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Williams, John

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CWM/LMS South Seas Personal Box 2
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Full title: Williams, John
Date(s): 1807-1962
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1 box
Name of creator(s): Williams | John | 1796-1839 | missionary


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born at Tottenham High Cross, London, England, 1796; son of John Williams by the daughter of James Maidmeet; educated at a school in Lower Edmonton; apprenticed to an ironmonger, 1810; his piety in early youth waned until he became a member of the Tabernacle chapel, City Road, Moorfields, London, 1814; appointed London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary to the South Seas, ordained at Surrey Chapel, married Mary Chauner (d 1852), and started his journey to the South Pacific via Sydney, 1816; arrived at Moorea, 1817; travelled from Moorea to Huahine, 1818; frustrated by existing LMS practices, moved to Raiatea and, encouraged by the island's chief, Tamatoa, helped to start a mission there, 1818; Williams was anxious to reach inhabitants of the other scattered islands, but the LMS directors were critical of his schemes; sailed to Sydney to obtain medical advice for his wife and while there purchased a schooner, the Endeavour, for missionary work, 1821; returned to Raiatea, 1822; travelled to the Hervey Islands and introduced Christianity there, 1823; visited the islands of Rurutu and Rimatara, 1823; plans to reach the more distant islands were thwarted by financial constraints which forced Williams to dispose of the Endeavour; sailed to Raratonga, in the southern Cook Islands, 1827; translated part of the Bible into Rarotongan; while there, built the Messenger of Peace, in which he returned to Raiatea, 1828; visited Rurutu and Rimatara, 1828-1829; set out in the Messenger of Peace to visit the Hervey and Samoan Islands, 1830; proceeded to the Friendly Islands (Tonga) and made arrangements with Wesleyan missionaries there regarding the division of missionary labour; settled eight teachers in Samoa and returned to Raiatea, 1830; sailed for Rarotonga, intending to revise the Rarotongan version of the New Testament, and visited the Hervey Islands, 1831; following a hurricane in Rarotonga, visited Tahiti to obtain supplies, visited Raiatea, and returned to Rarotonga, 1832; visited Samoa, Keppel's Island, and proceeded to Rarotonga via the Friendly Islands, where the Messenger of Peace was repaired, 1832-1833; having completed the revision of the Rarotongan New Testament, spent time in Tahiti, Rarotonga, and Raiatea, 1833; sailed from Tahiti for England, 1834; superintended publication of the Rarotonga New Testament by the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1835; his public addresses and appeal raised mission funds and a vessel for work among the islands, the Camden, was purchased and fitted out; his published account of his work stimulated public interest, 1837; sailed to Rarotonga via Sydney and Samoa, 1838-1839; proceeded to Tahiti, Moorea, Huahina, Raiatea and other islands, travelled from Rarotonga via Aitutaki to Samoa, and founded a mission station at Fasitoouta, Upolu, 1839; visited Rotuma and Tanna in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and proceeded to Erromanga, where his party was attacked and two of them, including Williams, killed, 1839; their remains were subsequently partially recovered and taken to Upolu for burial; his wife returned from Samoa to England, 1841-1842; father of Samuel Williams and John Chauner Williams. Publication: Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands (1837 and later editions). Due to his fate Williams became a legend and inspiration for missionaries and a series of seven LMS mission ships were named John Williams.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers, 1807-1962, of and relating to John Williams and his family, comprising letters and papers of John Williams, c1816-1839, the recipients including his parents and his son Samuel; letters and draft letters of John Williams, 1837, chiefly concerning his Narrative of Missionary Enterprises; his copy of The works of Horace (translated by Philip Francis, London, 1807); correspondence and papers of John C Williams and his wife, 1837-1845; letter from Mary Williams to the Rev Timothy East, 1846; glass negatives of the Rev Samuel Williams and his wife, undated; papers relating to John Williams, 1838-1930, mainly biographical information; photographs and engravings of people and places connected with John Williams; genealogical charts of the Williams family, undated; correspondence and papers, 1867-1962, concerning John Williams's descendants and commemorative events.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

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

Finding aids:

Unpublished handlist to file level.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The papers were deposited with the London Missionary Society and form part of the special series of personal papers of individual LMS missionaries and officers.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan with the records of the London Missionary Society by the Congregational Council for World Mission (later Council for World Mission) in 1973.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS), including letters from individual missionaries, among them John Williams (Ref: CWM/LMS South Seas Incoming Correspondence); his candidate's papers (Ref: CWM/LMS Candidates' Papers Box 17 No 35); his LMS journals, 1821-1822, 1823, 1832-1833, 1839 (unfinished), and a typescript copy of his journal, 1830 (Ref: CWM/LMS South Seas Journals Box 4 File 59; ibid Box 5 File 67; ibid Box 6 File 98A; ibid Box 7 File 101; ibid Box 9 File 123); miniature portraits of him and his wife (Ref: CWM/LMS Miniature Portraits Box 1 Bundle 1 Miniatures 3-4) and other portraits of them, including some copies (Ref: CWM/LMS General Portraits Box 6).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed Gerald H Anderson (1998); LMS Register of Missionaries, ed James Sibree.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Feb 2002

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