Robert Pickering Ashe was born on 29 November 1857 in Witton, Blackburn, where his father, George Alexander Hamilton Ashe (born 29 May 1812) was Vicar. His father first married Mary Ogle and had three children – Isabella (Woods), George and Henry. After her death, his father married Mary Pickering, and she had five children, Mary, Ellen, Florence, William (who died young), and Robert. Mary died during the birth of Robert.
Robert Pickering Ashe was educated at Clitheroe Roral Grammar School and at Rossall School, in Lancashire. In 1874 he went to St. John’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained Deacon by Bishop Ryle in Liverpool Cathedral in 1880, and served his title at St. Michael’s Church, Liverpool, after which he was appointed to a Curacy at St. James’ Church, Clerkenwell, in London.
In 1882 he joined a group of CMS (Church Missionary Society) missionaries, and went to Uganda to join Alexander Mackay. On his first journey to Uganda, the party consisted of the Rev. James Hannington (later made Bishop, and murdered on the border of Uganda on 30 October 1885), the Rev. Cyril Gordon, Rev. Joseph Blackburn, Rev. Walter Edmonds, and Charles Wise, who was the only lay-man and trained as a tin-smith. The leader of the party was Charles Stokes.
Mackay wrote this verse:
Ashe Cyril and I
To build houses high
And lay out fine gardens begin;
While Wise, our lay brother
And strengthens the corners with tin.
The relationship between Alexander Mackay and Robert P. Ashe is perhaps best described in A. M. Mackay, Pioneer Missionary of the Church Missionary Society to Uganda by his sister, Alexina (Mackay) Harrison (1890):
In August 1886 Robert Ashe left Uganda to return to England to tell the story of the Mission and to ask for reinforcements. He set off on the 800 mile journey to the coast suffering from malaria, and at one point was so weak that he could not walk. They met a party of Arabs going inland who had a fine Muscat donkey. Ashe sent a message to them asking if he could buy the donkey. They wanted the equivalent of £30 in stores, of which they had none. He tore a page out of his notebook and wrote, “To the Bank at Zanzibar, Pay (and the Arab’s name) £30”, and signed it. One Arab was derisive, and refused the paper, but the other said, “Is he an Englishman?” When he heard that he was, he took the paper. So Robert Ashe got the donkey, and months later the Arabs returned to Zanzibar, and got their £30!
Back in England, he gave a number of talks on Uganda, and illustrated one of them with a map, which he used to illustrate an address on ‘Buganda’.
Shortly before his return to Uganda in 1887, he was presented with a pocket watch by the parishioners of St. Mark’s, Witton. For a time, he was alone with Mackay in Uganda, and then, in 1888, he went back to England, arriving on 25 December. During 1889 he wrote ‘Two Kings of Uganda’.
In 1890 came news of Mackay’s death, which he took as a summons to return to Uganda. In May 1891 CMS sent him, a party of five new missionaries, Wright, Greaves (who died of dysentery on the journey), Hubbard, Collins and Roscoe. They reached Uganda on 13 January 1892. He took with him a bicycle, which was a novelty in Africa at that time. His adventures on the bicycle, and its eventual fate, make interesting reading in Encounters with Lions.
On his return to England, he lived in Portishead, and wrote ‘Chronicles of Uganda’.
He married (1) Emma Lena Jackson in Portishead, and they had one son, Robert Henry Nicholas Ashe before her death in childbirth in 1895. Robert P. Ashe then took the Chaplaincy in Boudja, Smyrna, Turkey, where a thriving British Community attended All Saints Church. In 1899 he married (2) Edith Blackler, the daughter of Francis Chipman Blackler (of Marblehead Massachusetts, USA) and Annie Sophia Boucher Routh. They had five children: Oliver (1900), Mary (1902), William (1903), Ellen (1905) and Francis Patrick Bellesme (1915).
During the First World War, 1914 to 1918, they were interned, and although suffering great privations, they were well treated by the Turks. They were allowed to live in the Parsonage, and in their own Mill during the summer months. Some of the survivors of the Kut-el-Amara disaster in Mesopotamia went through Boudja, and Robert and Edith were able to help them. Robert H. N. Ashe served in the army and became a Lieutenant. The rest of the family was too young.
In 1921, Robert P. Ashe exchanged with Rev. Satchell, the Vicar of St. Wurburg’s, Bristol for one year, and then returned to Smyrna. In 1922, they were driven out by the Turkish uprising under Kemal Ataturk, and were taken on the Hospital Ship “Maine” to Malta, where they were refugees for many months in the Lazaretto. They returned for a short time to Smyrna, where they found all their property had been looted except for a case of silver hidden under the floor boards.
He was then made Chaplain to the British Community in Cartagena, Spain, where his daughter, Mary, married Arthur Trevor Mytton Poore.
In 1924, Robert P. Ashe retired to Croydon, Surrey, where Patrick went to Whitgift School. Ellen married Winthrop Buckingham, and they went to live in Tangier.
Robert Pickering Ashe died 29 May 1944, and is buried in Warlingham Churchyard in the Blackler – Ashe grave.