Papers of Robert Laws, of Livingstonia (1851 - 1934) and Amelia Laws

Scope and Content

Personal papers of Robert Laws and his daughter, Amelia Laws, c 1878 - c 1960. Much of the collection comprises correspondence relating to Law's work at Livingstonia Mission, but there is also a large series of personal letters from his wife Margaret, and copy letters of Amelia Laws received whilst nursing in Europe during the First World War. Later items include printed papers and newspaper articles relating to Laws' work and the Mission.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Laws (1851 - 1934) was leader of the Free Church (later United Free Church) of Scotland's Livingstonia Mission in northern Malawi and north-eastern Zambia, from 1878 until 1927. After attending primary school in Aberdeen, he was apprenticed as a cabinet maker, with the intention that he should follow his father into the trade. During this time he attended evening classes in the city, and subsequently matriculated at Aberdeen University, where he studied arts and medicine, graduating MA, 1872. After graduation he began a course of study at the United Presbyterian Seminary, Edinburgh, and took medical classes at Glasgow University and Anderson College, Glasgow. He was awarded the MB ChB degree at Aberdeen in 1875.

When the Free Church of Scotland planned a mission to the shores of Lake Malawi, c 1875, Laws sought support from his United Presbyterian church to second him to the venture. He was ordained for missionary work by United Presbyterian Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1875 and joined the new mission as a medical officer, and second in command to Lieutenant E.D. Young. Young left the mission after two years, and Laws replaced him as head of the mission in 1878. He remained in post until retirement in 1927, and during his 50 years of service built a solid and stable base from which many other local and regional church, educational and social projects were successfully initiated. A centre for the mission's activities in Malawi and north-eastern Zambia, based upon Stewart's Lovedale, was founded after 1891 on Khondowe Mountain, and by 1894 all of Malawi was served by a Presbyterian mission. Laws himself, played an important role in the foundation of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in 1924, and the creation of a comprehensive primary school network for Zambia and Malawi. After the First World War he encouraged the mission's members to form Native Associations, which later, in 1938, became the Nyasaland African National Congress. Publications include a translation of the New Testament into Nyanja, the English - Nyanjia dictionary, and collections for the English - Gunda dictionary.

Laws married Margaret Troup Gray in 1879, and they had one daughter, Amelia, who worked as a nurse in Europe in the First World War.

For further details and additional references see Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ed. by Nigel M. de S. Cameron (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark Ltd., 1993) pp 473 - 474


Listing in progress - papers sorted by subject and correspondence arranged by author.

Access Information

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Deposited in the University in Oct 1987, by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, University of Aberdeen (later, New College, Edinburgh)

Other Finding Aids

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The records were acquired by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, under the directorship of Professor Andrew Walls, Department of Divinity, University of Aberdeen. They were transferred to Special Libraries and Archives when the Centre moved to Edinburgh c 1987, together with evidence heard at the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, 1910, (GB 231 MS 3291), and the papers of Alexander Caseby, missionary GB 231 MS 3290)


No accruals expected

Related Material

Papers of Rev. Alexander Caseby, missionary, 1908 - 1929 (GB 231 MS 3289). These papers include Rev Caseby's memoirs of Livingstonia mission, Malawi.


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Additional Information

This material is original