Papers of Handley Bird

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

  • This collection consists of archive material relating to the life and work of Handley Bird who worked as a missionary in India from 1888 until his death in 1938. The archive contains papers collected together for a proposed biography of Handley Bird. It contains a number of his letters, both original and subsequently typed, personal letters and accounts from people who knew him and encountered him through his work and details of his missionary work, family and travels around India and beyond.
  • The collection includes diaries and notebooks, photographs, articles published by Handley Bird and papers relating to missionary work more generally. There are a small number of papers relating to Robert Stanes, a philanthropist who worked with Handley Bird in Coimbatore. There are also some published tributes to Handley Bird containing details of his life as a missionary.

Administrative / Biographical History

Herbert Handley Bird, who was born in Bristol on 9 May 1865, was the son of Mr C.J. Bird, an Anglican clergyman and evangelist who left the Church of England as a protest against perceived Catholic influences. Assembly missionaries travelled all over the world from Bristol including Handley Bird and his four brothers and sisters. The family worshipped at Bethesda Chapel in Bristol. They were encouraged by George Müller who made significant financial contributions in their support. Handley Bird's elder brother Cyril and his sister Mary went to Africa, his younger brother Howard to China and his sister Florence to Kollegal in India where she ran an orphanage.

Handley Bird began preaching while he was still at school, and in his late teens emigrated to America, then moving to Canada with the intention of taking up farming. This venture was not successful, and his time in Canada only lasted for approximately four years, during which he had to take up labouring jobs to fund his stay.

After his return to England the opportunity arose for Handley Bird to travel to India following a recommendation by Robert Stanes to George Müller that a young missionary should go to Coimbatore in the region of Tamil Nadu. He had hoped to work in Africa to take the place of his brother Cyril following his death there but decided to go to India instead. He arrived in Coimbatore in January 1888 and a year later he was joined by his fiancée Marion Miller. They married soon afterwards and remained in the area for eleven years. Following this Handley Bird made many missionary journeys, his first tour being in Travancore where many successful conversions were made.

After working in various parts of Tamil Nadu the couple left the area, Marion Bird returning to England in 1912 because of ill health. Handley Bird returned to Tamil Nadu alone where he had a touring ministry until 1914. Following visits to Singapore and China he travelled to England via Russia but found his wife to be seriously ill. She eventually recovered and continued to live in England until her death in August 1922.

Handley Bird returned to India in 1923, intending to stay in the Travancore-Cochin area, but then moved to Madras which had a small group of believers at that time. He rented a building known as Ramkoti in the central part of the city which was then used for worship and as a hostel for young men, mainly from Kerala. Many activities were undertaken using Ramkoti as a base, and many of the young men from the hostel were found jobs, some eventually occupying senior positions in local businesses. During this period Handley Bird made missionary journeys to other parts of southern India and also to Malaysia and Sri Lanka, although his work in Madras was considered by many to be outstanding in his service to India.

By the late 1920s, however, Handley Bird's health started to decline and following a fall and heart problems in 1931 he returned to England in 1932. Only one year later he went back to Madras, then moving on to Bombay where he remained and worked for a further four years, preaching and encouraging conversions. Although his health rapidly deteriorated in Bombay he continued to work almost up to the time of his death on 27 May 1938.

Arrangement

  • Correspondence
  • Papers relating to biography
  • Articles and publications
  • Papers relating to missionary work
  • Papers relating to Robert Stanes
  • Papers relating to conversion of Venkata Krishna Rao
  • Tributes to Handley Bird
  • Diaries and notebooks
  • Photographs

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

William Thompson

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The papers were given to William Thompson while working for the Gospel Literature Service in Bombay.

Accruals

None expected.

Related Material

The correspondence between Handley Bird and the Echoes of Service staff at Bath and contained in the Echoes of Service Papers.

Bibliography

A.C. Rose, William C. Irvine & Others, 'Handley Bird: A Respectful Tribute', The Indian Christian (Bangalore: Aug 1938)

T.G. Samuel and Justus Samuel, H. Handley Bird: Missionary-Pioneer and a Great Heart 1865-1938 (Madras: The Gospel Fellowship Trust of India, 1984) [Copy in Christian Brethren Archive Printed Collection: CBA 16783]

Corporate Names

Geographical Names