Buckenham, Henry (1844-1896)

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1919
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1920

Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference by Arthur Ward

HENRY BUCKENHAM was born at Fakenham, Norfolk, May 7th, i844. His parents were poor, and accordingly he had to leave school for farm work at a very early age. In his youth he was brought under the ministry and influence of Rev. Robert Betts; and when leaving the chapel one Sunday evening Mr. Betts, who was standing at the door, urged him to give his heart to God. The result was his conversion, which took, place soon afterwards. His piety proved to be genuine and deep. His religious convictions were very strong. Because of his objection to work on the Sabbath he had to sacrifice his situation. This occasioned his removal to East Dereham, where he found employment as a platelayer under the Great Eastern Railway Company. Here he remained until called to the ministry. 

After his conversion he did his best to remedy the defects of his education and at the same time he devoted himself to Christian work, becoming a teacher in the Sunday school, and subsequently a local preacher. Ultimately he passed the examination as a candidate for the ministry and obtained a place on the Reserve List. In the early spring of 1869 he was called to Nottingham to supply the appointments of the late Rev. Samuel Antliff who had been prematurely summoned to the duties of the General Missionary Secretary, through the death of the Rev. Thomas Jobling.

And in the following July, Mr. Buckenham commenced the full work of the ministry in the Burton-on-Trent circuit. Here he laboured with great acceptance and success. Clothed with converting power there appeared every indication that he would become exceptionally successful in soul-winning at home. But at this point in his career he received his first call to pioneer work in South Africa. It was a great surprise to him, but he was found prepared to acquiesce in the Divine will. To a friend he said, ‘Eleven years ago I was greatly moved at a missionary meeting, and I promised God I would pray every day for the furtherance of missions. Sometimes God requires His people to answer their own prayers, and if after thought and prayer I find this is God’s requirement of me I am willing to go.’ Soon afterwards he sailed to South Africa, and while there did good service in the erection of the church at Aliwal North and in laying the foundation of that successful mission. 

After five years’ work in Aliwal he returned home and laboured at Plymouth, Rugby, and Torquay. On the Rugby station he built the present town chapel and also a village chapel and at Torquay he grappled successfully with the heavy debt. While at Torquay he was called to labour in Fernando Po, and presently his devoted wife joined him there, their two children being left behind in England. She never returned. She succumbed to a last attack of fever while she was on board a steamer for a few hours voyage seeking the benefit of the sea breeze. ‘Poor girl,’ Mr. Buckenham afterwards said, a tear standing in his eye while he spoke, ‘I did not ever think that I should have to lay out her corpse with my own hands, but I had to do.’ Within twenty-four hours he returned to the island sad and lonely, his wife in her grave on the mainland. 

After two years’ service in West Africa he returned to England and laboured at Worthing and on the Burton-on-Trent Second circuit. It was while he was at Burton the second time that he was asked by the Missionary Committee to take the leadership of the projected mission to the Mashukulumbwe, and though he knew he would have to leave behind him his two motherless girls, he consented. With the hindrances, the trials, and the dangers which beset the planting of this mission the connexion is now to some extent familiar. But all, under God’s blessing, have been overcome, and now a great door is open to the faith and zeal of our churches. Mr. Buckenham’s worth and work and the close of

his toils and sufferings are fittingly enshrined in the recent tribute of his friend and fellow-labourer, Rev. A. Baldwin. From this we now quote. Mr. B. says,

During the seven years I lived with him, travelled with him, and toiled with him, I had the fullest facilities for marking the many good traits in his character, and his peculiar fitness for this important pioneer work.

We were coming to the dangers which needed courage to face, to difficulties which needed tact to surmount, to delays and disappointments which needed faith to endure, and toil which needed strength and willingness to perform. All these qualifications Mr. Buckenham possessed in an eminent degree.

When we were told on all sides that to go to the Mashukulumbwe meant simply going to death, and the king said he was afraid to let us go because he felt sure they would simply butcher us to possess themselves of our goods, our brave leader never hesitated, but again and again told Lewanika that if he would only give us his consent and a guide to show us the road we would take all responsibility on ourselves. When we were besieged by a horde of wild savages, armed to the teeth, for two nights and three days, constantly clamouring for blankets and cloth, and threatening to club us, spear us, hang us, strangle us, drown us, &e., if we didn’t yield to their demands, it was an inspiration to behold his calmness and fearlessness. Again and again was his courage severely tested, yet always came off victoriously. To this fact in a large measure is due our present comparative immunity from trouble. They have learned to respect such fortitude.

The hour of difficulty is the time for testing a man’s capacities, and Mr. Buckenham was equal to every emergency. Whilst danger was near one would have concluded he was a born general, so when difficulty presented itself, one would have said he was a born mechanic. Although without previous training, he was such an adept with tools that whatever wanted doing in joinery, wheel-wrighting, building, or blacksmithing, he always succeeded in accomplishing it. On our long journey from the Barotse to the Mashukulumbwe eight of our twelve waggon wheels one after another broke down. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest wheelwright, and but for his skill must have abandoned the waggons, and with what goods we could find boys to carry must have gone on to the country on foot. He, however, made new sets of spokes, made bolts for the naves, rebuilt the wheels and retired them so well that no part of his work has shown the least sign of giving way. Everything he did was marked by thoroughness.

Our delays are well known to the friends at home. I mean the fact that we were nearly five years from leaving England to reaching Mashukulumbweland; but all the trials, disappointments, persecutions, anxieties, and worries of those years can never be known nor yet fully imagined. We have helplessly watched our oxen ie until not one has remained. We have been again and again ordered to leave the country; have had our boys taken from us and all our food supplies stopped so that we should be starved out. in fact have had all the vial of the king’s wrath, brewed by the machinations of a wicked trader, envious of the chartered company and the influence the missionaries had over the king, poured on our heads; still, Mr. Buckenham never lost heart. Others, whilst sorry for our position, were sure that the king would never relent, and that we should have. either to return home or go and seek a field elsewhere; but his faith never wavered, his hope never died. He always seemed to see the silver lining to the cloud, to peer through the darkness to the morning that would assuredly break; and that faith, after being severely tried, God honoured by giving us an open door and every facility for entering it.

No man could have worked harder or thrown more heartiness into his work than our brother did. In training oxen and driving wagons, in performing long tedious journeys, both in the height of the rainy season, and when the summer’s sun was blazing, in executing the many repairs needed to the wagons, gear, and other utensils, and in building work on our new stations, he was always engaged. From ‘dawn to dewy eve,’ he toiled incessantly through all these years without ever taking a rest. He never spared himself, but even when suffering great pain has, in his desire to push on the mission, continued at his post. Many, many times he has been compelled to put down his tools and go to his bed, but the moment he was a little better he would be back again. 

The magnanimity of his nature was shown in his conduct re the question of his return. His engagement with the General Missionary Committee was simply to locate the Mission, and having successfully done this he might have returned home in 1894; but, so much as he longed to return, for his daughters’ sakes, he forewent his privilege, and in the spirit of Mackay of Uganda declared that it was no time to thin the ranks, but rather to reinforce them. Again last year, after being so ill, and the Committee invited him to return home, he gave his personal interests but secondary consideration. He longed to see a network of stations speedily established across the country, and so decided to stay two or three years longer. He had already formed a plan which was to first see me housed at Nkala, and then go further inland, pitch afresh his tent, and there break up the ground for founding a third station. But his work was finished.

In November he was stricken down again, and although occasionally he seemed better, and we grew at these times hopeful of his recovery, it became evident that only a return home and the best medical treatment would suffice to restore him; so, reluctantly he decided to leave his much beloved work. It was then at the height of our rainy season, when travelling, in his condition, was imposssible, and they had to wait, wait, wait until the roads became passable. Meanwhile their dear little girl, Elsie, the child of the Mission, the sunshine of our life, the beloved of everybody, of even the poor, naked, savage Mashukulumbwe—she was taken by the angels on February 3rd, 1896, adding a load of sorrow to the already heavy burden of sufferings being borne by our brother. These were dark days in the history of our Mission. At length the rains passed, and on April 29th, after much worry and delay through the conduct of the porters, Mr. and Mrs. Buckenham turned their faces homeward. There were no oxen to draw a wagon, and they had to be carried in hammocks. It was a cruel journey, for the carriers, seeing Mr. Buckenham’s helplessness, took base advantage to travel only when and as far as they liked. Some days they wouldn’t stir, but spent the time in trying to extort promises of exorbitant pay on reaching Kazungula. Consequently the journey was greatly prolonged and his sufferings intensified. On reaching Kazungula he had to take to his bed, and for seven weeks bravely bore acute affliction; then, on the morning of July 11th, at 8.30, without a struggle, he quietly fell asleep and was borne to his eternal home and rest. A mound under a great mosinzela tree, enclosed with a stout fence of mopani poles to preserve it from the wild beasts, marks his resting-place. A rustic cross has been erected at the head, with a board affixed, on which is painted ‘Rev. H. Buckenham, Born May 7th, 1844, Died July 11th, 1896.’

He has joined that company that St. John saw, to each of whom was given a white robe, and whose privilege it is to reign with Christ. His one consuming passion was the enlightenment of these poor children of darkness—the Mashukulumbwe. For this he toiled, he suffered, and he gave his life. Such a life is worthy a memorial, and the grandest form such a testimony could take would be the immediate extension of the work he has initiated. In 1893 he prayed the General Missionary Committee to send ten men into the field at least by 1898, and this ever remained his ardent desire. Will not the church, in appreciation of such a life, do something towards the fulfilment of that desire, the answering of that prayer?’

We shall all say it ought. Our church now knows something of the toils and sufferings of our departed friend, of the devotion of Mrs. Buckenham to her husband and to the interests of the mission, and of the quiet heroism and chivalry of Mr. Baldwin. Such lives and toils and sufferings call for a suitable response from the connexion; and no response can be so suitable as an increase of men and means for the mission to which our dear brother Buckenham has given his life, his all.


Henry was born on 7 May 1844 at Fakenham, Norfolk, to parents Edmund, who worked the land, and Elizabeth. He was baptised on 11 May 1844 at Fakenham. Before entering the ministry, Henry also worked the land.

He married Mary Maria Martin (1848-1885) 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)

He married Catherine Cornwell (1855-1917) in the spring of 1889 in Birmingham, Warwickshire. They had one child.

  • Elsie Buckenham (1890-1896)

Henry died on 11 July 1896 at Kazangula, Zambia.


  • 1869 Burton on Trent
  • 1871 Aliwal North
  • 1876 Plymouth
  • 1877 Rugby
  • 1879 Torquay
  • 1883 St Isabel
  • 1885 Worthing
  • 1889 Zambesi
  • 1895 Mashakulumbi


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1919/324; 1920/175

PM Minutes 1897/12

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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