Anglican bishop Ernest Graham Ingham appealed to black Bermudians to join him in Africa to spread the faith—one man, Frederick Edmondson, answered the call.
When Anglican bishop the Rt. Rev. Ernest Graham Ingham came home in August 1895 for a month-long stay, he preached to both blacks and whites, but blacks were his target audience. He called on black Bermudians to consider becoming missionaries in Africa.
Addressing a packed house at Hamilton’s Mechanics’ Hall on August 15, Ingham said: “I am fully convinced that Africa is not the best place for the white man. He does not suit the climate and the climate does not suit him.” The people who were best suited to the varied climate zones in an area as vast as Africa “should be returned to their native soil from whence they were taken against their wills.”
Bermuda was Ingham’s last stop of a tour throughout the Caribbean. He touted the same message to black Anglicans in Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica: consider a move to the land from which your ancestors were taken.
Ingham had first-hand knowledge of Africa. He had been bishop of Sierra Leone for 12 years. The area for which he was responsible was vast, extending beyond Sierra Leone and taking in Lagos and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
Bermudian-born, and Oxford University-educated, Ingham had been a priest in England for eight years, until 1883, when he was appointed bishop of Sierra Leone.
In 1895, Bermuda-born Anglican Bishop, Reverend Ernest Graham Ingham returned from Sierra Leone with a mission to inspire other Bermudians to travel to Africa to spread Christianity. Photo Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery.
Ingham had a hectic schedule during his time back home, giving sermons and public lectures. According to the Royal Gazette, his talks were well received by “the best coloured people of Bermuda,” who were interested both in learning more about Africa and being willing to serve there.
Ultimately only one man, Frederick Spencer Edmondson, answered the call. Edmondson moved to Sierra Leone after undergoing a period of training in Jamaica. In Sierra Leone, he resumed his career as an educator, but also trained for the ministry, eventually rising to the position of canon at St. George’s Cathedral in Freetown.
Ingham interviewed Edmondson in Bermuda and laid the groundwork for his move to Sierra Leone, but his own tenure in Sierra Leone was unexpectedly cut short. By the time Edmondson arrived in Sierra Leone, Ingham was back in England. The two never had the opportunity to work together. Both men would spend the rest of their lives overseas, Ingham in England, Edmondson in Sierra Leone.
The contribution of these two eminent men to the Anglican Church has never been told until recently. Retired principal and Independent Senator Michelle Simmons wrote about their accomplishments in a book she authored last year, The Guild of the Good Shepherd and Bermuda’s Forgotten Anglican Missionaries. Simmons is a life-long Anglican and long-serving member of the Guild of the Good Shepherd, a lay organisation attached to the Anglican Cathedral.
The Guild was established in March 1896, a year after Ingham’s visit to Bermuda, and is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. While researching the history of the Guild, which culminated in her book, Simmons made intriguing discoveries about Ingham and Edmondson and how their lives had intertwined. The Guild was founded to raise funds for Ingham’s church in Sierra Leone.
Ingham and Edmondson, both from Paget, were raised as Anglicans and baptised at St. Paul’s, the parish church. Ingham, born in 1851, was 18 years older than Edmondson, who was born in 1869.
The Ingham and Edmondson families may have known one another, but they lived in a segregated society where whites had the upper hand in all aspects of the island, including the Anglican Church. Still, both men came from distinguished families.
Ingham was one of 13 children born to Samuel Saltus Ingham, a Speaker of the House of Assembly, and his first wife Margaret Leaycroft. He was educated to master’s degree level at Oxford University. He was ordained a deacon in 1874 and became a priest a year later. He “saw his first bit of parish work in the slums of London,” he would later write. He went on to serve at a number of churches in England.
Fred Edmondson was one of five children born to William Joseph Edmondson and Martha Harvey. William Edmondson was chief pilot for the British Army Service Corps in Bermuda for 36 years. For six years, he was chairman of the Berkeley Educational Society, the governing body of The Berkeley Institute, the leading high school for black Bermudians during the era of segregation. Edmondson’s older brother, Francis Harvey Edmondson, was a carpenter, a member of Parliament and also served as Berkeley’s chairman. A leading lodgeman, he was general secretary of Alexandrina Lodge for more than 50 years.
It is not known where the Edmondson children received their early schooling, but it was most likely at Paget Glebe School. Fred Edmondson became a teacher. Government education reports reveal that he opened a primary school in Samaritan’s Hall near the “Warwick Presbyterian Church” in 1887 and ran it until 1896.
Ingham was posted to Sierra Leone a year before the 1884–85 Berlin Conference, commonly known as “The Scramble for Africa.” At this conference the major European powers formalised their claim to countries in Africa, with no input from the people of Africa. By 1900, European powers had claimed nearly 90 percent of territories in Africa, a process which had devastating consequences for Africans, according to modern-day historians. Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, was a British territory. Ingham’s appointment as bishop had to be approved by Buckingham Palace.
Ingham’s comments about Africa in his talk at Mechanics’ Hall suggest at the very least some awareness of the negative effects of the scramble for Africa. Ingham also knew about the deadly effects of the African climate. He was Sierra Leone’s sixth bishop. The first three bishops had all died in office within two years. The fourth and fifth bishops had longer tenures.
Still, Ingham, who was accompanied by his wife, Josephine, seemed to flourish in Africa. He wrote two books about Africa, including Sierra Leone After A Hundred Years, published in 1894. In an article written for his local newspaper, the Portsmouth and Hampshire County Times, and reprinted in the Royal Gazette in July 1924 to mark his forthcoming 50 years in the priesthood, he explained why serving in Africa had appeal. He said: “It was not surprising that, a Colonial myself, and brought up in the midst of people of African descent, who had formerly been held as slaves by the white people, I was attracted by this bit of work.”
He recalled seeing as a boy the US warship Alabama watching for the (Confederate) blockade runners in Bermuda during the time of the US Civil War. He added: “I am not sure we were always as right minded as we should have been on that great slavery question.”
The aims of the Anglican Church in Africa were to win converts, produce home-grown priests and to establish schools. Ingham had great success in all three areas, but more priests were needed. In its first article about Ingham’s Bermuda visit, the Gazette said he had made a tour of the Caribbean to enlist “the sympathy and support of people there constitutionally adapted for the African climate.” He also hoped to “enlist the interest of not a few of his fellow countrymen.”
His speech at Mechanics’ Hall contained references to the “Dark Continent,” cannibalism and superstitions on the part of Africans. He also spoke of the difficulties and dangers that Europeans faced from local populations “who will always regard the white man as an enemy who wills them evil…” Yet he predicted “a great and glorious future for this immense territory we call Africa—a future that shall make it rank equal in power and strength morally and socially and in every other distinction with Europe and America…”
He went on to appeal to the “colored people present in particular, laying before them how very much he needed their help and sympathy” in bringing the “light of Christianity” to the people of Africa. For added impact, he brought along visuals, a stereopticon slide projector, also known as a magic lantern, which he used to project images of landscapes, houses and people.
Besides giving sermons at Anglican churches throughout Bermuda, Ingham spoke to Oddfellows, Cathedral Sunday School students and a group of 30 “schoolmasters,” an event organised by the Inspector of Schools. It is likely that Edmondson was present at the schoolmasters’ meeting. Still, if black Bermudians had any thoughts about moving to Africa, as the Gazette had reported, they were short-lived.
Only Edmondson, aged 26 and single, was inspired to pull up stakes and move to a country on the other side of the world. According to a speech he gave shortly after arriving in Sierra Leone, which was reported in the Jamaican Churchman and reprinted in the Gazette, preaching the gospel in Africa had been “a great desire of his heart from boyhood.”
Edmondson left Bermuda by boat for Jamaica in February 1896, arriving down south in March. In Jamaica, his training was overseen by Rev. C. H. Coles, warden of the Jamaica Church Theological College. It was extensive: he was taught first aid, given practical instruction and theory in carpentry and building, in addition to theology and the principles of missionary work.
But there was a problem. Everyone was under the impression that he would be employed by the UK-based Church Missionary Society (CMS). In Jamaica, he learned that would not be the case. What this meant in practical terms was that he would have to pay for trips back home, a benefit that was automatic for a white missionary.
For a time, he languished in Jamaica, waiting for information about his posting. Coles criticised the CMS for leaving him in the lurch. Coles wrote that “he has begun to think he is not wanted.” If this goes on for too long, “his heart will be sick,” and he may give up altogether. But Edmondson stood firm. He received the green light to travel finally, but he would be employed by the Diocese of Sierra Leone.
Edmondson set sail from Jamaica for Liverpool, England, in November 1897 and on December 4, 1897, he was on his way to Sierra Leone. While in England he was reunited with Ingham, who showed him “considerable attention,” according to a notice in the Gazette. Edmondson arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1898 and got to work in short order. He taught at the church’s technical school, eventually becoming headmaster. He underwent training for the ministry and was ordained deacon in 1902 and priest the following year. He also started a family. In 1900, he married Emma Nottidge, who, according to their granddaughter Emma Leigh, was a Sierra Leonean Creole—a descendant of emancipated blacks who had settled in the country during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Frederick and Emma Edmondson had three sons, Frederick, Francis and Charles.
Frederick Spencer Edmondson spent a total of 42 years in Sierra Leone where he married Emma Nottidge, a Sierra Leonean Creole. This is Frederick, Emma and their three sons, Frederick Jr., Francis and Charles.
Edmondson served as chaplain of St. George’s Cathedral from 1902 until 1935, the year he was promoted to canon. The appointment was reported in the Royal Gazette and the Bermuda Recorder. The Gazette reported regularly about Edmondson’s activities. In 1923, Edmondson penned a poignant letter to the editor of the Gazette, about exhibits his students at the CMS Technical School would be entering in the British Empire Exhibition in London the following year. He wrote: “During these days of preparation my thoughts have turned to my own island home which I left many years ago to serve in the great cause of Africa.”
He made suggestions for exhibits Bermuda could send, listing handicrafts in wood and metalwork, and photographs of the many “enchanting spots in beautiful Bermuda.” He added: “I trust at Wembley Park, if I am permitted to be there, I should be able to take men, and women too, to the Bermuda section and say—’Come see, what little Bermuda can do.’ The whole world will be there.”
During his years in Africa, he was never far from the minds of his fellow Anglicans back home. In March 1896, black members of the cathedral had formed the Guild of the Good Shepherd. Simmons wrote that the goals of the Guild were similar to the lodges that had sprung up in the pre- and post-Emancipation era: mutual help and support for members, spiritual and intellectual development.
At its height, the Guild had as many as 400 members and the church could boast a total of 15 guilds islandwide. The vast majority had all-black membership. Up until the 1960s, the Anglican Church practised segregation, with separate choirs and Sunday schools for blacks and whites. The highest ministerial appointment to which a black person could aspire was that of lay reader. In Simmons’s view, the guilds provided an opportunity for black empowerment within the church.
Because Ingham’s church was the main impetus for the establishment of the Guild, fundraisers were high on the founders’ list. Reporting on the Guild’s second anniversary celebrations in March 1898, the Gazette said: “Already considerable sums of money have been remitted to Bishop Ingham for the furtherance of the work in African’s Mission Fields and the Guild keeps this part of its work well in front.”
Every year, Simmons wrote, the Guild sent funds they had collected in mission boxes or from fundraising bazaars directly to Sierra Leone or to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. As years passed the Guild’s fundraising goals shifted. The Edmondson Furlough Fund was established along with a plan to bring him home for the Guild’s 30th anniversary celebrations in 1926. But the church could not spare him from his duties.
The matter dragged on until 1939. By then more than £70 had been raised. Several guilds had joined the fundraising effort. When the guilds learned this was not enough to pay for a return trip, it was decided to send Edmondson the money which he could use to pay for a vacation closer to home.
In August 1939, just over £93, which had been boosted by a donation from the Bank of Bermuda, was sent off. Edmondson expressed his thanks. By then, his life’s work was nearing an end. In 1940, Bermudians learned of his death on December 9. His wife Emma had died three months earlier, in September.
A tribute in the Freetown newspaper, which was published in the Royal Gazette in June 1941, described him as a man “of outstanding personality, with a great capacity for work and an able teacher.” As headmaster, “he trained men in the art of drawing, surveying and civil engineering, and many of his pupils in the school were able to distinguish themselves in life either as successful private practitioners or as Government officials in this Colony and along the West Coast.”
Edmondson was survived by his sons: Frederick, an architect, Francis, an engineer and Charles, a lawyer. Charles and Francis did not marry or have children. In 1957, they paid a visit to Bermuda. While on the island, they addressed students at Berkeley, where their grandfather, William Edmondson, and uncle, Francis Harvey Edmondson, had served as chairman.
Frederick had seven children, three of whom survive: Mary Booth, who lives in Canada, Ethel Pam in Nigeria and Emma Leigh in England. Leigh is planning a visit to Bermuda with several relatives later this year and expects to meet her Bermudian Edmondson cousins for the first time.
As for Bishop Ingham, he resumed his ministry in England. He was rector of a church in Surrey and was later appointed secretary of the Church Missionary Society in London. His last post was rector of St Jude’s in Southsea. He died on April 9, 1926. He and his wife had one son, Rev. Arthur Ernest Ingham. While there are Ingham relatives living in Bermuda, information about direct descendants was not available.
Ingham had left Sierra Leone after a dispute with a Sierra Leonean minister whose ministerial licence had been withdrawn five years earlier. Had he remained in Africa one can only speculate about what the example of two Bermudian clergymen, one white, the other black, working together, might have set for the Anglican Church in Bermuda.
Still their legacy survives. The Guild of the Good Shepherd, despite being a lesser force, remains active as do seven other church guilds. Plans are in the works for the Guild’s 125th anniversary celebrations this year when COVID restrictions are lifted.
In wrapping up Edmondson’s life, Michelle Simmons wrote: “Canon Edmondson was a Christian minister as well as a teacher and he applied his skills in both these areas to the greatest effect. We can posit that he lived the life about which he preached.”
Of Ingham, she wrote: “With the support of the CMS he was able to spearhead numerous initiatives which had a positive impact on the spiritual, educational and social development of the people of Sierra Leone.”
The Guild of the Good Shepherd and Bermuda’s Forgotten Anglican Missionaries by W. Michelle P. Simmons is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.