Mansfield’s Missionary to Jamaica

Henry Clarke, Mansfield’s missionary to Jamaica, had some strong ideas about how to improve the island. Starting a Building Society may not sound like something you’d expect a missionary to do, but this was one of the best things that Henry Clarke did for the people of Jamaica along with bringing them the Gospel.

Henry Clarke, missionary from Mansfield to Jamaica

Clarke (1828-1907) was born in Mansfield, attended the town’s grammar school, and was briefly a ‘pupil teacher’ at the Lincolnshire town of Coningsby. However he left England when he was 19 and from 1847 spent most of his life in western Jamaica where he gained a reputation for fearless championing of the poor against the local elite. Eventually his brother Edward came out to join him, forming a little Mansfield colony in the Caribbean!

Clarke worked as a teacher and a preacher, becoming an Anglican clergyman although more Methodist by inclination. He rode around preaching, generally to black congregations, for whom he set up burial and sick clubs and even a savings bank. ‘My head is full of schemes for doing good,’ he wrote in 1854. He hoped to bring salvation to Jamaica by educating its children, but was rather mystified by the revival of 1860-1 which brought ‘Pentecostal’ scenes into his suddenly overflowing churches. He was often at odds with the men who controlled Jamaica: “The whole influence of the Negro-hating, slavery-loving oligarchy which has ruled us has been openly and avowedly directed to the impoverishing of the Negroes, in order that they might be able to compel them to work at their own rate of wages.”

In 1874 he founded the Westmoreland Building Society that is now part of the Jamaica National Building Society. This may sound an odd thing for a missionary to do, but his focus was on improving the housing conditions of the poor.

Clarke’s Westmoreland Building Society grew into a key institution for Jamaica.

Clarke also fancied himelf as a bit of an inventor although his designs for a new ‘aeriel screw’ for steamships did not attract much except derision! Maybe he should have concentrated on helicopters…..In 1894 he resigned from the Church of England and was elected to the Jamaica legislature, maintaining his interest in social issues and still doing some preaching in churches of other denominations. His ODNB biographer concluded that he was ‘a fearless difficult man whose forthright views often embarrassed his own family’ but he was a distinctive, radical, devout voice.’

Clarke’s gravestone in Jamaica records his origins in Notts.

Mansfield’s missionary to Jamaica, Henry Clarke, has therefore left quite a legacy. See his influence on the Jamaica National Bank here:

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