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London Missionary Society

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CWM/LMS
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Full title: London Missionary Society
Date(s): Created 1764-1966
Level of description: Sub-fonds of Council for World Mission
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Extent: 2,598 boxes
Name of creator(s): Missionary Society
LMS | London Missionary Society


Administrative/Biographical history:

The origins of the London Missionary Society (LMS) lie in the late 18th century revival of Protestant Evangelism. A meeting of Independent Church leaders, Anglican and Presbyterian clergy and laymen, held in London in November 1794, established the aims of the Missionary Society - 'to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations'. The Missionary Society was formally established in September 1795 with a plan and constitution. This governed the establishment of a Board of Directors and the conduct of business, outline the powers of the Directors and the conduct of business, established an annual meeting of Members to be held in May, and defined the role of trustees. The Missionary Society was renamed the London Missionary Society in 1818. Although broadly interdenominational in scope, the Society was very much Congregationalist in both outlook and membership.

Mission activity started in the South Seas, with the first overseas mission to Tahiti in 1796. Missionary work expanded into North America and South Africa. Early mission activities also centred in areas of eastern and southern Europe including Russia, Greece and Malta. There was also an LMS 'mission to Jews' in London. However, during the 19th century, the main fields of mission activity for the LMS were China, South East Asia, India, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the Caribbean (including British Guiana, now Guyana). The LMS was not always successful in gaining a hold in the overseas mission field. Western missionaries were refused entry to China until after 1843, and in Madagascar, early missionary success was countered by a period of repression and religious intolerance lasting from 1836 to 1861, and which included the deaths of many local converts.

In terms of organisational structure, the LMS was governed by a Board of Directors. The workings of the Board were reorganised in 1810 when separate committees were appointed to oversee particular aspects of mission work, including the important foreign committees. The administrative structure of the LMS relied upon the work of salaried officials such as the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, together with the workings of the various committees, including the Examinations Committee, which appointed missionaries to the field. Directors themselves were unpaid. The constitution of the LMS was revised in May 1870, as a direct result of financial pressures and the expansion of overseas mission work; the work of the Investigation Committee (1866) in turn led to a new administrative policy and the emphasis on the development of the self-governing and self-financing indigenous church. In 1966 the LMS merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society, to form the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM), which in turn was restructured to create the Council for World Mission in 1977.

Further information on the history of the London Missionary Society can be found in the official histories: Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895 (2 volumes, Oxford University Press, London, 1899); Norman Goodall, A history of the London Missionary Society, 1895-1945 (Oxford University Press, London, 1954); Gales of change: responding to a shifting missionary context: the story of the London Missionary Society, 1945-1977, ed Bernard Thorogood (WCC, Geneva, 1994).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records, 1764-1966, of the London Missionary Society (LMS), dating mainly from the foundation of the Society in 1795, but with some material from 1774 onwards relating to Madagascar and Mauritius, and a series of 'Extra' correspondence dating from 1764. The records relate to the structure and administration of the Society and mission activity overseas and comprise LMS Home Office minutes and papers, committee minutes, correspondence inward and outwards, candidates' papers, and papers of official deputations; official journals, reports and correspondence from LMS missionaries in the field; special series of 'Odds', a collection of miscellaneous documents including material from the mission field; a large collection of portraits of missionaries; more than 15,000 photographs, showing individual converts, mission staff and buildings, and also depicting the lives, work and pursuits of indigenous peoples, means of transport, topographical scenes and historical events.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mainly English with some French, Malagasy, Chinese and Pacific languages

System of arrangement:

The papers in the main series are arranged into home material and foreign missions material, with the foreign missions papers arranged geographically by country. Later accruals are again arranged geographically, but the papers are also arranged into subject files, and are broader in scope than the main series of correspondence, minutes etc. The material is divided into the following categories: Home materials; Africa; Americas; Australia; China; Europe; India; Madagascar; Papua New Guinea; South Seas/South Pacific; Ultra Ganges/South East Asia; West Indies and British Guyana; Personals. Up to 1927, incoming and outgoing letters are kept separately, as are reports (from 1866 onwards) and journals. From 1928, incoming and outgoing correspondence is arranged into personal and subject files, and is ordered alphabetically.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

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

Finding aids:

An unpublished guide to the records, 1795-1940, was prepared by Hannah Lowery in 1994. This has subsequently been revised and is available from the Council for World Mission web site at There are three unpublished handlists to the accruals, 1941-1950, 1951-1960, and 1961-1970. Thirty-six unpublished handlists for the period 1795-c1900 are available in the Special Collections Reading Room in SOAS Library, and include both LMS and Commonwealth Missionary Society material. An unpublished handlist to the collection of missionary portraits is available.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Much outgoing material from 1914 onwards was lost to bomb damage during the Second World War.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan by the Congregational Council for World Mission (later Council for World Mission) in 1973. Further deposits in 1988, 1991, 1994, 2001, 2005 and 2007.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds records of the Commonwealth Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/CMS), which forms part of the records of the Council for World Mission (Ref: CWM), and the library of the Council for World Mission (Ref: CWML). Personal papers of a number of LMS missionaries were deposited with the Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society by individual missionaries and their families, including letters of Robert Moffat in southern Africa, Robert Morrison in China, and James Sibree and Elizabeth Lomas in Madagascar, and papers of Dr Ralph Wardlaw Thompson, foreign secretary of the LMS. Personal papers of LMS missionaries presented directly to SOAS are held in the MS or PP MS sequences and include papers of J T Hardyman (Ref: PP MS 63); papers of William Lockhart (Ref: MS 380645); unpublished memoirs of James Sibree (Ref: MS 380616); Legge family papers (Ref: MS 380476). SOAS also holds records of the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee (Ref: PCE).

Some LMS archive materials, including picture archives, are still held by the Council for World Mission, and are awaiting transfer to SOAS. Dr Williams's Library, London, holds c1,600 items of correspondence received principally by the Secretaries of the LMS, 1804-1852. West Yorkshire Archive Service holds the Arthington Trust Collection, which includes reports and correspondence relating to LMS missions funded by the Trust. The National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, holds the R L Turner manuscripts (Ref: MS 9770) relating to the LMS in Papua during the early 20th century. Minute books of LMS auxiliaries can be found in local Record Offices. The British Museum holds some artefacts originating from the London Missionary Society's Museum.

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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