Joan TuckettMissionary and nurse.1835 to 1912January 18, 2023
James ChuteMissionary and nurse.1835 to 1912January 19, 2023
May Allen was born in London in 1835 to a religious family. As a child she moved to Shropshire when her father was appointed as Archdeacon of Salop.
Little is known of her early life but at 35 she trained at King's College Hospital to become a nurse, following after her sister Margaret.
When May was 40 years old in 1875 she joined the mission in Zanzibar. She had been inspired by a speech by Edward Steere, to become a missionary. Steere was the third Bishop of Central Africa, and spoke of the Universities Mission to Central Africa and the current state of the slave trade.
May was a vital staff member and her nursing training provided aid to the sick women and children who were rescued from the slave traders who still worked in Zanzibar.
She wrote frequently to her father and she provided a very detailed insight into the life of a Central African missionary:
"I have already had a black patient in my hospital, a released slave girl, belonging to the mission whose toe has been crushed. She is a very good patient and I hope is going on well. Today we have two black boys with bad legs, so we are beginning to work."
These letters from Zanzibar were published by her father, and were later used for the basis of Yoland Browns’ book Zanzibar: May Allen and the East African Slave Trade.
The former slave market
In the years 1807-1873 the slave market at Stone Town in Zanzibar was the largest of its kind in the world. Zanzibar was not part of the abolishment of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. It was only in 1873 that Sultan Barghash finally agreed to sign a treaty to stop the slave trade between Amman and Mozambique.
So 1875 the former slave market was bought by a wealthy missionary and this resulted in the foundation of the headquarters of the Universities Mission to Central Africa. A moving memorial unveiled in 1998 now stands on the site.
The abolition was a vital step in improving lives, as it meant that the efforts of the missionaries could now be solely spent on educating and healing. May is credited as translating parts of the bible into Swahili as part of her missionary work.
May spent 12 years in Africa and she then ventured to Palestine for 22 years. Finally in 1909 at 74, she returned to England and took up residency in Bristol.
It has been noted that Allen was related to the well-known Charles Darwin; known for his works The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Alongside Darwin, Allen was also known to be related to the Wedgwood families, who were known themselves to be against the slave trade so these influences may well have been part of her motivations
Sadly May Allen didn't spend much time in retirement as she was found unconscious in her room on 14 May 1912, and passed away four days later.
She was buried in Arnos Vale but her grave is in a very inaccessible area and cannot be visited.