Mr William FosterJohn, Kenfig Hill (1864-1935)

The following is a story of a Kenfig Hill man who became the Second Manager & Sub-Missionary of the Buenos Aires Sailors' Home and Mission in South America in 1894. There's also a brief background of this British Institution that was founded in 1885 along with a truly remarkable story of the gentleman's life kindly provided by his Great Grandson, Mr Andy FosterJohn of Kenfig Hill.

Success of a Kenfig Hill boy in South America

Mr Foster John of Kenfig Hill, who went out to Argentine four years ago has been appointed Manager and Sub-Missionary of the Buenos Ayres Sailors' Home and Mission out of a large number of applicants.

This has necessitated Mr John's departure from Campania where he has taken an active part in Band of Hope and Sunday School Work and at a recent concert there, occasion was taken to make him a presentation.

The Buenos Ayres Herald gives the following account of the event: A pleasant break was here made in the programme by the President, Mr H. Martin who said that he availed himself of that opportunity to introduce an unrehearsed piece, a piece in which they were all interested, and one to which they were looking forward - but the person most interested in it was entirely ignorant.

The piece he referred to was the leather writing case which they saw he was carrying in his hand and the person was Mr Wm. Foster John whom he was glad to see amongst them once more, though it was only for two days.

He was glad of this opportunity of publicly presenting him with a small token of the affection and esteem in which he had always been held by them during the four years in which he had been associated with them in Campania before he was called away to take the management of the Sailors' Home, Buenos Ayres.

Mr Martin then read a short address to Mr Foster John, concluding by calling upon him to come forward and accept the gift in the name of the Campania Band of Hope and Sunday School.

Mr Foster John though taken completely by surprise by this to him, unexpected mark of esteem from his Campania friends, stepped upon the platform and replied in a few appropriate and well turned sentences, at the conclusion of which he was heartily applauded.

Extract from: Glamorgan Gazette - Friday April 27, 1894

The Buenos Ayres Sailors' Home & Harbour Mission

Habitated in the Victoria Sailors' Home was like many other British Institutions - The Buenos Aryes Sailors' Home had its origin in 'small things'.

Antiguo Hôtel de Inmigrantes–Buenos Aires, c. 1900

In 1885, a small group of religious men started a regular Sunday afternoon service for the seamen whose ships were lying in the Boca. A few years later, Mr James McGowan began an agitation through the English press for something more tangible.

As a result of the interst aroused, the Revs. J.W. Fleming, Pelham Ogle, and J.H. Stockton met at the home of the last-named gentleman to see what could be done.

It was resolved, that as Mr Fleming was about to leave on vacation, he should visit the Rev. E.W. Mathhews, of the British and Foreign Sailors' Friendly Society of London, and lay the facts before the society. The result of this was a visit to this city by Mr Matthews. Many of the senior businessmen still remember how this white-haired veteran hustled round the city pleading the cause of the sailors.

At the instigation of Mr Matthews, a public meeting was called on Friday June 2nd at the La France Hall.

The chair was taken by H.B.M. Minister the Hon. Francis Pakenham. At that meeting the first Sailors' Home Committee was appointed which consisted of the following gentlemen: Mr T.S. Boadle, Chairman; Rev. J.W. Fleming, Secretary; Don Juan Drysdale, Treasurer; Revs. Pelham Ogle, J.H. Stockton; Messrs. Ronald Bridgett, H.B.M. Consul; S.A. Christopherson, Swedish & Norwegian Consul; P. Christopherson, Danish Consul; E.L. Baker, USA Consul; C. Ferrio, German Consul; L.Van Riet, Dutch Minister; C. Marriott VVoodgate and W. Higgins.

This committee issued an appeal for funds with the result that 1.42 gold and ,200.65 paper was raised.

This encouraged, the Committee rented premises situated in Calle Pedro Mendoz.i, corner of La Madrid, in the Boca, and on Monday January 26th 1891, opened to the seamen of the world the international, interdenominational Buenos Aires Sailors' Home.

At the opening ceremony Mr T.S. Boadle presided, the Rev. J.W. Fleming read the committee's report and Mr E.E. Cordner moved the adoption of the same.

The first Missionary-Manager of the Home was Mr P.J. Walker who served till 1893, when Mr Foster John took charge.

He was followed by Mr G. Chamberlain in 1898 who resigned in 1901 when Mr Henry F. Fellows was appointed.

From the foundation of the work the Committee had always seen the absolute necessity of possessing their own building. In 1895 they petitioned Congress for land on which to build. Owing chiefly to the work of Rear-Admiral Howard and Seftor Ricardo Pillado, the Sailors' Home Land Committee and the earnes advocating through the press of Mr E.T. Mulhall, the land on which the Victoria Sailors' Home now stands was granted. In the whole stretch of shipping a more suitable spot could not be found.

The year 1897 was the most fruitful on record for philanthropic work. In that year illustrious Victoria completed her sixieth year as Queen. The Britishers of the River Plate met to discuss how that year could be perpetuated.

At an adjourned meeting held at Prince George's Hall on May 6th the following resolution was unanimously agreed to: "That as a permanent memorial of the auspicious event, a Sailors' Home for the Port of Beunos Aires be built."

A committee was appointed to carry out this resolution consisting of the following gentlemen:The Hon. W.A.C. Barrington (Sir W.A.C. Barrington, K.C.M.G); Rev. J.W. Fleming, B.D.; Messrs A. Mackintosh, J.C. Zimmerman, R.O. Watson, J.F. Roberts, T.S. Boadle.

To this number were added at different times: Messrs R. Inglis Runciman, H.C. Thompson, John Russell, T.M. Mills, Wm Mulhall, Juan Drysdale, Wm Warden, John Dunn, Patrick Ham, Ronald Bridgett, F. Barrow, C.W. Mills and E.A. Merry.

Although it was five years from the above date the Victoria Home was opened to Sailors, the Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer Sir W.A.C. Barrington, Rev. J.W. Fleming and Mr R. Inglis Runciman respectively retained their position untl they had the pleasure of seeing their work successfully accomplished.

The building as it now stands cost some ,000. It was opened by President Roca on April 16th 1902.

Not the least interesting part of the programme being the unveiling of a magnificent portrait of Her Majesty, the late Queen Victoria, a gift from Her Majesty to the Victoria Sailors' Home through the British and Foreign Sailors' Friend Society.

Needless to say, since the opening of the new building the work of the B.A. Sailors' Home and Mission has increased tenfold. Concerts and Socials which are now so popular with the Seamen, originated with the new Home. Every night since its opening the bed-space has been taxed to the utmost. The number of Seamen who have boarded there until a berth has been procured has considerably increased. The religious side of the work has also benefited.

To such an extent is this the case that it is doubtful if a better attended or heartier English Service could be found in the City than the Sunday Evening Service at the Home. The Home publication, Fore and Aft, a readible, chatty paper of 20 pages, performs a useful mission. The annual Seamen's Picnic is a great feature.

Last New Year's day no less than 1400 Seamen spent the whole day in the country. The following figures give some idea of the work of the Home. Since the Home was founded until May 1st 1909, some 17,000 men have entered as paying boarders. For the vast majority of these employment has been found.

Since the inauguration of the present Home 48,000 free meals and 13,600 free beds have been given to aged and decent Seamen. The Home is visited by some 2000 Seamen every month. Thousands of books are collected and distributed.

Yet withal the Home is still able to carry out the ideal of the present Management, that any genuine Seaman of any Nationality or Creed in need of a helping hand will most surely find one, at any hour of the day or night.

The address of the Sailors' Home or to give its official name, "The Buenos Aires Sailors' Home and Mission" is called Independencia 20, between Docks 1 & 2.

Source: Internet Archive, San Francisco, US

Image Courtesy: Jeremy Howat, British Settlers in Argentina & Uruguay -

Further Reading

The Misson to Seafarers -

Buenos Ayres (Wikipedia) -

Internet Arcive, San Francisco, US -

William John:
Kenfig Hill Boy Goes To South America.

My Great Grandfather, was born William John, in Kenfig Hill in 1864 and died William Fosterjohn in Nottingham in 1935. He had a few adventures in between, not least, changing his surname.

William Fosterjohn, seated right, arms folded

William was born in Kenfig Hill, in the parish of Tythgeston on 16th September 1864, to parents William and Catherine John, both born in Pyle. William John senior was a grocer and draper, and Senior Deacon of the Moriah Calvanistic Methodist Chapel in Kenfig Hill. Catherine's maiden name was also John.

Queen Victoria was on the throne, the American Civil War was in full flow, and overarm bowling had just been legalized in cricket.

A sixteen year old William John junior was listed in the 1881 census as a pupil teacher, and went on to become a school teacher, his last known appointment being at Glyncorrwg, where he lodged with his elder sister, Jane and her husband, at number 1, Cavell Street.

The 1881 census also shows that William had at least four siblings; Jane, Evan, Mary and Jenkin.

As a young man, William fell out with his Father, either over religion, or his further education, and subsequently emigrated to South America at the age of 25, with the intention of becoming a missionary among the indigenous tribes. The passenger list of the ship he sailed on in 1890, listed his occupation as a farmer, rather than teacher.

Initially, as reported in the Glamorgan Gazette, he worked for the Campania Band of Hope and Sunday School. The Band of Hope was a Methodist temperance organisation, devoted to teaching children and young people the 'evils of drink.' Campana was a small port town, north west of Buenos Aires, and in the early 1890s would have been a fairly rough and ready place. Campania was a region in Italy, which which many of the original inhabitants of the town came.

He then moved to Buenos Aires and in 1893 found work as a Missionary-Manager at the Seaman's Mission, where he stayed for five years. In Buenos Aires he met and married Daisy Gibbs, whose family had emigrated to Argentina from Southampton. They married at St. Andrew’s Scots Presbyterian Church in September 1894 and lived at The Seaman's Mission, 791 Pedro Mendoza, Boca, Buenos Aires. This was right on the dockside, and would have been a busy and bustling place at that time. It's now a six lane highway.

The Glamorgan Gazette of April 1894, refers to William as Mr Foster John. When he got married in September of that year, his name was listed as William Fosterjohn. The report on the setting up of the Seaman's Mission during the 1880s and 1890s, in Mitchell's Standard Guide to Buenos Aires, published in 1909, also lists him as Mr Fosterjohn.

Their first child was born in Buenos Aires, but in 1898 the family moved to neighbouring Paraguay, where they had three more children, including my Dad's Father Cyril. My Dad always told my brother and I that we were eligible to play football for Paraguay. In Paraguay William Fosterjohn worked as a missionary with the indigenous Lengua peoples, of the Chaco region, but also acquired a large cattle ranch or estancia, with over 5,000 head of cattle.

In due course it was decided that the growing family should return to England, in order that the children could receive an education, as there was little in the way of educational facilities in Paraguay at that time. The ranch was sold, realising a considerable sum of money. The family returned to England on the TSS Rimutaka, from New Zealand, embarking from Montevideo, and landing in Plymouth in September 1903.

Initially the family settled in Plymouth, where one of Daisy's sisters, Clara, ran a hotel, and the family lodged there for a while, whilst William sought business opportunities back in England. A fifth child born here died in infancy.

The Plymouth Museum has nearly 600 items from Central and South America, of which the 50-plus objects collected by William Fosterjohn, from the Lengua people of Paraguay between 1899 and 1903 are deemed to be of 'major importance', and are referred to as 'The William Fosterjohn Collection.'

Relatives state that William was eager to get into business at the earliest possible opportunity, and against the advice of his brother in law, he then invested most of his capital in a laundry business in Derby, to where the family moved. Another child was born in Derby, but unfortunately the laundry did so badly that within a few years the bulk of the family fortune was lost, and William had to sell up and move to Nottingham.

A newspaper business was established close to Nottingham City Centre, and after another false start, and a change of premises, this did eventually flourish, and remained in the family for many decades. Eventually it was taken over by Herbert George Fosterjohn, one of William's sons, and my Dad's Uncle George, who carried on the business until retirement.

n addition to the newspaper shop William Fosterjohn found employment with Boots the Chemist and subsequently was in change of the postal department at Station Street, Boots' Nottingham head office. William's wife, Daisy took over the running of the newsagents.

William and Daisy had a further two children in Nottingham, making a grand total of nine.

William Fosterjohn died on 24 October 1935 and is buried in the family grave at Wilford Hill cemetery in Nottingham. Daisy Fosterjohn died on April 3 1949 and was buried with William. My Dad Gordon was born in 1929, the son of Cyril, William's eldest son, and as a child remembered his grandfather as being very religious, strict and somewhat scary.

As a footnote, Leslie Fosterjohn, my great uncle, moved to Swansea in 1963, and in 1970, changed his surname back to John by Deed Poll, thus bringing the story full circle.

Mr William FosterJohn (1864-1935) - A Family Tribute

Information and photograph provided courtesy & copyright © Andy FosterJohn, 2016.

website researcher/author: Copyright © Rob Bowen, Local Community Group, 2016 Source: Mitchell's standard guide to Buenos Aires, Internet Archive, San Francisco, US; Bridgend Library & Information Services; National Library of Wales, 'Welsh Newspapers Online' (; British Settlers in Argentina & Uruguay (; Andy FosterJohn, Kenfig Hill

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