AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 MMS
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Date(s): 1744-1976
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: 1,341 boxes
Name of creator(s): Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society
Methodist Missionary Society
Methodist Church Overseas Division
Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society
Primitive Methodist Missionary Society
Methodist New Connexion Missionary Society
Bible Christian Home and Foreign Missionary Society
United Methodist Free Church Foreign Missions
United Methodist Missionary Society


Administrative/Biographical history:

On the Methodist Union of 1932, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS), United Methodist Missionary Society (UMMS) and the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society (PMMS) merged to form the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS). The formation of the United Methodist Church in 1907 had already brought together the foreign mission activities of the Methodist New Connexion, the Bible Christians and the United Methodist Free Churches under the UMMS. The MMS retained the general administrative structure of the WMMS, so the records of the WMMS and MMS form a continuous sequence. In the early 1970s, the Methodist Church Overseas Division (MCOD) assumed responsibility for overseas work, though the MMS continued to exist.

Wesleyan missions 'among the heathen' began in 1786, when Thomas Coke, destined for Nova Scotia, was driven off course by a storm and landed at Antigua in the British West Indies. There he developed a successful mission of both slaves and landowners. Within a few years almost every colony in the West Indies had been reached. Under Coke's instigation, a mission to West Africa was undertaken in 1811 and successfully established at Sierra Leone (the first scheme for the establishment of a mission to West Africa, devised by Coke in 1769, had proved a failure). In 1814 Coke founded the third Methodist mission, in Ceylon, just prior to his death.

The Methodist Conference of 1804 established a 'Standing Committee of Finance and Advice' to act as an executive through which the Conference would control its foreign affairs, under the General Superintendence of Coke. However, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) originated with the District Auxiliaries - the first of which was founded in Leeds on 6 October 1813 - formed spontaneously for the support of overseas missionary work, without the sanction of Conference. By 1818, the proposals put forward by the District Auxiliaries were approved by Conference and embodied in a general missionary society. Meanwhile, following Coke's death in 1814, the London Committee of Finance and Advice was renamed the 'Executive Committee', and in 1815 an additional 'Committee of Examination and Finance' was established to conduct the detailed examination of missionary receipts and disbursements. In 1817 the new Committee mooted the formation of a permanent constitution for the missionary department, and in 1818 the Laws and Regulations of the General Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (the joint work of Richard Watson and Jabez Bunting) were accepted by Conference and the WMMS was fully constituted. The new society embraced the Auxiliary Districts and Circuit Missionary Societies that had already been formed.

Despite its name the WMMS was not a self-regulated 'Society', but rather the Methodist Church 'mobilised for foreign missionary service'. The Conference appointed a new Executive Committee, which in the intervals between the annual Conference was given superintendence of the collection and disbursement of funds from subscribing members and the management of foreign missions. The President of Conference acted as Chairman of the Committee, which included 48 members with equal numbers of ministers and laymen. It met monthly. The Committee included three Secretaries, ordained ministers whose job it was to receive correspondence from the field, and to draw up plans for the stationing of missionaries to be submitted to the Committee and ratified by Conference. By 1834 it was usual to have four Secretaries. In emergencies the Committee was empowered to fill vacancies and recall missionaries for disciplinary proceedings. The Conference was the ultimate judge in these matters.

On the foreign mission field, the Conference and Executive Committee exercised control through the District Synod and District Chairman (General Superintendent). Missionaries from each District were required to meet in an annual Synod. Synod Minutes were sent home. By 1903 the functions of the Synod had been limited to the supervision of ministers and Circuits in the District, and 'Local Committees' had been established as the agents of the Executive Committee in the administration of funds. Local Committees comprised the missionaries of the district in addition to local 'gentlemen'. They met annually, received official letters of instruction from home, and returned minutes of the meeting and letters reviewing the year's work. The District Chairman was responsible for the general welfare of the District and the progress of work in all Circuits. When the Local Committee was in session, its powers were paramount. In the intervals between its sessions, the District Chairman exercised these powers.

Missions in Canada were established in the 1780s in Hudson Bay territory, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward's Island and Newfoundland. The Canadian Methodist Missionary Society was established in 1824 and Canada gained its own independent Conference in 1854.

Work in West Africa had begun in 1811 with Coke's mission to Sierra Leone. A second station was opened on the River Gambia in 1821, and on the Gold Coast in 1834. The first missionary to arrive in South Africa was Rev. John McKenny, who established a station at Namaqualand in 1814. In 1820, work began amongst the slave population in the Cape Colony, in 1822 at Bechuanaland, and in 1841 a mission accompanied British troops to Natal. The South African Conference was established in 1882, and assumed care of mission work in South Africa (with the exception of Transvaal, Swaziland and Rhodesia).

Work in Australia began in 1818 when Rev. Samuel Leigh arrived in Sydney to found a mission for convicts in New South Wales. Work began in Tasmania in 1821, Victoria in 1838 and Queensland in 1850. The Australasian Methodist Missionary Society was organised as an auxiliary in 1822, and in 1855 as an independent society under an independent Conference. Missionaries were sent to New Zealand in 1822, a mission was established in the Friendly islands in 1826, and some years later work began in Fiji.

Work began in China in 1853. In 1860 a new station was established at Fat-shan, and in 1862 a mission for North China was established at Han-kau. By 1903 mission work was underway at Wu-chang, Han-yang, Sui-chow, Wu-hsueh and Hu-nan at Chang-sha. The two Districts were Canton and Wu-chang (including Hu-nan).

In 1885 the West Indies Conference was established, but the area had been brought back under the British Conference by 1903. The first mission to be established in India was Madras, in 1817. By 1903 work was underway in eight districts including Madras, Negapatam, Haiderabad, Mysore, Calcutta, Lucknow, Bombay and Burma. Missions in Europe included France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean. The French Methodist Conference was established in 1852.

In 1858 the Ladies Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education, &c, was founded as an auxiliary to the WMMS, although managed independently.

On 20 September 1932, in the Royal Albert Hall, London, the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the United Methodist Church and the Primitive Methodist Church united to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. As a result, the missionary societies of the three Churches merged to form the MMS. Thus in 1932, the foreign missions of the MMS encompassed all of the regions where the individual societies previously worked. These included the West Indies (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of Bahamas, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Barbados and Trinidad, and British Guyana); Latin Europe (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal); West Africa (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Gold Coast, Western Nigeria and French West Africa, the ex-UMMS work both in the Colony and in the Protectorate among the Mendes, and the ex-PMMS districts of Fernando Po and eastern Nigeria); Ceylon (ex-WMMS districts); South India (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of Madras, Trichinopoly, Hyderabad and Mysore); North India (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of Bengal, Lucknow and Benares, and Bombay and Punjab); China (comprising the ex-WMMS districts of South China, Hupeh and Hunan, and ex-UMMS districts of Hopei and Shantung, Yunnan, Ningpo and Wenchow); Kenya (ex-UMMS district); Burma (ex-WMMS district), and Southern and Northern Rhodesia (ex-WMMS work in both Southern and Northern Rhodesia, and ex-PMMS work in Northern Rhodesia only).

All Methodists were deemed to be members of the MMS. Its headquarters were based in London and it was governed by a General Missionary Committee, which acted on the authority of the Methodist Conference. The administration of foreign missions retained the general structure of that used by the WMMS (which formed the largest group in the union of 1932). Foreign districts were administered in much the same way as home districts, with District Synods and a District Chairman (Superintendent) representing the authority of the General Committee, and ultimately the Conference, in the field. The work of women missionaries in the MMS was represented by the 'Women's Work' department.

The General Committee included several General Secretaries, ordained ministers who were responsible for official correspondence with the missionaries. These positions evolved into 'Area Secretaries', each taking responsibility for a different area of overseas work, i.e. Africa, Asia, Caribbean and Europe. The position of Area Secretary is preserved in the overseas work of the present day Methodist Church.

In the administrative restructuring of the early 1970s, all departments of the Methodist Church became known as divisions, with the Methodist Church Overseas Division (MCOD) assuming responsibility for overseas work. In 1996, further large-scale administrative restructuring removed these divisions and the Church became a single connexional team. The World Church Office took on the work of the MCOD. The Area Secretaries are based in this Office, and their role has become one of liaison and partnership formation. Throughout this period, the MMS has continued to exist.

The nature of the relationship between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and churches overseas has also evolved, from a paternal role to one of equal partnership. Many of the former overseas 'districts' have become autonomous Methodist Churches in their own right, with their own Conference, Synod, and President (known by various titles). The World Methodist Council exists to provide a forum to promote co-operation and common purpose amongst Methodist peoples worldwide.

Further reading: Methodist Missionary Society, Our Missions Overseas - Past and Present. The First Annual Report of the Methodist Missionary Society, 1932 (1932); G Findlay & W W Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (5 vols., 1921).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records, 1744-1976, documenting the work of the Methodist Missionary Society (from the Methodist Union of 1932), and the work of its predecessor missionary societies prior to 1932 - the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Primitive Methodist Missionary Society, and the missionary societies of the churches that formed the United Methodist Church - and covering overseas missionary work in Europe, North America, West Indies, Africa, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), China, Burma and Australasia.

The main series for the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society/Methodist Missionary Society include material from the home organisation in London, which directed overseas missionary affairs, including Committee minutes and papers, candidates papers, 1829-1869, finance papers, 1817-1945, and outgoing correspondence. However, the bulk of the material comprises Synod minutes and correspondence send to London from missionaries in the overseas districts, including Europe, North America, West Indies, West Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, Kenya, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Southern India, Northern India, Burma, China & South East Asia, and Australasia/South Seas. Special series include biographical material of missionaries from all denominations; missionary ships' logs and papers; and a miscellaneous assortment of notes, typescripts, unpublished articles and histories. There are approximately 2500 photographs, which cover India, Burma, Ceylon, Australasia, Africa, China and the West Indies.

The collection also includes minutes of Conference for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1744-1976.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
The material is mainly in English, with a representation of languages from the overseas districts.

System of arrangement:

The papers have been divided into Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and Methodist Missionary Society (which form a continuous series); Women's Work (representing the work of Wesleyan women missionaries before 1932, and the work of all women in the Methodist Missionary Society after 1932); the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society; and the United Methodist Missionary Society and its constituent churches: the Methodist New Connexion Missionary Society, the Bible Christian Home and Foreign Missionary Society, and the United Methodist Free Churches Foreign Missions.

Material up until 1945 has been arranged and listed separately from the later deposit of material for 1945-1950. The style of arrangement is consistent throughout.

Papers of the Methodist Missionary Society form a continuous series with the papers of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. They have been arranged with the 'Home' material first, followed by material coming into London from the overseas missionary districts. Overseas material has been divided in to the following geographical regions: North America, West Indies, Europe, West Africa, South Africa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Southern India, Northern India, Australasia/South Seas, China & South East Asia, Kenya, Burma, and Central Africa. Material in each region is arranged by type of record (i.e. Synod minutes followed by correspondence, followed by photographs). Synod minutes have been arranged chronologically. Correspondence has been sub-divided by district and arranged chronologically. Special series (Biographical papers, Ships Papers, and Notes and Transcripts) have been arranged at the end of this section. Minutes of Conference have been arranged at the end of the listing.

Conditions governing access:

The majority of the collection is only available for consultation on microfiche. In most instances only photographic material or personal papers are currently available for beyond 1950.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Apply to Keeper of Archives in first instance.

Finding aids:

A published guide by Elizabeth Bennett, Methodist Missionary Society Archives on Microfiche, is available. Detailed lists for correspondence from overseas districts are available for earlier periods (pre-1900), for papers on the missionary ships, and biographical material. Descriptions of the records of Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society, Primitive Methodist Missionary Society and United Methodist Missionary Society, and papers of some individual missionaries are also available online.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan by the Methodist Missionary Society from 1978 onwards.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the Methodist Missionary Library, consisting of approximately 6,500 books and pamphlets, with a card index. The Library includes annual reports, periodicals and lists of missionaries for the Methodist Missionary Society, and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Primitive Methodist Missionary Society, United Methodist Church and its member churches. An on-line catalogue for the Methodist Missionary Library is available.

Records of Methodist missionary societies in various UK localities are held in various Record Offices: see the National Register of Archives for details. Records of the Methodist Church are held at John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Methodist Archives and Research Centre.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

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 May 2002

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"

Related Placename Search

* To search for other records with similar placenames, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"