By Bernard Verdcourt
After leaving he became curate of Martinhoe and Trentishoe in Devon and from 1875 to 1882 curate without emoluments of St. George, Hurstpierpoint, a church his father had built. He was keen on evangelistic and temperance work and became a favourite mission preacher, having been ordained by the Bishop of Exeter in 1874 and of Chichester in 1876. In 1882 he offered himself to the Church Missionary Society for the Victoria Nyanzan Mission, asking nothing but his travelling expenses.
He was accepted and left London on the 17th. May 1882 and arrived in Zanzibar the following June. His intention was to march to Mamboia, then to Uyui and thence to Msalala and by boat to Rubaga, but after many hardships he arrived at Msalala in such a bad state of health that he had to leave his friends and return to Zanzibar in May 1883.
He returned to Hurstpierpoint to recover in January 1883. Then once again he offered himself to the CMS and was fortunate in that just at that time it was decided to place the Mission Churches under a bishop. Hannington accepted this job and was consecrated in Lambeth on 24th. June 1884. He left on 5th. November for Africa via Palestine (he held an ordination in Jerusalem on December 28th. under commission from the Archbishop of Canterbury) arriving in Mombasa on 24th. January 1885. He was the first bishop of Church of England in East Equatorial Africa and set up his headquarters at Freretown but moved about a good deal.
On May 31st. 1885 he held his first ordination at Freretown; Rev. W. B. Taylor the well known botanical collector was ordained as priest. Before long he became impressed with the idea of opening up a new and shorter route to Lake Victoria through Masailand and got together an expedition with a caravan of 225 porters which left on July 22nd. After a patient and courageous journey to Kwa Sundu he left them and went ahead with 50 porters on the 12th. October. He managed 170 miles in a week and reached the shores of Lake Victoria on the 17th. October.
Here he met with disaster – Mwanga, an i8 year old barbarian had followed the infamous Mutesa to the throne of Buganda at a time when foreign forces were pressing from all sides. He rather naturally suspected all missionaries, slave traders and the like. Moreover, there was a tradition that Uganda would be overwhelmed by foreigners coming from the east. Hannington was Mwanga’s first victim; he ordered him to be secured and on 21st. October he was seized and brutally murdered 29 Oct. at Unyalla on the banks of Lake Victoria after eight days confinement, together with almost all of his attendants.
The last few days of Hannington’s diary were published in the Church Missionary Intelligencer, December 1886, 891–5. The whole diary was later published as a pamphlet. During the Uganda Massacres, described in letters home from P. P. Ashe, A. M. Mackay and others, many of the young converted Christians were brutally hacked and burnt to death. It seems that the French Catholic Missionaries were not too helpful during these massacres.
Hannington married Blanche Hankin Turvin on February 10th. 1876; she died in 1932
A rather gruesome postscript can be added about Hannington’s remains – Bishop Tucker gives an account in the Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1893: 272-276. During a visit to Uganda he visited Mumias on December 9th. 1892 (now a town well within the present Kenya border). After a great deal of prevarication, during which the local chief said he knew nothing about the whereabouts of Hannington’s remains, he finally stated that they had been taken down to the coast in a box by a Mr. Jackson, but Tucker knew this was untrue and pressed for further information. Finally a man said he knew of another man who had been a friend of the guide who had accompanied Hannington to Busoga. He showed Tucker a hut where he was certain the box had been buried and working at night they finally found the box, verified that the contents were Hannington’s bones, and removed them to Mengo for a proper burial.
[For list of species described from material collected by James Hannington refer to Collectors in East Africa, No. 19: Supplement to Parts 2, 3 and 4, published September 1993.]