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Commonwealth Missionary Society

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CWM/CMS
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Full title: Commonwealth Missionary Society
Date(s): Created 1836-1966
Level of description: Sub-fonds of Council for World Mission
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Extent: 62 boxes
Name of creator(s): Congregational Missionary Society
Colonial Missionary Society
Commonwealth Missionary Society


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Congregational Missionary Society was formed in 1836 with the principal aim of working to provide communities in Canada and North America with ministers. The Society changed its name to the Colonial Missionary Society soon after its formation. Its work was restricted to the British colonies, and later its work would spread out from its base in North America. The Colonial Missionary Society was linked to the Congregational Church, which is reflected in its early name, and the administrative Board or Committee was a committee of the Congregational Church. These close links lessened over time, but a link was always maintained. The Society's object was 'the promotion of education and religion in the British colonies', and in 1834 the Congregational Union made representation to the London Missionary Society, who agreed to donate the sum of 1000 towards provision of ministers for the colonies. The first minister appointed was the Revd H Wilkes, who left for Montreal, Canada, in 1836. The Society grew rapidly, and by 1842 had established mission stations in Wellington, New Zealand, and Canada. By the end of the 19th century, work had expanded to include missions in South Africa, Australia and the British West Indies.

The Society was organised through a main Committee or Board, with a Treasurer and Honorary Secretary. Originally staff were unpaid, but gradually salaried officials were appointed to run the administration. The headquarters of the Colonial Missionary Society were originally at the Congregational Library, Bloomfield Street, Finsbury Circus, London, but moved to the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street. Sub-committees dealt with the day-to-day administration of the Society, with a North sub-committee and a South sub-committee having geographical responsibilities for regions north and south of the equator. By the 1890s, an Eastern and a Western sub-committee had been formed to deal with stations in areas such as Jamaica, Rhodesia and South Africa. The Colonial Missionary Society became an incorporated body on 16th October 1897. In 1956 it changed its name to the Commonwealth Missionary Society, and in 1966 it merged with the London Missionary Society to form the Congregational Council for World Mission.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records, 1836-1966, of the Commonwealth (formerly Congregational or Colonial) Missionary Society, relating to the administration of the Society and its mission activity in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, Jamaica, and India, and comprising Board minutes, Committee minutes, finance minutes, annual reports, and overseas correspondence. Few records survive for the 19th century, although both Board and Committee minutes date from 1836-1837.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Materials are arranged as a sub-collection within the Council for World Mission archive (Ref: CWM), and the papers have accrued in a main deposit, 1836-1940, and three subsequent accruals, 1941-1950, 1951-1960, 1961-1970. The papers were rearranged in 2001.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

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

Finding aids:

A draft unpublished guide to the records to 1940 was prepared by Hannah Lowery in 1994. There are three unpublished handlists to the accruals, 1941-1950, 1951-1960, 1961-1970.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited 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 also holds the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
15 May 2000, revised Jan 2002

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