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Scandal at Congo House

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  • Scandal at Congo House
  • ISBN: 9781845274009
  • Christopher Draper, John Lawson-Reay
  • Publication Date October 2012
  • Format: Paperback, 215x138 mm, 296 pages

Victorian Wales was both enchanted and enraged by William Hughes's controversial scheme for the importation of black boys and girls from 'Darkest Africa' to Congo House in Colwyn Bay. Following practical training and education Hughes claimed almost a hundred of his students returned to Africa to labour for the enlightenment of that 'Dark Continent', yet controvesy raged in the press.

As stated in Drapers introduction, Scandal at Congo House is a book aimed at the general reader, as well as those pursuing more specific academic or ideological interests. I have therefore blended the dramatic narrative of William Hughes life with description and analysis of the wider context of the Congo House scheme, states the author, and on the whole this has been achieved successfully.

William Hughes, the son of Hugh Evans, a tenant farmer, was born in 1856 in Rhos-lan in north Wales. Until he was 19 years old, he spoke only Welsh, and had it not been for a group of friends persuading him to join them at the annual meeting of Garndolbenmaen Baptist chapel, he might well never have learnt English. It was during the sermon that William Hughes felt he had a mission.

Due to single-minded pertinacity this incredible man became both educated and erudite, and with religious fervour he managed to find financial backing which enabled him to join the Baptist missionaries in the Congo. From then on there was no stopping his vision, though ill-health brought him home to north Wales. There in Colwyn Bay together with his wife Kate he set up Congo House and later, when funds allowed, the African Institute, where 87 African and American boys and girls received training in various disciplines which on their return to their country of origin were of immense benefit to their compatriots.

For about 20 years, though funding was always a difficulty, the Institute thrived; despite periodic discord the ebullient Hughes lived his dream. In 1908 an article in the Evening Standard records, Perhaps the last place in the world one would expect to find a colony of negroes would be North Wales. But at Colwyn Bay, under the shadow of the Great Orme, of the glorious Pwllycochran Woods, you may find a number of young man from tropical Africa, apprentices to a work which bids fair to revolutionise the Dark Continent... However the pendulum began to swing against Hughes and the Institute following a number of highly defamatory articles published in the periodical John Bull. Hughes brought a libel case, the outcome of which destroyed both the Institute and the man.