The Congo Boys of Colwyn Bay

The African Training Institute, Colwyn Bay

By Charlotte Williams

Llanelian is a small village which lies just above Colwyn Bay in Wales. It’s not the type of place that you would call to mind, has having any connections to Black History. Yet older residents will often point out to new comers a number of graves in the cemetery and refer to them as belonging to the Congo Boys.

Way back in 1885 two small African boys arrived at Llandudno pier on board the steamer St. Tudno, after a journey that had taken months of travel down long rivers and across the vast ocean. They were the beginning of a grand scheme, the brainchild of the Reverend William Hughes that saw many young Africans brought to Wales to train in the ministry and in trade.

The Reverend believed that instead of missionaries going out to Africa to spread the word of God, training institutes like the one established in Colwyn Bay would be more effective as many of the white missionaries had died in the harsh climate of the Congo. The idea was that when the boys were trained they could return to their own land and take the ministry back to civilize their peoples.

In this way nobody would perish because, the Reverend surmised, Africans seemed to be safeguarded from the evil effects of the climatic changes because of their physical structure! But many did perish and were buried in Colwyn Bay. Their graves tell the story of an ambitious project that brought Africa to Wales; a story that lay dormant in those graves for years. 

Read more, see JSTOR The African Training Institute, Colwyn Bay and the BBC The black missionaries of Colwyn Bay