Reverend William Hughes, Kinkasa and Nkanza

Reverend William Hughes, Kinkasa and Nkanza

A carte-de-visite portrait of the Baptist missionary and teacher Reverend William Hughes (1856-1924), seen here with two of his pupils, Kinkasa (aged 11) and Nkanza (aged 8). The 1891 census records the latter as Nkanza Ross, aged 14, an ‘Industrial Student’ born in the ‘Congo, SW Africa’.

Hughes, who spoke only Welsh until he was 19, trained as a minister at Llangollen Baptist College. In 1882 the Baptist Missionary Society sent him to work in the Congo but ill-health forced his return to England three years later, accompanied by Kinkasa and Nkanza. The three toured the Welsh chapels lecturing and raising funds for their missionary work. In 1885 Hughes married the daughter of the principal of Llangollen Baptist College and in 1887 he, his wife and his African colleagues settled at Colwyn Bay, a small seaside town in North Wales, where, in 1889, he founded the Congo Training Institution. Subscriptions flowed in and within a year the institution had a new building. In 1892 Hughes published Dark Africa and the Way Out.

The idea behind the institution was a simple one. Instead of sending white missionaries to Africa, the most promising African converts would be brought to Britain and trained – in a firmly Christian society – in a variety of useful professions. The institution attracted students from Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the United States. By 1903 over twenty students were training with local citizens and living in Colwyn Bay. During the course of their training they met Britons from all walks of life, at garden parties, at work, or as guests in local homes.

The birth of a child to local girl Edith Dale, fathered by John Lionel Franklin from Grenada, led to a scandal and in December 1911 the magazine John Bull, founded and edited by Horace Bottomley as a platform for his trenchantly populist views, turned its ire on Hughes’s institution. Hughes foolishly sued Bottomley for libel but had difficultly explaining the finances of the institution and its achievements in court. He lost the case and was declared bankrupt in March 1912. The institution closed and its students dispersed. Hughes died of heart disease in the Conwy Union Workhouse on 28 January 1924. He was buried in Old Colwyn cemetery alongside the members of his family and the students who had predeceased him. Among the latter were Kinkasa and Nkanza. Kinkasa had died of ‘Congo sleeping sickness’ on 3 May 1888, soon after his arrival in Colwyn Bay, when he was still only 12 years old. Nkanza had died, aged 16, after a short illness on 3 April 1892. The cause of death was recorded as ’heart failure caused by congestion of the liver’.

Photographed by Lettsome and Sons of Llangollen. Printed captions verso identify the sitters and date the portrait to 9 April 1886.


Code: 126035
© Paul Frecker 2023