Dean McNeile and 'Holy' Johnson

Dean McNeile and 'Holy' Johnson

A carte-de-visite portrait of Dean Hugh Boyd McNeile with James ‘Holy’ Johnson, the West African proto-nationalist who eventually became the second African to be ordained an Anglican bishop.

James Johnson was born in Sierra Leone to Yoruba parents, who had been taken in slavery but recaptured and released by a British patrol. He graduated from Forah Bay Institute, was ordained, and became a pastor of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) assigned to the 'native pastorate'. He advocated the evangelization of Africa by Africans, under African leadership, and thus did not make an easy colleague for British missionaries. In 1874, due to his command of the Yoruba language and his popularity with African nationalists, he transferred to Nigeria to assume the Yoruba mission there.

Because of his views on African leadership, Johnson became a natural leader of the educated African elite in Lagos. He was an open critic of imperialism, encouraged educational opportunities for Africans, and promoted an autonomous, self-supporting church. Johnson argued that Christianity was the only value that Europe had to offer, and the sooner Christianity shed Western control, the better. Personally rigorous and self-demanding, he became known as ‘Holy Johnson’ for his piety.

Hugh Boyd McNeile (1795-1879) was appointed Dean of Ripon in 1868 but resigned in 1875 due to failing health. According to his obituary in the Times (31 January 1879), 'The death of Dean McNeile removes a striking figure from that fast dwindling band of men who still represent the old "Evangelical" tradition of our Church in the midst of a generation which has sought other faiths than theirs'.

Photographed by Austen H. Clarke of Ripon.


Code: 121993
© Paul Frecker 2023