South Seas / Pacific

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the activities of the London Missionary Society in the islands of the South Pacific, referred to by the LMS as the South Seas.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first mission of the London Missionary Society was to the South Pacific or South Seas in 1796. The missionary ship The Duff left England in August 1796 with 30 missionaries and their families and landed in Tahiti, in the Society Islands in March 1797, going on to Tongatabu in the Friendly Islands [Tongatapu Group, Kingdom of Tonga] and the Marquesas Islands [Iles Marquises, French Polynesia]. The early mission encountered language and cultural problems, and some of the early missionaries abandoned the mission for New South Wales. However, in 1801 more missionaries arrived, and with the support of King Pomare made advances, despite conflicts amongst the islanders. Missionaries worked in Tahiti and Moorea (Eimeo) as well as Huahine and Raiatea. The main stations were at Matavai, Papeete, Papara, Taiarabu, Papeteoai, and Afareaitu. In 1821, a deputation from the London Missionary Society under Rev Daniel Tyerman and George Bennett visited the Islands to report on the progress that had been made. By the 1830s, many local people had been converted to Christianity. However, Roman Catholic priests arrived in the South Pacific which caused problems for the LMS mission. Tahiti was declared a French Protectorate in 1842, and missionaries encountered restrictions on their work. In 1866, the LMS stopped work in the Leeward Islands, and in 1890 left the Windward Islands, leaving the work to the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society.

The mission to Tongatabu or Tonga failed in 1799 after some of the missionaries were killed, others returned to England, and work was left to the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. Work in the New Hebrides [Vanuatu] was limited, and John Williams was killed at Erromanga in 1839. A mission to the Hervey Islands [South Cook Islands] was started in 1823 by John Williams and was supported by indigenous teachers; the Takamoa Theological Institution on Rarotonga was established as early as 1839. A mission was started at Rarotonga in 1828 and Aaron Buzacott did much work throughout the islands. Many native Hervey [Cook] islanders worked as teachers throughout the South Seas in support of the LMS missions. The mission to the Hervey Islands [South Cook Islands], which included stations at Rarotonga, Mangaia and Aitutaki, was hindered by the difficulties of travel and contact between the various islands, and between 1914 and 1940 only two missionaries were at work.

A mission to the Navigators Islands [Samoa Islands] was started after a visit by John Williams in 1830, and it became a succesful mission, famous for its educational work. For example, the Malua Theological College was established in 1844 and the Leulumoega High School was established in 1890. A school for girls, called Papauta, was founded in 1892. By 1905 the indigenous Church was well organised and became effectively financially independent in the 1920s. A high percent of the population were allied to LMS churches. The main LMS mission stations were on the islands of Upolu and Savaii in Western Samoa and Tutuila in Eastern Samoa. The Gilbert Islands [Kiribati] became part of the Samoan mission in 1870, and together with the Ellice Islands [Tuvalu] were known as the North-West Outstations of the Samoan mission. Ocean Island and Nauru were brought into the LMS sphere between 1916 and 1919, although missionary residence on these islands was sporadic and relied heavily on the native South Seas ministry.

The Loyalty Islands [Iles Loyauté, Nouvelle-Calédonie] were first visited in 1841 but due to French influence from New Caledonia, the mission was abandoned in 1887. LMS missions had varying degrees of success in other groups such as Savage Island [Niue], Ellice Islands [Tuvalu], and Tokelau.

The South Seas islands, and the missions, were certainly deeply affected by the events of the Second World War, which obliged the LMS and its administrators in London and Sydney to reassess its policies, budgets and programmes in the post-war years. As in other areas, the period after the war was characterised by the metamorphosis of mission into independent church.


The material in arranged into the following series: Incoming correspondence (1796-1927), Incoming/outgoing correspondence (1928-1940), Pacific correspondence (1941-1970), Journals (1796-1899), Reports (1866-1970), Subject files (1941-1970), Odds (Miscellaneous), Photographs, Maps.

South Seas materials are not generally arranged into geographic sub-divisions relating to particular islands or island groups. The exception to this is incoming correspondence to 1927, which is arranged into yearly files and geographic groups within those annual divisions.

Access Information


Archivist's Note


Related Material

South Seas materials can also be found with the series of private papers found in the 'Personals' section of the archive.

See also sections relating to Australia and Papua New Guinea, as correspondence for these regions may also include references to activities in the Pacific.