James Hannington Captured
James Hannington did not consider himself a hero. Yet it is impossible for us to view him in any other light. After an adventurous childhood (which included blowing off his thumb with black powder) he became an Anglican minister. Although highly successful with his church work, he left England to carry the gospel to Uganda in 1882.
His first attempt to reach the African nation failed. Consumed by fevers, he often had to be carried. When he walked, he tied his hands around his neck to relieve the agony in his arms. Yet he made humorous sketches of his plight.
In 1885, after recuperating in England, he tried again, approaching Uganda from the North East. This proved to be a mistake. Uganda’s suspicious king lumped him with the Germans who were grabbing territory in that direction. He sent a thousand Ugandan soldiers to intercept Hannington. On this day, October 21, 1885, they took him prisoner. They allowed him a little freedom early in his captivity and he walked out to look at the Nile.
His journal tells what happened next: “…suddenly about twenty ruffians set upon us. They violently threw me to the ground, and proceeded to strip me of all valuables. Thinking they were robbers I shouted for help, when they forced me up and hurried me away, as I thought, to throw me down a precipice close at hand. I shouted again in spite of one threatening to kill me with a club. Twice I nearly broke away from them, and then grew faint with struggling and was dragged by the legs over the ground. I said, ‘Lord, I put myself in Thy hands, I look to Thee alone.’ Then another struggle and I got to my feet and was then dashed along. More than once I was violently brought into contact with banana trees, some trying in their haste to force me one way, others the other, and the exertion and struggling strained me in the most agonizing manner. In spite of all, and feeling I was being dragged away to be murdered at a distance, I sang ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ and laughed at the very agony of my situation. My clothes were torn to pieces so that I was exposed; wet through with being dragged on the ground; strained in every limb, and for a whole hour expecting instant death, hurried along, dragged, pushed at five miles an hour, until we came to a hut…”
After exhibiting him as a trophy for a week, his tormentors speared him to death on the 29th. We know most of this detail because one of the Ugandans kept Hannington’s journal and sold it to a later expedition.
Dan Graves, MSL
- Berry, William Grinton. Bishop Hannington: the life and adventures of a missionary hero. London: Religious Tract Society, ca.1908.
- Boreham, F. W. “James Hannington’s Text.” Life Verses. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1994.
- Dawson, E. C. James Hannington, first bishop of eastern equatorial Africa; a history of his life and work, 1847 – 1885. London, Seeley, 1894.
- Hannington, James. The Last Journals of Bishop Hannington, being narratives of a journey through Palestine in 1884 and a journey through Masai-land and U-Soga in 1885, edited by E. C. Dawson, with illustrations from the Bishop’s sketches. London, Seeley, 1888.
- “Hannington, James.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- “Hannington, James.” Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 – 1996.
- Michael, Charles D. James Hannington; the merchant’s son who was martyred for Africa. London, Pickering & Inglis, 1928.Source of the image.
- Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church #6. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1964.