Rev John Henderson Soga was a Church of Scotland missionary in South Africa: he retired to Southampton in 1936 with his wife and daughter, 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 remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Register: Rev. John Henderson Soga, Isabella Soga, and William Anderson Soga, and buried in Hollybrook Cemetery.
John 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 …”
He 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 on the Warwick Castle 17 July 1936, settling where they had landed, in Southampton. There 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.


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