Hannington was born on 3rd September 1847 at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, England, about eight miles from Brighton, where his father ran a warehouse, and was part of the family that ran Hannington’s Department stores , His father, Charles Smith Hannington, had recently acquired the property known as St. George’s. During Hannington’s childhood, he blew off his thumb with black powder. As a boy he was a collector.
For Hannington’s early education a tutor had been engaged, but when he was thirteen he was sent to the Temple School at Brighton, where he remained for the next two and a half years, although he was an indifferent student.
Hannington left school at fifteen to work in his father’s Brighton counting house. He obtained a commission in the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers and rose to the rank of major. Under his training and supervision, his detachment won prizes at the annual camp competitions.
In 1867 the chapel which Hannington’s father had built in the grounds of his property was licensed for Anglican services.At twenty-one, Hannington decided to pursue a clerical career, and entered university at St Mary Hall, Oxford, He was President of the Red Club and captain of the St. Mary Hall Boat. In 1872, the death of his mother spurred a change in Hannington’s life; he was awarded his B.A., and on 1 March 1874 was ordained as a deacon, and took charge of the small parish of St Peter in Trentishoe, Devon .In 1875 James became curate-in-charge at St George’s, Hurstpierpoint where he stayed until volunteering for missionary work in east Africa in 1882. He had by then been married for five years.
Around 1882, Hannington heard of the murder of two missionaries on the shores of Lake Victoria. This led to him offering himself to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and he left England on 17th May, setting sail for Zanzibar on 29th June, as the head of a party of six missionaries. Crippled by fever and dysentery, Hannington was forced to return to England in 1883.
In June 1884, having recovered, Hannington was ordained bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, and in January 1885, at age thirty-seven, Hannington again departed for Africa. His diocese included missions of the CMS at the coast and inland in Buganda. While there Hannington collected a number of shells which were described by E. A. Smith in two papers in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History.
After arriving at Frere town, near Mombasa, in Kenya, Hannington determined to pioneer a shorter and healthier highland road to Buganda, using Christian porters and undercutting the Arab slave route to the south. He was oblivious to the political consequences of traversing Busoga, a strategically sensitive area for the Buganda state. The sudden intrusion of German imperialism at the coast made the Bugandan ruler, Kabaka Mwanga, even more suspicious of Hannington’s motives.An oracle (emmandwa) had said that Buganda’s conqueror would come from the east. Mwanga forbade Hannington from continuing through Busoga eastern region of Uganda and sent boats to take him to Sukuma land, but Hannington refused. Together with his team, he safely reached a spot near Victoria Nyanza on 21st October, but his arrival had not gone unnoticed, and under the orders of King Mwanga II of Buganda kingdom, the missionaries were imprisoned in Busoga by Basoga chiefs by the orders of The Kabaka of buganda kingdom.
After eight days of captivity, by order from Mwanga II, Hannington’s porters were killed, and on 29th October 1885, Hannington himself was speared in both sides . As he died, his alleged last words to the soldiers who killed him were: “Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”
Widespread persecution of Christians followed, many being killed or sold to Arab slavers. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, a Roman Catholic and an official at Mwanga’s court, rebuked the king for the deed, and was beheaded for it. Hannington and his companions were among the first Martyrs of Uganda.
About the Death 💀 of Bishop James
THERE are several theories on how Bishop James Hannington died, so we may never know how it happened. It is not even clear who gave the order although there is no doubt that Chief Luba of Bunya carried it out at Kyando, in what is now known as Mayuge district.
Hannington’s journal, salvaged by a local, indicated that he was tortured for a week after his arrest on October 21st 1885. He was speared to death on October 29th, 1885.
He wrote: in spite of feeling I was being dragged away to be murdered 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 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…
Some people believe the Bishop angered Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda by travelling through Busoga, at that time considered a back entrance to Buganda Kingdom. Traditionally, such an entry, whether by missionaries or traders, was considered subversive.
Little wonder that Hannington last words were: Go tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.
Kyando is 12km from Mayuge town near the shores of Lake Victoria in Imanyiro county. Despite its historical significance, it is not easy to access, with the bad roads and lack of signposts and tourists need quick-witted drivers ready to make abrupt decisions but Mj safaris Uganda can offer proper arranged tours to these sites.
Almost 122 years after Bishop Hannington was killed, the site remains unaltered by modernity. The stone on which he was speared is located less than a metre from a footpath that winds through a small maize garden. A short distance down the footpath is a church built in his memory.
Multitudes of Christians throng Kyando every year on October 29th to pray at the site where Bishop Hannington was martyred.
According to Zaidi Mugoya a Senior Communication Officer at Busoga tourism ministry says visitors from all walks of life visit the site all year round with the climax being October 29.
A monument was set up in the 1920s on the huge stone were he is believed to have been speared to death but unfortunately it wasn’t reserved by then .
At Kyando, he used rocky caves as library, altar, pulpit and sleeping room. These are the major attractions for tourists. Many of the visitors drink water from the well that Bishop Hannington used more than 122 years ago.
Of particular interest is the pulpit used by Bishop Hannington. It is a huge stone that sits on a rock, tilting as though it will fall any minute, yet it moved an inch since the days before any white man stepped in Uganda.
To get there you have to do a substantial amount of climbing. But when you get there, it becomes obvious why the Bishop chose it. There is a clear view of Nkombe village, Lake Victoria and Mwiri hill in Jinja. Lwanika and the Victoria waters are visible to the south while parts of Iganga and Waitambogwe hill dot the eastern horizon.