Chunchie, Kamal Athon

Born on 4 June 1886 in Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) into a Malayan Muslim family, he was educated at Kingswood College, Kandy and served in the police force in both Ceylon and Singapore. In World War I he enlisted in the public schools battalion of the 3rd Middlesex regiment, saw action in France and Salonica and became a Christian while in a convalescent camp in Malta. In 1921 he was employed by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to work (as a layman: he was not ordained) as a missionary among foreign seamen at the Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest in London's dockland. Combining evangelical and social work, in 1923 he launched Wesleyanism's first black Methodist church and Sunday School in a rented hall in Swanscombe Street, London and in 1926 was supported by the WaddiloveSri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) Trust in setting up the Coloured Men's Institute in Tidal Basin Road., West Ham.

Travelling widely throughout Britain to raise funds for its spiritual and material work, his rousing advocacy drew large audiences. But in WMMS circles he was criticized for winning converts through over-generosity and no successor to the Institute replaced it when it closed in 1930 because of road-widening. He and the Missionary Society did not part amicably, but his religious and philanthropic work continued, supported by his own fund-raising efforts and despite growing debts.

He played cricket for Essex and from 1935 to 1937 was vice-president of the League of Coloured Peoples. During World War II he was a volunteer fire-fighter in Lewisham. He died in hospital from a heart attack on 28 June 1953.

  • Correspondence in MMS Archives at SOAS
  • Oxford DNB