Incoming Correspondence: Russia

Scope and Content

Incoming correspondence to the London Missionary Society Headquarters from Russia.

The earliest correspondence in the series is from Alexander Waugh, 1804, commending the mission to the Tartars. Additional prelimiary correspondence comes from John Paterson and Robert Pinkerton of the British and Foreign Bible Society, recommending a mission station among the Buryat people, commending the mission to Irkutsk and welcoming the news of the coming of missionaries in 1817. Correspondence from LMS missionaries begins in 1817, with regular letters sent by Edward Stallybrass (1817-1841), Cornelius Rahm (1817-1825), William Swan (1818-1841), Robert Yuille (1819-1848), Richard Knill (1820-1833) and John Crombie Brown (1834-1839).

Administrative / Biographical History

The London Missionary Society (LMS)'s mission in Eastern Siberia arose from a unique combination of circumstances in the first quarter of the 19th century: strong support for Bible Society activity from Tsar Alexander I and some of his circle, the existing Moravian settlement in the lower Volga's proximity to a displaced Mongolian people group and the desire of the LMS to station missionaries as close as possible to China while that country's territory remained closed to missionaries. Alexander Waugh, a founding director of the LMS, took up the Society's 1796 resolution to attempt a mission to Tartary by Astrakan by correspondence from 1804. The Russian authorities agreed to LMS missionaries coming on similar terms with which the Moravian settlement at Sarepta [for the name see Luke 4:26 and I Kings 17] was privileged. This Moravian settlement had as neighbours Kalmucks [Kalmyki], western Mongolian people whose forbears had migrated westwards in the previous two centuries. The British and Foreign Bible Society's representative in St Petersburg, Dr John Paterson, urged the LMS in 1814 that a more fruitful field would be found among the Buriats [Buryats] of the region of Irkutsk; he suggested that their language was similar to the Calmuc/Calmuck/Kalmyk into which the New Testament had already been translated. Paterson and his colleague Pinkerton set as object of the mission the spread of the Gospel amongst the heathen people of eastern Siberia and to translate the Bible into both Mongolian and Manchu - which latter, they hinted, as the language of the rulers of China, would enable gospel influence to spread along nearby trade routes into the Chinese empire. Edward Stallybrass and William Swan settled first at Irkutsk and subsequently at Selenginsk, Ona and Khodon. With Robert Yuille, they translated the Old Testament into Mongolian and revised the Russian Bible Society's version of the New Testament. Richard Knill became minister of an Independent (Congregational) church in St Petersburg. Cornelius Rahmn worked for some years from the Moravian settlement in Sarepta.

The Siberian mission had but small evangelistic success. The main religious development in the area at that time was the rise of Tibet-related lama Buddhism over folk shamanistic customs. Even when protestant missionaries made converts they were blocked by an edict which permitted baptisms to be performed by the Russian Orthodox Church only. Following the death of Tsar Alexander I in 1825 the tide turned against the LMS in official circles and in 1840 the order for suppression brooked no resistance. The maverick missionary, Robert Yuille, was the last to leave Russia in 1846.

Further reading:

Bawden, C.(Charles) R., 'Shamans, Lamas and Evangelicals: The English Missionaries in Siberia' (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985)

Paterson, J. (John) (1776-1855), 'The book for every land : reminiscences of labour and adventure in the work of Bible circulation in the north of Europe and in Russia / by the late John Paterson ... ; edited, with a prefatory memoir, by William Lindsay Alexander ...'(London : John Snow, 1857)

Watt, J. G.(Gordon), 'The London Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society' (pamphlet), (London: British & Foreign Bible Society, c.1923)

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Other Finding Aids

A detailed list (List B1) is available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room, SOAS Library, which covers Incoming Correspondence for Russia, 1802-1848.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued

Related Material

Additional papers relating to the work of the London Missionary Society in Siberia, comprising photocopies of letters relating to the financial affairs of the mission at Selenginsk, 1828, can be found at MS 280624.

Papers relating to Edward and Sarah Stallybrass can be found in the Europe Personal section of the CWM archive [ref: CWM/LMS/Europe/Personal/Box 1]. These papers comprise letters, 1834-1841 and undated, of Edward and Charlotte Stallybrass to members of her family, the Ellahs of Elsinore, largely from Khodon, dealing mainly with family affairs, including Charlotte's death.

Additional Stallybrass papers can be found at MS 380296. These include photocopied letters, 1813-1847, from Edward and Sarah Stallybrass [née Robinson] to Sarah's sister and brother-in-law, Ann Robinson Monds and Joseph Monds. The letters describe the meeting with Tsar Alexander of Russia, the journey to Selenginsk and their first impressions, their work in Selenginsk and Khodon, family matters, death of Sarah and marriage to Charlotte, and the suppression of the mission.