Papers of Joseph Booth (1851-1932)

Scope and Content

The papers include: correspondence of members of the Booth family (1879-1933) mainly letters from Joseph Booth to his daughters Emily and Mary; bible verses, and other personal items belonging to the Booths (c 1871-1924); agreements, circulars and other material relating to Booth's life as a missionary, supporter of the Sabbath and campaigner for African rights (c 1891-1923); correspondence between Shepperson and the Booth family and other potential sources of information about Booth (1950-1982); copies of papers relating to Booth held in various locations; publications by and about Booth (1897-1983) including copies of Booth's Africa for the African (1897) and Emily Booth Langworthy's This Africa was Mine (1952); and photographs of Booth and family (c 1873-1926).

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Booth, English missionary to Africa, was born in 1851 in Derby, England to a strongly religious family. In 1880 he emigrated to New Zealand where he became a farmer then in 1887 moved to Australia where he established himself as a successful small businessman. While in Australia Booth became a member of the Baptist church and became convinced that it was his vocation to be a missionary in Africa. In 1891, despite the death of his first wife whom he had married in 1872, he left Australia with his two young children. Arriving in Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1892 he established the Zambezi Industrial Mission (ZIM), which he hoped would develop into a network of self-supporting communities in which there was to be no colour bar. Booth's involvement with the ZIM was followed by association with other industrial missions such as the Nyasa Industrial Mission and the Baptist Industrial Mission. Booth organised or supported several other schemes with similar aims including the African Christian Union, the British Christian Union, and the British African Congress. From the 1890s he was also a keen supporter of institutes to train leaders for the church. He was variously affiliated to the Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, the Watch Tower movement and Seventh-day Adventists and became a vociferous campaigner for the observation of the Sabbath. He aroused the hostility of other missionaries and colonial authorities by advocating higher wages and more political power for Africans. He spent time in Nyasaland, South Africa, Basutholand (Lesotho), Britain and the United States trying to raise support for his many pro-African schemes. The authorities increasingly frowned upon his activities, suspecting him of fermenting African political descent. Booth influenced several important African Christian figures including Elliot Kamwana, Charles Domingo, John L. Dubbe and John Chilembwe. He took the latter to American in 1897, a trip which coincided with the publication of Booth's Africa for the Africans which emphasised the need for increased African self reliance and the role of Afro-Americans in attaining it. His activities led to him being accused of contributing to Chilembwe's uprising in Malawi and he and his second wife Annie were deported from Basutholand to England in 1915. Poor and unable to find work, partly due to his pacifist convictions, the Booths struggled to make a life for themselves. After World War 1 they went to South Africa where their daughter provided accommodation for them and where Booth's wife died in 1921. Booth and his third wife Lillian were forced to return to England because of ill health and possibly because Booth's renewed contacts with Africans were beginning to attract the attention of the authorities. He remained in England suffering bouts of illness until his death in 1932. Booth's fundamentalism and his apparently radical political and social views have led to varying assessments of his life and effect on African Christianity. He has been called by some unbalanced and dishonest and by others visionary and ahead of his time. Booth's own opinion of himself was a 'pro-African politico-religious freelance type of self-assertive, and somewhat self dependent missionary advocate' (letter to daughter Mary 22 April 1916).


The collection is in four boxes, the first three (MSS 2501-3) contain the papers presented by George Shepperson and the fourth (MSS 2504) those from Harry Langworthy.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

The papers were presented to the Library in 1990 by Professor Emeritus George Shepperson, University of Edinburgh and by Professor Harry W. Langworthy, Professor of History at Cleveland State University, Ohio and great-grandson of Joseph Booth.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) information from the collection. (2) Anderson, G. H. (ed.). Bibliographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998.

Compiled by Caroline Brown, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division. Revised Graeme D Eddie.

Other Finding Aids

Alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. The collection is mentioned in the Edinburgh University Library subject checklist (C3) Manuscripts on Africa. There is also a handlist of the collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Contact the repository for details.

Custodial History

Professor George Shepperson first became interested in Joseph Booth while researching the role of John Chilembwe in the uprising in Nyasaland in 1915. His research led him to contact the remaining members of Booth's family. Booth himself did not leave any papers when he died: the Booths' itinerant life did not allow them to keep many personal possessions. The few items kept by his last wife, Lillian Booth, were destroyed on her instruction when she died. The bulk of original material in the collection came from Emily Booth Langworthy, Booth's daughter, both before and after her death. Other material was collected or copied by Shepperson from other sources. Some of the material in the collection was assembled by Professor Harry Langworthy including letters from Mary Sales (Booth) inherited by her daughter Phoebe Whitehouse of Woking, Surrey.

Related Material

The papers of George Shepperson at the University of Edinburgh contain further Booth papers. These include: copies of letters (1911-1912) to Booth from Africans in Nyasaland about religion, in particular the Seventh Day Baptist Church and the Sabbath; copies and extracts of letters (1906-1911) from Booth about African churches and Indian Home Rule; notes made by Shepperson on documents held by the Seventh Day Baptists including pamphlets, appeals, letters and extracts from the African Sabbath Recorder(1899-1900, 1910-1912); copy of a prospectus for the African Christian Union (1896); and Booth's Native Petition to the King (1914). The Shepperson collection contains sections on Edwin Shaw and John Chilembwe which include material referring or relating to Booth and a range of photographs including some of mission activities. Details of related records in other repositories such as Rhodes House Library, the Public Record Office and the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society can be found in the Booth collection.


'Africa for the African': The Life of Joseph Booth Harry W. Langworthy (Blantyre, Malawi: CLAIM, 1996) was written using the material in the collection.