Project Canterbury

Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar
by H. Maynard Smith

London: SPCK, 1926.



FRANK'S influence with the white community culminated during the War, and those who regard him merely as a missionary or a controversialist may be surprised to hear that he was popular in the Zanzibar Club. We like to attach labels to men, but no label is large enough to summarise Frank. He was too many-sided, and had plenty of little inconsistencies besides.

Naturally diffident and shy, he became without effort a social success, and this was due to the amazing personal interest which he took in his fellow creatures. His very sensitiveness made it impossible for him not to note and not to care.

Naturally appreciative of comfort and all the amenities of a well-ordered existence, conscience compelled him to sacrifice himself, and he sometimes practised a rigorous asceticism. Naturally inclined to view all things under the species of eternity, he was none the less, or perhaps in consequence, careful and precise about details. He was himself one of the humblest of men, but he had a nice perception of what was fitting for his position and the natural dignity which ensured its recognition, without any assertiveness on his own part.

I remember his taking as much interest in getting his episcopal clothes, his cross, ring, and other insignia as a happy bride in getting her trousseau. On the African mainland he might wear disreputable clothes, but no frequenter of the Athenaeum could have found fault with his appearance in London or Zanzibar. In his Cathedral he pontificated fully vested notwithstanding the heat, and notwithstanding the heat he attended the receptions of the Sultan in the dress-gown of an Oxford Doctor. In Zanzibar he lived in rooms which were almost bare, but he always smoked a high-priced mixture of tobacco. He denied himself many things, but he was not careful about money, and gave presents like a Prince. After a long time on the mainland, he would shut himself up in Zanzibar until he had new clothes in which to call on the European community. He thought that he despised the conventions of his class, but a friend who met him in London carrying an untidy parcel--it was not his own--realised how an early martyr looked. 'He was very inconsistent in little things,' writes one friend. 'It was just that which made him so lovable,' comments another. His greatness was none the less real because he had links with lesser folk.


The Principal of Kiungani had been a recluse known to very few outside the pulpit. He had been entirely locked up in his work and his boys. The Bishop of Zanzibar never looked on himself as merely a Missionary Bishop. He had his see, and the white community belonged to his flock. He established at once a Church Council at the Cathedral to help him in arranging Church services for Europeans, he took trouble about improving their choir, and he appointed a chaplain to minister to them. He issued Lenten Pastorals, and wrote for them a pamphlet on marriage, contrasting the teaching of our Lord with the findings of the Royal Commission on Divorce.

But on becoming Bishop, he had to make friends. Frank could not really people who were not his friends. He began by giving a tea-party in the hospital to the leading ladies in the town. He wrote a series of little notes, and then went out to buy an unnecessarily expensive tea service. He chose the cakes himself, and hovered over his preparations like a Martha entertaining for the first time. The tea-party was a great success.

Ladies always admired him, and perhaps the more because he was a little afraid of them.

In answer to an inquiry from myself, he wrote:

The Britishers here are very nice and quite friendly: very slack [this no doubt refers to church attendance]: quite taken up with games. The general tone is good.

He joined the Club, and refused to be an honorary member. He soon found himself at home there and liked to turn up to meetings, and threw himself into discussions about a new swimming bath or a change of rules.

Before the War he wrote to me:

I have helped to found a Debating Society here, with a judge and the German Consul. We have some ninety members of different races. We began with the 'woman' question: to-morrow I move that 'any change in the form of the Zanzibar Government would be welcome'; and next time we are to discuss the proposition that ' true human progress requires the disappearance of nationality '! It is a useful society in some ways, however much rot we talk.

His after-dinner speeches were looked forward to, quoted and remembered. They were delivered without any effort and there was no sense of preparation. Yet out came the telling phrase, the humorous illustration, and sometimes he engaged in playful banter of those present. St. Andrew's Day was for him a great occasion. It was then that he could demonstrate as a Scot. And yet, as a resident of Zanzibar writes, 'He was never afraid of expressing his views, whether they were popular or not, but I don't think he ever made an enemy.'

On one occasion--it was during the War and just before Lent--he gave a ball at Kiungani, which was then empty of boys, and collected all the European community together. It was a sudden inspiration on his part, for he only arrived in Zanzibar from the mainland on the Thursday, and the ball took place on the following Monday. A correspondent writes:

He set to work with terrific energy. He got out the invitations next day, inviting everyone who could be reasonably considered European. Everything was run on a magnificent scale. The best caterers in Zanzibar provided the supper. He borrowed the dancing floor from the English Club, and put it down on the Kiungani tennis court, and then got a local carpenter to add to it until it was nearly as large again. He hired all the acetylene lights from the Indians to light up the grounds. He hired also all the public motor-cars and carriages . . . and he personally directed all the arrangements and decorations. The weather was uncertain, and Monday was an anxious day, for if it turned wet the floor had to be taken up and laid in the schoolroom. It threatened rain all day, and at 4 o'clock a thunderstorm passed close by! However, all went well and it was a great success. The Bishop went round and spoke to every guest during the evening, and it was voted the best party which had been held in Zanzibar for a long time. It was, perhaps, a little incongruous to go to Kiungani next day and to see the notices still on the walls--'To the Bar,' and 'To the Bridge Room.'

Whenever Frank undertook anything, he plunged into it with all the enthusiasm of an eager-hearted boy. It did not matter whether it was religion, war, politics, or a social entertainment.


Frank, as we have seen, was only in Zanzibar for two or at most three months of the year before the War. During the War he was there for a good deal of his time. And after the War his visits became very rare. But he knew the people and they had become his friends, and he exercised considerable influence in official circles. Mr. Sinclair, late High Commissioner, writes to me:

It was not until he was made Bishop that I really saw much of him, but from that time onwards he made his voice heard on many matters affecting the country and particularly the native administration, and was frequently consulted by the Government as to the effect of proposed new legislation. He possessed a wide knowledge of native mentality, and, although at one time I used to think that he was apt to repose rather too much trust in them, I came to know in time that he had a shrewd knowledge of their limitations; and he, like several others of the Universities' Mission, was of great help to us in framing measures for native government and welfare.

It was after the conquest of German East Africa and the establishment of the Tanganyika Territory that Frank's knowledge became especially valuable to the Government. For years he had travelled up and down the country, he knew what had been done, he knew the various tribes and the local conditions. He could tell what plans, admirable in themselves, were practically impossible. He could advise when asked to do so, but he was generally unwilling to interfere. He could get on with British officials, and for the British officials, even when he did not agree with them, he had the highest admiration.

But he was not only concerned for the official class, he was interested in the welfare of young men who were agents for trading firms or managers of plantations. He saw how necessary it was for them, and also for the natives among whom they dwelt, that they should be adequately paid. The ' poor white' in a tropical country was liable to become a poor creature. So he wrote in The Nineteenth Century:

Every young man ought to know that he will be in a position to marry within, say, a couple of years of reaching the colony. Many a man goes to pieces because he feels that he cannot hope to marry one of his own race. And in going to pieces, he not only betrays his own ideals; he does most serious disservice to his country and grievous harm to his African neighbours. In fact he becomes a failure all round. And, religion apart, I do not see what else we have to expect so long as Europeans are underpaid.


He lived on the happiest terms with members of other religious bodies. He never experienced the trouble which the C.M.S. have had with Roman Missions in Uganda. Very early in his episcopate he drew up agreements which prevented interference or overlapping on either side. He had friends among the Quaker missionaries, and sometimes found co-operation with them possible. Everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for, and there were in consequence none of those unpleasant misunderstandings which are bound to occur when it is not known how far a man will go with you, or on what principles he regulates his actions.

Many of the laity, who respected him as a Bishop, came also to regard him as a friend. One of them writes: 'He was a white man, a man's man, a genial companion and a sincere friend.' My correspondent goes on to speak of pleasant evenings when the Bishop puffed at his pipe and discussed the universe, or told tales about the mainland and brought out the humorous side of out-of-the-way adventures. He rarely talked about religion, but he was always ready to listen with sympathy when laymen broached the subject. They found him such good company, because he was so good a listener.

Some men with great spiritual experiences make other men feel small and mean, but Frank had the power of sending people away feeling that they themselves were better than they knew. Some very good people have no interest in the ordinary concerns of men, but Frank's intense belief in the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation had rendered all that affected human nature interesting. Some holy people are shunned by ordinary people, but no one felt any constraint in Frank's presence. He was so absolutely natural himself, and there was no cant or professional unction in his speech or manner.

Frank exerted great influence over individuals. He also received many confidences, but in some sense he remained a man apart. He, who was so sympathetic, could ask for no sympathy. He, to whom those in trouble came, faced the world as if he had no troubles of his own; and all the time he was so sensitive that he often suffered terribly. That he did not suffer more was due to his religion. If he found it hard to speak of himself to any but the most intimate of friends, he could pour out all the passion of his soul in prayer. It was not for him a duty but a solace. He had no doubt about our Lord's presence, he lived as in His sight, and he was haunted by the fear that any of his acts would cause our Lord pain.

For him religion meant a personal relationship, and in consequence I understand the story told me by a layman who more than once shared with him a ground-sheet on a night of many stars. The layman writes:

I began to talk of astronomy and was dilating on the wonder of spectrums and the tremendous advance which had been made of late years, when the Bishop asked me to stop as he could not bear to think about it.

The Arab camping in the waste desert, Kant, the sage of Konigsberg, and many another have been led to worship and adoration by cosmic emotion, but Frank only felt appalled by immensity. As a theological thinker he knew that, when he had said 'God is infinite/ it was merely a matter of convenience whether God's world were measured in inches or in years of light. But for Frank religion meant communion, and life was concerned with personal relationships. The external world was for him only the background of the drama, and the background, he felt, should not be on a disproportionate scale. No one can be comfortable in a room too vast for his work and for his furniture; no one would choose to make love in the centre of a great open square; and there are many people who cannot say a prayer in St. Peter's at Rome unless they first close their eyes. Communion with God had only become possible for Frank because God had limited Himself and became man. If we understand this and his felt need for focusing his devotion, we shall understand also his attitude towards the Blessed Sacrament and Its Reservation in a tabernacle.

Personal relationships meant so much to Frank, and he could never regard his staff as if they were merely agents. They were either his friends or he had no particular use for them. He never forgot his position as a Bishop, he claimed to the full his rights as a Father in God, but his rule was founded on affection. He thought for his staff, prayed for them, and was humorously interested in their idiosyncrasies.

Here is a characteristic letter which he wrote to a lady worker whom he perceived to be over-tired:

Dear Miss ----, Upon receipt of this letter please begin to make arrangements to go into hospital. You must be there at latest at 8.45 P.M.; and you will remain in bed until Monday morning at the earliest. You must not have any visitors at all, and must not talk to your nurse. You may read as much light literature as you like, and must sleep as much as you can. This is my prescription for you: and it is to be taken as a matter of simple obedience to your Father. So you must not come to talk about it, nor must you write a single line in answer to it.

Just do it.

He grew by degrees more and more tolerant of incompetence, though this was not natural to him. About one man he said: ' He thinks it is his vocation to be a missionary, and who knows if he be not right. At any rate I must not prevent his attempt to fulfil it.' He grew by degrees more and more humble, and this was the result of self-suppression. A visitor to the Zanzibar diocese tells me how in his later years he received a letter which would have made most men boil over with indignation; and he only remarked, ' Well, we live in a funny world.' I remember on an earlier occasion when he was on furlough, he received an exceedingly rude letter, evidently written by a man in a temper. First, there was a blaze of resentment, and then there was real distress. Days passed and he could not forget it, although in the end he schooled himself to write a conciliatory reply.

He was very rarely angry, but his eyes could be very fierce; and he looked terrible when he ceased to smile and his long upper lip became stiff. He had, however, great self-control, and, when angry, was usually silent. He would go away until he had conquered his resentment. If he had many naughty things which he wanted to say, he wrote them to some correspondent very far off, who could be sorry for him and not take his naughty sayings too seriously.

Once or twice during his episcopate, he felt that his discipline had to be drastic. He was then inexorable and implacable, but those who knew him best knew how he suffered, and how he could not mention the men or forget them.

Frank was not resentful because he was disappointed, and he readily forgave those who quarrelled with him. He was not angry with those who went home for what he thought were inadequate reasons; and he was not even unpleasant to those who got engaged, although it meant their leaving a Mission, which cannot afford to be responsible for families, and has no buildings adapted for married life,. A convinced celibate himself, he has been heard to regret that he had no married women working in his diocese, and one day there was a shock, when he said of a somewhat unpolished priest, 'All he wants is a wife.' It is true the gossips were sometimes amused by the way in which he tried to keep apart those whom he thought were attracted to one another, but on the announcement of an engagement, he wrote his congratulations and meant them. He was glad to get back into his diocese, as chaplains not on the Mission staff, Padres Hellier and Vickers after marriage, and he rejoiced in his little godson, Michael Vickers. He easily fitted into family life, he was very tidy, he gave no trouble and was always ready to help. Mrs. Vickers had a pet hare, and remembers how Frank commiserated her on having to tend a baby, a bunnie, and a bishop.

It was this faculty of adapting himself to his surroundings which endeared him to his staff. A newcomer to the diocese reports that he was a little nervous when he knew that Frank was coming, and, after Frank came, he never forgot that he was the Bishop, but he did forget that he had only known the Bishop for a few hours. The shy man of Stratford and Westminster, having become a Bishop, was able to give himself to others and establish immediate intimacies.

Very few have had a more loyal and devoted band of workers. His love for his staff met with a great response. In fact, they found it almost impossible to oppose him when he was present. Sometimes, indeed, they voted unanimously for his proposals, and then went away sorry for what they had done; and even rebelled against rules which they had passed without protest. He was then surprised at their seeming disloyalty, because he never realised how compelling was his presence, and how he took temporary possession of those to whom he spoke.

He was quite an unconscious autocrat, and believed intensely in liberty and free discussion. He never approved the autocratic rule of some of his staff on their stations. He was always urging consultations, parish councils, and that Africans should be encouraged in criticism and initiative. Of course, he was right; but it has to be remembered that he never experienced the inconveniences of the liberty he was so willing to grant. After free discussion he found that natives always agreed with him, but with lesser men it was not so. Many, with no magnetic influence, were still quite competent to command; but they found that anarchy ensued when they abdicated.

Frank was a natural leader of men and a great administrator, but his administration would not have been successful if he had not inspired such whole-hearted devotion. He had that gift of vision which enabled him to plan largely; and he knew what was and was not possible. His schemes were elaborated to the minutest details. But after setting to work, he would quite likely scrap everything in favour of some new project. He would sometimes suddenly take into his own hands work which he had definitely assigned to somebody else, and he had an irritating way of communicating his wishes and expecting immediate replies by cable. The sending of cables became almost a mania with him. During the newspaper row about the telegram which he sent from the Anglo-Catholic Congress to the Pope, one of his staff remarked: 'They don't know the Bishop. If they did they would know that he cables to everyone. It's just his habit.' I remember once at a committee meeting in Dartmouth Street somebody asked, 'Where is the Bishop of Zanzibar?' 'I think,' replied the Secretary, 'he arrived in Zanzibar yesterday, for we had no cable yesterday, and have had four to-day.'


Frank's relations with Dartmouth Street, his home base, were friendly but sometimes difficult. It is hard for a Bishop in Africa to keep in touch with a committee in England. It seemed so obvious to him that they existed to support his work, and to supply at once his immediate needs. It was hard for the Committee to understand how imperative those needs were when they heard of them unexpectedly for the first time. Letters took so long and supplementary cables added to the confusion.

In the heat and isolation of Africa, the hesitations and delays of the Committee were sometimes irritating; and an irritated Frank with a pen in his hand was apt to scratch someone or something pretty fiercely. The Secretary, who loved him, tells me that he received many fierce letters from Frank. They were not for publication, and he adds 'at any rate the sting was not in the tail, for they always concluded with "love and blessing."'

The Committee were convinced by experience that none of Frank's financial schemes would work; and they never did. The schemes were admirable on paper but for one defect which marred them all. There was always a clause which reserved the Bishop's right to deal with exceptional cases; and he always exercised it. On paper he was a first-rate economist, but economy is a heartless science, and the human Frank could resist no appeal that touched his heart.

He could not understand the difficulties of the Office in raising money. He came to England and made platform appeals--the money flowed in. Why, he sometimes asked, should he have to do the work which the Committee should have done for him? Why, in his absence, could not the Committee raise like sums?

The result was he never had a holiday. A doctor in Zanzibar tells me that he always returned from furlough tired and run down. Meeting succeeded meeting; every Church which supported the Mission wanted him to preach; and ardent Anglo-Catholics could not resist the temptation of exploiting the Bishop of Zanzibar. His home was at Brighton, and he used to take a season ticket like a business man, but unlike a business man he generally returned by the last train.

But his visits home were nowhere more eagerly looked forward to than in the Office at Dartmouth Street. He came to conquer and be conquered. None could resist the charm of his smile or the sound of his voice: and then--when at home--he was so reasonable and so sympathetic with the troubles of the Office.


With all his many gifts and many manifestations, the wonder of Frank was his heart. He only lived to love and to be loved and, as he believed that God is love, he found in love the reason and explanation of all things. He was great-hearted, whole-hearted, and eager-hearted, and notwithstanding a life of sacrifice and many disappointments, he retained to the end the heart of a child. He had all the simplicity of a child. For him things were good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. He had all the directness and impetuosity of a child. He found it so hard to wait and so impossible to compromise. Though a socialist in creed, like a child he individualised everyone. He never thought of anyone as merely another man. And notwithstanding his sorrows and sufferings he never lost the power of enjoyment, the fount of joy which bubbles up in a child's face at an unexpected pleasure.

No child was afraid of him, and he could do what he liked with them. When he met a child there was a mutual understanding. One little boy of eight, coming out of church, asked: 'Mummy, was that man really a Bishop. I don't think he can have been a real Bishop, for I understood everything that he said.' That little boy had lived in a cathedral close and heard many bishops, with the result that he connected the word Bishop with an unintelligible being in fine clothes.

Grown-up people sometimes looked on Frank with awe, but a little African boy at Kiungani wrote of him after his death:

If you see him you will know that he is a loving man, for his mouth is always opened ready for laughing, even in his photos you will see, for he is still laughing, and he will laugh for ever.

It is the same boy who concludes his essay:

Actually when he is preaching--oh! you would have said there is a real angel preaching, for he spoke clearly and distinctly.

The small boy can have known very little of Frank, but it is not every Bishop who makes such an impression on visiting a school. If children took to him at once, he was happy with them. In his last days on earth, he liked to have the little sons of Raymond Adam playing about his house.

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