Samuel Crowther, the first Black Anglican Bishop, at the Wilberforce Oak

Samuel Crowther, James Johnson, Henry Johnson and friends at the Wilberforce Oak in 1873

This image ( Tait 219 f. 119) shows a summer picnic which, as the reverse of the photograph records, took place on 21 June 1873. The photograph includes Samuel Crowther (c.1807-1891), the first black Anglican bishop, consecrated bishop of Western Africa in 1864. Also included are James Johnson (c.1836-1917), later assistant bishop of Western Equatorial Africa, and Henry Johnson, subsequently archdeacon of the Upper Niger.

The resonance of the picture lies in its location. Those picnicking were photographed at the ‘Wilberforce oak’, at Keston in Kent (now part of Bromley borough). William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the politician and philanthropist, often visited the prime minister, William Pitt the younger (1759-1806), who owned the Holwood estate at Keston. Wilberforce’s resolution, ‘after a conversation in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston’, to give notice in the House of Commons of his intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade, is quoted in the Life published by his son, Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873), bishop of Oxford and Winchester. The occasion was recorded in an inscription on a memorial seat beneath the oak tree itself. The slave trade in the British empire was eventually abolished in 1807. The bill for the abolition of slavery itself was passed shortly before William Wilberforce’s death in 1833.

The correspondence accompanying this photograph in the Library’s collection records a proposal to build a memorial church to Wilberforce at Keston in recognition of his contribution to the campaign against the slave trade, replacing the small church there which was considered inadequate. This proposal, however, was never implemented.