From brewers to evangelists

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Arthur Guinness’s youngest son, John, was commissioned as an army captain with the East India Company. He married Jane Lucretia, the widow of the John D’Esterre who was fatally wounded by Daniel O’Connell in their famous 1815 pistol duel. The eldest child of Captain John Grattan Guinness and Jane Lucretia was Henry Grattan Guinness, Harry’s father.

It was with Henry Grattan Guinness that the missionary branch of the Guinness family began. In 1872 Henry moved his family from Dublin to East London to set up a missionary training college. Five years later, Henry Livingstone completed his epic voyage down the Congo River, proving to the West that it was possible to navigate the upper reaches. The discovery opened the country to colonists.

The Guinnesses grasped the potential opportunities for evangelising in the interior. Here were untold millions of Africans who had not heard the Christian Gospel. They immediately established the first Protestant mission on the lower Congo. By 1879 Harry had taken over the mission work, and with his pioneering spirit he set up the first Protestant mission in the Upper Congo—the Congo Balolo Mission.

The opportunities were also grasped by King Leopold II of the young state of Belgium. He had ambitions to join the club of the colonising nations of Europe, and in an astute political move was granted the trust to administer the huge territory encompassing the Congo basin. The General Act of the Berlin Conference of 1884–5 enabled Leopold’s private exploitation of what became known as the Congo Free State.

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