Aeneas Francon Williams
Williams (right, holding a hat) standing on the steps of Wolseley House, Kalimpong 1914
|Born||17 February 1886|
Liscard, Wirral, Cheshire, Britain
|Died||9 December 1971 (aged 85)|
|Occupation||Missionary, Minister, Chaplain, teacher, writer, poet|
|Spouse(s)||Clara Anne Rendall|
|Children||Alfred Francon Williams|
Beatrice Clara Williams
|Parent(s)||John Francon Williams|
Barbara Balmain Dougall
Reverend Aeneas Francon Williams, FRSGS (17 February 1886 – 9 December 1971) was a Minister of the Church of Scotland, a Missionary, Chaplain, writer and a poet. Williams was a missionary in the Eastern Himalayas and China and writer of many published works.
Aeneas Francon Williams was born in Liscard, Wirral, Cheshire, the second son of four to John Francon Williams FRGS, and Barbara Balmain Dougall. Aeneas had three brothers, John Balmain, David Dougal Williams FRSA and George Stanley and a sister, Margaret Mary Ann Williams. Aeneas was baptized at St. Peter's Church, Liverpool, on 20 July 1886. During Aeneas's formative years he was educated privately. From 1900 to 1906 Aeneas attended the Technical Institute and Student Teacher Centre in Walthamstow, and from 1906 to 1908 he attended the University of Edinburgh and Moray House Training College. In 1932 Aeneas returned to Edinburgh where he studied at the University of Edinburgh New College for a further two years. Aeneas's father John Francon Williams Sr., who was born in 1854 in the village of Llanllechid, in the foothills of the Snowdonia Mountains in Caernarvonshire, North Wales, was also a published writer, newspaper or, geographer, inventor, historian and cartographer. Aeneas's mother Barbara was born in Perthshire, Scotland. By 1901, the Williams family was living at Queens Grove Road in the affluent area of Chingford in Essex where, on the 1901 England and Wales Census, Aeneas aged 15, is recorded as being an artist and painter.
Aeneas Williams arrived in India in 1910 and was stationed in Kalimpong, West Bengal, at St. Andrew's Colonial Homes (later renamed Dr. Graham's Homes), an orphanage/school, where he was assistant schoolmaster and taught Geography and Science. As the school expanded, Williams took on the role of Bursar. His official residence was Wolseley House in the grounds of the school. Aeneas also took on the role of financial adviser to Dr. John Anderson Graham (founder of the Mission), and Aeneas was also a fundraiser for the children's home. On 2 December 1914, Aeneas and Clara Anne Rendall were married at Macfarlane Memorial Church in Kalimpong by Rev Evan Mackenzie. Dr. John Anderson Graham officiated as best man and a witness at the ceremony. Clara (a true Orcadian) was born on 24 July 1887 in Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands and was also a Church of Scotland missionary and a teacher at St. Andrew's Colonial school.
Aeneas was a keen sportsman and footballer and played outside forward (left wing) in the Graham's homes football team. On 7 October 1916, Clara gave birth to twins, Alfred Francon and Beatrice Clara. Rev. John Anderson Graham baptized Alfred and Beatrice in Kalimpong on 19 November 1916. Aeneas and his growing family remained at St. Andrew's Colonial Homes until 1924. Williams’ first book, A Pronouncement of the Public Conscience, was published in 1921. At the beginning of January 1921, Aeneas, his wife, and their two young offspring (aged 4) sailed from Calcutta on board the (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Line) SS Soudan en route to the UK. The family arrived in the Port of London on 18 January from where they travelled up to Scotland. It was the first time the two young children Alfred and Beatrice had visited Britain. During the trip, Aeneas undertook a short fundraising tour in aid of St. Andrew's Colonial Homes in Kalimpong, during which he gave lantern shows with spoken commentary. His shows were performed on variety bills and in Church Halls. The photographic slides were projected upon a large screen and depicted life at St. Andrew's Colonial Homes, views of the Eastern Himalayas, and life as a missionary in India. One of Williams’ presentations was given at a Variety Concert at Elie in Fife held on 23 September at which Major-General Sir George Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff introduced the acts. Williams shared the bill with various vocal and instrumental performers, as well as a young dancer. In 1923, Sheldon Press published Williams’ instructional hardback, Everyone's Book of the Weather. ‘A pleasant and instructive little book,’ said the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in their review of it. The Scotsman found it, ‘a readable, instructive, and usefully illustrated manual.’ Williams wrote the book in Kalimpong during his time working at St. Andrew's Colonial Homes. In the Preface he explains his reasons for writing it, and by doing so hopes the book will reach a wider readership than a book about weather might ordinarily do; ‘In these days of wireless reports, meteorological charts and forecasts, journeys by aeroplane or airship, scientific farming and plantation work and the like, interest in the weather is becoming more and more widespread, and a knowledge of atmospheric phenomena is useful as well as fascinating. The object of the present work is to present the facts of meteorology to the general reader in a popular form, and to show how observers equipped with quite simple instruments can find pleasure as well as profit in the study of weather conditions.’  Two years later, Macmillan Publishers published Surveying for Everyone, another of Williams’ instructional hardbacks aimed at scholars.
On 5 February 1924, Aeneas and Clara with their two young children (aged seven) sailed from Calcutta aboard SS Hosang (Indo-China Steam Navigation Company) to Shanghai, China, where, upon arrival they then caught a steamer and sailed 1,000 miles up the River Yangtze (Cháng Jiāng) to the Church of Scotland (Training Institution) in Ichang. Here, Aeneas was Principal at the Anglo-Chinese College Mission in Ichang from 1924 to 1927. The children, Alfred and Beatrice, attended the private Redcroft School in the resort of Kuling where they boarded during the school terms. Aeneas and Clara immediately took Chinese language lessons and both became fluent in Mandarin. The port of Ichang was one of four ports open to foreign trade, and the highest reached by steamers. The city of Ichang was situated right in the center of China, on a low promontory on the North bank of the River Yangtze. It was a prefectural city of considerable importance in the province of Hupeh, and conveniently situated as a mart for the tea trade of Hoh-fung-chow. Opium was also grown in the district as was the tung tree, from which tung oil is extracted. During his stay in China, Aeneas wrote the poem Voice of an Oracle (in Old China). In December 1926, Aeneas received a worrying letter from the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh talking of anxious happenings in Hankow and the possibility of a General Strike in China. In the House of Commons the Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain intimated that the British Government were talking of taking immediate steps for the protection of U.K. nationals stationed in China. The letter also mentioned that alternative arrangements had been made for the Williams's children, Alfred and Beatrice. Soon after, Clara and their two children departed from China for their own safety and sailed to the U.K. Early in 1927, due to growing civil unrest in Ichang and localised uprisings in the surrounding province, Aeneas was advised by the British Consulate (Ta Ying ling-shih-shu) to leave China for his own safety. Aeneas departed Shanghai on 4 April 1927 just before the Shanghai massacre took place on 12 April 1927. From Shanghai Aeneas sailed to British Columbia on missionary work, and then to Vancouver. In late April 1927, Aeneas sailed from the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada on board the SS Montclare, (Canadian Pacific Line) and arrived in Liverpool, England, on 1 May, from where he journeyed to Edinburgh to be reunited with his wife and two children who were staying at 22 Queen Street.
In October 1927, whilst in the UK Aeneas was invited to attend the annual Church of Scotland Young Men's Guild Conference held in Kirkcaldy, Fife, over the weekend commencing Friday 21 October. The main objectives of the conference were to revive the interest of the churches in the work of the Guild, and to demonstrate anew the value and usefulness of such an organization as auxiliary of Church life. Two halls had been booked for the occasion, the Beveridge and Adam Smith Halls, and on Friday evening Aeneas gave a missionary address at the Beveridge Hall about his work in Kalimpong, India, and in Ichang, China. It was at the 1888 meeting of the Guild held in the same town of Kirkcaldy that Dr. John Anderson Graham made the momentous decision and choice to establish a charitable school for destitute children in India, and was thus ordained as the first missionary supported by the Guild. As such, it was with great regard that Aeneas had been invited to represent the now thriving St. Andrew's Colonial School and Homes in Kalimpong upon which honors from the Indian and British Governments’ had since poured. The Central Committee of Management of the Guild headed by the chairman Rev. T.B. Stewart Thomson had compiled an interesting program of events throughout the weekend. The conference opened with a civic reception by the Provost and Magistrates at the Beveridge Hall on the Friday, followed by a welcoming tea, after which Aeneas gave his missionary address at Beveridge Hall. The conference concluded on the Sunday evening with a public meeting at the Adam Smith Hall with guest speakers the Right Hon. William Murdoch Adamson M.P. and the Very Rev Dr. John White DD LLD, ex-Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
In late 1927, Aeneas and his family returned to India where they were stationed at Mahakalguri, Eastern Dooars (Duars). Here Aeneas took on the role of missionary Pastor.
In 1928, Williams was licensed by the Presbytery of Eastern Himalaya and in November of that same year he was ordained by the Presbytery at Siliguri, in North Bengal. The Presbytery of Edinburgh admitted Williams to the Church of Scotland on 28 May 1932.
In 1929, Aeneas was stationed at the Church of Scotland Guild Mission in Matelli in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal where he was the Minister of the Jalpaiguri Parish. At the Mission compound in Matelli, Aeneas and his family resided at the Manse. Through its schools – St. Ninian's 'Middle' school, St. Margaret's 'High' school, and its boys and girls Day Schools in Calcutta, boys school in Chinsura, the Abbey School, and various primary schools in Budge Budge, and its College – the Church of Scotland Mission offered Christian education from the kindergarten to the University stage.
In 1930, Hymn Book in Jalpaiguri Mech by Aeneas Francon Williams was published. The book was intended for the use of Christians of the Mech Tribes living at the foot of the Himalayas in the Jalpaiguri district and was the first Hymn Book to be published in this regional dialect of Hindi. Whilst Aeneas was living in Matelli he owned a Cinchona (quinine) plantation.
On 7 March 1930, Clara, being the only female along with two Babu's, was appointed under the provisions of rule 63(2), Chapter IV of the Bengal Jail Code, as a non-official visitor of the Alipur Duar Suli Jail in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal for a period of two years. The appointment of the three non-official visitors was to help in the rehabilitation of the inmates by helping to change the offender's values, motivations, and attitudes, so that they could become contributing members of society upon their release. The non-official visitors would visit the jail periodically and attend to requests from the inmates pertaining to their care and welfare. At the end of their visits they would enter any observations about their time at the jail in the visitor's book.
Williams’ first volume of poems Dream Drift, by a Young Lover was published in 1932. The suggestion of a priest being perceived as a ‘young lover’ was a bold move on both Williams and the publisher's part. It was certainly uncommon for a member of the cloth to reveal a poetic side that included talk of lovemaking. The Dundee Courier in their appraisal of the work noted that, ‘Mr. Williams' poems reveal their author in many moods, as a nature lover, sportsman, and lover. Only an angler could have written his poems on Fishing and Wound Up. There is a whimsical, almost ‘Barriesque’ (James M. Barrie) touch about some of his nature poems, which is infinitely attractive.’
Aeneas would find small nuggets of inspiration obscured in the noise of life. In his poem, To A Dead Bird, Williams immortalizes a solitary dead bulbul; an Indian nightingale he found lying near a bush in the Manse in Bengal where he lived. He explains; 'I put it in my pocket handkerchief and with a little burial service I laid it to rest in our consecrated burial ground opposite Manse Gate.
In 1932, Williams visited Scotland, during which he supported as many church events and meetings as he could comfortably fit into his schedule. In late-September, Williams showed his support for the ‘Forward Movement’ campaign launched by West Lothian Churches. At the campaign he gave a powerful speech detailing his all-absorbing work in India as a missionary. On 3 October, Williams attended the Young Men's Guild of the Linlithgow and Falkirk Council at which he addressed the large attendance with more stories of his work and adventures as a missionary in North Bengal. ‘Mr. Williams’ address brought out in a wonderful way the romance of the mission fields, and the speaker dealt in a most interesting manner with his own particular work among the depressed races in the Eastern Duars.’
In the summer of 1937, Aeneas and Clara, accompanied by their two offspring, Alfred Francon (a medical student) and Beatrice Clara (a nurse), sailed from Dooars, India, to America where they arrived in New York City on 16 August 1937 aboard SS Caledonia II.
In 1945, Aeneas and Clara spent a summer vacation at Kodaikanal, a resort in the Cardamom Hills of South India, where their son Alfred, who was now a Captain in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) and stationed in Burma, joined them. It was whilst Aeneas was in the Cardamom Hills that he wrote his poem Flowers.
On 1 January 1946, in the New Year Indian Honours List, Clara (Mrs. Francon Williams) was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal (Emperor of India) Bronze Medal for her work during WWII being in-charge of Red Cross Work in Dooars, Bengal.
In 1947, when India was granted Independence, Clara returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, to set up home. Aeneas remained in India at the Mission during the handover. After the inauguration of Indian Independence on 15 August 1947, Aeneas wrote, 'Report 1947, The Work of the Church of Scotland Mission in Bengal During a Momentous Year', documenting what he saw and encountered in India after the event. Much rejoicing took place in all the Mission institutions. The new Constitution (not yet fully adopted) guaranteed freedom 'to profess, practice and propagate' any religion. When pupils were asked, now that India was free would they rather there was no teaching about Christianity in school, the answer was always the same, that it was because of such teachings that they wished to study at the Mission. In fact, the Mission had since Independence Day been besieged with new applications for admission. However, Aeneas noted the College was experiencing a communal 'low' in staffing levels, with the shortage of Christian professors becoming an 'anxiety.' The Mission staffing levels had also fallen (to eight women and four men) and the Foreign Mission Committee was doing everything in its power to find new recruits. Looking ahead, Aeneas spoke of a 'partnership,' a 'Home Mission,' uniting the Mission of the Church of Scotland in India with the Church in India, and in his Report 1947 Aeneas stated: The Indian Church is now alive to her missionary responsibilities in this land and is heartily in favor of the new proposals, but the task is out of all proportion to her present resources, and it is only if the Church of Scotland continues her support in personnel and in finances that it can be accomplished. For the Church as for the nation it may be that a new day is dawning.
In 1948, after the handover, Aeneas sold his Cinchona plantation and other personal property and returned to the U.K. to join his wife in Edinburgh, where they resided at 46, Belgrave Road. When Aeneas and Clara arrived in Edinburgh they brought with them their pet chimpanzee named ‘Glyris’, which lived with them at their home at Belgrave Road.
Aeneas spoke eight languages fluently including Hindi and Mandarin. In Edinburgh, Aeneas was Chaplain of Edinburgh Social Services Department from 1952 and was affiliated with several churches including the former Stockbridge Free Church and St. Giles Cathedral. He was also assistant Chaplain of HMP Edinburgh (Saughton) from 1948 to 1954. Aeneas grew up in a literary household (his father John Francon Williams was a newspaper and journal or and a published writer of many books) and as such Aeneas was encouraged by his father to pursue writing. Throughout Aeneas's life he had many books published in various fields of knowledge and was also a published poet. In 1942, upon the death of Dr John Anderson Graham, Aeneas was commissioned by Oxford University Press to write Dr Graham's biography for inclusion in their Dictionary of National Biography.
Clara Anne Williams died in Edinburgh on 25 January 1959 and is buried at Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.
After Clara died, Aeneas sold their house at Belgrave Road and spent the next few years travelling the world, circumnavigating it several times. There is evidence contained in correspondence between Aeneas and the London publishing house MacMillan & Co. Ltd. that he wrote two books during these travels. His regular visits to Australia and New Zealand, and especially Tasmania – where his daughter Beatrice lived in Launceston with her husband Dr. Stephen Pugh and their daughter Andrea – seem to have sparked his imagination. Original correspondence from Aeneas to MacMillan held at The Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections at the University of Reading, mentions two new manuscripts he had written relating to his travels that he’d submitted to the publishing house. Whether MacMillan or another company published these books is unclear from the letters, as the books identify with Australasia and may only have been published in that territory, or could have remained unpublished. The two books in question are Tasmanian Apples and Kiwiland. The later work is possibly associated with the flightless Kiwi bird, which Aeneas had grown particularly fond of during his visits to New Zealand. ‘I fed these interesting flightless birds in Wellington Zoo,’ Aeneas writes keenly to MacMillan. He also fed the tuatara, courtesy of his friend, ‘the Superintendent Mr. Curtis,’ who told him where he could see the, ‘pre-historic little tuatara, the only true Saurian left on this earth, whose ancestors were at least 3,000,000 years on this planet, long before we were.’ Aeneas also mentions to his publisher that his friend Henry Kelly, of the New Zealand Wildlife Department was arranging ‘to send us a live Kiwi, the very first Kiwi to be in Scotland.’ After returning from his travels abroad, Aeneas moved into 10 Carlton Street, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, where he lived until his early-80s, before moving to Sheffield, Yorkshire, to live with his son Alfred.
A cousin of Aeneas's named Jane Williams married American Edward Burton Hughes. In 1967, Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Edward Burton Hughes as Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation. In 1970, Edward Burton Hughes founded the E. Burton Hughes Achievement Award given annually to an outstanding Department employee of the New York State Department of Transportation.
Aeneas Francon Williams was a frequent contributor to various religious periodicals, and he also contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography. Aeneas Francon Williams' World Catalogue of works as listed by Worldcat.
Letters from Aeneas Francon Williams (1924–27) written whilst he was stationed at the Mission at Yichang, China:
Letters to Clara Anne Williams, wife of Aeneas Francon Williams, and a missionary in Eastern Himalayas:
Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China by R. G. Tiedemann, p. 147 – Church of Scotland Mission, Yichang:
Dr. Graham's Kalimpong Homes; The National Library of Scotland Blog. The National Library of Scotland holds the Dr. Graham's Kalimpong Homes Archive, which contains letters too and from Aeneas Francon Williams and Clara Williams during their life spent as Missionaries in India.
Church of Scotland missionary archive, (microform). 
Young Men's Guild: The Meaning of White: Race, Class, and the 'Domiciled Community' in British India 1858–1930 by Satoshi Mizutani, publ. Oxford University Press (2011), ISBN 9780199697700, pp. 138–146 – St. Andrew's Colonial Homes at Kalimpong: Objectives and historical significance.
A review of Everyone's Book of the Weather by A. Francon Williams, published, London, (The Sheldon Press), 1923, printed in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, July 1924, Vol.50(211), p. 275: is held in the archive at the J. Paul Leonard Library in San Francisco.
Everyone's Book of the Weather by A. Francon Williams, published, London, (The Sheldon Press), 1923, Digital Library of India full transcript.