Buckenham, Mary Maria (nee Martin) (1848-1885)

Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H. Buckenham

The subject of this memoir was the sixth child of Horace and Maria Martin, of Dereham, Norfolk. Like Hannah, her mother ‘lent her to the Lord.’ Having prayerfully consecrated her to His service she was early taken to God’s house, and in baptism received the name of Mary Maria. Very early in life she showed signs of the inward workings of the Holy Spirit, and a great love for reading good books and magazines. Her connection with the Sunday-school, begun in childhood, continued unbroken until she left home for missionary life in South Africa. When fifteen years of age the Vicar of Dereham urged her to become a teacher in a Church of England day-school, reminding her that she must cease attending our chapel, &c. With the consent of her mother she decided not to accede to his request, and about this time became a teacher in our Sunday-school.

In 1863 she made a public confession of her faith in Christ, being the first convert in our new chapel at Dereham. Having surrendered herself to God she laboured diligently in the school and church until 1872, when she was called by God to other service. She cheerfully bore the pain of parting with her family and friends in order to become the wife of the first Primitive Methodist missionary in South Africa. She, however, was not allowed to leave the church and school in which she had laboured so long, without some token of love and esteem from those with whom she had co-operated in the Lord’s work. A valuable gold watch, suitably engraved, was presented to her by the teachers and friends; and the Vicar showed his continued regard for her character by the gift of a useful writing-desk; whilst others made her glad with tokens of affection. The trial of parting was soon followed by what, at the commencement, threatened to be a disastrous voyage, parts of the ship being swept away with the strong seas. Life, however, was preserved, and in due time the journey, begun in storm and tempest, ended safely amid the wreckage of four vessels driven ashore in Algoa Bay, whilst her future husband was waiting to welcome her to a strange land.

During her stay in South Africa she experienced the joy and sorrow of a mother, in the birth and death (at eight months old) of her infant daughter.

As she had opportunities she laboured in the Sunday-school and otherwise to help on the work at Aliwal North. Returning to England in 1875 she entered upon the home work with an earnestness that won for her many friends. Those who attended classes led by her, speak of her as one called of God for such service.

When, in 1883, the General Missionary Committee invited her husband to go to Fernando Po, she was most anxious not to let her state of health prevent his going, if it were God’s will that he should do so; and displayed a loving self-denial by suggesting her willingness to bear the pain of parting, and the anxiety of separation during his term in West Africa, should the General Missionary Committee be willing to send him alone; and when (with the consent of two medical men) she decided to join him in that trying climate, she exhibited the same trust in God and true nobility of spirit. The severe trial of parting with her two little daughters was bravely borne; and when friends spoke to her of the risk to her health and even life itself, her reply was, ‘God can take care of me, if He so wills; and if not, I am not afraid to die.’ Seventeen days after landing at Santa Isabel she had a severe attack of fever, which seriously weakened her, and some of the friends begged her to return home. But acting on the advice of Dr. McKenzie (many years resident in Old Calabar) she decided to remain at her post. She took a deep interest in the people, and often exceeded her strength in seeking their good.

On March 26th, 1885, she was stricken down with fever, which proved to be her last illness. Some friends at Old Calabar invited her to return with them to England, as her husband had, at the Committee’s request, consented to prolong his term at Fernando Po. Calling next day with Mr. and Mrs. Fairley, who were also leaving for home, they found her prostrate. The day was spent in nursing, and in the evening they parted, to meet no more in this world. She felt this keenly but endured it with Christian fortitude, and in like manner all her subsequent affliction. During the second week the fever was less violent, and we were full of hope. It was necessary for her husband to visit Banni, to which she cheerfully agreed; and after an absence of three days he returned to find her again in bed with the fever. The paroxysms returned each day, leaving her more enfeebled. On the 19th of April the doctor ordered her to be taken on board the s.s. Volta, which had come that morning. She was carried on board, and appeared much benefited by the sea air, but she was soon prostrated again with fever. The Volta anchored in the Cameroons, and as night came on she grew worse and suffered much, but her conversation and prayers seemed almost supernatural. Her knowledge of Scripture now supplied her with comfort, and the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ were quoted in a wonderful manner. Dwelling upon the words of James, ‘The prayer of faith shall save the sick,’ &c., she enquired if that included fevers? and then earnestly implored us to pray for her recovery, adding, ‘I would like to see my dear children once more,’ and then prayed for them that they might be good, &c. Her husband was now stricken down with bilious fever and had to be removed. Next day she was much better, and was visited by Miss Thomas (Baptist), who went out with her a year previous. On Tuesday she continued to improve and Miss Thomas left her during the afternoon. In the evening the fever became strong. She asked that certain remedies might be applied, adding, ‘Let us persevere and break the fever, or it will burn me up.’ Hope dawned again and again, only to be dashed by the intense burning. To the doctor she said, ‘I am being burned up, burned up!’ and so it was. At 11 p.m. the awful thought that she would not recover flashed across her husband’s mind as he wrestled with the deadly fever, and he sent a boat to fetch Mr. T. Lewis (Baptist Missionary). Her mind now wandered and she talked of her mother, and then settled into an unconscious state, from which she never recovered until Jesus said, ‘Come up higher,’ when, breathing her soul into His hand, she slept in peace, at 3.30 a.m., April 22nd. Her husband, assisted by Mr. Lewis, prepared her body for its burial. The coffin was made on board; and at 9.30 the remains of a loving wife and mother were placed in the boat, and covered with the English flag were towed by the Baptist Mission boat to the landing-place. The Mission children greeted us with hymns of love, and six strong Africans bore the coffin to its resting-place. The flags floated at half-mast. The service, simple but impressive, was read by Mr. Lewis. The same evening the lonely missionary landed at Isabel, where intense sorrow was felt by the members of the Mission church on learning the sad news.

As a wife she resembled the wise woman of whom Solomon speaks, ‘who buildeth her house.’ As a mother she was most tender yet firm, and ever sought to bring up her children in the fear of the Lord. As a Christian, if not perfect, she sought divine grace, and marks in her Bible and year-book show how much she longed to be holy.

He husband’s last service at Isabel had reference to her life and death. The Conference, in a letter of condolence to her parents, expressed the high esteem in which she was held. A Memorial Service was held in our church at Rugby, by Rev. R. Barron; and, by request, her husband conducted another service at Torquay, taking for his text the words, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life,’ &c. He has also placed a chaste marble tablet in the chapel at Dereham, and erected a memorial at the grave in Cameroons.


Mary was born in the summer of 1848 Dereham, Norfolk, to parents Horace, who worked the land, and Maria Martin.

She married Henry Buckenham (1844-1896) in 1872 in South Africa. Census returns identify two children.

  • Ada Ethel Eliza (1875-1947) – married Edward Christmas Day, a commercial traveller (1911), in 1900
  • Elvina Maud (b1878) – a dress maker (1901); a servant (1911)

Mary died on 22 April 1885 on board the S.S. Volta in the Cameroons.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1886/628 

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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