Aeneas Francon Williams

Aeneas Francon Williams
Born (1886-02-17)17 February 1886
Liscard, Liverpool, Britain
Died 9 December 1971(1971-12-09) (aged 85)
Sheffield, Yorkshire
Nationality British
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

Rev Aeneas Francon Williams, FRSGS[1] (17 February 1886 – 9 December 1971) was a Minister[2] of the Church of Scotland, a Missionary, Chaplain, writer and a poet. Williams was a missionary in the Eastern Himalayas[3] and China and writer of many published works.


Aeneas Francon Williams and his wife Clara Anne Rendall, gravestone at Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh

Aeneas Francon Williams was born in Liscard, Liverpool, 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.[4] 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.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

Missionary work[]


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.[9][10] As the school expanded, Williams took on the role of Bursar. His official residence was Wolseley House in the grounds of the school.[11] 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 (24 July 1887 – 25 January 1959) were married at Macfarlane Memorial Church in Kalimpong by Rev Evan Mackenzie.[12] Dr. John Anderson Graham officiated as best man and a witness at the ceremony.[13] Clara was born in Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands and was also a Church of Scotland missionary and a teacher at St. Andrew's Colonial school.

Aeneas Francon Williams (right) on the steps of his residence, Wolseley House, at St. Andrew's Colonial Homes, Kalimpong, 1914. St. Andrew's Colonial School is on the hill in the background of the picture.

Aeneas was a keen sportsman and footballer and played outside forward (left wing) in the Graham's homes football team.[14] 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.[15] 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 siblings (aged 4) sailed from Calcutta on board the (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Line) SS Soudan [16] 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.[17] 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.[18] ‘A pleasant and instructive little book,’ said the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in their review of it.[19] The Scotsman found it, ‘a readable, instructive, and usefully illustrated manual.’[20] Two years later, Macmillan published Surveying for Everyone, another of Williams’ instructional hardbacks aimed at scholars.[21][22]

Williams was elected a Fellow of The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (FRSGS) in 1921.[23]

Yichang, China[]

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) [24] to the Church of Scotland (Training Institution) in Ichang.[25] Here, Aeneas was Principal of the Mission from 1924 to 1927.[26][not in citation given][27][28] 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).[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] From Shanghai Aeneas sailed to British Columbia on missionary work, and then to Vancouver en route to the U.K.,[33] where he met up with his wife and two children, where after they returned to India.

Mahakalguri, West Bengal[]

In 1927, Aeneas and his family were stationed at Mahakalguri, Eastern Dooars (Duars), where Aeneas was a 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.

Matelli, West Bengal[]

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.[34] Whilst Aeneas was living in Matelli he owned a Cinchona (quinine) plantation.

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.’[35]

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.[36]

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 colourful speech detailing his all-absorbing work in India as a missionary.[37] 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.’ [38]

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.[39][40]

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.[41]

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.[42]

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.[43]

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, Scotland

Later life[]

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. Aeneas died in Sheffield in 1971 and is buried with his wife Clara in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Aeneas Francon Williams is the brother of artist David Dougal Williams and the grandfather of writer Iain Cameron Williams.[44][45]

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.[46]


Published works[]

Dream Drift (book of poetry) by Aeneas Francon Williams, first ion
Everyone's Book of the Weather by Aeneas Francon Williams published 1923

Aeneas Francon Williams was also a frequent contributor to various religious periodicals. Aeneas Francon Williams World Catalogue of works[51]

Let Poets Sing - Aeneas Francon Williams 1961

Further References[]

Letters from Aeneas Francon Williams (1924–27) written whilst he was stationed at the Mission at Yichang, China:[52]

Letters to Clara Anne Williams, wife of Aeneas Francon Williams, and a missionary in Eastern Himalayas:[53]

Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China by R. G. Tiedemann, p. 147 – Church of Scotland Mission, Yichang:[54]

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.:


  1. ^ "Family Group Sheet for Aeneas Francon WILLIAMS / Clara Ann RENDALL (F286637)  : Shetland Family History". Retrieved 2017-08-09. 
  2. ^ See page 754 of Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae 1928, Overseas Presbyteries for his biography
  3. ^ "SCOTTISH MISSIONARY ARCHIVES Part 6: Free Church of Scotland Missionary Record, United Free Church Reports and other records". Retrieved 2017-08-09. 
  4. ^ - Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Baptisms 1813-1906 - Aeneas Francon Williams, son of John and Barbara Williams, St. Peter’s Church, Liverpool, 20 July 1886.
  5. ^ John Francon Williams World Catalogue:
  6. ^ John Francon Williams, (inventions) reference BT 51/4/5500, registered design No 5500, 1884 April 21, and, registered design reference BT 51/4/5499, 1884 April 21, The National Archives, Kew
  7. ^ A Class-Book of Modern Geography by J. Francon Williams- British Library images of the book:
  8. ^ 1901 England and Wales Census – Aeneas Francon Williams –aged 15 – artist, painter:
  9. ^ Dr. Graham's Kalimpong Homes – National Library of Scotland Blog with original photographs from Kalimpong during early 1900s:
  10. ^ Marriage Certificate for Aeneas Francon Williams and Clara Anne Rendall, 2 December 1914: – Williams rank of profession is registered as ‘Assistant School Master.’
  11. ^ Correspondence from Aeneas Francon Williams addressed from Wolseley House is stored in the Dr. Graham Kalimpong Archive held at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
  12. ^ The Times of India, 22 December 1914, page 5 – marriage announcement – Williams-Rendall
  13. ^ Marriage Certificate for Aeneas Francon Williams and Clara Anne Rendall, 2 December 1914:
  14. ^ National Library of Scotland, Inventory Acc. 6039, Kalimpong Papers, Dr. J.A. Graham D.D.C.I.E. Archive-Box 6: Diaries 1912–20, 1922–23 – Dr. Graham's 1915 diary mentions Williams playing in the Graham's homes football team in outside forward (left wing) position
  15. ^ Copy of the original Baptism Certificate for Alfred Francon and Beatrice Clara Williams, 19 November 1916:
  16. ^ Incoming Passenger List: SS Soudan, port of arrival London, 18 January 1921: passengers A. Francon Williams (schoolmaster), Clara A Williams, Alfred F. and Beatrice C.
  17. ^ Dundee Courier, 24 September 1921, p.3 - Variety Concert at Elie (review) - A Variety concert gave a successful entertainment in the Parish Church Hall Elie in aid of the St. Andrew's Colonial Homes, Kalimpong.
  18. ^ Everyone’s Book of the Weather by A. Francon Williams; review in Popular Science Magazine, USA. April 1924, page 65 -
  19. ^ Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 29 November 1923, p. 5 - Books of the Day (review) The Weather - 'Everyone's Book of the Weather' by A. Francon Williams
  20. ^ The Scotsman, 21 January 1924, p. 2 - Minor Notices (column) New books published
  21. ^ The Times, 13 August 1926, p. 15 - Sheldon Press advertisement for Surveying For Everyone by A. Francon Williams
  22. ^ Surveying for Everyone by A. Francon Williams; review in Popular Science Magazine, USA, March 1926, page 136:
  23. ^ The Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Diploma of Fellowship (FRSGS) register, 1921, Dr. A. Francon Williams, British Bhutan (retrieved 10 October 2017):
  24. ^ Photograph of the Yangtze River at Yichang, Sichuan, China, in 1927, showing a passenger steamer and other small boats used on the river: International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960: Yale Divinity Library Special Collections:
  25. ^ National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of MSS. Vol. VI MS. 7611 – Letters from Aeneas Francon Williams missionary in Eastern Himalayas – (1924–27) nos. 75, 84, 105, 117 &118
  26. ^ Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China by R. G. Tiedemann https. page 147, published 2009, ISBN 978-0765618085
  27. ^ The Church of Scotland established its one mission station at the Yangtse River port of Yichang (Ichang) in the interior province of Hubei in 1878: Reformed Online - China/Peoples Republic of:
  28. ^ Photograph of the Mission Staff, at Yichang, China, ca.1915-1924, just prior to Aeneas Francon Williams taking over as principal of the Mission in 1924: International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960: Photographs from Scottish Missions, the National Library of Scotland:
  29. ^ Voice of an Oracle (in Old China) by Aeneas Francon Williams, Let Poets Sing, p. 46-48
  30. ^ Letter to Aeneas Francon Williams from the Church of Scotland office in Edinburgh dated 30 November 1926 stored in the Dr. Graham Kalimpong Archive held at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.
  31. ^ National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of MSS. Vol. VI MS. 7530 – 8022 Scottish Foreign Mission Research HMSO – Letters to Clara Anne Williams (nee Rendall) wife of Aeneas Francon Williams missionary in Eastern Himalayas – 1926 (7598), 1927 (7599)
  32. ^ National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of MSS. Vol. VI MS. 7611 – Letters from Aeneas Francon Williams missionary in China – (1927) letters 117 &118
  33. ^ 1927 Passenger list – Aeneas Francon Williams
  34. ^ The One Hundred and First Report of the Calcutta Christian Tract and Book Society (Incorporated) 1930/1931, page 7 & 10:(retrieved document 16 July 2017): The document mentions 2,000 copies of Hymn Book in Jalpaiguri Mech by Aeneas Francon Williams were purchased by the Book Society for distribution:
  35. ^ Dundee Courier, Thursday 21 July 1938, p.6 - Missionary As Poet (review) Dream Drift, by a Young Lover
  36. ^ Let Poet’s Sing by Aeneas Francon Williams, page 41 - To A Dead Bird.
  37. ^ Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 23 September 1932, page 7 – Forward Movement (report) Campaign by West Lothian Churches
  38. ^ Linlithgowshire Gazette, Friday 7 October 1932, page 5 – Young Men’s Guild (report)
  39. ^ - New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 – Aeneas Francon Williams arrived New York on 16 August 1937 aboard SS Caledonia II. Williams, with his wife Clara, son Alfred and daughter Beatrice, sailed from Dooars, India
  40. ^ Passenger List: New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch ( 2 October 2015), Aeneas Francon Williams, 1937; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  41. ^ Flowers by Aeneas Francon Williams, Let Poets Sing p. 34
  42. ^ The Indian Medical Gazette, December 1945, page 630 – Kaisar-i-Hind Medal Bronze Medal (recipient) Mrs. Francon Williams, In-charge of Red Cross Work in Dooars, Bengal (retrieved 8 October 2017):
  43. ^ Report 1947: The Work of the Church of Scotland Mission in Bengal During A Momentous Year (1947), pamphlet, published Church of Scotland, 1947 – Centre for the Study of World Christianity Library, University of Edinburgh, Pamphlet – Reference: Pamphlet BV3280. B4. Chu
  44. ^ Iain Cameron Williams:
  45. ^ Iain Cameron Williams World Catalogue:
  46. ^ Spotlight Magazine, 27 December 1973, page 16 - The E. Burton Hughes Achievement Award (report)
  47. ^ The Indian Medical Gazette, December 1945, page 630 – Kaisar-i-Hind Medal Bronze Medal (recipients) Mrs. Francon Williams, In-charge of Red Cross Work in Dooars, Bengal (retrieved 8 October 2017)
  48. ^ Everyone's Book of the Weather: review in Outlook magazine, 6 February 1924, page 236: 'Brief and popular handbook of meteorology. How to understand, predict and observe the weather.'
  49. ^ Centre for the Study of World Christianity Library, University of Edinburgh, Pamphlet donated by Professor Andrew Walls, OBE – Reference: Pamphlet BV3280. B4. Chu
  50. ^ Graham, John Anderson, by Aeneas Francon Williams, The Dictionary of National Biography 1941–1950, publ. Oxford University Press 1959: p.312-313:
  51. ^ Aeneas Francon Williams World Catalogue:
  52. ^ Letters from Aeneas Francon Williams (1924–27) written whilst he was stationed at the Mission at Yichang, China – National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of MSS. Vol. VI MS. 7611 – nos. 75, 84, 105, 117 &118
  53. ^ National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of MSS. Vol. VI MS. 7530 – 8022 Scottish Foreign Mission Research HMSO – Letters to Clara Anne Williams (nee Rendall) wife of Aeneas Francon Williams missionary in Eastern Himalayas – 1926 (7598), 1927 (7599)
  54. ^ Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China by R. G. Tiedemann, p. 147 – Church of Scotland Mission, Yichang: