Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore


Reverend Joseph
Willson

Anglican Priest, St Peter's Parish

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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In June 1857, less than a month after his installation as the second Bishop of Grahamstown, Henry Cotterill began a visitation of his missions, a journey that took him to East London. There he was begged to establish a proper parish, which he did.

Indeed, he went further and installed two parsonages: one for the English community on the western bank of the Buffalo River and another for the German military community now established at Panmure on the eastern bank.

The first minister to the English community was the Reverend Joseph Willson who was transferred from Post Retief. Rudolph von Hube, a German-speaking Pole, was appointed to minister to the Germans.

Little is known of Reverend Willson, and his sojourn at East London was very brief because he was murdered while on his way to conduct a Sunday service.

His parish included the troops quartered at the military posts within the East London district. One afternoon late in February 1858, only six months after his arrival, he set out on foot for Fort Pato where he intended to preach.

He was attacked and murdered somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Grey, although his absence was not noticed until the following Sunday when "serious apprehensions" began to arise and the police at East London were ordered out on a search.

They found his remains only ten days after the murder. His head had been fractured and there were two spear wounds in his back, although his body was already so badly decomposed that he was recognisable purely by his clothes.

The murder was officially linked to the general state of unrest which existed in British Kaffraria as a result of the Cattle Killing frenzy and its aftermath.

There was, said the Chief Commissioner, so strong a feeling of "irritation and disaffection" among the amaXhosa that no White person, on foot and unarmed, could travel in safety.

Lieutenant Colonel John Maclean immediately put out a reward of 100 for any information leading to the capture of the murderers and consequently three men were arrested.

They were quickly put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to death, but would languish in the prison cells at East London for more than a year awaiting their execution because the authorities were not certain that all three had indeed participated in the crime.

Ultimately, the British Kaffrarian authorities commuted the death sentences to ones of imprisonment because of the uncertainly as to the prisoners' degree of guilt.

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