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Vintage Book Profile Revue and Price Guide: Niger Dawn by Frances M. Hensley, missionary life in the Ibo country

Profile, revue and value of Niger Dawn, by Frances M. Henley, a book about missionary work in Nigeria's Igbo (Ibo) country, east and west of the River Niger.
The dust jacket shows a picture of the Ibo Chief's canoe on the River Niger

This interesting book, Niger Dawn, is an autobiographical account of the personal experiences of the author, during a period at the turn of the twentieth century when she was a missionary in Nigeria.

It was published in the 1950s by Arthur H. Stockwell, an English publisher based in Ilfracombe, Devon, which is still active today. However, no specific publication date is given. The author's introduction is dated 1948 and a subsequent extract from The Times, being an obituary for Bishop Onyeabo, a Nigerian church leader, is dated 19th February 1954. A handwritten inscription on the front free endpaper is dated 1956.

This book isn't just an important account of missionary work in West Africa: It also gives an insight into the lives and customs of the Ibo people (also known as "Igbo", the largest ethnic group in Africa) who live either side of the River Niger. As the author noted in her introduction:

  • The foundations of the remarkable growth and advance of the Christian Church on the Niger were laid in those pioneer days.

Niger Dawn is a good read for those interested in the history of church pioneering, and those interested in the social and cultural history of this small part of Africa.

Niger Dawn, an autobiographical book by Frances M. Hensley

Frances M. Hensley (nee Dennis) was a missionary with the British based Church Missionary Society (CMS). Little is known of Frances, though her faith is clearly shown through her words. She spent a period of twelve years from 1897 to 1909 helping to establish the Christian Church in the Ibo Country on the River Niger (Eastern Nigeria). A dedicated evangelist, she worked at Idumuje Ugboko on the Asaba side, west of the River Niger and also at Ebu on the eastern side of the river.

Her first autobiographical book of her experiences was published by the CMS in 1913. Titled A Fight For Life, it was well received, but I don't have a copy for reference.

In Niger Dawn we hear that Mrs Hensley was one of eight siblings. Two brothers, Thomas and Edward, and a sister, Nellie, worked with her among the pioneers "who helped to evangelise the Ibo Country at a time when there were no good roads or motor transport in the country; when inter-tribal wars and destruction of twins were the order of the day."

Thomas Dennis was the eldest sibling and arrived in Nigeria before his other siblings. He subsequently became the Archdeacon of Onitsha in 1905. He is best known for his translation of the bible into the Igbo language. This was first published in full in 1913.

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This 1953 photograph is the frontispiece to the book. It shows Mrs Hensley reunited in London with Nwoko II (Obi of Idumuje Ugboko), for the first time since he'd waved her goodbye as a fourteen year old boy, when she left Nigeria in 1907

This autobiographical account includes details of the voyage to Africa during the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and the establishment of the Christian church in Ibo country during the period which followed. The dedication printed near the start of the book is the first verse of a processional hymn:

  • For all the Saints
    Who from their labours rest,
    The Name O Jesus
    Be forever blessed.
    Alleluia, Alleluia.

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Departure
  • Voyage
  • The Arrival
  • Variations
  • The King of Onitsha
  • The Bad Bush
  • Market
  • My First Itineration
  • General Advance
  • Child Murder
  • Furlough
  • Progress
  • Shadows
  • The Valley
  • Growth
  • Extension
  • Occupation
  • Itinerations
  • Seed Time
  • Church Building
  • Restoration
  • Fruit
  • Women
  • Farther Afield
  • Matrimonial Problems
  • Conquerors
  • Change
  • Pests
  • Encouragement
  • Vaccination
  • Obstacles
  • Overland Journey
  • Eastward
  • Owerri
  • Life At Owerri
  • Jubilee
  • Journey To Cross River And Arochuku
  • Ju-Ju Victims
  • District Travels
  • Growth of the Christian Church
  • Changing Women
  • One Perfect Sacrifice
  • Bursting Fruit Buds
  • Epilogue
  • Sequel
A sketch map of the area where Frances Hensley was a missionary

Book Details:

  • Title: Niger Dawn
  • Author: Frances M. Hensley (nee Dennis)
  • Published by Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd: Unstated, likely 1st edition, around 1955
  • Format: Small, hardcover, with a dust jacket
  • Pages: 192, including detailed autobiographical text, a photographic portrait frontispiece and a sketch match of the regions either side of the River Niger
  • Size Approx: 126x186mm
  • Approx weight: 273g

Value

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Niger Dawn by Frances M. Hensley, estimated value of the pictured copy, which is in good condition, with a poor dust jacket, £10

Estimated value of the same book in fine condition, with a fine dust jacket, £25