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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 PCE
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Date(s): Created 1842-1972
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: 247 boxes
Name of creator(s): Presbyterian Church of England | Foreign Missions Committee
English Presbyterian Mission


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Presbyterian Church of England (PCE) Foreign Missions Committee, or the English Presbyterian Mission, was established in 1843, as one of the first committees of the reconstituted Presbyterian Church. It resolved at its Synod to 'institute foreign missions in connection with this Church as speedily as possible'; however, the first missionary was not appointed until 1847. China was chosen as the first mission field for the English Presbyterian Mission, due in part to the interest engendered by the Opium Wars and in part to the fact that the Free Church of Scotland were unable to set up a Presbyterian mission in China at that time. In 1847 William Burns was appointed, and worked firstly in Hong Kong, moving on to Amoy in 1850.

The first mission field for the English Presbyterian Mission was Amoy (South Fukien) established by Burns and Dr James Young. Work was extended to the Swatow (Lingtung) area of East Shandong. George Smith was the first permanent PCE missionary in the area from 1858, and the Swatow Mission Hospital was established in 1863, while the Women's Missionary Association was founded in 1878. The mission field in China was further extended inland with the establishment of the Hakka mission in 1879.

Work began in Formosa (Taiwan) in 1865, and it was quickly designated as a children's field. Medical and education work was carried out by missionaries Dr Maxwell and Thomas Barclay, the latter founding the Tainan Theological College. The growing power of Japan in the 1930s led to a reduction of PCE staff in Formosa, and missionaries finally withdrew in 1940. In the post-war period however the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan was able to recover, and the relationship between the Church and PCE has undergone profound change.

Whereas the Formosa mission extended out from Amoy, the extension of PCE mission work to the Singapore and Malaysia field was as a response to calls from missionaries in the Swatow and Hakka fields, and from the expatriate Presbyterian congregation of Orchard Road, Singapore. John Bethune Cook began work in the area in 1881, and retired in 1925. The fall of Singapore and the Japanese occupation effectively ended the PCE mission, a small number of missionaries were interned and the Church cut off from mission support. In the period of ecumenical change following the War, PCE missionaries worked primarily at a congregational level and in local schools.

The withdrawl of the PCE from China, as for other missionary societies, is also a phenomenon of the post-war period. Despite the optimistic attempts to re-establish the missions after the Japanese occupation, the situation became increasingly difficult and the PCE, along with other missionary societies, withdrew from China between 1949 and 1953.

Work of the English Presbyterian mission was not confined to East and South East Asia, and in 1862, a mission was established at in the district of Rajshahi, Bengal, India (now Bangladesh). The mission was started by Rev. Behari Lal Singh who was an agent of the Free Church of Scotland's mission in Calcutta. The first English Presbyterian missionary Dr Donald Morison arrived three years after his death in 1878. Medical and educational work was carried out, with limited successes, and the mission was both understaffed and often in danger of being closed down. In the period after the partition of India in 1947, the mission increased its staffing and developed a hospital, nursing school and Girls High School. Work was also carried out among the Santal tribal people. However, the civil war between East and West Pakistan, which led to the establishment of Bangladesh in the 1960s, affected the mission field, which is now the Rajshahi deanery of the Church of Bangladesh.

In 1972 the Presbyterian Church of England joined with the Congregational Church in England and Wales, a constituent body of the Council of the Congregational Council for World Mission, to form the United Reformed Church. The CCWM changed its name to the Council for World Mission as a result of the inclusion of both Congregational and Reformed members. In 1981 the URC joined together with the Re-formed Churches of Christ.

Further information on the history of the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee can be found in the following works: Edward Band, Working His Purpose Out: the history of the English Presbyterian Mission 1847-1947 (London, 1948); Reginald Fenn, Working God's Purpose Out 1947-1972 (London, 1997); George Hood, Pilgrims in Mission: Celebrating 150 years of the English Presbyterian Mission (Alnwick, 1998); George Hood, Neither bang nor whimper: the end of a missionary era in China (Singapore, 1991).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records, 1842-1972, of the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee (or English Presbyterian Mission), comprising:
Home Office (central administration) papers, consisting of general correspondence, including minutes and office copies of material, Finance Committee papers, including minutes, 1920-1937, files of correspondence and reports with Internal and External Organisations, and annual field reports from missionaries overseas;
Overseas papers from the various mission fields, consisting of general correspondence and reports, field reports and correspondence from individuals, and reports concerning particular hospitals, schools and Institutions;
Women's Missionary Association papers;
publications, other printed materials, and some photographic material.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The papers in the main series are arranged into Foreign Missions Committee and Women's Missionary Association papers. The first deposit of FMC material is series I, and there are subsequent deposits of series I additional, series II, series III and series IV. There is some Women's Missionary Association material in the series I additional deposit.

The FMC papers are divided into overseas material, which relates to the foreign mission fields, and home materials which relate to the administration of the FMC headquarters.

The overseas papers are divided geographically into six mission fields - Formosa, South Fukien, Hakka, Lingtung (Swatow), Malaya, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and China. The latter covers material which is common to more than one of the China mission fields. In each geographical section, the material is sub-divided into the main divisions of General Correspondence, Individuals, Photographs and Print.

The home material is divided into a main division of letters, minutes, reports, which include office copies. Other divisions are Finance, Individuals, Organisations, Photographs and Print.

Conditions governing access:

Material less than 30 years old is unavailable for consultation.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Unpublished handlists to each series. A description of the records of the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee Women's Missionary Association is also available online.

Archival Information

Archival history:

During the Second World War the offices of the Presbyterian Church of England in London were damaged and much of the 19th century materials were destroyed.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan by the United Reformed Church in 1982.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies also holds records of the Council for World Mission (Ref: CWM).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
15 May 2000

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