CRL Resources on 19th-Century Christian Missionary Work in Africa

Missionary work in central and southern Africa began in the early 19th century, before Europeans had colonized those regions. Missionaries were among the earliest explorers of central and southern Africa. The London Missionary Society sent David Livingstone to South Africa in 1840, where he became one of the first Europeans to traverse the continent. When Europeans began to colonize central and southern Africa toward the end of the century, international coordination featured prominently in both missionary and colonial projects.

Through the Purchase Proposal Program, the Center for Research Libraries has acquired valuable resources for the study of European missionary work and colonial administration. Recent acquisitions include two sets of official correspondence relating to Africa from the Church Missionary Society (CMS), which add to CRL’s growing collection of resources from the CMS Archive (including papers relating to missions in India, East Asia, and the Americas).

Church Missionary Society Archive. Section VII. Pt. 1–2

The recently acquired sets from the Church Missionary Society Archive contain the General Secretary’s papers relating to Africa from 1847 to 1950. The General Secretary, the highest official within the society, oversaw all of the organization’s policy decisions. The CMS sent missions throughout Africa to places as Sierra Leone, Yoruba, Niger, and South Africa. The papers in Part 1 and 2 include topics such as the education of natives and missionaries, alcohol use among Africans, and the maintenance of missions.

Church Missionary Society and Bishop James Hannington

Five years after the Church Missionary Society was founded in 1799, the first two missionaries from the society left for Africa. “At the turn of the [19th] century [CMS] had a staff of 1,300 missionaries, 375 local clergy, 1,000 local agents and teachers and an annual income of the equivalent of £20 million.” (

The Church Missionary Society’s Bishop James Hannington was murdered in Uganda in 1886. Hannington was later officially recognized as a martyr. His story exemplifies the various roles missionaries played in the European colonization of Africa. Eight years after Hannington was killed, Uganda became a British Protectorate. The Cooperative Africana Microform Project acquired the following publications, which were made accessible in digital format by CRL:

  • The Last Journals of Bishop Hannington: Being Narratives of a Journey throughPalestine in 1884 and a Journey through Masai-Land and U-Soga in 1885.
    Edwin C. Dawson (1888)
  • Lion-Hearted: The Story of Bishop Hannington’s Life Told for Boys and Girls
    Edwin C. Dawson (1889)

    Dawson wrote Lion-Hearted as a biography of Hannington intended for children, and included the bishop’s whimsical poems and drawings. Although mostly fanciful in nature, some of the drawings reinforce racist notions of European dominance over Africans. The book could be used to study notions of instruction in Christian children’s literature at the end of the 19th century. The biography also reproduces Hannington’s diary entries in the weeks before he was murdered, offering a unique view into European perceptions of missionary work in Africa.

  • Bishop Hannington, a Missionary Hero.
    William G. Berry (1935?)

    Berry wrote his biography of Bishop Hannington for adults, as he attempts to place the bishop’s life in the historical context of Uganda missionary work. He also features Hannington’s diaries in large portions of the text. Did the story of Hannington’s martyrdom capture the imagination of Europe through his tales of African adventure or his high status in the Church? Dawson’s and Berry’s biographies could be productively compared. Not only do their audiences differ, but Berry wrote his book more than forty years after Dawson’s.

Alexander MacKay, one of the first missionaries to Uganda still present when Hannington was martyred, appears as a key figure in both of these biographies. CRL’s digital collections contain several other volumes on Hannington and MacKay:

  • James Hannington: The Merchant’s Son who was Martyred for Africa.
    Charles D. Michael (1928)
  • The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda: Pioneer Missionary.
    Alexina MacKay Harrison (1900)
  • Uganda’s White Man of Work: A Story of Alexander M. MacKay.
    Sophia Blanche Lyon Fahs (1913)
  • International Aspects of Missionary Work

    Missionary work in Africa operated alongside the economic and political colonization of the continent. Although the Church Missionary Society began in England, two German Lutherans sailed for Africa in 1804 as the society’s first missionaries. The missions also united across denominations. For example, a cross-denominational council of missionaries was created at a 1918 conference in Kenya. (Rosemary Keen Due to the cooperative nature of missionary work, a comparative study of missionaries from several European countries would be helpful. In addition to the English resources discussed above, CRL provides access to the following materials on colonialism, missions, and missionaries from Germany and France:

    • Uganda: Eine Edelfrucht am Missionsbaum der Katholischen Kirche zu Ehren derSeligen Ugandamartyrer.
      Matthias Hallfell (1921)

      Bishop Hannington was among several missionaries killed during service in Africa. Hallfell discusses the life and death of German Catholic missionaries in Uganda from 1878 to 1918. The circumstances and methodology of missionaries from different countries could be effectively compared on the basis on this book. France

    • La Mission Française Évangelique au Sud de l’Afrique: Son Origine et Son Dévelopmentjusqu’à Nos Jours.
      Théophile Jousse (1889)

      Jousse wrote this overview of the origins and development of French missions in South Africa to encourage the influx of more missionaries. He carefully stresses the importance of missionary work within the larger colonization of Africa. Jousse believes that Africans cannot genuinely accept European civilization before they have been converted to Christianity. The work of the missionaries then becomes a necessary precursor to the economic and political colonization of Africa. Although racism taints Jousse’s arguments, he still offers interesting commentary on the interplay between religion, culture, and society.

    • Commission Internationale de l’Association Africaine.
      International Association for the Exploration and Civilisation of Central Africa (1877)

      The missions, like the rest of Europe’s project to civilize Africa, depended on international cooperation. The minutes and financial records from an 1877 meeting of the International Association for the Exploration and Civilisation of Central Africa demonstrate how economic and political attempts at colonization in the late 19th century relied on coordination between European states. In a series of appendices to the international meeting, the report contains letters, constitutions, and minutes from eight national chapters of the organization, including Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, and Germany.