Shaw, Barnabas

South Africa

Barnabas Shaw Barnabas Shaw was a founder of Methodism in southern Africa. A devout Methodist Yorkshireman, Shaw was ordained in 1814. He married Jane Butler, and the two left for service in South Africa in 1815. Against the governor’s orders, he ministered to the British troops in Cape Town, though he was effectively prevented from ministering to the slaves and other Africans. He therefore sought a field for mission beyond the authority of the governor and founded the first Methodist mission in southern Africa among the Nama of the Kamiesberg Mountains (present-day Langsberg Mountains, on the border with Namibia). There he helped raise the morale of a people already profoundly demoralized and bereft of most of their cattle as a result of contact with whites. Working in Dutch rather than the local language, he developed a growing Christian community. His protégé, Jacob Links, was the first southern African to become an ordained minister of a Christian church. Shaw also aided the Nama in becoming a farming as well as a sheepherding people.

Beginning in 1826, when he again made Cape Town his base of operations, Shaw was the driving force behind the development of Methodism throughout the west of the Cape Colony. In 1837 he was called to England, where he spent his time preaching and lecturing on mission. In 1843 he returned to South Africa as a simple circuit minister, still, however, capable of innovation; he purchased two farms to found model communities for freed slaves. He spent his last years ministering especially to the Cape Coloureds in one of the Cape Town suburbs.

Andrew C. Ross


Barnabas Shaw, Memorials of South Africa (1840).

L. A. Hewson, “Barnabas Shaw: Founder of Methodism in South Africa,” Journal of the Methodist Historical Society of South Africa, April 1956 (this article contains the fullest listing of sources).

The unpublished diary of Shaw is in the Public Records Office, London, File C.0.417, and a collection of letters and journals are in the Methodist Library, Cape Town.

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.