The Travelling Theatrical Artist from Blackham
Was John Nitje the second black South African to live in Blackham?
For many years it was thought that ‘Black John’ as he was affectionately known,
was the first to make the journey from the South Africa to the village but now it
seems Henry Francis Seniora Johnson did it earlier, albeit he didn’t stay around
as long as John.
Susie Price, who lives in Macclesfield, was researching her family tree and
discovered that her great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Harriet Mills, married
Henry and they had a son, William who was born in Blackham in 1886 and
christened in Withyham Church. Henry’s occupation is given as ‘Travelling
The 1871 and 1881 census for Blackham include William and Elizabeth Mills
and at the latter date they have two granddaughters living with them Elizabeth,
who later married Henry, and Harriet.
Susie explains: “I am wondering if Elizabeth’s parents – John Mills b 1849 in
Withyham and Mary Ann, nee Furnell. Born in 1850 in Shoreham – were part of
the travelling theatre too as I cannot find them in any census.
“They married on Christmas Day in 1867 at St Michael’s, Withyham, when Mary
Ann would have been about two months pregnant with Elizabeth. They had three
children, Elizabeth, Harriet and Arthur.”
Henry and Elizabeth Johnson’s son William married Ethel Monk in July 1911 by
which time he was living in Macclesfield.
Susie concludes: “A family member told me that Henry died aged 44 in 1912 and
is buried in a pauper’s grave in Manchester, and that Elizabeth remarried in 1919
in Macclesfield although this is unconfirmed as I cannot find that information at
If anyone can throw any light on Henry Johnson and his travelling theatrical
company, please email me.
Henry Francis Seniora Johnson