The Evangelical Magazine commented in 1796 that 'Africa that much injured country ... to this benighted and oppressed country we are desirous of sending the Gospel of Christ ... that essential blessing which outweighs the evils of the most suffering life'. The London Missionary Society was already considering a mission to Africa, and were spurred on by these sentiments.
The first attempt at a mission on the continent was in 1798, with a mission to Sierra Leone. Information from agents of the Sierra Leone Company influenced the decision to send a joint expedition with the Edinburgh and Glasgow missionary societies. This mission failed, and from that date the LMS abandoned work in West Africa to other missionary societies.
Despite the setback to mission work in Africa, a mission to South Africa was quickly established in 1799. By the 1840s, this work had extended beyond the South Africa colonies to Matabeleland and Bechuanaland. By 1895, the London Missionary Society had effectively withdrawn from the Cape to concentrate on the Southern Africa mission in these areas. In addition, the Society had established the Central Africa Mission in 1877, and despite early setbacks continued to support the mission in this area.
In addition to the three main areas of mission activity - Matabeleland (Southern Rhodesia or Zimbabwe), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Central Africa (Northern Rhodesia or Zambia) - the mission to Africa also includes the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar and Mauritius. Initially, Mauritius and Madagascar were administrated as part of the Africa mission, under the relevant regional committee, the Southern Committee. It was not until 1866 that the Southern Committee was divided to produce separate committee minutes for Madagascar. There was never a separate series of committee minutes for Mauritius, and the Mauritius mission established in 1814 by John Le Brun was used as a base for the Madagascar mission. For that reason, the series of Mauritius correspondence can be found amongst the Madagascar division of materials.
Records after 1939, with the exception of correspondence for 1941-50, relate to both Southern and Central Africa.