Project Canterbury

Frank Weston

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933

FRANK WESTON, fourth Bishop of Zanzibar, and first President of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, was born in South London on September 13, 1871. His father was head of a firm of tea-brokers in Mincing Lane. His family was an old Leicestershire one, but three out of his four grandparents were from Scotland, and Weston was fond of calling himself a Scotsman. Thus, when a Presbyterian minister at Kikuyu maintained that it was impossible for Scots to accept episcopacy, he replied: 'The Archbishop of Canterbury (Davidson) is a Scot, the Archbishop of York (Lang) is a Scot, and I'm a Scot myself.' Among his ancestors were two Bishops of Brechin, Ochterlony and Strachan.

All through his life Weston was highly strung, shy, and nervous. If he had got over these disadvantages in mature life, as he had managed to do, the conquest was due to his strong, disciplined will. His father was a strong Evangelical, like those of Pusey and Newman; he died when Frank was only eleven years old. At a very early age Frank showed great generosity in giving, a great desire to help others, a passion for tidiness, and a liking for display. As Canon Maynard Smith, his biographer, remarks: 'Ceremonialists are born, and not made.'

Frank went to Dulwich College. He was destined for the Army, but defective sight caused him to fail for Woolwich, and also restricted his reading and made him unsuccessful at games. From Dulwich he went to Trinity College, Oxford. His shyness precluded him from taking a prominent part in the life of the college, but he made many intimate friends. One of them describes him thus: 'He was a good debater, and delighted in argument on any subject whatever. I see him leaning back in his chair, elbows on the arms, both hands holding his pipe to the middle of his lips, always smiling, ready to pounce on any opening given by his adversary, and often bringing the debate to a close by turning the whole thing into a farce.' At Oxford he knew Gore and Stuckey Coles well. Brought up a Conservative, he joined the Christian Social Union, but became dissatisfied with its caution and moderation, and so threw in his lot with Stewart Headlam and the Guild of St. Matthew. He was in residence at Oxford for three years only, and consistently overworked himself. On the fourth night of his Finals on Theology he went off in a dead faint. But he secured one of the three Firsts of the year, and Dr. Sanday, his tutor, wrote to his mother telling her how brilliantly he had acquitted himself.

During his time at Oxford, Bishop Smythies, the first Bishop of Zanzibar, made a strong appeal for priests. Weston offered to go as soon as he was ordained, but was turned down by the mission doctor. When he did eventually get out to Africa, Dr. Howard, an Oxford friend and fellow-worker in the mission, declared that his health really improved there.


Weston left Oxford in June, 1893, and in August went to live at the College Mission at Stratford-atte-Bowe. It was not a comfortable place, but Fr. Roxburgh, the missioner, was an inspiring head, very friendly and adaptable, who succeeded in drawing Weston out. There he learned to keep order, and he was on the best of terms with the children, for whom he helped to compile a Manual for Children's Worship, really a quite 'moderate' work, but then regarded as the last word in 'extremeness.' He displayed great power of sympathy with boys beginning life, and won them by the strength and depth of his own character. They called him 'The Cardinal,' and, though intimate with him, were always rather in awe of him. After his ordination he was placed in charge of the servers, chiefly men in the G.E.R. works. One of them wrote of him: 'He instructed us assiduously: he compelled reverence by his own example, and if anyone who loved him could withstand those wonderful eyes of his--well, he had passed the auditor. He really did care for us, and we Were of varied types. You had to qualify for altar service, and then it was hard to come up to his requirements.' But he was still shy with men of his own class. Thus, a Trinity man writes: ' He roused opposition as willingly as he faced it fearlessly, and those of us who liked the man liked him all the better for it. I liked him immensely, but there was something about him which prevented my liking turning into real affection. . . . I do not think I have ever met anyone more whole-heartedly devoted. . . . Being a great man, he was of course tolerant, for he tolerated me; and one who can tolerate a bigoted Protestant, who quoted the Thirty-Nine Articles and Johnson's Dictionary in order to settle a question of doctrine, is tolerant indeed,' The austerity of Weston's character, which was apt to repel some, was partly due to his Puritan upbringing and partly to the profound sense he had of the responsibility of the priest's office. At Oxford he had fallen in love with a lady, but his proposal was rejected. He took this as a call to a celibate life, and he was always rather afraid of women. He and his vicar both belonged to the Church Reform League, and there was a vigorous Church Council attached to the mission. Before he was ordained deacon the Council was asked for its approval of him. Having seen more than a year of his work as a layman, the approval was unanimous. From the first he preached extempore. He worked hard at Blue Books and Poor Law Reports, and wrote two pamphlets on Co-operation and The Marriage Law. He was quite clear that the redemption of the whole of life must follow as the logical result of the Incarnation, and that the idea of the Catholic Church must issue in a real brotherhood of man. Once at Oxford a don asked him: 'Do you believe in the heavenly Jerusalem?' On his replying, 'Yes,' the don continued: 'I wish I did, and if I did I don't think I should talk about anything else.' Weston became more and more convinced, as life went on, that it was only by keeping the thought of the heavenly Jerusalem before the mind that real progress could be made in human affairs.

From Stratford, Weston went to work at St. Matthew's, Westminster, in June, 1896. There had been no change there on the staff for twelve years. His vicar, Fr. Jervoise, wrote of him: 'There never can have been a more cheerful clergy-house, and the new member of the staff did not lower its standard. Always hopeful, shrewd, competent, and cheerful, not perhaps saying very much, but always appreciating a joke, looking old for his years, and supremely wise behind his spectacles, but with the well-known twinkle in his eye, he was worth everything to us.' The congregation, collected one by one by men eminently pastoral in spirit, was like a quiet, happy family, with the altar and the Blessed Sacrament chapel as its focus. The clergy taught daily in the schools, and Weston helped in producing some Catechism Notes for the National Society, and also compiled a small work, The Holy Sacrifice, as an aid to hearing Mass.

The two years he spent at St. Matthew's, coupled with the years at Stratford, formed Weston's actual experience of work in the Church of England. The brevity of this experience caused him at times, in his African years, to appear rather out of touch with it. One of his colleagues at St. Matthew's writes: 'While he stayed with us, I don't think anything of interest happened. Frank did ordinary things--parish work, sermons, quiet days--like the rest of us, but he did them better.' The quiet work taught him how to meditate and pray, to live a disciplined life, and to learn method in teaching. It was a fine preparation for his life in Africa. After he had worked at St. Matthew's for two years, Archdeacon Woodward of Zanzibar was staying at the clergy-house, and Weston again offered himself for the mission, and this time was accepted by the doctor. He landed in Zanzibar in 1898.


The U.M.C.A. has had a great history, and the mission has been led by really great men, such as Bishop Steere and Bishop Smythies. At the time that Frank Weston went out the Bishop, Richardson, was a man of saintly and ordered life, but not very effective. The rather slack state of the mission caused Frank great disappointment, and within four months of his arrival he delivered his soul in an Open Letter in which he tried to wake things up and largely succeeded. In after years he confessed, 'I could not write like that now, and I wish I had never written it,' but the friend to whom he said this replied: 'It was just what we wanted at that time to be told, though much of it was nonsense.' To another friend who wrote very frankly to him about the Letter he answered: 'I have given up all to come a journey of 6,000 miles, and I had to write that letter or come home again.' One of the chief points in the Letter was that the great obstacle to real progress in the mission lay in the Englishman's consciousness of race superiority. At the end of Frank's life it was said of him: 'To the Europeans he was a European, and to us Africans an African.' It was this capacity of his for adaptation that was the main characteristic of his work as a missionary, and the main ingredient of its success. Like St. Paul before him, he learnt to be 'all things to all men,' and his consistent championship of the African as a man and a brother was one of the finest of his works.

Frank's special work, most naturally, was the training of candidates for Holy Orders. When he first went out, these were mixed up at Kiungani with an ordinary school. 'Imagine Ely or Cuddesdon,' he wrote, 'shifted into the midst of a large public school, the students being expected to reap the fruits of quietness in such a world of noise and movement.' Consider, too, that these students were married men. Frank immediately set to work to build a separate seminary at Mazizini. Asking for £500 from England, he got £1,000, perhaps aided by the noise of his Open Letter! He started with eight students, one of them a deacon. He wrote on this occasion: 'I can see a vigorous African Church, the expression of the strong, corporate faith of the African people, with a ministry of Africans supported by Africans' offerings, the backbone of African life, the leaders of African progress.' Everything at Mazizini centred round the altar; the little community of students, wives, and families lived in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Once a week there was the service of Benediction. Frank suffered much from fever and from overwork. Part of this was caused by a shortage of priests who could hear confessions in Swahili. Frank had only been in Africa three months when he could preach written sermons in that language, and not a year before he could preach in it extempore. Ultimately, he became a great Swahili scholar and preacher.

After his first furlough, in 1901, Frank was made Principal of the school of Kiungani, with a staff of sixty or seventy boys. He at once instituted reforms, and compiled a Swahili arithmetic, geography, and grammar. His Bishop, Dr. Hine, and he, did not always see eye to eye, and Frank felt that his lordship did not trust him. He wrote at the time: 'It is an awful thing to be in the tropics, alone, backbitten, bishop-banged, and over-busy all at once.' The truth was that Frank was always full of plans, and sometimes his plans overflowed his own particular job and impinged on that of the Bishop. During those years he felt himself very much alone, isolated by his inherent shyness.

On St. Peter's Day, 1903, the Cathedral at Zanzibar, hitherto only dedicated, was consecrated, the service throughout being in Swahili. A Chapter was constituted, and Frank became the first Chancellor of the diocese. His stall was dedicated to St. Athanasius! One reason for his being chosen as Chancellor was that he had brought forward a scheme of education for the diocese which anticipated in many respects the scheme put forth by the Government twenty years later. It was felt that he ought to be given the chance of working out his scheme. One of his new duties as Chancellor was to lecture to the English community at Zanzibar. 'I doubt,' wrote one of his hearers, 'whether anyone who attended the first lecture failed to hear the whole series. Weston put himself in the place of a man who had a completely open mind about religion, and exposed the case for Christianity with such forensic skill and lucidity that his hearers were spell-bound. He spoke without a single note, dealing largely with the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and marshalled his facts, never hesitating for a word, with a precision and force that were truly remarkable.'

Weston next took his B.D. at Oxford, and elaborated his two theses into The One Christ, a book which made some stir. It has been criticized, perhaps not unfairly, as coming dangerously near to Monophysitism, a criticism dealt with, unrepentantly, in the preface to the second edition. Besides much other work, Frank had to spend a good deal of time in the confessional. One of his penitents writes: 'He was a very helpful confessor, and did not bother you with direction unless you wanted it. He told me about our Lord, and did not discuss my sins, as some do.'


Weston was consecrated Bishop of Zanzibar on October 18, 1908, landed in his diocese on November 6, and was enthroned in his cathedral the same afternoon. On the next day he celebrated Pontifical High Mass, and the day after delivered his first Charge. In this he insisted strongly on the need of prayer, and directed every priest in his diocese to spend two hours every morning in prayer, including Matins, Mass and Meditation. And he set the example himself. A native priest, who was once his companion on his journeys, said that when everyone else went to sleep by the camp-fire, the Bishop began to pray, and when he woke at about 3 a.m. the Bishop was still praying. He adds: 'Of all that he taught me and said to me, of all that I watched him do, this was the greatest wonder to see how he prayed.' Others have spoken of seeing him after his Mass prostrate before the altar for half an hour.

The first Charge was followed by a Synod and Conference, and this by The Epistle of Frank addressed to his native Christians. For the first six years of his episcopate he made his nominal headquarters at Zanzibar, but for nine months out of the twelve he was on his travels, mostly on foot. In one six months he reckoned he had walked 900 miles. His Confirmations were very simple. He had no hymns, and usually no address. He confirmed with chrism and laying on of hands. Much of his time on his travels was taken up by 'reserved cases.' On one occasion he had to deal with no less than 500 marriage difficulties. 'I have had,' he wrote, 'a number of what are called Bishop's cases, spending many days hearing them this summer. We are a young Church, and in the light of history we take 'courage.' He had great influence with the African clergy, for they knew that he trusted them, and he had very few failures among them.

One of the first things Frank did as Bishop was to form a scheme for an African community of nuns. He borrowed Sisters from the Community of the Holy Name, Malvern Link, and a Mother from the Community of St. Margaret of Scotland, in Aberdeen. They arrived out in May, 1910. They have now a Mother House at St. Frideswide's, Poplar. The community is dedicated to the Sacred Passion. In 1916 the Bishop wrote to the Rev. Mother: 'Please never think for a moment that you and yours are a burden. C.S.P. is the best fruit of my work, and that chiefly because there is so little in it that is not independent of my work.' He only regretted that he had so little time to spare for them.

With the record of his work in the mission field, this great man, mystic, scholar, administrator, preacher, worshipper, must needs have left a permanent mark behind him. But Frank was destined also to achieve fame in other and wider fields. A soldier in the front line, doing his own bit of work as a Catholic Bishop with conspicuous fidelity and capacity, yet the security of his home base often gave him cause for anxiety. In 1913 there happened three things to disquiet him: (i) The Kikuyu Conference; (2) Foundations, and Dr. Henson's Creed in the Pulpit; (3) the condemnation of a priest on purely hearsay evidence for a sermon on Our Lady. Kikuyu seemed to him an undue relaxation of Catholic discipline in favour of heresy and schism; the two books seemed to be dangerously subversive of Catholic doctrine; the inhibition of the priest an attack on Catholic worship. Just as he had delivered his soul on arriving in Zanzibar in an Open Letter, so now he penned a second one, in which he challenged the Home Church to declare her mind plainly, and to cease from being 'a society for shirking vital issues.' The doubtful blessing of 'comprehensiveness,' so belauded in England, was unknown in Zanzibar, where the Church was content to preach and practise the Catholic religion plainly and unmistakably. It is in the mission-field that the real evil of 'comprehensiveness' (or 'facing-both-ways') exhibits itself. With regard to what had actually happened at Kikuyu, as opposed to what was merely suggested, it appears that Frank was to some extent misinformed. Yet the Bishops of Uganda and Mombasa, whom he denounced to the Archbishop of Canterbury as 'propagating heresy and committing schism,' had undoubtedly gone very far in the way of compromise, and the evil fruit of their action is to be seen at the moment in the South Indian scheme. Frank's biographer remarks: 'The sympathy of all good men should be extended to the Bishops: and yet I believe that Frank was right, and that they were mistaken in their policy.' The case is singularly like the case in South India, and such cases must inevitably arise when the teaching of the Church has, in the midst of avowedly Protestant missions, been given in a Protestant dress, so that little difference can be discerned between the teaching of Church and Chapel.

The Bishop of Uganda, Dr. Willis, came to Zanzibar and discussed matters freely with Frank, and when Frank died he wrote of him: 'He was a great man and a great missionary, a born leader, and one of the most devoted followers of Jesus Christ that I have ever met.' Dr. Peel, the then Bishop of Mombasa, never showed himself friendly. He definitely disapproved of the diocese of Zanzibar, he refused to ordain to the priesthood a deacon presented to him by Frank, and his Archdeacon delated Frank to the Archbishop for heresy on account of certain passages in a Swahili book by a Canon of Zanzibar (Sehosa) which the Archdeacon had translated for the benefit of his own people. Frank was acquitted by the expert theologians to whom the Archbishop referred the book; and it may be as well to place the fact on record that the heresy-hunting began in Mombasa and not in Zanzibar.

In February, 1914, Frank himself arrived home, and met the English bench of Bishops. One of them at one meeting asked him how he could reconcile himself with differing from 'the whole of the episcopate,' to which he replied that the vast majority of the episcopate of the Catholic Church was with him, and not against him. The English diocesan looked rather pained! He had evidently forgotten that there do happen to exist other Bishops than those constituting the English bench, or even the Lambeth Conference!

Frank published his Case against Kikuyu, and, more important, his book, The Fulness of Christ, which he designed as ' an apologia for my attitude in the recent Kikuyu controversy.' The Great War soon blotted out the memory of other things, but in Eastertide, 1915, the pronouncement on Kikuyu was made. It justified Frank on all the points the Archbishop had referred to in the Lambeth Consultative Committee, said pleasant things, after the manner of such committees, to the errant Bishops, and left the champion of orthodoxy with no encouragement at all. Two years later the Bishop of Uganda invited Frank to the second of the Kikuyu Conferences. The Conference was duly impressed by Frank, but Frank not at all by the Conference. The complete absence of Africans in a discussion involving African life seemed to him to be strange. At that time he was acting as a major of a corps of porters. Until he volunteered there had been a difficulty about getting porters. After he joined up it was said of him: 'On the whole expedition all the men obeyed every word of the Lord Bishop without question, not because they were afraid or because they were forced, but because the Lord Bishop treated them as a father does his children.' A mining magnate from the Rand, on seeing him at work, said to him: 'I don't know who you are, sir, but if you want a job after the war, come to me, and we shan't quarrel about terms.'

Frank arrived in England in August, 1919, for the Lambeth Conference in the next year. He published Christ and His Critics, mainly an attack on Dr. Henson, immediately on arrival. He impressed the Lambeth Conference deeply, and he made friends with Dr. Henson, and, together with him and the then Bishop of Peterborough (Woods, late of Winchester), produced Lambeth and Reunion. His great speech on reunion on the last session of the Conference had very much to do with the important pronouncements of Lambeth on the subject.

In the same year (1920) was held the first Anglo-Catholic Congress, of which Frank was the president. His influence made itself strongly felt, though he took no very important part in the proceedings beyond sitting in the chair. The Congress cheered and heartened him. He felt specially that by no means all the learning in the Home Church could be credited to the Modernists.

His next work was a campaign on behalf of his beloved Africans, as against forced labour, which he denounced as immoral, involving cruelty and resulting in social evils. He published a trenchant pamphlet entitled The Serfs of Great Britain, and helped to draw up a Memorandum for the benefit of the Government, asking for a Royal Commission to be set up. Arriving back in Africa, he made his home at Hegongo, in the mainland, where he could spend his life right among the Africans. He wrote to the Bishop of Hereford in 1922: 'I've just done a tour of my diocese--eighteen months. I've walked 1,000 miles since December 15, not in a purple cassock, like his Amplitude of ---- (the dear man), but in khaki shorts, with a red shirt hanging down outside them--truly episcopal--in the somewhat late sub-Apostolic manner.' In 1923 he published his Defence of the English Catholic, upholding Benediction, among other things. 'In my own diocese we are accustomed to it, but we do not find it dangerous, because our people are, on the whole, regular at Mass and Communion, and believe in God.' He, with the aid of his Synod, drew up a new Mass service. 'It is 1549 adapted, with Rome supplying the priest's prayers.' It certainly sounds very satisfactory.

In the same year Frank accepted an invitation to be chairman of the second Anglo-Catholic Congress. There he made a never-to-be-forgotten speech at the last session, in which he exhorted us to fight for our Tabernacles, but also to find Christ in the slums. That Congress was also signalized by the famous telegram sent to the Pope. Some people seemed to think it strange that Frank should thus seek to honour the Bishop whom the whole Church recognizes as the premier Bishop in Christendom. To one who held Frank's conception of the Church, nothing could have appeared more natural than this simple act of courtesy. The late Professor C. H. Turner, himself one of the speakers of European fame at the first Congress, said of that memorable evening speech: 'I think that the Bishop of Zanzibar was the greatest man I ever met: I know he was the greatest orator I ever heard.'

In June, 1924, he was back in his diocese, very tired and overwrought. On All Souls' Day he was taken to his rest. Native Roman Catholics in Zanzibar wrote to Archdeacon Hallett: 'This Bishop was not a Bishop of the Christians of his own diocese only, but he was the Bishop to love and aid all sides, and therefore he was a great helper to Christians of both sides during our needs and troubles. We could rely on him in all cases.' The Roman Catholic Bishop was present at the reception given in his honour after his enthronement: he always lived on excellent terms with them.

But the last testimony shall be from one of his own well-loved Africans. 'At the end of prayers (at his funeral) the body was covered up. Ah! alas! the lamentation which arose was very great. People cried very much. Then we returned to the house at a quarter-past six to thank the God who had given us a good father, and now had carried him to a place of greater peace that he might rest from the troubles of the world. God grant him eternal rest, and let light perpetual shine upon him.' So do we take farewell of one of the greatest of the many leaders with whom God has endowed us.

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