Starting a Building Society may not sound like something you’d expect a missionary to do, but this was one of the best things that Henry Clarke did for the people of Jamaica along with bringing them the Gospel.
Clarke (1828-1907) was born in Mansfield, attended the town’s grammar school, and was briefly a ‘pupil teacher’ at the Lincolnshire town of Coningsby. However he left England when he was 19 and spent most of his life in western Jamaica where he gained a reputation for fearless championing of the poor against the local elite. Eventually his brother Edward came out to join him, forming a little Mansfield colony in the Caribbean!
Clarke worked as a teacher and a preacher, becoming an Anglican clergyman although more Methodist by inclination. He rode around preaching, generally to black congregations, for whom he set up burial and sick clubs and even a savings bank. ‘My head is full of schemes for doing good,’ he wrote in 1854. He hoped to bring salvation to Jamaica by educating its children, but was rather mystified by the revival of 1860-1 which brought pentecostal scenes into his suddenly overflowing churches.
In 1874 he founded the Westmoreland Building Society that is now part of the Jamaica National Building Society. This may sound an odd thing for a missionary to do, but his focus was on improving the housing conditions of the poor.
Clarke also fancied himelf as a bit of an inventor although his designs for a new ‘aeriel screw’ for steamships did not attract much except derision! Maybe he should have concentrated on helicopters…..