Watkins, Owen
1842-1915; e.m. 1864

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WM minister, born at Worsley, near Manchester on 17 July 1842. He trained at Richmond College, but was prevented from missionary service for medical reasons. After a later illness doctors advised the South African climate and after four years in Pietermaritzburg he was designated Chairman of the Transvaal and Swaziland District in 1880. He purchased several mission farms, including Kilnerton where a major training institution was later established. He organized the African evangelists who had independently begun Methodist work in Transvaal, and pastoral care for the white communities drawn to the Witwatersrand by the discovery of gold. In 1891 he and Isaac Shimmin followed Cecil Rhodes' pioneer column to Mashonaland (the infant Rhodesia), where he obtained three mission farms and other property. He was invalided back to Britain after walking 200 miles to the coast at Beira. He died on 22 December 1915.

His son Owen Spencer Watkins CMG, CBE (1873-1957; e.m. 1896), born at Portsmouth on 28 February 1873, was educated at Kingswood School and Richmond College. He followed in his father's footsteps in a distinguished career as an Army chaplain in Africa, took part in the memorial service to General Gordon at Khartoum and served in the Boer Wars and in World War I in both France and Italy, reaching the rank of Brigadier-general. As Principal Chaplain in Italy he was granted diplomatic audience with the Pope and in 1925 became the first Nonconformist minister to be appointed Honorary Chaplain to the King. As honorary secretary to the Kingswood governors, he co-operated closely with H.A. Wootton as headmaster in introducing a number of improvements.

His books include With Kitchener's Army ( 1899), Chaplains at the Front (1901), Soldiers and Preachers Too (1906, an account of Methodism in the army), and With French in France and Flanders (1915). He died on 9 January 1957.

  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924), vol. 4
  • Methodist Recorder, 23 Dec. 1915; 9 Jan 1957
  • Peter J. Howson, 'Owen Spencer Watkins: a forgotten Wesleyan celebrity' in Journal of the London and the South East Wesley Historical Society, 85, Summer 2015, pp.1-12