The Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston and Robert Keable

The Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston and Robert Keable

December 08, 2022

The Bishop of Zanzibar and Robert Keable

Frank Weston was one of the greats of Anglo-Catholicism of the early twentieth century. Indeed Desmond Morse-Boycott, in his introduction to his book on the saints and heroes of the Oxford Movement, wrote nine years after his death, in 1933:

the hero of the Movement is still Frank Weston, the late Bishop of Zanzibar, a man in a million, nay more, of a century, even of an aeon. When the mourning bells tolled in the cathedral of Zanzibar, built where the old slave market that inflamed the zeal of Livingstone once stood, the Anglo-Catholic Movement was moved as never before. 

Weston had travelled to Zanzibar as a member of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in 1898. Finding a mission resting on its laurels he wrote a ferocious open letter complaining that it was not the job of missionaries ‘to show the heathen the European life, with the addition of a round of religious services’ but to ‘set the Christ-like character boldly and clearly before all.’ Despite his inexperience – he was only 27 and had previously only held two curacy roles in England – he managed to stir up the mission. In less than ten years he went from chaplain and teacher to principal of the main college, and then on to being appointed Bishop of Zanzibar, with overall control of the UMCA across East Africa.

Campaigner and speaker

Weston built his reputation in England as a campaigner for his mission and as a truly inspiring speaker. He first came to the attention of The Church Times in 1901 when they reported a speech he made in Brighton, at the Church Council.

We cannot reproduce his speech, but it created a great impression. It was not mere eloquence: the whole soul of the man went out in what he said; and yet there were playful touches throughout. A deep silence prevailed while he pleaded for the recognition of the truth that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Several other speeches followed, but Mr. Weston's personality left a mark which could not be effaced.

When he returned to England in 1907 Robert Keable was in the audience to hear him speak, in Cambridge, at the Jubilee of Livingstone's appeal to the University. Guy Warman, the then Bishop of Manchester wrote later that it was ‘the most impressive speech’ he had ever heard. He explained that the two previous speakers had overrun their time and Weston had been passed a note – just before he started – to shorten the time he had been given. Warman continued:

It must have seemed cruel, but it may have made both the speech and the evening. Weston rose looking very tense. At once the atmosphere became electric. He was shooting out currents of emotional magnetism from every limb. Never have I seen an audience so gripped. The climax came with the appeal for men and the story of the appeal just made in Oxford. He told how he had addressed a crowded meeting and had appealed for ten men: 'just ten men – that was all – from the great University of Oxford. And, gentlemen, we got them.' The first words were spoken with the pathos of the appeal that had been made: it sounded as if it must lead up to a disappointment. Then the tone changed to triumph as he flung up his arms to shout 'And, gentlemen, we got them.' That was the climax, and the roof of the Senate House was nearly lifted off. I know that I, for one, was still trembling from that moment when I reached the railway station to return in the night to Oxford.

It was following that speech that Keable committed to joining Weston in Zanzibar. He helped raise money for the UMCA, heard Weston again in 1911 when he toured the country drumming up support for the mission and, at the end of the year Keable was appointed to the staff of the UMCA in Stone Town.

First Anglo-Catholic Congress 1920

Keable’s cousin, Geoffrey Keable was also heavily influenced by Weston. He was at Oxford University after the First World War and recalled:

We were asked to steward the first Anglo-Catholic conference at the Albert Hall in 1920; Frank Zanzibar made his impressive speech and appeal for gifts for a new movement, whereat we stewards took up a collection not only of cash, but gold watches torn by their owners from their wrists and still ticking when placed on the altar along with jewelled rings in an ecstasy of abandonment. Fleet street woke up when they heard this dramatic event and reported the rest of the week.

Weston was clearly the star of that first conference, and three years later was selected to both chair and make the concluding address at the Second Anglo-Catholic Congress. Geoffrey and many others were heavily influenced by Weston’s Anglo-Catholic Christian Socialist views. Many of the speakers at the first conference offered their full speeches for publication but Weston only provided his notes. He spoke on ‘Our Ideal’ and suggested the Ideal Diocese:

  1. is a local expression of the universal Church –
  1. Ignoring distinctions based on colour, caste, class, money, etc;
  2. Solving for its own members the problems of capital v Labour
  1. is a missionary body –
  1. set to manifest eternal love in its common life to all about it;
  2. zealous to convert its own neighbour;
  3. zealous to win the peoples overseas;
  4. determined to oppose all exploitations of the weaker peoples.

He concluded by suggesting:

The Anglo-Catholic party, priests and people, must concentrate on such an external manifestation of its faith as will make men see –

  1. The Naked Christ of calvary as our ideal,
  2. The Coloured Christ of Nazareth as our centre of brotherhood.

Missionary and Bishop

As a missionary and bishop there is no doubt Weston put his words into practice. At the second conference he told his fellow priests and bishops how to lead their life.

it is perfectly possible to lead a happy, a wholesome, healthy life, developing your true manhood without in any way forsaking the simplicity which goes with the Cross of the Christ of Nazareth; that you shall live simple lives, that you shall fight against luxury, that you shall encourage the rich to set a limit to the amount of money that they will use upon themselves, that they will do it not under pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but out of personal devotion to him, Jesus.

And indeed, Weston led a simple life. When in Africa he spent less than three months a year in Zanzibar the rest of the time he was out in the field. After the First World War he insisted on staying with African priests, foregoing the more luxurious homes of European missionaries.

As a bishop he set high standards and expected his clergy to follow them.

While in Zanzibar Keable wrote his history of the UMCA, Darkness or Light, and Weston agreed to write the preface for the book. Not surprisingly he pointed out that the Church and Islam had been rivals for over fifty years in Africa but intriguingly he suggested that there was a new competitor making a bid for leadership, the spirit of commerce.

Robert Keable

Robert Keable was 25 when he first met the Bishop of Zanzibar. By then Weston had been in Africa for thirteen years and had been made bishop five years before. In many ways Keable was following in Weston’s footsteps. Weston had travelled to Zanzibar to be teacher and chaplain at St. Andrews College. After overseeing the building of a theological college and expanding the numbers quickly he soon became the principal. Keable arrived in Zanzibar as chaplain and vice-principal to the same College.

They had both been born in South London – Weston went to Dulwich College, Keable to Whitgift Grammar school in Croydon – into Low Church families. Keable’s father had come to the priesthood late and was a fervent evangelical, suspicious of Catholicism. Weston’s father also held strong evangelical views and he and his wife gave Weston – what his biographer Maynard Smith called – ‘the advantages of a pious upbringing’ with home life celebrating ‘the glory of the Evangelicals’. And they both moved on from their Low Church upbringing while at University – Weston at Oxford and Keable at Cambridge. It was at Oxford that Weston became a Christian Socialist and a strong believer in the Catholic faith.

The steppingstone toward Zanzibar was slightly different. Weston’s last job in England was at the peaceful, very Anglo-Catholic, church of St. Matthews, Westminster. As a curate Weston was very active supporting members of the large congregation many from poor families. Keable’s curacy was spent in a Low Church parish in Bradford working with a missionary zeal to help build the congregation.  

Both Keable and Weston were attracted to Africa by a wish to spread Christianity. When Weston arrived in Zanzibar the mission was living on the reputation of the past and he was horrified by the inactivity. Keable on the other hand found a very active diocese yet was still given the freedom to do as he wished. He concentrated on his work at the college but also set up the first scout group on the island, mixing boys of different religions together.

Robert was in Zanzibar for less than two years but got to know Weston well. When he returned to England he stayed with his friend and mentor AC Benson and (as Benson related in his diary) gave him ‘a sharp picture of the bishop, a man who really is such an individualist, with a Catholic theory and no instinct for obedience.’ Benson came to the following conclusion:

[Weston] will not join the Church of Rome though he is a pure Roman, because it would interfere with his individualism. That is the sort of man who stays in the Anglican church because it has no discipline. He would be miserable as a Roman because he wants to take his own line untrampled. That is the kind of man who really is a great power in the Church of England. He does his work splendidly; he is humorous, active, amiable as long as he is not interfered with. The danger comes when he interferes with other people, which he has now done. ‘He is simply a Pope’, said Keable in his commission in that he feels himself in his right place as a Bishop – he says he is the absolute authority in his diocese in faith and morals – but he does actually compromise a good deal. He is a real John Bull, with a strong belief in private judgement and with a real hatred of all authority except his own.

The interference Benson spoke of was the Kikuyu affair which I discuss in my book Utterly Immoral.

Similar views

After he had left Zanzibar and moved on to Basutoland and travelled to France with the SANLC, Keable wrote two articles about training priests in Africa. The articles caused a storm mainly because Keable criticised a couple of local priests who could therefore be identifiable to those who knew them. Weston read the article and took Keable to task for his criticisms. But what is interesting is how similar Keable’s comments were to those of Weston’s when he had first arrived in Zanzibar. In his open letter Weston had criticised missionaries for tending to treat Africans as children to be corrected and controlled, while expecting to be treated with deference and service. This he suggested was the wrong attitude and if the African church was to ever grow the African priests must be treated as equals. He wrote 'We have always to remember that they, and not we, are the permanent leaders of the African Church’. He feared 'that in the place of real native priests we may produce only priests who are Africans, living the lives and imitating the none too admirable characteristics of European missionaries.'

Keable’s point, argued almost twenty years after the open letter, was very similar. In his article The Worth of an African he argued:

There is …no sort of doubt that our western methods have value; that our civilisation is valuable; that in every direction the West has contributed to the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven; and there is no sort of doubt that we have had a measure of success in the manufacture of western Christians out of African material. But is that really what we want to do? …True education consists in drawing out, not in perpetually moulding to a given form. ...Yet in Africa it seems to me that we have unromantically supposed that the best we could do with the African was to make him a kind of English Christian or perhaps an early Christian… But one star differeth from another star in glory. I would sooner see the African an African Christian than either”

By now a bishop in charge of the training of African clergy, Weston was unsurprisingly upset by Keable’s remarks especially when he went on in a second article to give examples of African priests adopting European habits which put them at a distance from their own people. Following this article Weston’s biographer H Maynard Smith suggested that Weston and Keable were in opposition. Certainly, Weston’s response was a strong defence of black clergy. As Smith wrote:

[Weston] wrote a crushing reply. It was his best controversial article, full of irony and self-restraint, and he clearly convicted his opponent of expecting from African priests a standard of life which, as an Englishman, he had never proposed for himself.  

I am surprised Smith felt Weston saw Keable as his opponent. Keable had been clumsy in his argument about black clergy, but his general thesis – that the church in Africa should be built on African roots and traditions and not on European ones – was not something Weston would have necessarily disagreed with. Smith celebrated Weston’s desire to build the church in Africa on the backs of Africans, and praised his success at ensuring that before he died there were more African priests than European missionaries in his diocese.

The truth was that Keable was heavily influenced by Weston’s views, especially his anti-colonial beliefs. Keable’s most political article Slave, Serf, Citizen, which I discuss in more details in my blog on August 12th ( was written in 1921, soon after Weston had retuned briefly to England to conduct a campaign against forced labour.

Portrayal in Peradventure

Keable wrote two books about the UMCA and Zanzibar. In the first, Darkness and Light he quoted Bishop Weston’s wise words a number of times, with approval. In the second, City of Dawn, the Bishop does not make an appearance. I suspect this was because Keable had little contact with Weston while he was in Zanzibar. The bishop spent most of his time on the mainland and Keable was left to do as he wished for most of the time.

Keable did however decide to include a very thinly disguised portrait of the bishop in his 1922 novel Peradventure. Keable had travelled back to England with Weston in 1912 so, knowing Keable’s habit of sketching real characters in his fiction, I can believe he offers an accurate discription. I think it is worth quoting much of the passage as it offers an interesting portrait, shows Weston’s dislike of the Roman Catholic Church, and suggests the key difference between Keable and Weston’s view.

Keable’s set up in the novel has his hero, Paul Kestern, meet the bishop – called the Bishop of Mozambique in the book – on the train. The bishop was waiting on the platform:

A figure of outstanding dress and height detached itself from the little throng of waiting passengers, and selected his compartment. The newcomer carried an attaché, a leather package of odd and awkward size, a suitcase, and a box of lantern slides, and he was moreover encumbered with a travelling rug, a silk hat, an overcoat and a stick… Paul’s eyes took in his gaitered legs and silk apron, and rested even more enquiringly on his purple stock.

It was the first time Paul had met a bishop and he noted ‘he sounded quite human, and even friendly’. Wondering whether he should call him ‘my lord’ he commented on how he also tended to accumulate things. In reply:

‘Well,’ said the other, a twinkle in his eye. ‘it’s a nuisance, you know, being a bishop, and especially a bishop abroad, home on leave. You’ve got to fit in so much. There’s lecturing and passing proofs and preaching, and a bishop has to carry so many things around with him.’

Paul asked if he could introduce himself to ‘my lord’.

The big, clean-shaven, young-looking prelate chuckled pleasantly. ‘Certainly,’ he said. ‘I’m the Bishop of Mozambique, and as I’m only a colonial, you needn’t call me ‘my lord’ you know, unless you like.’

The two conversed and Paul admitted he hoped to be a missionary and was ‘going through the mill’ about his faith. What follows was clearly heartfelt on Keable, the author’s, part.

‘You can’t be a Roman Catholic,’ said the Bishop decisively when Paul finished.

‘Why not?’

‘Because you know too much history to believe in the Pope.’

‘Honsetly,’ said Paul, ‘I see no reason in history to disbelieve in the Pope.’

‘His infallibility?’

‘Vox corporis, vox capitis,’ retorted Paul, ‘and if the Church has no head, no ultimate authority, how can it speak?’

‘The Church has ultimate authority. It resides in the whole college of bishops dispersed throughout the world. The Papal power is a growth due to various human circumstances, and in its final definition is contrary to the true Catholic faith.’

‘Surely that is what every heretic has said of every definition. That’s what was said when every creed came to be formulated in order to safeguard the faith against the increasing theorising of men. That’s what the Congregationalists say about the Sacraments.’

‘But the test lies in the acceptance of the new statement by the whole catholic body.’

Paul nodded eagerly. ‘And for four hundred years at least the whole Catholic body accepted Pope Leo’s definition of the Papacy, which is good enough to justify it, and sir, has the whole Church accepted your theory? Have even the English Bishops accepted it? Are you not almost alone on the bench in your views?’

‘Well, but judge for yourself. Read your Bible and pray. Is there a Pope in the Holy Scriptures? Wasn’t the First Council of Jerusalem a meeting of the college of bishops?’

After discussion about who had influenced Paul, the bishop continued:

‘Well, don’t judge Roman Catholicism by its appearance in England. It’s at its best here. It   wears Sunday clothes. Priests don’t keep mistresses in England, and the worship of the saints is not quite the idolatry it is in Italy. … Concubinage is a regular thing in Spain … In France they are very dubious about the Pope. In England, below the surface, they are disunited pretty nearly as we are. In South America, the people would have more religion if they were still heathen.’

Paul thought for a while then said:

‘There was an Iscariot among the Apostles, Bishop,’ …

‘Yes, one. Not eleven out of twelve.’

… ‘My lord,’ said Paul, curt in his ardour, ‘you merely propound a dilemma. Either the Holy Ghost has kept silence as to the central authority of the Church till He showed it to Anglo-Catholics seventy years ago, the devil triumphing meanwhile, or … or it is a lie.’

The chapter ends there, preventing the Bishop from having the last word which, in conversations between Keable and Weston, I assume was rare.



Articles / books used

Keable, Geoffrey, The Expanding Horse, an Autobiography, unpublished

Keable, Robert, Darkness of Light, Studies in the History of the Universities Mission to Central Africa, Mowbray & Co. Ltd. 1914

Keable, Robert, Peradventure, Constable, 1922

Keable, Robert, The Worth of an African, International Review of Mission 1918 Vol 2 pp 319-332

Lullock, Percy, [Ed], The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd. 1926

Maynard Smith, H. Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar, SPCK 1926

Morse-Boycott, Desmond Lionel, Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of the Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, Macmillan 1933

Report of the First Anglo-Catholic Congress London, SPCK 1920

Weston, Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar, The Concluding Address given to the Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923,