Llewellyn was born on June 11, 1863, the fifth child of Richard Gwynne, who was a teacher in the Kilvey Valley school on the outskirts of Swansea in Wales.
Llewellyn started school in Kilvey at the Swansea Grammar School. Later he had a temporary job as a teacher in order to financially support his parents. Both his parents were religious and were anxious for their sons to go into the ordained ministry. Llewellyn was one of the three sons who fulfilled his parents’ wishes.
While at the Swansea Grammar School, the headmaster encouraged him to follow the example of his beloved brother Charlie by working hard and pursuing his interest in the Bible. After a farewell talk with Charlie before he left school, Llewellyn went for a solitary walk and had a moment of insight. He later wrote: “The future all unknown, in the felt Presence I had it out with my lower self, full of fantastic ideas and selfish ambitions and handed over my whole life to God through Christ who had won my heart.”
Gwynne had always known that, without God, he would accomplish nothing. He knew that he was only a tool in the hands of God to do God’s will. On this subject, he wrote:
Gordon… always felt that he was but a tool in the hand of God and could not I too feel the same? I am a chisel that cuts the wood; the Carpenter directs it. If I lose my edge, He must sharpen me; if He puts me aside and takes another, it is His own good will; He will do His work with a straw equally well. God must undertake the work and I am for the moment used as His instrument.
At the age of nineteen Llewellyn went to teach in a school at Beverley in Yorkshire and became the headmaster of that school. He later trained at St. John’s College, Highbury which later became the London College of Divinity in Northwood (it is now called St. John’s College Nottingham). Llewellyn’s name still appears on the honors board as one of the first students to enter the overseas mission field. He was ordained in 1886.
Llewellyn was a noteworthy soccer player and played center-forward for Derby County. At this time, in his first appointment after ordination, he served as the curate of St. Chad’s Derby. After three years in Derby, Gwynne was sent to St. Andrew’s, Nottingham, to be second curate. In 1892 he was appointed vicar of the neighboring Parish of Emmanuel.
His real life’s work lay outside England and he hoped to go to Sudan. While training at Highbury Theological College, he followed the exploits of General Charles George Gordon, (also known as Gordon Pasha) with keen interest. After serving for ten years in England, he read an appeal by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for missionaries to go to Sudan. He felt this was the call for which he had been waiting.
He left London on November 2, 1899. When his ship docked at Port Said, he proceeded straight to Cairo and applied at once for government permission to continue his journey. But owing to the unsettled conditions south of Khartoum where the Khalifa was still at large, permission could not be granted.
On November 24, 1899, the Khalifa was finally defeated and killed by General Reginald Wingate Pasha at Um Debeikerat, and soon after that, Gwynne was given permission to travel to the Sudan. He later wrote: “Tomorrow, we leave for Khartoum. It is just possible we may be allowed to stay and carry on our Gordon mission there. It may be (and we are making all preparations to do so) that we are to go to the tribes beyond Fashoda… God has been very good to me.”
So, in early December 1899, he and Harpur left for the south (Sudan) from Egypt.
After an arduous journey by steamer and again by rail, Gwynne and Harpur arrived in Halfaya, opposite the ruins of Khartoum, a week or so before Christmas 1899. Gwynne and Harpur went to live in a house on the outskirts of the town in the Messelemiya quarter, where the surviving Christian population had settled. Gwynne at once started preparations for the first Church of England service ever to be held in Omdurman. This service was held in the Khalifa’s palace which became the quarters of the adjudant-general of the Egyptian Army after the defeat of the Khalifa. This service was held on Christmas Day 1899.
The authorities did not allow Gwynne to commence his missionary work. Lord Kitchener told Gwynne that “Lord Cromer and his advisers were so anxious not to give any offence to the religious views of the Mohammedan (Moslem) population that any steps that might suggest efforts were being made to proselytise the people must be discouraged.”
Gwynne found the inactivity forced upon him by government regulations most distasteful. There seemed little chance of his ever preaching the Gospel to the people of the Sudan or of becoming a missionary as he so ardently longed to be.
Gwynne’s first journey out of Khartoum was on March 26, 1900, when he and Dr. Harpur sailed from Omdurman to Sennar on the Blue Nile. But he did not establish any mission station or a church on this journey. At the end of 1900, Dr. Harpur returned to Cairo and Dr. Hall, another CMS medical missionary, and his wife arrived to carry on this branch of the mission’s work in the Sudan. Gwynne, however started work in Khartoum among the Copts. The CMS work among the Copts, which eventually led to the development of women’s education in the Sudan was started by Gwynne only eighteen months after his arrival in the Sudan. Gwynne had discovered that so many of the freed slaves were women and young girls that the first action of the mission had to be to open a school for them. This school was opened at the end of June 1902. Later, on July 5, 1902 Gwynne wrote:
Last week we opened a school for girls, and started with thirteen. (…) The teacher is a lady of colour, once a slave sold in open market at Alexandria, but thanks to God and the American missionaries, now a most earnest Christian and a very good teacher. We have on hand a plan for teaching the poor women and Abyssinians by joining Sunday Schools.
On January 31, 1902 the government finally gave Gwynne permission to build schools in Khartoum on behalf of the CMS or any other society he liked. For Gwynne, this was no less than the opening of the Sudan to missionary work. The second journey Gwynne made out of Khartoum was in August 1902. He did not however, establish mission stations or churches on this journey either.
Gwynne liked games and sports. He was elected a member of the Sudan Club and was sometimes asked to referee soccer matches.
The opportunity to open a mission station in South Sudan came in the autumn of 1905, when a well-qualified team of CMS missionaries arrived in Khartoum. They were: Rev. Archibald Shaw, Rev. Arthur Thom, Rev. F. B. Hadow, Dr. Lloyd, Mr. Comely, and Mr. Wilmott. The journey to the south started at dawn on December 10, 1905. On the way, Gwynne and the team visited the American mission station at Doleib Hill. On January 6, 1906 - which was the festival of Epiphany - Gwynne and his team arrived at Bor. At this point, Gwynne and his team were expecting that the mission in Uganda would be sending Dr. Albert Cook, the founder of the great Nemirembe hospital in Kampala who was an expert in setting up missions among natives all over central Africa.
News came that Dr. Albert Cook was already in Mongalla, the Provincial headquarters of Mongalla Province. Gwynne and his team set sail again and arrived at Mongalla soon after dark. The Governor of Mongalla, Angus Cameroon set out with Gwynne and Dr. Albert Cook to look for a satisfactory site for a suitable station, and all of them decided to found a mission station at Malek, nine miles south of Bor. This was the first CMS mission station in South Sudan.
Gwynne was appointed archdeacon for the Sudan in 1905. In 1908, he was consecrated suffragan bishop of Khartoum. The Sudan at that time was part of the Diocese of Jerusalem. Gwynne left Khartoum at the end of June 1914 and joined the army as chaplain during World War I. In July 1915, Gwynne was appointed deputy chaplain-general of the army in France, with the relative rank of major-general.
With the splendid work he had done and the distinguished services he had carried out in the church and the mission, Gwynne was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by the University of Glasgow. He received the orders of CMG and CBE, which had been bestowed upon him during the war.
Gwynne returned to the Sudan in 1919. In 1920, he ceased to be archdeacon and suffragan bishop in Sudan under the Diocese of Jerusalem to become bishop of Egypt and the Sudan. He became a resident in Cairo, Egypt and would come to the Sudan on visits. In 1924, Gwynne held the first Annual Unity Service in the Khartoum Cathedral. In 1926, Gwynne and the Mufti (the religious head of Moslems) stood together to bless the new Sennar Dam. He founded the Unity High School in Khartoum, and the school was officially opened in 1928. In 1929, he dedicated the first church building at Atbara railway station. In 1937, Bishop Gwynne laid the foundation stone of a lepers’ church in Lui.
His last visit to South Sudan was in 1943. He then became sick in Lui and was taken to Juba, and from thence to Khartoum by a plane. He was transferred to Lebanon for treatment when he celebrated his eightieth birthday. The Second World War found Gwynne in England and he came back to Sudan in September 1942. He retired as bishop of Egypt and Sudan in 1946. He went back to England and on December 9, 1957 he died at the age of ninety-four.
James Lomole Simeon
- Information from an email from Rev. Richard Kew, Development director of Ridley Hall, Cambridge CB3 9HG, dated November 9, 2012.
H.C. Jackson, Pastor On The Nile (London: SPCK, 1960).
Giovani Vantini, Christianity in the Sudan (Bologna, Italy: EMI Publishers, 1981).
This article, received in 2002, was researched and written by Mr. James Lomole Simeon, Esq., Chancellor of the Diocese of Khartoum, Sudan, 2002-03 Project Luke Fellow.