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Section IV: Africa Missions

Part 1: West Africa (Sierra Leone), 1803-1880

"The private letters, travel accounts, personal diaries and journals, including the "official" annual and intelligence reports, painstakingly compiled by the CMS agents to Africa, are invaluable materials for constructing the political, socio-cultural and religious evolution of numerous African societies."
Dr Waibinte Wariboko,
Department of History,
The University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica

The CMS was founded in 1799 and became one of the largest and most influential missionary societies in the world. The campaign against slavery and the establishment of the colony for freed slaves at Freetown in Sierra Leone inspired the CMS to spread the Gospel abroad and they started work in West Africa in 1804. Over the next decades work expanded into other areas of Africa and then to other parts of the world.

The archive of the CMS is held at the University of Birmingham Library and at the CMS in London (now known as the Church Mission Society). The different sections are now brought together in this microfilm edition. The mission papers so far open for research are divided into three periods: pre-1880, 1881-1934 and 1935-1949. For the convenience of scholars we have divided the archive into sections. Section IV covers Missions to Africa.

All of the material in this project has been newly filmed to meet international preservation standards and includes complete coverage of all the Missions to Africa to 1949 from the Archive held at the University of Birmingham.

West Africa was the natural choice for the first mission station to be established by the CMS. At Freetown there had been a colony for freed slaves established since 1787, founded by Granville Sharp. In 1791 the Sierra Leone Company received its charter. Its directors included Clarkson and Wilberforce. In 1804 two German Lutheran clergy, Melchior Renner and Peter Hartwig, were sent to Freetown to found the mission. There was a high mortality rate among missionaries, but the mission took hold. In 1827 a training institution later named the Fourah Bay College was opened for native Africans. It was to produce many ministers, missionaries, and agents for the rest of West Africa, its most famous student being Samuel Adjai Crowther, who was to become the first African Anglican bishop.

Adjai was born in the Yoruba country, West Africa (now Nigeria). Around the age of 13 he was captured by slave raiders. The slave ship was intercepted by a British warship and he was taken to Sierra Leone where he was educated, converted and baptised at the CMS mission school, taking the name Samuel Adjai Crowther. He became the first student at Fourah Bay College, later becoming a tutor at the same college. He was one of two CMS members of the 1841 Niger expedition organised by the British government. Ordained in London in 1843 he was appointed as missionary to the CMS Yoruba mission from 1843-1851. In 1854 and 1856 he headed two more expeditions to the Niger country. He led the Niger mission from 1857 and in 1864 was consecrated as bishop, becoming the first African Anglican bishop. The early papers of Samuel Crowther are to be found in the Sierra Leone mission material and cover the account of his abduction by slavers and his expedition to the Niger. The later papers, covering his work in the Yoruba and Niger missions, are in the Original Papers of those missions.

The CMS Archives reveal much about African history and culture. They record the collision between western and indigenous cultures and the changes that resulted from this. They describe the introduction of western medicine, the establishment of schools, and the confrontations and compromises between differing religious beliefs. The papers are a rich source for ethnologists, social historians and all those trying to understand Africa both before and after missionary intervention.


Renner and Hartwig were sent to work amongst the Susu tribe, but after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, opportunities were also opened up at the invitation of the Colonial Government among people rescued from slave ships and settled in Sierra Leone. More missionaries, both German and English, were sent there and many people were converted.

The death toll among missionaries was heavy from the start and reached a climax in the yellow fever epidemic of 1823. CMS therefore considered training Africans for the ministry, realising that they stood the climate better than Europeans did and in 1827 a training institution was opened at Fourah Bay. This was the future University of Fourah Bay, where so many leading Sierra Leoneans were to study, though none perhaps more famous than the very first student, Samuel Crowther.

From the first, education was of prime importance in evangelism and every mission station had its school, at first with the missionary and soon with an African Christian schoolmaster in charge. In 1845 CMS opened a grammar school in Freetown to give secondary education to boys not only from the Colony, but also other parts of the coast. In 1849 a secondary girls' school was begun, later to be renowned as the Annie Walsh Memorial School.

By this time most of the people in the Colony were Christian. Henry Venn was then chief Secretary at CMS headquarters and his judgement and experience had convinced him that all mission churches should be self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. His idea was supported by the Society and an independent Sierra Leone church was gradually achieved. The bishop was European, but all the pastors were Colony born.

People were encouraged to take their full share in running the church. In the 1870s they began their own missionary society to work amongst neighbouring districts. Work was resumed amongst the Temnes at Port Loko, where Christian Schlenker had worked and studied the language in the 1840s. The missionaries sent there by CMS London were among the first to learn their modern role of servants rather than leaders of the indigenous church.

At the turn of the century CMS was forced through financial crises to reduce the number of missionaries in Sierra Leone and withdraw its support from the Port Loko work. In 1919 it even considered leaving the country entirely. By 1922 this possibility had passed but over the next forty years the missionaries were confined to working in the chief educational institutions. They provided a series of European principals for Fourah Bay College and the two Freetown grammar schools and they also shared with the Wesleyan Methodists and the United Brethren in a Union teacher training college at Bunumbu, which was opened in 1933.

The Sierra Leone Church had developed self-support and self-government, though the bishops who led it remained European. The enormous diocese which covered not only Sierra Leone but also Gambia and North Africa was divided in 1935 and Bishop Wright suggested an African, Rev A W Howells, as his successor. CMS however nominated Canon Horstead the principal of Fourah Bay College with T S Johnson, a Sierra Leonean, as assistant bishop. It was not until 1961, with the consecration of the Rt Rev Moses Scott, that Sierra Leone would have its own African bishop.

Part 1 contains the Early Correspondence for1803-1820, an Individual Letter Book for 1852-1873, Letter Books for 1820-1883 and Mission Books for 1820-1880.

The Early Correspondence comprises the incoming and outgoing correspondence between the Secretaries at Headquarters and the missionaries, agents, government officials and others. Letters include the very first letters written by the Secretary regarding the first two CMS missionaries sent to Sierra Leone. Details are given of their arrival, residence and first impressions. In 1805 the Secretary writes saying he will send out newspapers to keep the missionaries up to date with British affairs and reminds them to be sure to send their Annual Letters to keep London informed of their activities. Details are given of the new missionaries who will be sent out. In the papers for 1814 are lists of names of liberated children who are to be accepted into CMS and distributed among the settlements and there are reports on their conduct and progress. There are details on whether they are religious, suitable to become teachers and whether they speak good English or not. One, 19 years old, was dismissed from the CMS school for immoral conduct with a female but was redeemed and later married the girl. Notes are included on the school system in the colony and there are lists of children dismissed for bad behaviour. There are also lists of the people working in the mission with the amount of wages they were paid. In the papers for 1814 is a report on the burning down of the school house and other difficulties which the missionaries were encountering. One of the first missionaries, Hartwig sends back to London descriptions of his work and experiences and there are other interesting anecdotes such as the missionary who recounts that he went on furlough and when he returned the natives had built him a house but too far from the missionary compound. He recounts that they were so excited about it that they sacrificed a goat to their gods and a very vivid description is given of the feasting and celebrations.

Included in the papers are also miscellaneous items such as newspaper cuttings from "The Royal Gazette and Sierra Leone Advertiser", minutes of meetings of missionaries and schoolmasters and fascinating journals of missionaries detailing their journey from England to Sierra Leone, arrival and their later itineraries through the countryside.

The Individual Letter Book is a volume of private and confidential letters from the Secretary in London to individual missionaries for the years 1852-1873. It has an index of names at the front. It contains not only personal letters of condolence or censure but also letters on topics the Secretary had a personal interest in such the development of the local Church.

The Letter Books for 1820-1883 contain copies of the outgoing correspondence from the Secretary in London to the missionaries and others concerned with mission affairs. The letters are indexed by name of recipient. All manner of topics are covered: proposed regulations for the Fourah Bay Institution in 1843, setting up of the Sierra Leone Finance Committee, plants sent out from Kew Gardens and books sent to the Fourah Bay Institution, mission estimates for the year, copies of correspondence with the Colonial Office, advertisement for a lady assistant at the Girls' Boarding School and reports of the Subcommittee on affairs in Sierra Leone.

The Mission Books for 1820-1880 contain copies of the Original Papers (O 1-235). They were copied so that they would be legible for the committee. The letters and journals from 1820 to 1849 are copied out in full, but from 1849 onwards only the letters are copied. The Mission Books generally have an index of names, places and a few subjects. The Original Papers are to be found in Part 2 Section IV: Africa Missions (Original Papers O 1-87) and Part 5 ( Original Papers O 88-235).

The Mission Books contain topics as varied as letters containing lists of names of children named after benefactors, medical reports, lists of the books held in the library at Freetown, missionary journals including that of Rev Samuel Crowther for 1844, reports on the education of African boys, financial statements and Annual Letters from the missionaries describing their year's work and experiences.

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