Papers of Robert Laws (1851-1934)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Papers of Robert Laws consist of notebooks and papers mainly relating to the work of the Livingstonia Mission in Nyasaland (now Malawi), including notebooks on African languages. There is correspondence and other papers and also printed items including translations from the Bible and grammars.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Laws, the son of an Aberdeen cabinetmaker, was born on 28 May 1851 at Mannofield, Aberdeen. He was educated at the Free East Church School, Aberdeen, and at Aberdeen University. He then studied Divinity at the United Presbyterian Theological Hall, Edinburgh, 1872-75, and also studied Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, 1871-73, at Anderson's College, Glasgow, 1873-74, and at the University of Glasgow, 1873-74. Between 1873 and 1875, Laws was a Missionary in the Smallpox and Fever Hospitals, Glasgow. In 1875 he was ordained by the United Presbyterian Presbytery of Aberdeen, and the same year was appointed as Medical Missionary of the Free Church of Scotland Mission, Livingstonia, Lake Nyasa. Laws was in full control of the mission station between 1877 and 1927. For a time he was also Principal of the Overtoun College, Livingstonia, and in 1894 was sent as a deputy to begin the Hope Waddell Training Institution in Calabar, now in Nigeria. During his career as a missionary, Laws developed a Christian community of some 60,000 including African pastors, and founded over 700 schools. He translated the New Testament in Nyanja, published an English-Nyanja dictionary, compiled a Gunda-English and English-Gunda vocabulary, and published works in the Tonga language. For three years he was a senior unofficial member of the Nyasaland Legislative Council. Robert Laws died on 6 August 1934.

Conditions Governing Access

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Note

The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Records of the Arts Class, 1868-72, University of Aberdeen, 2nd edition, edited by Stephen Ree (Aberdeen: A. King, 1892). (2) Who was who, Vol.3. 1929-1940, 2nd edition (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1967). (3) The dictionary of national biography. The concise dictionary, Part 2. 1901-1970 (Oxford: OUP, 1982).

Other Finding Aids

An important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Additional Information

The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Records of the Arts Class, 1868-72, University of Aberdeen, 2nd edition, edited by Stephen Ree (Aberdeen: A. King, 1892). (2) Who was who, Vol.3. 1929-1940, 2nd edition (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1967). (3) The dictionary of national biography. The concise dictionary, Part 2. 1901-1970 (Oxford: OUP, 1982).

Personal Names

Geographical Names