the online A-Z of Southampton's history.

Rev John Henderson Soga, 1860-1941

Image Unavailable


A link to the history of South Africa

Rev John Henderson Soga was a Church of Scotland missionary in South Africa: he retired to Southampton in 1936, and died here at 1 Twyford Road on 11 March 1941, in a bombing raid which also killed his wife Isabella and son William Anderson. (They are buried at Hollybrook Cemetery)
He was born in 1860, the son of Rev Tiyo Soga and his Scottish wife Janet Burnside Soga. His father had been the first black African to be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church, receiving his training at Glasgow University 1851-1856, and returning to South Africa in 1857 to serve among the Xhosa. He died in 1871.
John Henderson Soga and two of his brothers, William Anderson and Allan Kirkland went to school in Glasgow 1870-1877. His father had wanted his sons to study in Scotland as he had done. Before they left, he gave them a notebook entitled “The Inheritance of My Children,” where he wrote sixty-two short suggestions. One referred to their mixed race. “For your own sakes never appear ashamed that your father was a Kafir and that you inherit some African blood. It is every whit as good and as pure as that which flows in the veins of my fairer brethren …”
John was at Edinburgh University 1886-1890, and trained for the ministry 1890-1893, returning to South Africa as a missionary in 1893. He had married Isabella (Elizabeth) Brown, in Scotland and they had five children. Murray and Ella died young, but Janet, Richard Ross and William grew to adulthood and ended their lives in the UK.
“Like his father, he wrote Xhosa hymns and prayers, and translated the work of others into Xhosa. In 1924 he served on a committee to revise the Xhosa Bible, and in 1927 he published his translation of the second part of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Tiyo Soga had translated the first part in 1867, but his early death had prevented completion of the project. J .H. Soga also translated books on health and travel into Xhosa. His most widely known works are a history of the South Eastern Bantu, and an ethnography of the Xhosa. These works, especially the first, based on Xhosa oral traditions and testimony collected by Soga beginning in 1880, have lasting scholarly value.” (Dictionary of African Christian Biography)
John, Isabella and Janet returned to England for good in 1936, settling in Southampton, where they were joined by William, who, in 1939, was working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Janet served in the ATS, and was based at Bembridge Fort.
Although he was living quietly in Southampton at the time of his death, Rev John Henderson Soga was a member of an important and influential Black African family, boasting pioneering politicians, doctors, historians and lawyers and deserves to be remembered for his achievements.


Remembering the Southampton blitz day by day

See Air Raids, World War 2

20 and 21 September 1941
“Bombs which fell on a South Coast town on Saturday night ended a ten-weeks respite from air raids” (Southern Daily Echo 22 September 1941)
There were no fatalities, although Mrs Elizabeth Maud Summers, aged 66, died from a heart attack in her daughter’s air raid shelter at 48 Henry Road. Just two people were admitted to hospital. They were Mrs Vera Florence Stephens, whose parents lived at 15 Heatherdene Road, and who slipped down the steps of an air raid shelter and broke her arm; and Miss Joan Burt of 7 Nile Road, who was struck on the head by a piece of debris.
The bombs fell on Highfield, described vaguely as a “residential suburb which suffered in a previous raid.” “Demolition squads have been working for weeks pulling down the remains of damaged houses, and the bombs on Saturday night helped on their work.”
Special Constable Ennis Hugh Gudgeon and his wife Ada were in bed at 28 Omdurman Road, in a back downstairs room, when the alert sounded. “Next I heard a whizzing noise. My wife shouted ‘Cover your head!’ But before I could do anything the room seemed to collapse on us. The whole of the fireplace was blown into the room, masonry and plaster falling onto the bed… It was a marvel that neither my wife nor I was injured.”
Making their way to the garden shelter, they found their neighbour, Mrs Mavis G Forbes, already there. She had been alone at no. 26, which was wrecked. Mr and Mrs Finlay Munro Curror had moved away from no. 24 “only a few hours before the raid.”
Cecil Ebborn, of 18 Nile Road, had evacuated his wife and children. He slept in his garden Anderson shelter during the week, and visited them at the weekend. A bomb destroyed the shelter where he normally slept.
Frederick Stocker had only just been able to open his boot repair shop at 33 Highfield Lane, after a previous raid, only to be bombed out again. He nevertheless was still at the property in 1946.
And Harry Bush was watching “the searchlight and gunfire display” from his back door at 9 Chaplin Street, when he heard a whistling noise. “I felt as if a hammer had hit me on the back of the neck, and I was thrown to the ground. I got up, dazed but unscratched, and found the devil of a big crater at the bottom of the garden. the old place has been knocked about again, but you can tell my pals – and Hitler – that I’m not quitting!” The Echo calls him a “tough old fellow”: he was 67 years old.

Air Raid Warden William Thomas Bennett was killed at 2 Spring Cottage, Hardley, Hythe, when a stick of bombs was dropped “on a country village.”

July 2021

See this page for information about current library services and opening times.


Follow Southampton Cultural Services on Facebook at Southampton Stories

Look out for #ThrowbackThursday and #Maritime Monday on Southampton City Libraries Facebook page.

Have a look at the University of Southampton's Special Collections blogpost

Links to local history societies and other resources.

News and Events

Please note: due to Covid-19, events and activities may have been cancelled or postponed.

Bitterne Local History Society

City of Southampton Society

Millbrook Local History Society

West End Local History Society

Nursling and Rownhams History Group

Hampshire Genealogical Society

Getting Started

This is a community resource about Southampton's history and we very much welcome your participation.

Browse the site by clicking on one of the letters below, look at our list of themes or use the search box.

To make comments, contribute or suggest amendments/improvements go to the Contact page.

Sotonopedia last updated 8 October 2021

Browse A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y-Z