John William Arthur, OBE, lived from 1881 to 1952. He was a church minister and a missionary in British East Africa, now known as Kenya. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Arthur was born in Glasgow, the son of a businessman with strong religious convictions. He attended Glasgow Academy before becoming a student at the University of Glasgow. He gained his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1903 and then graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1906. In January 1907 Arthur became a medical missionary at the Kikuyu Mission, British East Africa. He quickly established himself and was given the Kikuyu tribal name Rigitari "the happy warrior". Arthur became head of the mission in 1911 and continued in that role until 1937.
Arthur was ordained as a minister in the Church of Scotland in 1915. As a missionary he was highly successful. When he arrived there were no baptised Christians among the Kikuyu people, whereas there were some 11,000 when he left in 1937. A notable achievement was the building of the Church of the Torch between 1927-1933. An early member of the congregation was the future president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta.
During the First World War, Arthur first opposed conscription, then when it was inevitable organised the Kikuyu Mission Volunteer Carrier Corps for service in German East Africa. He became its commanding officer, and in 1920 was awarded the OBE for his wartime services. Arthur was married in 1921 and subsequently worked to reform colonial rule in British East Africa. He successfully persuaded the British Government to open up education at all levels to Africans, and then worked with other missionaries to launch the Alliance High School, run by the Alliance of Protestant Missions. A keen mountaineer and athlete, Arthur served as president of the Mountain Club of East Africa.
From 1929, John Arthur became a vociferous opponent to Female Genital Mutilation, a practice then endemic among the Kikuyu. He was perhaps ahead of his time, because his stance alienated many of the Kikuyu he had previously worked with, and for a time the Church of Scotland lost half of its Kikuyu members to independent African churches. Arthur nonetheless continued to work with zeal, focusing particularly on developing African church ministers, so missionaries would no longer be needed.
Arthur returned to Britain in 1937, becoming minister of the Parish of Dunbog in Fife and later chaplain to the Astley-Ainslie Hospital in Edinburgh. He was made an honorary Doctor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews in 1946 and was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He died in Edinburgh in 1952.