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  • Mombasa Cathedral and the CMS Compound: The Years of the East Africa Protectorate1
  • P. J. L. Frankl


Exactly when Islam arrived on the Swahili coast is difficult to say, but Mombasa was a Muslim town long before the arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498. During the two centuries or so that the Portuguese-Christians occupied this part of the sea route from Europe to India there were churches in Mombasa and elsewhere in Swahililand, but none has endured.2 Modern Christianity dates from 1844, when Ludwig Krapf arrived in Mombasa.3 Before then Mombasa was a “wholly Mohammedan” town.4 Krapf, a German Lutheran, was employed by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) based in London.5 Failing to make any converts on the island, Krapf moved into the coastal hinterland, among the Nyika, where Islam was less in evidence and where, therefore, Krapf was more hopeful of success. With remarkable perspicacity he wrote: “Christianity and civilisation ever go hand in hand. . . . A black bishop and black clergy of the Protestant Church may, ere long, become a necessity in the civilisation of Africa.”6 [End Page 209]

In England, when attention was drawn to the east African slave trade, a settlement of liberated slaves was established on the mainland north of Mombasa island in 1875, and a church built (Emmanuel Church, Frere Town)—the first parcel of land in central Swahililand to be owned by European-Christians.7 There was still no church on the island.8 However, this was the zenith of the British imperial power and in the capital of almost every major British overseas possession, it was de rigueur—alongside the Secretariat and the Club—to have a Church of England cathedral. So it was that in 1905 Mombasa’s cathedral first opened its doors. In this paper I study the relevant archives in order to understand how the cathedral project began, how it was executed and, incidentally, to pay tribute to the architect, John Sinclair.


In 1878 Mombasa was, according to the diocesan organization of the Church of England, in the episcopal care of the Bishop of Mauritius. The bishop, P.S. Royston, wrote to the CMS in London:

And now we were at Mombasa. . . . You will often have heard of the great beauty of the scenery – the beautiful creek affording a splendid harbour inside the island which you pass on the left; the sloping and now well-occupied land of Frere Town facing you; the ferryboat, carrying a constant succession of Wanika and other mainland dwellers to the market of this fortified old town who, with their bows and arrows and burdens of produce, are ever passing through this Christian village.9

In September of 1878 the bishop went from Frere Town to Mombasa Island, from where he wrote:

At noon we went to call on the Wali, the Governor of Mombasa.10 …Mrs Royston remained, in the meanwhile, in the unoccupied Mission-house of the town, once the chief habitat of the early missionaries.11 [End Page 210] We all then visited Hamis, the Arab, who rendered Mr Price so much service in the beginning.12


The vast diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa, which included Mombasa, was constituted in 1884 under the aegis of the Protestant-inclined CMS, in friendly competition, as it were, with the diocese of Zanzibar to the south, which was under the aegis of the Anglo-Catholic Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). This was part of a worldwide expansion of the Anglican Communion which, until the early nineteenth century, had been confined to the British Isles and later to parts of the eastern seaboard of North America. James Hannington sailed from England on 5 November as the first bishop of the diocese.13 Hannington held an ordination in Frere Town church on 31 May 1885, but later that year he was killed while passing through Busoga. His remains were later translated to Namirembe in Buganda.

On 24 May 1887 Sayyid Barghash bin Sa‘id al-Busa‘idi, the ruler of the Busa‘idi sultanate domiciled in Zanzibar town and having Mombasa within its dominions, conceded to the newly-established Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC...


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