Smythies, Charles Alan (DNB00)

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SMYTHIES, CHARLES ALAN (1844–1894), bishop of Zanzibar and missionary bishop of East Africa, born in London on 6 Aug. 1844, was second son of Charles Norfolk Smythies, vicar of St. Mary the Walls, Colchester, and Isabella, daughter of Admiral Sir Eaton Travers. When he was three years old his father died of consumption, and in 1858 his mother married the Rev. George Alston, rector of Studland, Dorset.

After attending the schools at Milton Abbas and at Felsted, which he entered in January 1854 and left in December 1857 (Beevor, Alumni Felsted. p. 7), Smythies entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1862, and graduated B.A. in 1866. In 1868 he went to Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, at that time under the presidency of Dr. King, the present bishop of Lincoln. In 1869 he was ordained to the curacy of Great Marlow, and in 1872 took up work at Roath, a suburb of Cardiff, under the Rev. F. W. Puller, on whose resignation in 1880 Smythies was appointed to succeed him as vicar.

In 1882, on the death of Bishop Edward Steere [q. v.], Smythies declined the offer of the bishopric of the universities mission to Central Africa; but, after a year's fruitless search and many refusals, the committee of the mission renewed the offer to him, and he accepted the perilous charge. He was consecrated bishop at St. Paul's Cathedral on St. Andrew's day (30 Nov.) 1883, and in January 1884 left for Zanzibar, the headquarters of the mission.

The diocese covered roughly thirty thousand square miles, and, apart from the character of the country and its climate, Smythies had to face difficulties due to the new colonial policy of Germany, within the sphere of whose influence nearly all the mission stations lay. From the first Smythies devoted himself to the selection and training of natives as clergymen, taking enormous pains to discover their vocation and to give them such mental and spiritual education as should qualify them to become the evangelists of their own people. He was equally careful to keep them free from that veneer of English civilisation which so often mars the work of native clergy in foreign missions.

He visited all the nearer stations of the missions every year and the remote stations once in two years. This involved five journeys on foot, performed for the most part without white companions, to Lake Nyasa, which is four hundred and fifty miles distant from the coast.

In 1888, with a view to the suppression of the slave trade, the coast of East Africa was blockaded by the combined warships of England and Germany. This led to much excitement and disturbance among the natives on the mainland. The situation became in fact so grave that the bishop was strongly urged by the English government to withdraw his missionaries from the scene of danger. This he not only declined to do, but he set out himself for the interior of the disturbed district to strengthen the hands of his clergy and their converts. The journey nearly cost him his life. The steamer on approaching the shore was fired upon, and a threatening crowd surrounded the house in which he took shelter. He was saved from violence by the goodwill and courage of the insurgent chief, Bushiri. In 1889 Smythies became convinced that it was impossible for one man to supervise the work of his vast diocese, and in 1890 he came to England to help to collect the endowment needed for its subdivision. By incessant travelling, speaking, and preaching, the sum of 11,000l. was raised in six months, the necessary formalities were completed, and the Rev. Wilfrid B. Hornby was consecrated as first bishop of Nyasa, a title afterwards changed to Likoma. On the division of the diocese Smythies's title was altered to bishop of Zanzibar and missionary-bishop of East Africa. During his visit to England he was in June 1890 made honorary D.D. of Oxford University.

After his return to Zanzibar, Smythies's health broke down; but, in spite of physical weakness, he set out in October 1893 upon a long tour through the villages of the far interior, accompanied only by a native deacon and a few native Christians. He cast himself upon the hospitality of the natives, living in their huts and sharing their food. The result, from a spiritual point of view, was most gratifying, but it was physically disastrous to the bishop: he was prostrated by a severe attack of malarial fever. Although he found his way back to Zanzibar and struggled on with his work for a while, he failed to recover, and, after a brief sojourn in the mission hospital, was sent to England as the one hope of saving his life. On 5 May 1894 he was carried on board the French steamer Peiho, but on the second day at sea he died, and was buried at sundown at a point in mid-ocean halfway between Zanzibar and Aden.

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