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Wharton, Henry
1819-1873; e.m. 1842

WM missionary, born at St. George’s, Grenada, of mixed African, Caribbean and Scottish ancestry. His father was a Scottish sea captain and he was sent for six years to a boarding school in Glasgow. Back in Grenada, he entered on a commercial career and became actively involved in the local Wesleyan society. Encouraged by William Moister, in 1842 he was accepted as a candidate by the WM Missionary Society and served for two years in the Caribbean before accompanying Thomas Birch Freeman to West Africa to begin a long and successful ministry on the Gold Coast and the Ashanti Mission. He married a Ghanaian wife, a member of the Fante Akam royal family. In 1872 he was appointed District Chairman and General Suprintendent of the Mission, but died on 11 October 1873, debilitated by fever.

His son Arthur Wharton (1865-1930), thought to have been the world’s first black professional association football player, was born in Jamestown, Gold Coast. In 1882 he came to England to train as a missionary, but abandoned this for a full-time career in athletics and sport. In 1886 his time of 10 seconds flat in the 100 yards sprint at the AAA Championship at Stamford Bridge was recognised as a world record.

His career as a professional footballer, as goalkeeper and winger, began with Rotherham Town in 1889 and included Sheffield United, Stalybridge Rovers and Ashton-under-Lyne before his retirement in1902. During that period he experienced racial abuse and developed a drink problem. He later became a coal miner at Edlington and died a penniless alcoholic at Springfield House Sanatorium, Doncaster on 13 December 1930. For many years he was a forgotten figure in the history of English soccer; but in 2003 he was given a place in the English Football Hall of Fame at Manchester. In 2010 the Arthur Wharton Foundation was established ‘to promote cultural understanding and enhanced relations between different racial groups’.

Sources

  • William Moister, Memoir of the Rev. Henry Wharton (1875)
  • Phil Vasari, The First Black Footballer, Arthur Wharton (1998)

Category: Person

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