James Hannington was born in 1847 into the family that ran the Hannington department store in Brighton. His father Charles had just bought St George’s, Hurstpierpoint when James was born and his early years were spent discovering nature in the houses’s garden. His first thirteen years were spent at home with his tutor or travelling with his parents who were by this time enjoying their new found hobby of sailing. At thirteen James was sent to school in Brighton but never settled to the discipline of school or even the routine of working in a counting house at the family firm. Joining the Sussex Artillery Volunteers at the age of 16, he demonstrated an ability to lead men and this provided a diversion for him from the family business. He began to be active in the church and persuaded his parents to allow him to go to Oxford with the intention of eventually becoming ordained. He wasn’t a natural student but eventually he took his degree and prepared to take his exams for entry into the church.
He became curate of Trentishoe in Devon and increasingly became interested in preaching and evangelising. He was persuaded by his father to return to Hurst to take over the chapel and it was whilst he was back at Hurst that he heard of the deaths of two missionaries, Lieutenant Shergold Smith and Mr O’Neill in Africa. The nature of their deaths so moved him that he decided to apply to the Church Missionary Society to go to Africa.
He arrived in east Africa in May 1882 and immediately prepared for a journey to Rubaga that would take several months. It was during this expedition that James was taken ill and was forced to return on a hammock to Zanzibar and thence to back to England. As soon as he was back in England he couldn’t wait for his return to finish what he had started. Those on the Committee of the Church Missionary Society would not allow him to go believing he was not fit enough to cope with the rigours of east Africa and all the dangers it involved. Eventually after spending a year travelling around the country preaching and talking about the role of missionaries in Africa he was allowed to go back. He returned as the first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa and his job was to supervise the existing mission stations and look for suitable new mission stations.
In July 1885 James set out on an expedition to pioneer a new route to Buganda. He thought the main danger came from the Masai whose land he had to pass through but he was unaware of the suspicions towards the Europeans of the Buganda whose young chiefs had convinced the young King Mwanga not to allow any European incursions onto their land. He was captured soon after entering Buganda land having successfully dealt with all the dangers from wild animals and the Masai on route.
He was captured and after eight days of imprisonment was killed. Widespead persecution of Christians followed and it wasn’t until the arrival of Frederick Lugard in 1890 that civil disturbances was quelled and British predominance was established. A dedication stone, erected in his memory along with the Bishop Hannington Memorial Church, Hove, England in 1938, bears the inscription "Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy"
James Hannington’s travels in east Africa
Bishop Hannington was killed on the orders of King Mwanga. He was laid to rest at St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe.