen more of the same stamp for Ibadan. [60]

Kehinde Olabimtan


  1. The title of the kings that ruled the country.

  2. As a matter of fact, the dispersion of the people was as far away as Brazil and West Indies where many other victims of the transatlantic slave trade, from Senegal to Angola, ended up.

  3. Having no common name that bound them together as a single nation before their dispersion, their fellow recaptives in the colony called them Aku because of the manner of their greetings.

  4. Referring to the claim of the Archdeacon Henry Johnson, Ade Ajayi wrote that Henry Johnson, Sr., descended from the family of Alafin Abiodun “through a daughter who married into an Ilorin family.” Another son of the patriarch, Samuel, sustained the Ilorin association, but he did not make anything of the royal connection. The monument erected to mark the graves of Henry Johnson and his wife, Sarah, at St. David’s Church, Kudeti, Ibadan, shows that he hailed from Gbagere Compound and probably belonged to a noble Oyo family, that of the Basorun Yamba. My informant, Archdeacon Pelu Johnson, hinted that the monument was erected in 1910 by yet another son of this patriarch, Dr. Obadiah Johnson. J. F. A. Ajayi, “Samuel Johnson-Historian of the Yoruba,” Nigeria Magazine, 81 (1964): 142; Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yorubas, 519.

  5. Census of the Population of Hastings, 1831, National Archives London (NAL) CO 267/111; Census of the Population of Hastings, 1833, NAL CO 267/251. The adoption of English names by the recaptives did not follow any particular pattern. Some chose the name of the officers of the Liberated African Department, governors, colonial secretaries, village managers, missionaries. Others inherited these names from the masters under whom they served their apprenticeship. Some adopted the names wholesale, others the first names or the surnames only. Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, (London: OUP, 1962), 170; The Church Missionary Intelligencer, October 1901: 807.

  6. Baptismal Certificate, Guildhall Library, London (GLL) 10326-282.

  7. NAL CO 267/244.

  8. Following the Governor’s edict of 1831, the constable of Hastings arrested six persons for flouting the order and brought them to Mr. Weeks, the missionary, as the “Justice of the Peace.” They had killed several fowls and offered them to Edun, a Yoruba divinity said to be in charge of the prosperity, preservation, and comfort of twin children and their parents. The missionary’s further investigation yielded four baskets full of the images of the various Yoruba divinities being consulted by the people. J. Weeks, Report for the Quarter ending September 25, 1831, CMS C/A1/O219/44.

  9. “Aku Members of the Congregation at Hastings to the Local Committee,” October 1, 1842, CMS CA1/M10 (1842-1843)/331; “A Memorial of the Inhabitants of Hastings to the Missionaries,” April 24, 1843, CMS CA1/M10 (1842-1843)/500.

  10. Graf wrote of William Goodwill, “He has been from my first visit to Hastings in 1837 a steady, upright and consistent member of my church, not only, but has proved to me in church matters a most welcome help.” Andrew Wilhelm and his wife donated their house and the large land on which it sat to the CMS. J. Graf, journal entries, November 17 and 27, 1843, CMS CA1/O/105/42a.

  11. J. Graf, Civilization in Africa, CMS C/A1/O105/61.

  12. J. Graf, journal entry, October 17, 1850, CMS C/A1/O105/57a.

  13. J. Graf to H. Venn, April 21, 1853, CMS C/A1/O105/13.

  14. J. Graf to H. Venn, April 21, 1853, CMS C/A1/O105/13.

  15. J. Graf to H. Venn, April 21, 1853, CMS C/A1/O105/13.

  16. H. Venn to W. Hooker, July 15, 1853, RBGK Microfilm DC 33/425.

  17. H. Venn to W. Hooker, July 15, 1853, RBGK DC 33/425.

  18. H. Venn to H. Johnson, October 22, 1853, CMS C/A1/L5(1854-1857)/142.

  19. H. Venn to H. Johnson, October 22, 1853, CMS C/A1/L5(1854-1857)/142.

  20. Here Venn alluded to the trend in the colony whereby some of the Yoruba people who remained in Sierra Leone and, perhaps, also some among those who emigrated to the West Indies were sending funds to the CMS in Sierra Leone to support the work in the Yoruba country. H. Venn to H. Johnson, October 22, 1853, CMS C/A1/L5(1854-1857)/144.

  21. H. Venn to H. Johnson, October 22, 1853, CMS C/A1/L5(1854-1857)/144, 145.

  22. H. Johnson to H. Venn, December 7, 1853, CMS C/A1/O122/1.

  23. H. Johnson to H. Venn, December 7, 1853, CMS C/A1/O122/1.

  24. Johnson erroneously left behind the paper describing the content he sent to the RBGK. Apparently unaware of the ill fate that befell his parcel, he forwarded it to the garden through Mr. Venn who received it in September 1855. H. Venn to W. Hooker, May 31, 1855, RBGK DC 35/419; H. Venn to W. Hooker, September 17, 1855, RBGK DC 36/427.

  25. D. Hinderer to H. Straith, April 23, 1861, CMS C/A2/O49/50.

  26. Lord Bishop to J. Graf, September 30, 1853, CMS C/A1/O105/25; J. Graf to Lord Bishop, CMS C/A1/O105/25.

  27. The unavailability of Graf is underscored by the fact that a year after his appointment he travelled with Bishop Vidal to the Yoruba Mission, a journey that took ten weeks, from October 14, 1854 to January 2,1855, and cost the death of the bishop on his way back. Samuel Johnson indicated that in his boyhood days in Hastings one Rev. J.J. Thomas was “an intimate friend of my parents”. The identity of this man remains ambiguous and cannot be ascertained whether he was sent to Hastings as the assistant missionary to Graf or that he was appointed to be the substantive parish priest after Graf closed his connection with the Society, having returned from the Yoruba mission with broken health. S. Johnson to Secretaries, January 16, 1885, CMS C/A2/O(1885)/67; D. Hinderer to H. Straith, April 23, 1861, CMS C/A2/O49/50.

  28. H. Townsend to Missionaries, July 3, 1851, CMS C/A2/M2(1848-1854)/279-283.

  29. D. Hinderer to H. Venn, November 19, 1857, CMS C/A2/O49/30.

  30. D. Hinderer to H. Venn, November 19, 1857, CMS C/A2/O49/30.

  31. “Exhortation of the Committee of the CMS to Rev. J. U. Graf…Rev. D. Hinderer…” CMS C/A1/L5(1854-1859)/2.

  32. J. Graf, Report of Visit to Yoruba Mission in 1854, CMS C/A1/O105/63.

  33. D. Hinderer to H. Straith, April 23, 1861, CMS C/A2/O49/50.

  34. Evidently, for the reason of the poor health of the missionary couple, things did not work out as intended. Four months after indicating his plan to train them, he was still writing, “at present they are new, & unaccustomed to speaking, & unknown to the people.” D. Hinderer to the Secretaries, February 25, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/32; D. Hinderer to the Secretaries, June 29, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/35.

  35. D. Hinderer to Secretaries, May 31, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/33.

  36. D. Hinderer to Secretaries, June 29, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/35.

  37. D. Hinderer to Secretaries, September 24, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/36.

  38. D. Hinderer, Journal entries, August 1 to September 4, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/115.

  39. D. Hinderer, journal entry, August 5, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/115.

  40. D. Hinderer, journal entry, August 18, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/115.

  41. Hinderer added that “[t]he place certainly wants a wise & strong minded, & to a certain degree enthusiastic man, such [a person], I am sure, would under God’s blessing be likely to be very successful.” D. Hinderer, journal entry, August 21, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/115.

  42. D. Hinderer, journal entry, August 30, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/115.

  43. D. Hinderer, Half Yearly Report ending September 1859, CMS C/A2/O49/117.

  44. D. Hinderer to W. Knight, June 11, 1860, CMS C/A2/O49/118.

  45. Hinderer, in R. B. Hone, Seventeen Years in the Yoruba Country–Memorials of Anna Hinderer (London, The Religious Tract Society, 1872), p. 183.

  46. D. Hinderer to H. Venn, March 19, 1860, CMS C/A2/O49/40.

  47. D. Hinderer to the Secretaries, October 18, 1860, CMS C/A2/O49/44; D. Hinderer to R. Lang, June 6, 1885, CMS G3/A2/O(1885)/107.

  48. Their elder brother Henry, Jr., was left behind in the colony pursuing his education.

  49. N. Johnson to Secretaries, May 10, 1875, CMS C/A2/O57; S. Johnson to Secretaries, January 16, 1885, CMS C/A2/O(1885)/67.

  50. It was made up of eight native agents and their families, four in Ibadan and another four in the interior (Oyo, Oshogbo, Ife and Modakeke). Others were the children in the boarder and those in the Hinderers’ household, and Mr. Jefferies, a European assistant stationed at Ogunpa.

  51. The Ijebu Remo were friendly to Ibadan and saw no reason for their involvement in the war between Ibadan and Egba, especially as they had borne the brunt of Egbas’ retaliations against Ijebu for their involvement in the destruction of their ancestral homes in the wars of the 1820s. But Ijebu Ode chiefs and their king were allied to Egba cause in the Ijaye war. The Remo accounted for this by alleging that they had been bribed by the Egba to join the war against Ibadan by closing the road to the coast. It was with the cooperation of the Remo that Hinderer passed and also returned to Ibadan.

  52. The first consignments of provisions sent through the caravan going from Lagos to Ibadan were lost when the Ijebu attacked the caravan, killed members of the convoy, and looted their goods. They had expected Hinderer to be in the train. The money he gave to the Ijebu trader to change for cowries deliverable to him in Ibadan was also not delivered. D. Hinderer to H. Venn, August 2, 1861, CMS C/A2/O49/55.

  53. D. Hinderer to H. Straith, April 23,1861, CMS C/A2/O49/50.

  54. D. Hinderer to H. Straith, December 30,1861, CMS C/A2/O49/57.

  55. Sarah died eleven years after, on Sunday, June 25, 1876. Samuel Johnson, journal Entries, June 25 and 26, 1876, CMS C/A2/O58/6.

  56. D. Hinderer to H. Venn, March 30, 1865, CMS C/A2/O49/66.

  57. D. Hinderer to Secretaries, September 24, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/36.

  58. Robin Law, “How Truly Traditional Is Our Traditional History? The Case of Samuel Johnson and the Recording of Yoruba Oral Tradition.” History in Africa, 11 (1984): 195-221.

  59. S. Johnson to Secretaries, January 16, 1885, CMS C/A2/O 1885/67.

  60. D. Hinderer to the secretaries, June 29, 1858, CMS C/A2/O49/35.



Archives of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK.

Archives of the Guildhall Library, London

Archives of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (RBGK), London, UK

Colonial Office Records at the National Archives, London (NAL), UK 3 Hone, R. B. Seventeen Years in the Yoruba Country–Memorials of Anna Hinderer. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1872.


Ajayi, J.F.A., “Samuel Johnson–Historian of the Yoruba,” Nigeria Magazine, 81 (1964): 142.

Biobaku, Saburi O. The Egba and Their Neighbours, 1842-1872. London: The Clarendon Press, 1957.

Church Missionary Society, Register of Missionaries.

Forde, Daryll and P.M. Kabbery, eds., West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Fyfe, Christopher. A History of Sierra Leone. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Hone, R.B. Seventeen Years in the Yoruba Country: Memorials of Anna Hinderer. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1872.

Johnson, Samuel, The History of the Yorubas–From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate. Lagos: CMS, 1921.

Law, Robin, “How Truly Traditional Is Our Traditional History? The Case of Samuel Johnson and the Recording of Yoruba Oral Tradition.” History in Africa, 11 (1984): 195-221.

Smith, R.S. Kingdoms of the Yoruba. 3rd ed. London: James Currey, 1988.


Interview with Archdeacon Akinpelu Johnson. February 2007.

This article, which was received in 2011, was written and researched by Dr. Kehinde Olabimtan, Coordinator of educational ministries, Good News Baptist Church and Adjunct Teacher, Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Ghana, and a recipient of the Project Luke Scholarship for 2010-2011.

Photo Gallery



Photos of Henry Johnson’s tombstone taken by the author, Kehinde Olabimtan.