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Thomas, John

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 MMS/Special Series/Biographical/South Seas/FBN 37-41 (Boxes 652-657)
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Full title: Thomas, John
Date(s): 1786-1875
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 6 boxes
Name of creator(s): Thomas | John | 1796-1881 | missionary
Thomas | Sarah | d 1867 | née Hartshorn | wife of the missionary John Thomas


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born at Worcester, England, 1796; blacksmith at Hagley, Worcestershire; became a Methodist and soon began to preach; married Sarah Hartshorn (d 1867); accepted by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS), 1824; pioneering missionary to Tonga (the Friendly Islands) in the South Seas; arrived in Tonga, 1826; preached at Hihifo, Tongatapu, 1826-1828; moved to the island of Ha'apai, 1829; baptized the chief Taufa'ahua Tupou, 1831; a Tonga-wide revival movement began, 1835; Thomas enthroned Tupou, with English rites, as first king of all Tonga, 1845; although the WMMS withdrew from Samoa (1839) by agreement with the London Missionary Society, Thomas advocated re-entry and supported Tupou's policy of sending Tongan Wesleyan missionaries to Fiji and Samoa; persuaded the Australasian Wesleyan conference (which took over the Pacific from the British Wesleyans in 1855) to reverse the LMS decision regarding Samoa; following a visit to England his influence with Tupou waned, 1850s; retired to England and became supernumerary minister at Stourbridge (Worcestershire), 1860; died, 1881. Publication: translated Hymns, Catechisms, Prayers, &c for the use of the Wesleyan Societies in the Friendly Islands (1861).

The connection of John and Sarah Thomas with Methodism in Glasgow, and the provenance of the items relating to it, is unclear.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers, 1786-1875, of John and Sarah Thomas, including John Thomas's journals and memoranda books, 1821-1875, including his religious reflections, life in England and Tonga, and missionary work; sermon notes, undated; manuscripts on Tonga and the South Seas, including mythology, religion, history, and ranks of chiefs, undated; photographs, prints and drawings, most unlabelled, of people and places in Tonga, undated [1820s-1850s?]; two accounts of the life of Sarah Thomas by John Thomas [1867 or after]; miscellaneous correspondence, 1825-1873, of John and Sarah Thomas, including letters from John Thomas to Wesleyan Mission House; journals of Sarah Thomas (née Hartshorn), 1826-1855, including her experiences in Tonga; account book for building a new Methodist chapel in Glasgow, 1786-1792; steward's account book, 1813-1820, of the Methodist Society, Glasgow, including Leaders' meetings minutes, 1813-1820.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English and Tongan

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted, but only to be viewed on microfiche.

Conditions governing reproduction:

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

Finding aids:

Unpublished handlist.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The papers were deposited with the Methodist Missionary Society and form part of the special series of biographical papers of individual missionaries.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan with the records of the Methodist Missionary Society from 1978.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (Ref: MMS/WMMS), including letters from John Thomas in Tonga (Ref: MMS Australasia Correspondence Friendly Islands). SOAS also holds a photocopy of a letter (1857) from Thomas in Tonga to his brother-in-law, referring to mission activity there (Ref: MS 380449).

The Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia holds the Methodist Overseas Mission Papers, which include other manuscript sources relating to Methodist missionary activity in Tonga.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Sources: Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed Gerald H Anderson (1998); Alphabetical Arrangement of Wesleyan Methodist Ministers (1878); Wesleyan Methodist Church Minutes of Conference (1881), pp 34-5; British Library OPAC.

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:
Mar 2002

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