Hannah Kilham (born Hannah Spurr) was brought up in Sheffield. She became a member of the Society of Friends in 1803. She first came to live in Tottenham in 1820.
In 1820 she persuaded a group of friends from Tottenham to go with her down to the River Thames where a ship had arrived from the Gambian coast. She wanted to find out if there were any who might be prepared to remain in England and help her transcribe their own languages for the first time. Two of them, Sandanee and Mahmadee, agreed to stay and Tottenham Friends raised money for board and lodgings. Hannah wanted to teach them English and in return get them to teach her Walof and Mandingo. Hannah wanted to write the languages down for the first time, produce dictionaries, grammar books and school books in those languages. The ultimate plan was for the two men to set up schools in Gambia.
Visit to the Gambia
In Autumn 1823 Hannah, Sandanee and Mahmadee sailed for the Gambia. With some teething troubles, the party settled in Bathurst, Gambia. Mahmadee and Sandanee were unsettled by their return to Africa and there were some initial difficulties; Hannah had done much work on Walof while the local language was Mandingo.
Hannah was back in London within a year. She learnt some more languages and sailed for Sierra Leone, where although she was often sick, she set up many schools. She died on a sea voyage to Sierra Leone after a visit to Liberia in March 1832, aged 58.