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From the National Library of Scotland

Part 1: Missions to India and China, 1829-1933

The late eighteenth century saw debates rage in England over the nature and purpose of missionary activity, leading to the formation of missionary bodies such as the Church Missionary Society. Such activity was closely followed north of the border and debates within the Church of Scotland proved to be just as intense. At the time it was felt that the time was not yet right for the Church of Scotland and there were already more pressing concerns within Scotland which needed to be dealt with. But, on a positive note, it was agreed that mission should be encouraged, both in other organisations and as an individual choice. Future engagement was not ruled out however and in 1824 the Church of Scotland resolved to enter the mission field.

The first missionaries were sent to Bombay in 1829, to Calcutta in 1830, to Poona in 1834 and to Madras in 1837. It was decided that a key focus of the missionary strategy would be education and the creation of local schools.  The language of instruction was English. This attitude may be compared with Macaulay's minute on education of 1835. Debates over the development of a suitable curriculum and the scope and purpose of education were intense. The curriculum that ultimately came into being was influential both in helping determine the ideas of Indian nationalists and, interestingly, in challenging the educational system back in Britain. Much valuable medical work was also carried out. 

This early Indian material, NLS MSS 7530-7533, permits detailed investigation of a small but influential missionary society and can usefully be contrasted with the activities of the much larger Church Missionary Society. This allows investigation of the relationship between missionaries and colonial authority (both officially and unofficially; many East India Company employees were Scottish) and of the similarities and differences in evangelistic practice.

We publish letters from the pioneer missionaries, including Alexander Duff, John Wilson and John Anderson, addressed to the convenors, John Inglis (1824-1834) and Alexander Brunton (1834-1847). These manuscript letters, with the India letter book of the secretaries, can usefully be viewed in relation to the minutes and accounts of the Bombay Corresponding Board (1836-1886), and of the India Mission Committee (1839-1848). This allows investigation of individual missionary endeavour as well as the direction provided by committee. Missionary efforts were considerably hampered by the Disruption of the 1840s, for approximately 25 years. Material on Bombay dates back to 1827 - prior to the establishment of the mission - and there is also material relating to Cape Town, a major staging port for India.

A further wave of missionary activity was launched by the Church of Scotland in the second half of the nineteenth century, with missions in the Punjab in 1857, the Eastern Himalayas in 1870, Nyasaland in 1876, I'chang in China in 1878, Kenya in 1901 (taking over the work of the East Africa Scottish Mission) and Tanganyika in 1920 (taking over the work of the Berliner Missionsgesellschaft).

This is reflected in the second tranche of material, NLS MSS 7609-7611 and 7618-7620) which covers letters from missionaries operating in the Punjab, Bombay, Poona, Darjeeling, Calcutta and Madras, and in China. This material, again diffuse in structure, ranges in date from 1914 to 1933. Topics include the impact of World War One and the changing attitudes towards British rule in India. The letters can usefully be contrasted with those of the pioneers, and differences in policy, practice and theological motivation can be found.

Because of its compact nature, the Church of Scotland Missionary Archive is ideal for short projects on the roles and policies of missionaries, in major seats of Empire and in informal empire, as well as providing detailed material on daily life and relationships between Europeans and native inhabitants. Material on African missions will appear in later parts.

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