Pearson, Charles William
Charles William Pearson was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, on 7 January 1847, the son of William Pearson and Sarah Johnson. He attended St. Bees Grammar School, and after leaving school was a merchant seaman for some years, rising from ordinary seaman to second mate, with his last voyage being in 1875.
In 1876 he attended the Church Missionary Society’s college in Islington, and in 1878 led a party of four missionaries to Uganda to replace four who had died. The first party of CMS missionaries, led by Lt. G. Shergold-Smith, had landed at Bagamoyo in July 1876, but a year later two had been killed in a skirmish, and two others had died of fever.
Pearson and his companions, Robert William Felkin, John William Hall and the Rev. George Litchfield, travelled by ship to Suakim on the Red Sea. At Suakim Hall was taken ill and had to return to England. From there, after crossing the desert, the remaining members of the party travelled up the Nile. They met Colonel Gordon in Khartoum, who tried to persuade Pearson to serve in Sudan instead. Pearson and his party reached Rubaga in Uganda on 14 February 1879, over nine months after setting out.
They were received at the court of Mutesa, the King of Buganda, A week later a party of French Roman Catholic missionaries arrived, and difficulties ensued as Mutesa played off Arab, British and French interests against each other. The Christian missionaries had, perhaps rather naively, not come prepared to be used as political pawns. Their denominational rivalry reduced the effectivness of their message, as the Catholics refused to kneel for the Anglican prayers and vice versa.
Pearson appears to have been mainly occupied in translation work. After serving in Uganda for two years Pearson returned to England for health reasons, using the more conventional route via the East Coast and Zanzibar.
He then studied theology at Oxford, and was ordained deacon in 1886 and priest in 1887. He was assistant curate in Oxford for four years, and then worked for the Church Pastoral-Aid Society. In July 1893 he became Vicar of Walton, Aylesbury, where he remained until his death on 20 June 1917. He was known as a student of languages, and gained knowledge of 17 languages. He was eminent as a translator, and served several publishers and missionary organisations in that capacity. He married Elizabeth Birkett in Oxford in 1882, and they had three sons and four daughters.
Crockford’s Clerical Directory. 1906. Obituary, The Bucks Herald, 28 June 1917. Pearson, Ralph. 1990. “The biography of Charles William Pearson”, unpublished MS.
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