||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2009)|
|John William Colenso|
|Bishop of Natal|
|Church||Church of England|
|In office||1853–20 June 1883|
|Successor||Arthur Hamilton Baynes|
|Born||24 January 1814
St Austell, Cornwall, UK
|Died||20 June 1883
Durban, Natal Colony
|Previous post||rector of Forncett St Mary|
Early life and education
Colenso was born at St Austell, Cornwall, on 24 January 1814. His father (John William Colenso) invested his capital into a mineral works in Pentewan, Cornwall, but the speculation proved to be ruinous when the investment was lost following a sea flood. His cousin was William Colenso, a missionary in New Zealand.
Family financial problems meant that Colenso had to take a job as an usher in a private school before he could attend University. These earnings and a loan of £30 raised by his relatives paid for his first year at St John's College, Cambridge where he was a sizar[clarification needed] scholar. In 1836 he was Second Wrangler and Smith's Prizeman at Cambridge, and in 1837 he became fellow of St John's. Two years later he went to Harrow School as mathematical tutor, but the step proved an unfortunate one. The school was at its lowest ebb, and Colenso not only had few pupils, but lost most of his property in a fire. He returned to Cambridge burdened by an enormous debt of £5,000. However, within a relatively short period of time he paid off this debt by diligent tutoring and the sale to Longmans of his copyright interest in the highly successful and widely read manuals he had written on algebra (in 1841) and arithmetic (in 1843).
Life in Africa
Colenso was a significant figure in the history of the published word in nineteenth century South Africa. Using the printing press he brought to his missionary station at Ekukhanyeni in Natal, and with William Ngidi he published the first Zulu Grammar and English/Zulu dictionary. His 1859 journey across Zululand to visit Mpande (the then Zulu King) and meet with Cetshwayo (Mpande's son and the Zulu King at the time of the Zulu War) was recorded in his book First Steps of the Zulu Mission. The same journey was also described in the first book written by native South Africans in Zulu – Three Native Accounts (with accounts written by Magema Fuze, Ndiyane and William Ngidi). He also translated the New Testament and other portions of Scripture into Zulu.
Through the influence of his talented and well-educated wife, Colenso became one of only a handful of theologians to embrace Frederick Maurice, who was raised a Unitarian but joined the Anglican church to help it "purify and elevate the mind of the nation".
Before his missionary career Colenso's volume of sermons dedicated to Frederick Maurice signalled the critical approach he would later apply to biblical interpretation and the baleful impact on native Africans of colonial expansion in southern Africa.
Colenso first courted controversy with the publication in 1855 of his Remarks on the Proper Treatment of Polygamy; one of the most cogent Christian-based arguments for tolerance of polygamy.
Colenso's experiences in Natal informed Colenso's development as a religious thinker. In his commentary upon Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1861) he countered the doctrine of eternal punishment and the contention that Holy Communion was a precondition to salvation. Colenso, as a missionary, would not preach that the ancestors of newly Christianised Africans were condemned to eternal damnation. The thought provoking questions put to him by students at his missionary station encouraged him to re-examine the contents of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua and question whether certain sections of these books should be understood as literally or historically accurate. His conclusions, positive and negative, were published in a series of treatises on the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, over a period of time from 1862 to 1879. The publication of these volumes created a scandal in England and were the cause of a number of anguished and patronising counter-blasts from those (clergy and laity alike) who refused to countenance the possibility of biblical fallibility. Colenso's work attracted the notice of biblical scholars on the continent such as Abraham Kuenen and played an important contribution in the development of biblical scholarship.
Colenso's biblical criticism and his high-minded views about the treatment of African natives created a frenzy of alarm and opposition from the High Church party in South Africa and in England. As controversy raged in England, the South African bishops headed by Bishop Gray pronounced Colenso's deposition in December 1863. Colenso, who had refused to appear before this tribunal otherwise than by sending a proxy protest (delivered by his friend Wilhelm Bleek), appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council eventually decided that the Bishop of Cape Town had no coercive jurisdiction and no authority to interfere with the Bishop of Natal. In view of this finding of ultra vires there was no opinion given upon the allegations of heresy made against Colenso. The first Lambeth Conference was convened in 1867 to address concerns raised by the Privy Council's decision in favour of Colenso.
His adversaries, though unable to remove him from his episcopal office, succeeded in restricting his ability to preach both in Natal and in England. Bishop Gray not only excommunicated him but consecrated a rival bishop of Natal (W.K. Macrorie), who took his title from Pietermaritzburg. The contributions of the missionary societies were withdrawn, but an attempt to deprive him of his episcopal income and the control of the cathedral in Pietermaritzburg was frustrated by another court ruling. Colenso, encouraged by a handsome testimonial raised in England to which many clergymen subscribed, returned to his diocese.
Advocacy of native African causes
Colenso devoted the latter years of his life to further labours as a biblical commentator and as an advocate for native Africans in Natal and Zululand who had been unjustly treated by the colonial regime in Natal. In 1874 he took up the cause of Langalibalele and the Hlubi and Ngwe tribes in representations to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon. Langalibalele had been falsely accused of rebellion in 1873 and, following a charade of a trial, was found guilty and imprisoned on Robben Island. In taking the side of Langalibalele against the Colonial regime in Natal and Theophilus Shepstone, the Secretary for Native Affairs, Colenso found himself even further estranged from colonial society in Natal.
Colenso's concern about the misleading information that was being provided to the Colonial Secretary in London by Shepstone and the Governor of Natal prompted him to devote much of the final part of his life to championing the cause of the Zulus against Boer oppression and official encroachments. He was a prominent critic of Sir Bartle Frere's efforts to depict the Zulu kingdom as a threat to Natal. Following the conclusion of the Anglo-Zulu War he interceded on behalf of Cetshwayo with the British government and succeeded in getting him released from Robben Island and returned to Zululand. Colenso's campaigns revealed the dark, racist foundation underpinning the colonial regime in Natal and made him more enemies among the colonists than he had ever made among the clergy.
He was known as Sobantu (father of the people) to the native Africans in Natal and had a close relationship with members of the Zulu royal family; one of whom, Mkhungo (a son of Mpande), was taught at his school in Bishopstowe. After his death his wife and daughters continued his work supporting the Zulu cause and the organisation that eventually became the African National Congress.
Colenso was a polygenist; he believed in CoAdamism that races had been created separately. Colenso pointed to monuments and artifacts in Egypt to debunk monogenist beliefs that all races came from the same stock. Ancient Egyptian representations of races for example showed exactly how the races looked today. Egyptological evidence indicated the existence of remarkable permanent differences in the shape of the skull, bodily form, colour and physiognomy between different races which are difficult to reconcile with biblical monogenesis. Colenso believed that racial variation between races was so great, that there was no way all the races could have come from the same stock just a few thousand years ago, he was unconvinced that the climate could change racial variation, he also with other biblical polygenists believed that monogenists had interpreted the bible wrongly.
Colenso said “It seems most probable that the human race, as it now exists, had really sprung from more than one pair”. Colenso denied that polygenism caused any kind of racist attitudes or practices, like many other polygenists he claimed that monogenesis was the cause of slavery and racism. Colenso claimed that each race had sprung from a different pair of parents, and that all races had been created equal by God.
Later life and death
Colenso died at Durban on 20 June 1883. His daughter Frances Ellen Colenso (1849–1887) published two books on the relations of the Zulus to the British (History of the Zulu War and Its Origin in 1880 and The Ruin of Zululand in 1885) that explained recent events in Zululand from a pro-Zulu perspective. His oldest daughter, Harriette E Colenso (b. 1847), took up Colenso's mantle as advocate for the Zulus in opposition to their treatment by the authorities appointed by Natal, especially in the case of Dinizulu in 1888—1889 and in 1908—1909.
Colenso married Sarah Frances Bunyon in 1846, and they had five children, Harriet Emily, Frances Ellen, Robert John, Francis "Frank" Ernest, and Agnes.
Patrick Wright of Windhoekt has argued that Colenso's career provides an interesting example of 19th century Liberation Theology and that he is a precursor of the kind of Liberation Theology found in 20th century Latin America.
In popular culture
- In the 1979 film Zulu Dawn, Colenso is portrayed by Freddie Jones, as a sympathetically principled critic of the decision to declare war on Cetshwayo and the Zulus.
- Commentary on the Romans (1861)
- Critical Examination of the Pentateuch (1862–1879)
- Arithmetic. Designed for Use in Schools (1867 revised edition) National Library of Australia
- Ten Weeks in Natal. Elibron Classics – recent re-print. Orig. 1855 via Google Books
- The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined. Elibron Classics, 2003 re-print; "People's Edition" (1865) via Google Books
- Lectures on the Pentateuch and the Moabite Stone (1873) via Google Books
- Natal Sermons. Four vol.
- Village Sermons
- Zulu-English Dictionary (1861) via Google Books
- First Steps in Zulu (4th ed., 1890) via Google Books
- Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Colenso, John William". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- The Victorian Age: an anthology of sources and documents. Josephine M. Guy. Routledge, 1998. ISBN 0-415-18555-6. p. 299–
- The washing of the spears: a history of the rise of the Zulu nation under. Donald R. Morris. Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN 0-306-80866-8. p.182
- Indigenous responses to western Christianity. Steven Kaplan[disambiguation needed]. NYU Press, 1995 ISBN 0-8147-4649-7 p. 12–
- Contested Christianity: the political and social contexts of Victorian theology . Timothy Larsen. Baylor University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-918954-93-2. pp. 59–77.
- Colin Kidd, The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world, 1600–2000, 2006, pp. 153–156
- Colenso, Frances Ellen (1958); Rees, Wyn (ed.) Colenso Letters from Natal. Pietermaritzburg
- Colenso, Frances E., assisted in those portions of the work that touch on military matters by Lieut.-Colonel Edward Durnford (1880) History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London: Chapman and Hall (Elibron Classics, 2004 re-print)
- Cox, Sir G. W. (1988) Colenso's Life. 2 vols. London
- Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U. P.; pp. 308–09
- Draper, Jonathan A. (ed.) (2003) The Eye of the Storm : Bishop John William Colenso and the Crisis of Biblical Interpretation. Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg, 2003
- Colenso, J. W. (2003); Draper, Jonathan A. (ed.) Commentary on Romans by Bishop John Colenso. Cluster Publications
- Guy, Jeff (1979) The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom: the Civil War in Zululand, 1879–1884. London: Longman
- Guy, Jeff (1983) The Heretic: a Study of the Life of John William Colenso. Pietermaritzburg
- Guy, Jeff (2001) The View Across the River : Harriette Colenso and the Zulu Struggle Against Imperialism. Oxford, UK, Claremont, S.Africa, & Charlottesville US, 2001
- Hinchliff, Peter. John William Colenso : Bishop of Natal. London, 1964
- Morris, Donald R. (1965) The Washing of the Spears: the Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster
- Rowse, A. L. (1989) The Controversial Colensos. Redruth
- Wiggins, Ezekiel Stone "The architecture of the heavens containing a new theory of the universe and the extent of the deluge, and testimony of the Bible and geology in opposition to the views of Dr. Colenso" 1864, Nepean, Ontario
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: John William Colenso|
- Project Canterbury ELIZABETH COLENSO Her work for the Melanesian Mission
- Material relating to Colenso at Lambeth Palace Library
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "John Colenso", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- Archival material relating to John Colenso listed at the UK National Archives
- Portraits of John William Colenso at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Books written in response to Colenso's views on the Pentateuch
- Christ or Colenso? : or, A full reply to the objections of John William Colenso to the Pentateuch. Micaiah Hill. Hamilton, Adams, 1862.
- Moses right and bishop Colenso wrong, lectures in reply to 'Bishop Colenso on the Pentateuch' . John Cumming. 1863.
- Plain possible solutions of the objections of John William Colenso. George Vallis Garland. Rivingtons, 1863.
- The pretensions of Bishop Colenso to impeach the wisdom and veracity of the compilers of the Holy Scriptures considered. James Robert Page. Rivingtons, 1863.
- The Scriptures defended : being a reply to Bishop Colenso's book, on the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua. J. M. Hirschfelder. H. Rowsell, 1863.
- The age and authorship of the Pentateuch considered : in further reply to Bishop Colenso. William Henry Hoare. Rivingtons, 1863.
- The Pentateuch vindicated from the aspersions of Bishop Colenso. William Henry Green. J. Wiley, 1863.
- Our old Bible : Moses on the plains of Moab. Alexander Moody Stuart. J. Maclaren, 1881.
- Bishop Colenso's criticism criticised : in a series of ten letters addressed to the editor of the "Record" newspaper. Joseph Benjamin M'Caul. Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1863.
|Bishop of Natal
Arthur Hamilton Baynes