Southern Africa Incoming Correspondence: South Africa

Archive Unit

Scope and Content

Incoming correspondence from missionaries in South Africa to the London Missionary Society headquarters, from 1797. Includes letters from missionaries working in the (now) Northern Cape and North West Provinces of South Africa and the territory of the modern state of Botswana (held in the Bechuanaland files from 1832), letters from elsewhere in South Africa (identified as ‘Cape Colony’ from 1889), and from 1900, letters from Matabeleland.

For most years from 1889 separate files are also kept for letters dealing specifically with the Hankey estate. Hankey was one of a number of Missionary Institutions (settlements of Africans gathered around mission stations organised as an economic unit with agricultural and other activities). Institutions included Botha’s Farm, Bethelsdorp, Caledon, Pacaltsdorp, Kat River Settlement, Paarl, Cradock, Kruisfontein, Dysselsdorp, Oudtshoorn and Peelton. They were affected by the Missionary Institutions Act of 1873 which provided for their transfer from the missionary societies to their inhabitants.

Files pre-1866 also include annual reports by missionaries. From 1849 to 1865 the reports for the various stations are collected together at the end of each year’s file of incoming letters. Reports from 1866 are held in a separate sequence (see South Africa Reports).

Detailed cataloguing of the incoming correspondence has been completed at file level for South Africa for the period 1797-1899. Catalogue entries provide the names of correspondents, dates, places, and in some cases a summary of the subject matter. Letters from 1900 have yet to be catalogued.

Until 1812 incoming letters are mingled with drafts or copies of outgoing letters from directors of the Society in London. Thus, letters by Thomas Haweis, Matthew Wilks, Joseph Hardcastle and George Burder appear with letters from Dr Johannes Vanderkemp, the pioneer of the South African mission. From 1800 to 1819 letters also come from Maglett Smith, a woman who took care of the Society’s concerns in Cape Town and became known to the missionaries as 'Mother Smith'.

Following Dr Vanderkemp’s death in 1819, letters come from successive superintendents of the South Africa mission based in Cape Town, including John Philip (1820-1850), William Thompson, officially first agent and then general treasurer (1851-1888) and David Mudie (agent 1888-). A leading role was also exercised by John Mackenzie (missionary in Bechuanaland from 1858 to 1884, missionary pastor at Hankey 1891-1899). The Bechuanaland work was at first effectively led by Robert Moffat (1818-1860). The letters of his colleague Dr David Livingston (later spelled David Livingstone) are held separately in the LMS archives (see Africa Odds).

Apart from those already mentioned, other missionaries who corresponded regularly from this region include Carl Pacalt, John Brownlee, Arie Vos, James Read (senior and junior), William Anderson, Henry Helm, George Barker, James Kitchingman, John Melvill, John Munro, Adam Robson, William Elliott, Frederick Gottlob Kayser, Christopher Sass, Theophilus Atkinson, Richard Birt, Joseph Freeman, Edward Solomon, Bartholomew Anderson, John Messer, Henry Schmelen, Robert Taylor, Reinhold Gregorowski, Nicholas Smit, William Dower, Frederick Kolbe, Thomas Paterson and John Harper. From the Bechuanaland field, Rogers Edwards, Isaac Hughes, William Ashton, William Ross, Roger Price, John Brown, J Tom Brown, Alfred Wookey, James Good, Alfred Gould and Edwin Lloyd were frequent correspondents.

In 1851 Joseph Freeman published a 'Tour in South Africa', listing his destinations in an account of deputation for London Missionary Society, visiting Zuurbraak, Pacaltsdorp, Dysalsdorp, Oudtshoorn, Avontuur, Kruis Fontein, Hankey, Port Elisabeth, Bethelsdorp, Ustenhage, Theopolis, Graham's Town, Beaufort, Umxelo, Birklands, Alice, Knapp's Hope, King William's Town, Peelton, Philipton, Tidmanton, Cradock, Somerset, Graaff Reinet, Colesberg, Philippolis, Backhouse, Griqua Town, Kuruman, Matebe, Mabotsa, Kolobeng, Mamusa, Borigelong & Lekatlong. At that period letters incoming letters were being sent from all those places.

Note re place names:

The town Philippolis (named after John Philip in 1826) in Free State is sometimes written with doubled ‘l’ as Phillipolis or extra 'op' as Philipopolis, but in these catalogue entries is standardized as Philippolis.


Letters are arranged by region within Southern Africa, e.g. Bechuanaland, and then chronologically within each region.

Conditions Governing Access


Other Finding Aids

*Detailed lists for incoming correspondence from South Africa, 1797-1899 (lists E6 & E7), are available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room, SOAS Library. Includes detailed precis of letters up to 1866, and details of authors only to 1899. There is an additional list of 'Zimbabwe Papers, 1900-1940' by JC Kufa, which lists South Africa Incoming letters, 1900-1940, where they relate to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Material in this list is indicated by **.

Archivist's Note