Where Joseph Merrick was Mentioned … and his Pioneer Missionary Work in Cameroon

Cameroon_flag
Flag of Cameroon

Below are more descriptions of Joseph Merrick, the Jamaican Baptist Minister, and his pioneering missionary work on the coast of Cameroon, by some of his contemporaries, or in the case of Emily Saker, the daughter of his colleague Alfred Saker. Enjoy!

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“In 1844 Merrick found King William more accommodating. The following year, Merrick initiated work along the coast, opening a station among the Isubu of Bimbia and two stations at Aqua Town and Bell Town along the Wouri River estuary. Unaware of difficulties that made the river largely unnavigable, he hoped that the system of creeks might ultimately provide access to the interior. However, Merrick´s first task was to “prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel among the Isubu and the Dualas.” This he did by forming churches and schools and learning the Isubu and Duala [Douala] languages. A gifted linguist, he soon was able to preach in both tongues. He arranged to print some texts and scripture.” Memoir of Joseph Merrick, Missionary to Africa by J. Clarke, London: Benjamin L. Green.
n.d. Journals. BMS Archives A/2. 1850.

Cameroon_Victoria 1889_Thomas Comber book
Bird’s eye view of then Victoria, now Limbe, and Ambas Bay, Cameroon, in 1884

“The Rev. Joseph Merrick was a native of Jamaica, and of African descent. He was educated in the Society’s schools, and as a youth began in 1837 to preach. He was soon after associated with his father in the pastorate of the church at Jericho. He entered on mission work in Africa in 1843, and laboured most diligently among the Isubu tribe on the Bimbia river. He quickly learned to speak their language with great readiness and precision, and translated a portion of the New Testament into the Isubu tongue. It was partially printed by himself, but was completed at press by Mr. Saker. He died on the 22nd October, 1849, on his passage to England.” Alfred Saker, Missionary to Africa: A Biography, by E.B. Underhill, Baptist Missionary Society, UK, 1884 p.52

“Having set” in order the things wanting in the church “at Clarence [Malabo], Mr. Saker paid a brief visit to Bimbia, where he collected the manuscripts and Isubu translations of the lamented Merrick. Leaving directions for their printing with Joseph Fuller,… ” Alfred Saker, Missionary to Africa: A Biography, by E.B. Underhill, Baptist Missionary Society, UK, 1884 p.52

Cameroun_Joseph Merrick_at_Isubu_funeral in 1845
Joseph Merrick at an Isubu funeral in Bimbia (1845)

“On the mainland, north from Fernando Po [Bioko], towered the volcanic mountain of Cameroons [Mount Cameroon]. Its highest peak-then unexplored-lifted itself 13,700 feet into the blue. Its spurs and outlying hills reached to the sea frontage. On one of its headlands Mr. Merrick was even now at work reducing the language of that particular people – the Isubus – to writing.” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.42

“The time which had been spent in Bimbia had not been wasted. Earnestly had Mr. Saker co-operated with Mr. Merrick in labour for the welfare of the Bimbians. Inland villages had been visited with the glad tidings of great joy ; chiefs had been seen and taught ; the idlers in the market-places, the fishermen by the seashore, … ” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.44

Cameroon_Limbe_Victoria_1908 painting
1908 painting by R. Hellgrewe of the town of Victoria (now known as Limbe) – Mt Cameroon can be seen in the background

“Mr. Saker was detained in Bimbia for some weeks owing to storms. During his detention he printed at the press some Isubu manuscripts left by the late Mr. Merrick.” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.119

“On the Friday I made my way to the home of our excellent brother Duckett, about seven miles distant. You will remember him as one of the band who sailed with Mr Clarke in the Chilmark from Jamaica to Africa; he was the most able and devoted of the number. My dear wife knew him well as a faithful co-worker with the sainted Merrick.” The Missionary Herald: Containing Intelligence, at Large, of the Proceedings, The Native Pastors of Jamaica, p. 52 1882

Joseph Merrick: Pioneering Missionary Work in Cameroon

Cameroon
Map of Cameroon, with the capital Yaoundé

How many Cameroonians have heard of Joseph Merrick? The Jamaican and first missionary to create a mission on the coast of Cameroon? Most people are used to hearing about the British missionary Alfred Saker who “brought” christianity to the coastal towns of Cameroon, and is often referred to as the pioneer, even though he was first hired as a ship mechanic, millwright, and naval engineer before becoming a missionary upon his arrival. So there are thousands of schools and streets named after this “great” white man in Cameroon: College Alfred Saker and Boulangerie Saker in Douala, Saker Baptist College in Limbe, to name just a few; there is even a monument to this man in downtown Limbe. Can you imagine my surprise when I learned that Alfred Saker was not the “pioneer” I had been made to believe, but rather a later pioneer following on the footsteps of others? Yes… Alfred Saker came after others had started sewing the seeds of Christianity on Cameroonian soil, and his main advantage was that he was a European (let’s call a spade a spade). The real man who should be considered missionary pioneer to the coastal towns of Cameroon was the Jamaican Baptist missionary, Joseph Merrick, who, assisted by another Jamaican Joseph Jackson Fuller, established the first successful mission on the Cameroonian coast of Africa.

Cameroun_Joseph Merrick_at_Isubu_funeral in 1845
Joseph Merrick at an Isubu funeral, in Bimbia (1845)

Who was Joseph Merrick?  Joseph Merrick was a Black Jamaican, who began preaching in 1837 in Jamaica and was ordained a full missionary in 1838. The work of the Baptist Society in Cameroons was an outcome of the freeing of the slaves in Jamaica. Many thousands of these freed slaves were members of Baptist Churches in that island, and the first-fruits of their new found liberty was the desire to help their own people in Africa, the land of their origin. Thus, Joseph Merrick had been recruited by the Baptist Missionary Society of London who was looking for Jamaicans to preach in Africa. Merrick, accompanied by his wife, arrived in Spanish-controlled Santa Isabel (then Clarence, and today known as Malabo) on the island of Fernando Po (Bioko) in 1843. In 1844, he visited Bimbia (near Limbe) and spoke to King William (William of Bimbia) of the Isubu people to request permission to establish a church on the mainland. After the initial resistance, he was granted permission, and in 1844-1845 he founded the Jubilee Mission. Over the next 5 years, he set up to translate parts of the New Testament in the Isubu language, set up a brick-making machine, a printing press, and translated the bible, and wrote a textbook for teaching in  Isubu.

Cameroon_Victoria 1889_Thomas Comber book
Bird’s eye view of then Victoria, now Limbe, Cameroon, in 1884

Adventurous, Merrick made several excursions into the interior from the coast, and climbed Mount Cameroon, thus becoming the first non-African to visit the Bakoko people.

Unfortunately, in 1849 he got sick, and set off to England with his wife for treatment but died at sea. Upon his death, Joseph Jackson Fuller took charge of the mission station and congregation at Bimbia. Merrick’s efforts also paved the way for Alfred Saker to make further progress – he made use of Merrick’s printing press to translate and print the Bible in Duala. Joseph Merrick can be seen as the pioneer of the missionary work in Cameroon. He had a talent for learning languages and within a short time he preached in both  Isubu and Duala.

Cameroon_Limbe_Saker Monument
Monument to Alfred Saker in Downtown Beach in Limbe, Cameroon

In essence Joseph Merrick is the man who should be celebrated, just as much as Alfred Saker, if not more, particularly in the Limbe region. Why has Joseph Merrick been forgotten? Is it because he was Black?