Rev. John William Colenso

Rev. John William Colenso

Rev John William Colenso (1814-1883) was rector of Forncett St Mary (1846-1853) and had the imposing rectory (currently known as 'Forncett Manor') built, overlooking his church and the Tas Valley. In 1853 Colenso was elevated to Bishop of Natal, South Africa, and moved to Bishopstowe, the official residence, just outside Pietermaritzburg.

He made a name for himself, and became financially secure, by writing standard mathematical textbooks, which were published by Longman. His analysis of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) questioned its authenticity and led to his being excommunicated by Bishop Gray of Capetown, a step which was challenged by Colenso. His challenge was upheld in England, but relations thereafter with the established church hierarchy, especially in South Africa, were fraught. The contentious matter was the prime mover in the commencement of Lambeth Conferences, the first 'Pan-Anglican Conference being in 1867, at which Archbishop Gray of Cape Town sought to have his deposition of Colenso confirmed; it was referred to a committee.

His position in Pietermaritzburg was undermined by Bishop Gray, who had appointed another 'official' Bishop of Natal, thus splitting the Anglican Church in South Africa. Colenso also continued to court controversy by espousing the Zulu cause; they held him in high regard and called him 'Sobantu' (our father). Colenso spent long years pleading the cause of Chief Langalibalale. His wife, Sarah, and daughters, Frances and Harriett, were inspired to follow his ideals even after his death. Bishopstowe has in recent years been restored from a derelict wreck to a research and teaching centre in his memory. 

More details of the life and work of J W Colenso can be found in his Wikipedia entry.