Fragments of an autobiography by Dr John Philip, Superintendent of the London Missionary Society in South Africa, 1819-1851

Administrative / Biographical History

John Philip was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, 1775; apprenticed to a linen manufacturer in Leven; clerk in Dundee, 1794-1797; converted in the Haldane revival; studied at Hoxton Theological College for three years and entered the Congregational ministry; assistant in Newbury, Berkshire; minister at the first Scottish Congregational chapel in Aberdeen, 1804; married Jane Ross (d 1847), 1809; the work of the London Missionary Society (LMS) in South Africa was threatened with closure by the British authorities and as an LMS director went on a deputation, with the Rev John Campbell, to investigate, 1818; arrived in Cape Town, 1819; prevented by a war from travelling beyond the colony; found the mission stations neglected and colonial opinion against the missionaries' benign relations with indigenous people; believed the population to be oppressed by the settlers; appointed to remain in South Africa as LMS superintendent, 1820; his wife, Jane, was the de facto LMS administrative secretary there; Doctor of Divinity, Princetown College, New Jersey, USA, 1820; travelled extensively to inspect mission stations within and beyond the colony and to collect evidence supporting his theories, 1820-1826; pastor of the new Union chapel in Cape Town, 1822; campaigned for civil rights for the 'Cape Coloured' ['Hottentot'] people, who formed a number of LMS congregations, 1823; visited Britain to lobby for their civil rights, 1826; the campaign achieved success and, following Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton's motion in the House of Commons, the Cape government was ordered to implement Philip's recommendations, 1828; Philip hoped that the Christian 'mini-state' the Griqua people, aided by the LMS, had formed beyond the Cape Colony frontier would become a model for other indigenous peoples; while in Europe, solicited the Paris Evangelical Mission Society and the Rhenish Missionary Society to begin work in South Africa; corresponded with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to persuade them to come; advocated the idea that only Africans could convert Africa ('native agency'); returned to Africa to increased unpopularity from the white population, 1829; a libel suit by William Mackay, one of the officials accused by Philip in his Researches in South Africa, resulted in a unanimous verdict for Mackay, 1830; visited stations within and beyond the colony, 1832-1833; accompanied "Coloured" and Xhosa Christians to London to give evidence before a parliamentary committee and rouse public opinion against the Cape government, 1836; the committee's report supported his views, but his insistence that much of the responsibility for the war lay with the British authorities and white colonists brought hostility from much of the white population in the Cape, 1837; returned to South Africa, 1837-1838; travelled extensively to promote his scheme for establishment of independent states north and east of the colony, 1839, 1842; following a war (1846) Philip withdrew from public affairs, 1849; retired to Hankey; died, 1851; admired by the Coloured, Griqua, Sotho and Xhosa Peoples, he was buried in the Coloured graveyard of a Coloured township.

See also:

John Philip, Researches in South Africa, illustrating the civil, moral and religious condition of the Native Tribes, 2 vols (London: James Duncan, 1828).

Conditions Governing Access


Custodial History

Original manuscript written c. 1838 [?]. Copied and typescript given to the London Missionary Society in 1963.

Location of Originals

Original manuscript in the Library of Parliament, Cape Town.