Volume, entitled 'West African Translations', relating to the work of Rev Robert MacBrair

Scope and Content

Inside page of volume annotated "Books with which Rev M MacBrair was furnished on going to the Gambia with the view of reducing the Foulah and Mandingo languages to writing, and effecting a translation of the New Testament with the same. September 26 1835". Contains a list of the books received from Rev William Jowett of Church Mission House and a list of the books received from Josiah Foster, with attached correspondence. There are also summaries of three letters written by MacBrair whilst in the Gambia between December 1835 and February 1836 as well as two pamphlets. The first is undated and is advice on how to reduce African languages to writing, produce elementary books for 'Native' Schools and translate the scriptures into indigenous languages. The second pamphlet is the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society's instructions to MacBrair on his departure for Western Africa for the mission among the Foulahs, 11th November 1836.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Rev Robert Maxwell MacBrair began his ministerial career as a missionary for the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1833. However, in 1835 the Society asked for a volunteer to work in West Africa on translating the Bible into indigenous languages and to assist with the spreading of the Gospel. MacBrair answered this call and was accepted (in part due to his knowledge of Arabic). He was sent to the Foulah Mission on McCarthy's Island in the Gambia. This mission had been recently founded to evangelise primarily to those Foulah tribes that had no specific homeland and to those individuals who had escaped slavery.

MacBrair was issued with instructions to establish a school at the mission and to begin writing textbooks for it. In both these tasks he was aided by 'Native Missionaries'. His knowledge of Arabic was also used to assist with the Society's attempts to counter the spread of Islam in the area. By 1837, when he had returned to England, he had completed a translation of St Matthew's gospel into Mandingo as well as a grammar of the Mandingo language.

From 1837 MacBrair worked in various ministries in the UK (including Portsmouth, Rochester and Sheffield West) until his retirement in 1856. He did, however, maintain an interest in both the languages and people of Africa which he expressed in a number of publications between the 1840s and 1860s. His manuscript work on the Foulah language was published in 1854 to coincide with the Niger expedition of that year.

Further reading:

MacBrair, R M, Issal'-anjilo, kila Matti ye men safe. Mandinga kangoto - St Matthew's Gospel in the Mandingo language (1837);

MacBrair, R M, A grammar of the Mandingo language, with vocabularies (?1842);

MacBrair, R M, The African's at home: being a popular description of Africa and the Africans condensed from the accounts of African travellers from the time of Mungo Park to the present day (1861);

Norris, E (Ed), Grammar of the Fulah language by R M MacBrair (1854);

Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Annual Reports for 1836 & 1837.

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For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Copyright held by Methodist Missionary Society.

Related Material

Rev MacBrair's correspondence whilst a missionary in Alexandria is extant within the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society archives (MMS/Europe/Correspondence/Egypt/FBN 3). His correspondence, along with related papers, for the period he was stationed at the Foulah Mission are also available (MMS/West Africa/Correspondence/Gambia/FBN 3).