Gardiner, Allen Francis

South Africa

Allen Francis Gardiner was a pioneer of South American Protestant missions. Gardiner was born into a country gentleman’s family in Berkshire, England. He joined the navy at 16 and saw service in the Napoleonic Wars and in South America, but he was not employed again after reaching the rank of commander in 1826. Before this, he had experienced evangelical conversion. Following his wife’s death in 1834, he devoted his life to missions. In South Africa, he tried to persuade the Zulu king Dingane to receive missionaries and to help reform the nearby down-at-the-heels European settlement of Port Natal. He returned to England in 1836 to urge the government to bring Natal into Cape Colony and to persuade the Church Missionary Society to establish a Zulu mission. The government compromised by appointing him magistrate in Port Natal (a post in which he was largely impotent); the missionary society sent Francis Owen. The Piet Relief massacre and the subsequent war between Dingane and the Dutch led to Gardiner’s withdrawal and the end of the mission.

Gardiner spent most of the years 1838 to 1843 in extraordinary voyages of missionary reconnaissance, often with his family (he had remarried in 1836). He visited Brazil, Buenos Aires, Chile, Australia, and the Dutch East Indies, then came back via Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro to Chile. Everywhere government opposition or Catholic presence blocked any chance of a mission. In 1841 he turned to Patagonia and the desolate Tierra del Fuego, which contained independent unreached peoples who would be accessible from the British Falkland Islands. Encouraged by his visit, he returned to England to plead with the established missionary societies to follow it up, but in vain. Returning to South America, he distributed Bibles and tracts in a cross-continental land journey. In Britain again in 1844, he established the Patagonia Mission, which evoked only a modest response, and he accompanied its first missionary to the Straits of Magellan. Settlement proved impossible and they withdrew the next year. Gardiner now traveled to Bolivia to help establish Federico Gonzales, a Spanish Protestant, in a short-lived mission there. This was followed by another campaign around Britain on behalf of Patagonia and then another reconnoitering party to Tierra del Fuego. Having concluded that a Fuegian mission could work from its own boat, in 1850 he returned to Tierra del Fuego with two lay missionaries in two launches crewed by three Cornish fishermen and a carpenter. Supply arrangements for the underfunded expedition broke down, and the whole party died of starvation and scurvy. Gardiner’s tragic death had a powerful public impact; his Patagonia Mission (in which his only son served) eventually blossomed into the South American Missionary Society.

Andrew E. Walls


A E Gardiner, Narrative of a journey to the Zoolu Country, in South Africa… (1836). A Visit to the Indians on the Frontiers of Chili (1840), and A Voice from South America (1847). G. P. Despard, Hope Deferred, nor Lost: A Narrative of Missionary Effort (1852); J. W. Marsh, A Memoir of Allen E. Gardiner (1857); J. W. Marsh and W. H. Stirling, The Story of Commander Allen Gardiner… with Sketches of Missionary Work in South America (1867): Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson, Oxford History of South Africa, vol. 1 (1982).

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.