Price, John William (1878-1967)

Missionary in Northern Rhodesia 1906 to 1935

John William Price in 1937
Jane Richardson
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1920/60

My great uncle and his wife Florence went out to Northern Rhodesia as missionaries in 1906. I discovered copies of his letters and articles he wrote in the annual missions book at the archives at the Institute of African and Oriental studies in London. I also have a copy of his obituary from the Methodist recorder in 1967.

My husband and I were fortunate to go to Zambia and visit the village where he was first stationed. We saw the remains of the church he built as well as the new church, visited the school and clinic and saw the grave of their baby.

The only photos I have are copied from books – Florence took lots of photos and I often wondered what happened to the originals.

He remarried and was living in Wolverhampton when he died in 1967. I wonder whether anyone remembers him?

Early Life

John William Price was born in 1878 in the village of Costock, Nottinghamshire and soon after moved with his parents to Lancashire where his father became a police officer. He grew up in the mill towns of Lancashire with his brothers and sisters and on leaving school he worked in the mills. During this time he studied at night school and he travelled with the mission van connected with the Primitive Methodist Church. He then trained as a Primitive Methodist minister at the Hartley Victoria College, Manchester, and was ordained in 1903. He married Florence and was minister in Norwich for 3 years.

Missionary Work

On 25th August 1906 he and Florence set sail for Cape Town on board the ship Kenilworth Castle of the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company. They then made the arduous journey to Nanzela in Northern Rhodesia, (now Zambia), where they  joined Rev E W Smith and his wife at the Baila-Satonga mission station. Rev. Smith  stimulated John’s interest in the language and customs of the Baili people and he was soon able to preach to them in their own tongue. During his years as a missionary he wrote a book on hygiene, translated books of the Bible, including the Psalms, and wrote hymns in the Ila language. In 1924 he wrote “ the attempt to put the Psalms into Ila verse brings its own delight as well as at times a feeling of despair.”

During his early years at Nanzela John was involved in the planting of crops and fruit trees but their attempts were often thwarted by either too much rain bringing floods or drought.  In 1907 he reported the delivery of 4 dozen apple trees, 6 orange trees and guavas. The bananas, peach, pineapple and lemons were doing well and they had a good market for cotton with 100 plants doing well. Despite the climatic difficulties the crops were generally successful and the local people were helped with farming techniques and supplied with tools.

Medical care

The mission provided medical care and Florence had trained as a midwife. Florence cared for children – many of them orphaned or abandoned. Schools were set up and John’s tall erect figure was often seen walking along bush paths as he travelled to inspect schools, preach and evangelise.

Unfortunately Florence had periods of bad health and suffered miscarriages and the death of their only baby. However this did not hinder her work with children and she recorded their time there with many photographs.

Travelling about

Travel in the region changed considerably over their time in Rhodesia. They would have taken a train part way and then have to walk a considerable distance – Florence being carried in a hammock – and all their luggage carried. Rev. E. W. Smith described his arrival at Nanzela in 1902 – “Our journey from Aliwal North in Cape Colony – first six days by rail to Bulawayo, then eight weeks by wagon to the Victoria Falls and the last 200 miles or so I on foot and Mrs Smith carried in a hammock.”

In 1912 after a period of furlough in England John wrote that they had arrived safely at Kalomo after a pleasant voyage and a more than usually bearable train journey. He had not succeeded in getting a horse at Kalomo so was compelled to walk the 80 miles to Nanzela.

In July 1929 he wrote that he had bought a car in Capetown! – a 6 cylinder Chrysler which he had converted to make it suitable for long distance travel and his mission work. He and Florence then drove back to Kasenga (he moved there in 1919) visiting friends on route and spending nights in the car. He wrote that the last 350 miles in 2 days on such roads were no joke.


Christmas at Nanzela consisted of the church packed beyond its door for a service, sports and uproarious fun afterwards, but evening brought quiet and memories of home. However John and Florence’s first Christmas was very different. They spent it as guests of their magistrate at Namwala along with every other white men and women in the area, (Florence and Mrs Smith were the only white women present). They travelled by cart accompanied by Sezungu, their local chief, and a crowd of his people led by a band. They arrived at Namwala to find very primitive conditions and spent the night in a hut without a door – lions and leopard were known to roam the area! However the welcome was warm and the entertainment memorable – the climax being a mock battle between two parties of natives who then, with raised spears  forwarded on mass slowly towards them.  John wrote that in 1906 they felt like pioneers in a new country.

Return to Africa

In 1919, following a year in Hull back in England,  John and Florence moved to Kasenga where John was the superintendent minister over several missions in the region. They were there until 1933 but it seemed that his first love was for Nanzela. In his final years at Kasenga John worked hard building a girls’ block to the school and teachers’ houses. By this time the union of the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist Churches was taking place and the extra work and politics of this, plus the fatigue of nearly 30 years in the mission was taking its toll on John. He had considered retiring on several occasions but had been persuaded to continue. He was determined to finish his translation work before leaving. A telegram was sent from Choma on 26th August 1933 saying –“Going immediately – Price”.


John and Florence had no children of their own but adopted two mixed race children – Leonard and Susie. They educated the children and put Leonard through theological college and he became one of the first African Methodist ministers. Susie, I believe, became a nurse. Leonard wrote of the love and support he received from John and Florence and took the name Rev. L. W. Syaapela Price. (Leonard William). He was ordained in 1932 – a year before the Prices left Rhodesia – and was minister to his own people in Nanzila, and  in 1940 was at Kasenga with Rev. Will Harrison. In 1960 he was a supernumerary (retired) minister. Leonard married  Mary Penny – also mixed race – who John and Florence put through college to train as a teacher. If they had children could there still be people with the name Price in that region of Zambia?

In 1937 there was an article written by Syaapela in the “Kingdom Overseas” book of the Methodist Church. After being posted to Nanzila he undertook the task of travelling and examining the life of the people in the neighbourhood. He also held meetings with local chiefs to make plans for improving rural life. They discussed education, sanitation and agriculture. Syaapela was very encouraged by the response.

Back in the UK

On his return to England John  was minister of churches in Manchester, Ramsmor and during the war years, (1938 – 1945) was superintendent minister at Dunstable and then moved to Watton. He continued to support the Overseas Mission branch of the Methodist Church. He retired in 1948 and had an active supernumerary ministry at Craven Hurst in Bedfordshire. During this time Florence had died and he later remarried. He moved to Wolverhampton in 1957 and died in 1967.

Quoting from his obituary in the Methodist Recorder, February 23rd 1967;

Mr Price had a very great love for the African people and they in response had a similar love for him. This affection was shown in many practical ways – typical of a man who lived for others. Although quiet and gentle in manner he was firm in his Christian convictions and strong in leadership. He could not under any circumstances tolerate any form of racial discrimination, but saw all men as children of God.”

John was my mother’s father’s brother – my great- uncle. I never met him but my mother remembers him and Florence visiting the family when she was a child – they took her an African doll and spoke at her school.

Information obtained from the Methodist Missionary records at The Institute of African and Oriental Studies, London.

Christine M Brown



Comments about this page

  • Very interesting history you have about, Nanzhila. By the way, I hail from Nanzhila and I did my secondary education at Kafue boys mission school whose dormitories are named after some of those missionaries who where at Nanzhila mission.

    By Shamulonga Muzala (19/06/2023)
  • Hi there,

    I am Gilly, the great grand daughter of Edwin and Julia Smith. With the help of Johannes my family and I are planning a trip to the Kafue this July, to track down Nanzil. My grandmother was born in the mission house in 1904 and Thabo was her older brother ( he was buried at Nanzila). My Granny left me his Christening mug. I am very excited to come across this web page, My grandparents missionary work and their life in Africa has left a big impression on me.

    I would be Very happy to correspond with any other interested parties.



    Gilly Howard-Jones

    By Gilly Howard-Jones (01/03/2018)
  • To Jane Richardson

    I am looking for a picture of John William Price. The one on the website has only a low resolution. Do you have a better one?

    By Johannes van der Weijden (13/09/2017)
  • Hello everyone,

    After chatting with my dad, I discovered he has close to 100 letters of correspondence between John W. Price, his wife Florence to my grandfather Leonard W. Price. I am in the process of organising them in chronological order, and perhaps some names that have been mentioned here will come up. I also happened to see some correspondence between John W. Price and John Shaw. Perhaps I could receive some guidance on how best to organise these so that they are useful. I also have photographs of my great grandfather as his wife as well as the Shaws of which I will scan and send. If anyone has more information on John Shaw, please send it to me on We have possible link to a descendent who has been collecting information on the family as well.


    Mena Price

    By Filamena Price (24/04/2017)
  • How very exciting to read this. I am the youngest daughter of Mr. Joshua B. Price who is the son of Leonard W. Price. Of late I have been trying to trace my family history. He and my two aunts are the remaining children of Leonard Price. Thank you again for this article. We will add any information that would be of interest soon.


    Filamena Price

    By Filamena Price (21/04/2017)
  • I would love to meet Joshua Ben Price om my next visit to Zambia in July 2017. I put an article on our website on my visit to Nkala and Nanzhila Mission in July 2016:

    By Johannes van der Weijden (10/02/2017)
  • Dear all,

    I am one of the remaining descendents of JWP Missionary who was in Nanjila Mission from 1906-1935. I am the son of the late Lenard W Price. I am now aged 76 and live in Kafue District Zambia.

    Regards to all.

    J B Price

    By Joshua Ben Price (04/02/2017)
  • Good afternoon Mr Hope

    Thank you so much for responding to my email regarding our Grandfather John Shaw.  I have only seen your response now as I gave up, I thought no one was going to respond.  I do apologise.  

    I am ordering the book.  We did not get to go to Kafue as my Sisters husband fell ill so we had to cancel it.  I would so much love to go and see where Gran and Granpa lived and worked.

    I am also thankful to you telling us to watch out for the rainy season and when we do go we will bear this in mind.

    Thank you so much again for responding to my email, it means so much.

    Kind regards


    By sharon hutchinson (30/03/2016)
  • I’m trying to make contact with John Bibby, who I assume is the same John Bibby from Wolverhampton who has done extensive research on the Bibby genealogy.

    By Don Zabloski (11/02/2016)
  • Hi Don. This is John Bibby of York – not Wolverhampton. It is I who have been writing about Elmfield College. I have emailed you. Please feel free to contact me.

    By John Bibby (11/02/2016)
  • I am interested in the impact of Elmfield College, York on work in Africa. Did it start with Edwin Smith? I have records of a student from Fernando Po at Elmfield in the 1880s. I’d be glad to work with anyone else interested in Primitive Methodism and Africa (and Hull – which also seems to ba an important part of the equation).

    By John Bibby (28/06/2015)
  • I have a photo of Rev. J. W. Price, taken in 1937, when he was a minister on the Ramsor Circuit. Also on the photo is Rev.H. (A?) Cowell, and my great grandfather Samuel Forrester who was a lay preacher. It was taken outside Samuel’s home in Denstone, Staffordshire. If Christine would be interested in the photo of her great uncle I could send her a copy  – or add it to this page as I note that there isn’t a picture of this very interesting man. What tales he would have been able to tell Samuel, who never travelled far from his native Staffordshire.

    By Jane Richardson (15/12/2014)
  • I am collecting texts for a new Ila Cultural centre in Namwala Zambia.

    How can I obtain a copy of ¨The History of the Nanzela Mission¨ by John R Shaw?

    Thank you for your help.

    By Johannes van der Weijden

    On 19.08.2014

    By van der Weijden (19/08/2014)
  • Having developed an interest in the early exploration and settlement of Zambia I found this well written article most interesting.

    I recently purchased secondhand “Christian Missionaries and the Creation of Northern Rhodesia 1880 – 1924 ” by Robert I Rotberg. This contains references to John Price, Edwin Smith and John Shaw.

    The author interviewd John Price at Wolverhampton on 7 May 1958 and John Shaw at Lusaka on 22 Jan 1959.

    In the biographies section he notes John Shaw was at Nanzela 1916-1925, Kafue 1926-1932 and Lusaka 1932-1960. John Shaw was a chaplain to the Northern Rhodesia regiment in World War II and awarded the MBE. The author also refers to “The History of the Nanzela Mission” by John R Shaw – unpublished typescript 1920.Travel to Nanzhila in December might be difficult Sharon due to the wet season.

    I’m returning to Zambia and Kafue NP in September. Have visited Nanzhila twice previously and look forward to doing so again. 

    By Clive Hope (29/06/2014)
  • I am wondering if you or any of your readers can help me.  I am trying to find out more information about our Grandfather his name was John Robert Shaw, he was a Missionary based at Nanzela, Kafue.  He was born in Idle York in 1889, he went to South Africa and he and our Gran, Rosa Jane Whitworth Davidson got married in Cape Town on 18th June 1916 and then I presume they went to Zambia.  Our Mum was born on the Mission Station and there is mention of this in a book called ‘Africa Calling’ by John W Gerrard.

    It is our sister Trudys 50th birthday in December 2015 and to celebrate this we wanted to go to the Kafue and hopefully find the Mission Station our Grandparents were based at.

    I would be grateful for any help you can give me.



    By Sharon Hutchinson (08/06/2014)
  • A very interesting article. I wonder if serving at Norwich from 1903 stimulated JWP to go to Africa because PMs in that area were very interested in the African Mission. Edwin Smith’s uncle lived in Norwich. JWP translated six books for the Ila New Testament. The Smiths also lost a child (Thabo) and the Prices’ baby was named Edwin.

    By W. John Young (16/04/2013)

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