According to Canon Hammond, John William Colenso was born on 24th January 1814 at what is said to be to now 7 High Cross St, St Austell. He died in Natal 20 June 1883. Colenso, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge, became a maths tutor at Harrow School in 1839. Colenso, who was an Anglican, became rector of Forncett St Mary, Norfolk in 1846, and in 1853 he was recruited by the Bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, to be the first Anglican Bishop of Natal (an area in the southeast of South Africa).
Colenso was a significant writer in South Africa; bringing a printing press to his missionary station in Natal. He published the first book on Zulu Grammar (the Zulus are a native African tribe in South Africa) as well as the first Zulu/English dictionary. While in South Africa, Colenso travelled through Zululand and met with their king, Mpande. He also translated the New Testament and
various portions of Scripture into Zulu. Colenso was also a strong advocate for native African rights in Natal and Zululand, who were unjustly treated by the colonial regime. For his work in defence of these people, Colenso was known as Sobantu (Father of the People). After his death in 1883 his daughters continued his work supporting the Zulu cause as well as that of the organisation which would later be known as the African National Congress, one of whose most famous leaders was Nelson Mandela, who are now the ruling party in South Africa. Colenso was depicted by Freddie Jones in the 1979 war film Zulu Dawn which was the prequel to the famous 1964 Michael Caine film, Zulu.
Colenso was also a famous theologian, and though he courted with controversy – in 1855 his publication Proper Treatment of Polygamy¬ he called for tolerance of polygamy – his career is thought by many to be a precursor for the Liberation Theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to the liberation from unjust economic, political or social conditions.