Reading a post on the Scunthorpe Memories Facebook website group page about the commotion cause in the early half of last century when a local woman married a former African slave spurred me to do a bit of research into it.
I’d heard bits of the story, which has been passed on from generation to generation over the years, with the story getting somewhat fudged with time. The more I read into the story the more I was intrigued but more so by the man himself.
He was called Hatashil Masha Kathish (below) and it was his marriage to widowed Eliza Holden which caused quite a stir.
Articles which date from 1913, report the wedding in a language which would not be deemed appropriate or politically correct today.
“The union of two persons of different races, one a negro and the other a thoroughly English ‘white lady’, always causes a great amount of interest to be taken in the event; and this was especially so in Scunthorpe yesterday, when a negro was married to and English lady; the ceremony taking place at the Centenary Church on Frodingham Road, a crowd of about one thousand persons assembling in the street, composed chiefly of women pushing their perambulators.”
“The bridegroom was Hatashil Masha Kathish but he is not known by that name among his English acquaintances, who prefer to call him ‘Mr. Wilson’. He is a typical example of the black race, broad shouldered, somewhat stout and with a fine set of beautiful white teeth.”
“A native of the Soudan, he was but a child when he was captured and taken as a slave, and during that period he certainly tasted the bitterness of life, but through the instrumentality of General Gordon he was released in the year 1879.”
“Wandering from his native parts he found himself in Uganda, but there he fell into good company, entering the employ of the Church of England missionaries who eventually sent him to England as a missionary and it is now 33 years since he set foot upon this island of ours. Faithful to the convictions instilled into him by the missionaries in Uganda, he commence his work in this country, and in the course of time he came to Scunthorpe, where he took charge of the Bethel Free Mission, but the financial resources of this becoming exhausted, it fell through.”
Bethel Free Mission on corner of Gilliatt St & High St
Other newspapers at the time also have unpolitically correct headlines reading;
‘Black Mates White’ and ‘Black Prince Marries White Woman’
Reports go on to say,
“Police mingled with the crowd, obviously expecting trouble, but there was none. The bride and groom arrived in a taxi, the bride dressed in Quaker grey trimmed with cream lace with matching hat. Her bridesmaids were Miss Florrie Holden, her daughter, and Miss Polly Heald; they wore champagne coloured-dresses and hats trimmed in pale blue. The best man was William Challenger, a missioner from the United Methodist Church at Hoyland, near Barnsley.”
“The tremendous interest aroused by this wedding was partly the result of the obvious disparities in the match, Mr Wilson was African, tall and very black; Mrs Holden was English, white and dainty. Even in her extravagant wedding hat she barely reached his shoulders.”
Eliza and Salim
Further information reveals Hatashil Masha Kathish was baptised on 28th August 1882, taking the name Salim Charles Wilson.
Salim Wilson recorded his own history in a book titled ‘Jehovah-Nissi, The Life Story of Hatashil Masha Kathish of the Dinka Tribe, Soudan. There is also another book called From Slavery to Mission which recounts the life of Salim Wilson.
He trained as a missionary at Cliff College, Derbyshire. He left college in June 1886 and then worked at the YMCA in London before going on a mission to Africa.
He returned to England and worked for some time in Wakefield and Barnsley, he began work as an itinerant jeweller and in 1910 moved to Scunthorpe as an evangelist at Miss Gutcher’s Bethel Free Mission on Gilliatt Street. He lodged with widow Eliza Holden of 45 Burke Street and became a member of the Primitive Methodist Church on Frodingham Road, now the Centenary, and became a lay preacher.
He also built houses on Frodingham Road with number 246 being called Kathish Villas. It had a shop underneath and was kept for his own use. Another house was called Gordon Villas after his hero General Gordon who had freed him from slavery. Salim kept an allotment on Normanby Road and kept around 40 pigs. He sold the meat at his shop and also in Scunthorpe market where he had a stall.
He was reputedly the first black man in Scunthorpe, he was said be a warm caring man of keen intelligence and brimming with fun, and in 1933 Salim took part in the Wilberforce Centenary celebrations in Hull.
Salim Wilson died in January 1946 aged 86, his wife just over 4 years earlier in November 1941, they are both buried in Crosby Cemetery.
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