Johnson, William Augustine Bernard

Sierra Leone

William Augustine Bernard Johnson was a German-born missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Sierra Leone. Born in Hanover, Germany, Wilhelm Augustin Bernhard Janzen moved with his wife to England in 1812. Working as a laborer in London, he Anglicized his name to “Johnson.” He offered his services to the CMS and in 1816 was sent to Sierra Leone as a schoolmaster. In 1817 he was ordained according to the rites of the Lutheran church by other German missionaries of the CMS. Large numbers of African captives rescued from slave ships were being landed, reclothed, and formed into village communities in the hills above Free town. Johnson worked for seven years at the village of Regent as evangelist, social organizer, and eventually official superintendent. While the governor of Sierra Leone provided facilities, Johnson made striking progress in turning the flood of uprooted individuals - men, women, and children of diverse cultural traditions into an orderly body, English speaking and church attending, with many individuals eager to acquire Western education and civilized forms of social bonding. He also encouraged initial work on the local African languages. Sent home because of ill health, he died at sea. Publication of his journals made Regent a Victorian byword for the success of Protestant missions. Several of the pupils, converts, and assistants of the Apostle of Regent, as Johnson was known, later became influential figures in Sierra Leone.

P.E.H. Hair


A Memoir of the Rev. W. A B. Johnson, Missionary of the Church Missionary Society, in Regent’s Town, Sierra Leone (1852). Church Missionary Society African Missions (No. 1, Sierra Leone) (1865); Christopher Fyfe, History of Sierra Leone (1962, 1994); John Peterson, Province of Freedom: A History of Sierra Leone, 1787-1870 (1969); Arthur T. Pierson, Saw Years in Sierra Leone (1897); E. Stock, History of the CMS (1899).

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.